Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sermon from August 5

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Some people just never change. It may have been months, or even years since you’ve last seen the person, and sure, they may have put on a little weight or they have a few more grey hairs than you remember, but for the most part they look exactly the same as the last time you saw them. For me, it was just fascinating to see at my friends’ wedding two weeks ago – who had changed and who hadn’t, to see who had gotten married and started a family, and who hadn’t yet.

Some people just never change. And this seems equally true of groups of people as it is for individuals. Our texts for today seem to be telling us that the people of God are stuck in a rut that has spanned across centuries. In our reading from Exodus, the Israelites have finally gotten their freedom from oppression in Egypt, being led dramatically out of captivity by the parting of the Red Sea and a rousing defeat of their enemies. In response, God’s people are always feeling grateful and happy, right? Wrong! These people, whom God had rescued, came to Moses and Aaron, complaining: “Oh woe is us! It would have been better if we would have died in Egypt! In fact, if we were still in Egypt, at least our bellies would be full and we could eat whatever we wanted!” I guess they conveniently forget about the whole “being the slaves of the Pharaoh” part. And the cause of their short-term memory lost? They are in the middle of a desert, hungry with no food. I supposed they DO have a good reason for their complaint. But they forgot one thing. They forgot that God will provide.  

Some people just never change. For, thousands of years later after Moses and the Exodus, God’s people are at is again! Last week we heard how Jesus had fed thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish, which had been generously donated from a little boy’s lunch. The people are so thrilled by this “bread vending machine,” if you will, that they mob him and try to make him their king. And why not? Isn’t having a leader with the ability to feed his people at will a GOOD thing? Who would not want that kind of person as their leader?

But as you may recall, Jesus didn’t agree with their plans and escaped for the moment, did a little water-walking, and got out of Dodge. So this week we heard what happened when the crowd caught up with Jesus. And we heard how they badgered Jesus with a game of twenty questions that ended with a ridiculous-sounding request. This may actually sound familiar, if you have ever tried to have an argument with a young child. “I’m hungry, Mommy. I want candy.” “Look Mommy – here’s some candy for me right here. Can’t I have some?” “But why do we have to pay for it? I want it right NOW!!!” “No I don’t want Mac’n’Cheese for supper. I want candy every day!” Sound kind of familiar?

My younger sister often babysits for an adorable little girl named Sophie. For a while, her routine was to point at everything and ask “was ‘at?” The first five or dozen times, it’s cute. After about forty, you want to get the kid a dictionary or something. It’s kind of funny that this is also the question that the Israelites in the wilderness asked about the bread that came to them from heaven: “What’s that?” Moses had to spell it out for them: “Its bread that God gave us. You get to eat it.”

But Sophie, like God’s people of old, seems to have grown out of this phase. Now, she asks, “Why?” God’s people seem to have gotten past the complaining phase in the desert, but this next phase with Jesus doesn’t seem like much of an improvement. Instead, they pester Jesus with trivial questions they should already know the answer to. “Jesus, how did you get here so fast?” “Jesus, what do we need to be doing the work of God?” and my personal favorite: “Jesus, what great thing are you going to do to prove to us that you are the real deal?”

I really want to say to them: are you kidding me? Didn’t you just see Jesus feed five thousand people? Didn’t you and your friends and your friend’s cousins with their friends all eat and were full to bursting from FIVE loaves of bread and TWO fish?  I just don’t get it. If that is not sign enough that Jesus has been sent from God to do God’s work here among us, then I don’t know what is.

And when Jesus sets the record straight, that it wasn’t the power of mighty Moses who rained bread from heaven for their ancestors in the wilderness, it was God the Almighty one, the crowd misses the point entirely.

“Wow, Jesus. Your kind of bread sounds great. Now where can I sign up for my never-ending supply?” They just didn’t get it, even then. They didn’t get that they already had this Bread of Life, right in front of them. So this time Jesus spells it out in even plainer language. He says, “I AM the bread that comes from God. Come to me, and have the kind of life that fills you no matter what.”

For us now, it’s so easy to look at this crowd and scoff at how thick they seem. But we have no cause to feel superior, just because we have the advantage of hindsight. We are not all that much different from them. We too work for the food that doesn’t last, for success or admiration or material things, instead of the food that endures for eternal life. We miss where God is at work in our lives and instead are blown about, bouncing to and fro from one new fad to the next. Again and again we fall for the same old tricks and temptations.
Sometimes people never seem to change. But God never changes either. And that’s a good thing.

Before the exodus from Egypt, God heard the cries of his people under the heavy yolk of slavery. God rescued them from the land of their oppressors and promised them a land of their own. And when the people complained bitterly of their hunger and showed their lack of trust, God still gave them a daily supply of bread rained down from heaven. And thousands of years later, even though the crowds ran after Jesus to keep their own stomachs full, Jesus gave them their fill of bread, answered all of their questions, and revealed his identity as the true Bread of Life that comes from God. Though the people later rejected Jesus and had him executed like a criminal, Jesus gave all of himself.

And two thousand years after that, in a world where everything changes in the blink of an eye, Jesus is still popping up to support us and come to our aid. These encounters may not be as flashy as bread coming down from the sky or the sudden multiplication of Happy Meals, but they do happen. In our own weekly celebration at the communion table, Jesus comes to us in ordinary things such as bread and wine.

God’s love for us has always been and will always be the same: limitless and unwavering. We know this because he sent his own son into the world to change everything. The priorities of the world have been turned upside down: the hungry are filled and the weak are lifted up. Sin no longer divides us and death can no longer make us afraid. God gives us our fill of bread and that bread is a man from Galilee who died on a cross. A tomb becomes empty. Despair becomes hope. Death becomes life. And all of the broken pieces of our lives become one beautiful whole again. Amen. 

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