This sermon was preached at Saint Oswald’s Parkside by the Revd Canon Bill Goodes on Sunday, 1 August, 2021. (Pentecost 10B)
“Jesus said to them ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry’”” John 6:35
What do we mean when we “say grace” before a meal? Perhaps it is a formal prayer like, “Lord make us truly thankful…” or “For these and all his mercies, may God’s holy name be praised”, or even “Bless us, O Lord, and these your gifts which of your bounty we receive.” I guess as we do so we are answering the question in today’s theme — or at least giving a partial answer. We say that all that we eat and drink comes ultimately as a gift from God’s gracious provision for us. Sometimes our grace may include mention of “the loving hands that prepared” the food, or giving voice to a desire that those who haven’t been so graciously provided for may remain in our thoughts, prayers and actions, but finally it is saying, “all that we eat and drink comes from God’s gift.
In a few minutes, we will offer a similar prayer as we prepare for Communion: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, through your goodness we have these gifts to share, accept and use our offerings for your glory and the service of your kingdom.” What we have before us as we say that “grace” are bread, wine, money, and groceries. The bread is meant to represent at this stage our life’s work: the wine can represent our life in society: the money our generous commitment to the life of the kingdom: the groceries, our concern for those in our community who are in need. We bless God for all of these, and acknowledge them as God’s gracious provision for us.
But then we go on, concentrating now on the elements of bread and wine, and we offer an extended thanksgiving —giving thanks, as it is [meet and] right to do. We give thanks for God’s work in creation, and pray that we may care for that work in such a way that all creatures may enjoy this provision. We give thanks for God’s gracious action in sending Jesus to live, die and rise again for our salvation — a salvation that shows itself in being free to love and serve one another, and that puts away the destructive forces of sin. Then we thank God for the bread and wine, particularly in the context of what Jesus did with them at the Last Supper and how that gathers us together to feed on him.
For our thanksgiving is for much more than food and drink, it catches up the whole of God’s gracious action in creation, redemption, reconciliation, communion and vocation — all that God calls us to be and to do, in his loving concern for each of us, as well as for the whole of creation,.
Look at the way this is reflected in today’s scripture readings.
We continued, first the story of King David, following his unconscionable actions that we read about last Sunday. Today we have God providing the prophet Nathan, who tells a story about equivalent actions taken by a rich man. When David has shown his indignation at such behaviour, Nathan then delivers God’s stinging rebuke: “You are the man!” God’s gracious provision here is anything but comfortable for the erring king, but it leads him to acknowledge his wrong-doing. Then the Psalm expresses the depths of David’s repentance and his desire for forgiveness, and invites us to respond in a similar way.
At daily Evening Prayer over the past couple of weeks we’ve been reading from the Book of Proverbs, and one of the ideas that keeps coming up is that the wise person will accept rebukes and correction, while “scoffers” will respond to correction in a negative way. “A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you; the wise, when rebuked, will love you”. I sometimes wonder, though, how many of us are wise in this way!
The reading from Ephesians begins as though it is going to give us some instructions for daily living , based on the ideas about God that are contained in the first three chapters: “I, therefore,…beg you to live a life worthy of the calling…” the writer begins. However, he cannot help himself, but must continue to speak of what God provides for his people. One sentence into the passage he comes back to God’s gift: “There is one body, one Spirit, …one hope of your calling” This unity of the Church of God is both provision and calling — it is God’s gift to us, but also something that we must show in our life together. And then he turns to each of his readers: “To each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift”. And this gift comes in different forms for different people — prophets, apostles, pastors, teachers — different gifts given to Christ’s people first of all in order to build up the body of Christ. But the gift has implications for our own well-being as well — the gift is to bring all of us to “full maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
For God provides for us the gift of realising our full potential, of fulness of life, of being able to be the people that God’s creative action has purposed us to be. As we allow this gracious provision in our own lives, so God’s purpose for his Church will come to be realised as well.
The passage from John 6 that we read as the Gospel follows immediately after last week’s reading — the story of 5000 people being fed with bread and fish. That miraculous provision of bodily sustenance was truly wonderful, and so generous that basketfuls of left-overs could be collected after the feast. But in today’s passage, Jesus is teaching the crowd who followed him to the other side of the lake, back to home territory, that this bodily sustenance is only part of the story of God’s provision. He urges the crowd to “work for the food that endures for eternal life”. He reminds them of the way their ancestors had been fed at God’s hand in the wilderness — “our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness”, but urges them to see that in Jesus, God is giving them the “true bread from heaven”, the bread that “gives life to the world”.
When his hearers recognize how wonderful this gift is, they say “Give us this bread always” and Jesus tells them that he is that bread that satisfies the deepest needs that people can have. He tells them that the “work of God” is to put their trust in the one whom God has sent.
An important aspect of what we do in coming together as the Church Sunday by Sunday, day by day, is to acknowledge the wonder of God’s gracious provision for us, both in the provision of our bodily needs for food, drink, shelter, and in the more “food that endures” categories, like fellowship, meaning, purpose, and the like. Our worship includes the giving of ourselves and the time, abilities and possessions that are part of who we are. As we follow along David’s story, we will hear his son Solomon praying at the dedication of the Temple, “All things come from you, O Lord, and of your own have we given you”. And our worship is not only in communion with Jesus but with one another, built together into the one body: when the little piece of God’s gracious provision of bread is placed into our hands the prayer is that the body of Christ will preserve us to eternal life — and that body is both Jesus and his people.
“Sir, give us this bread always”!