The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Watch the sermon here.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
Our readings this morning from the Book of Exodus and from the Gospel according to John point us in the direction of a reflection on Bread – both the food we call bread which is a fundamental dimension of eating in most of the world – and the spiritual food – embodied most fully in the Body of Christ – which we receive when we take part in the Eucharist – that is the Liturgy of Holy Communion.
I am pleased to note that St. Michael’s Church takes both kinds of food very seriously. The Saturday Kitchen has served the poor and the homeless since 1983. The program serves a healthy and satisfying meal to more than three hundred people at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning.
This Church takes its members’ and visitors’ needs for spiritual food very seriously as well. The Eucharist is the most profound and essential way in which we encounter the Body of Christ – the Bread of Heaven. But the daily offices, prayer groups, preaching, study groups, adult education offerings, programs for children and families, and other initiatives raise up ways for each and every one of us to take in the spiritual food and nurture which we so sorely need to deal with the realities of 2021 and the challenges and the ongoing grief of the Corona Virus Epidemic.
This morning’s reading from the 15th Chapter of the Book of Exodus presents us with the fact that when the people of Israel left Egypt, no provision had been made for food and drink for them as they travelled. The congregation of the Israelites complained angrily to Moses and Aaron for the hunger which they all shared.
The Lord then tells Moses that the complaints of the people have been heard and that provisions will be made for them. The Lord said: “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them: “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”
Indeed, in the evenings quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.
When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” They did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”
That “bread, is called Manna, and the Manna and the quails would eventually keep the Israelites fed for the forty years it took for them to find a habitable place in the promised land and to conquer the Canaanites.
In as much as today we do not encounter Manna in the supermarket, I will share a description of Manna which is based on narrative from both the Book of Exodus and the Book of Numbers.
“In the Book of Exodus, manna is described as being “a fine, flake-like thing, like the frost on the ground. It is described in the Book of Numbers as arriving with the dew during the night. Exodus adds that manna was comparable to hoarfrost in color, and similarly had to be collected before it was melted by the heat of the sun, and was like coriander seed but white in color. The Israelites ground it and pounded it into cakes, which were then baked with oil. Exodus states that the raw manna tasted like wafers that had been made with honey. The Israelites were instructed to eat only manna they had gathered for each day. Except they were not allowed to gather the manna on the Sabbath, and on that day they were to eat leftovers from the previous day. On the Sabbath, the manna did not stink or get maggots in it as was the case the other days of the week.
Today’s reading from the Sixth Chapter of John’s Gospel follows up on the Feeding of the Multitudes which we heard about last Sunday. The people ask Jesus: “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What works are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Jesus then says to them: “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. They said to him: “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus then identified himself as the Bread of Life. When he said to them: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Indeed, Jesus himself is God’s gift of sustenance for time and eternity.
Finally, I want to reflect with you on the reading we heard from the Fourth Chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. The Letter has long been attributed to Paul, though since the 18th Century, a majority of scholars believe that it was probably written by a follower of Paul, after Paul’s death. The Church in Ephesus was prone to various kinds of conflicts, including tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians, competing religious leaders dropping in for visits, and tensions among those who felt called to be leaders in the congregation itself.
The chapter begins: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Is there any congregation which might not benefit from those words, at least from time to time.
Then Paul underscores some essential beliefs that they might be a cause for unity: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
After reflecting on the Ascension, he points out how the congregation at Ephesus is blessed by diverse gifts for ministry: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” I dare say such diverse and valuable gifts for ministry are well represented here at St. Michael’s in our clergy, staff, musicians, outreach leaders, and other members of the congregation.
The author ends this chapter with a little bit of a retrospective scolding: “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”