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St Paul's ChurchSermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, Connecticut
The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost – August 9, 2009

May our hearts be filled with the glory of God, our minds refreshed by the wonder of Christ, and our bodies raised up by the leading of the Spirit. Amen.

One of the litmus tests I use for evaluating a good restaurant is the kind of bread that is served. Take Meigas restaurant on Wall Street, for example. They serve a warm, crusty bread that is made in Spain, frozen, and then shipped here. It is the kind of delicious, inviting bread that you can’t get enough of.

I think the kind of bread we serve is an important indicator of our hospitality—a hospitality that is meant to model the way Jesus welcomed guests. That is why we serve freshly baked bread here every Sunday in the sacrament of Holy Communion. It says that someone cared enough to mix the dough and knead it, let it rise, and bake it and bring it here so that we can all enjoy it. It is a metaphor for radical welcome.

But a metaphor is not just a way to say something in a fancier, artsier way. A metaphor like “I am the bread of life” says something in a way that is unique. Jesus didn’t say “I am kind of like bread,” but rather “I am bread.” That’s not that easy to swallow. How do we wrap our head around such an unusual statement? What does that mean?

I found this story about a church mission trip to Haiti to be very helpful. The group spent a couple of weeks working among desperately poor people in the poorest of countries in the western hemisphere. One afternoon they piled into a little truck with two great pots of rice and went to a desert-like place to extremely poor people who lived in tiny grass huts beside a dried up riverbed. There they came to offer the folks the rice.

As soon as the truck approached, dozens of people ran toward them, many of them naked, all of them famished. Frantically, they pushed in among these missioners, thrusting their small eating bowls toward them. In a matter of five minutes, more than two hundred pounds of rice had been distributed. Then the people in the village fell silent and moved back to their huts as the truck drove away.

The minister who led that trip to Haiti later reflected back on it in a sermon. “I’ll never get that sight out of my mind. To stare starvation in the face, to see what bread means to hungering persons, is to know the radical quality of Jesus’ statement, ‘I am bread.’ ”

What does it mean to us? I think it’s fair to say that this is a congregation of well-fed faces, but hunger is usually not that visible. How many of us here today may have some unfulfilled hunger for something other than food? Or maybe some of us feel empty because we have not been feeding on the most nutritious things in life. Some of us may be as tired as Elijah on his journey and have not had real nourishment for a long time or not enjoyed fully the many gifts in life God sends our way.

A Chinese story tells of a great mountain in China at the foot of which lived a father and his three sons, a simple and loving family. Travelers came from afar to climb the dangerous mountain but not one of them ever came back down it. There was a legend that the top of it was made of gold and silver. One day, in spite of their father’s warnings, his three sons decided they must see this for themselves. As they made their way up the mountain, they came upon a beggar under a tree. They ignored him and gave him nothing. Then, one by one, they disappeared—the first to a house of rich food, the second to a house of fine wine, the third to a house of excessive gambling. Each of them forgot his real home and sank deeper and deeper into the luxury he had chosen to fill his life with meaning. Their father grew more and more heartsick and finally could stand it any longer. Ignoring the risk, he began to scale the mountain and, reaching the top, found that the rocks, indeed, were gold and the streams silver. It made no difference to him because he only wanted his sons back. On the way back down, having failed to find them, he, too, came upon that beggar under a tree and asked for his help.

“The mountain will give your sons back,” he told the father, “if you bring something from their home to help them remember the love that they knew there.” The father raced home and returned with a bowl full of rice, giving the beggar some of it in appreciation for his advice. Then he found his sons, one at a time, and carefully placed a grain of rice on the tongue of each one of them. In that moment, the sons recognized their foolishness. They were able to see where real life, loving life, nurturing life was for them and they returned home with their father.

The bread that we receive this morning is given to us to remind us who we really are and whose we really are. It is the food of God’s kingdom which is our true home—God’s manna in the wilderness of our lives that reminds us day by day that we live because God does not necessarily provide what we want, but exactly what we need: some bread, some love, some breath, some wine, and a relationship with this ordinary man, Jesus, who came down from heaven to bring life to the world.

As you approach the table that God has set for us this morning, you come with open, empty hands. Be aware of what will fill them. Sometimes we don’t see things until we’re ready to see them as they really are. Look beyond the bread that is placed in those hands. It is, once again, our invitation to return home.

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