This post is a bit different than all my other posts. It's today's sermon in response to a question how I do a sermon (based on my last post about knowing the notes). While I do podcast most sermons (I don't, a 13 year old boy from the church does it), it does not have the capacity to be looked at and analyzed because you must take time to sit(or walk) and listen. That, I think is one of the powerful dimensions of preaching in that it is primarily in the moment with a congregation. A sermon does not have that much life on its own. It is a relationship carved out of the day-to-day interaction between pastor and parish (the larger community in which we live). So, this is what happened today (less the music, announcements, children's moment, prayers and communion).
There are few more passionate topics of conversation than food. O, maybe music and language would rank uo there, but talk about food and everyone is an expert. We all do food regularly. Some of us more regularly than others.
Martha and I visited the Santa Barbara "Fiesta" this week and samples some of the food from the booths along with Liam Murphy (MCC's new Youth Director).
Every year about this time, my son Isaac and I would spend one day at the Minnesota State Fair. We followed, over the years, an almost strict pattern of the sites we would visit. No one joined us in this. It was just father and son. We would see the farm equipmen, trucks, boats, the largest sow, the horse barn, the 50cent milk booth, and then the foods. Most of the State Fair foods were cooked on a stick. The Fair is ususally hot, nolisey, dusty and crowded. But it was an event shared with my son and I loved it...and now miss it profoundly!
Holidays often revolve aroudn special foods families enjoy. They can be complex gormet meals or simple hot dogs grilled on an open fire.
When we visit with people from other countries and other cultures, it is always fun and eye-opening to talk about food.
But, have you ever stopped to consider and reflect why it is you like the food that you like? Why are your food preferences so strong...especially as you age? Why is it almost impossible to go to a movie after a full dinner and not buy a bag of popcorn? Where does that mid-afternoon chocolate craving come from? Why do kids (and some adults) like one type of breafast cereal over all others? Why does your car go almost into autopilot to an "In-and-Out" burger stand?
In Eric Schlosser's award winning and soon-to-be movie "FAST FOOD NATION" he takes a hard and critical look at the world of fast food. We Americans spend more on fast food than on higher education, personal computers and new cars. We spend more on fast food than we do on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and movies combined! Schlosser says "A nation's diet can be more revealing than its art or literature."
As I re-read (scanned) this bood again this week, I was impressed again by the amount of time, energy and money put into the packaging, media-placement, flavor-enhancing and branding of food. A basic premise Schlosser operates under is that our food preferences are established during our first years of life. It's the process of socialization where children learn to eat what the adults around them eat. And once patterns are set, the smell of food, its aroma is powerfully connected to our memories, hence comfort food...just like momma used to make it, or the smell of grandma's kitchen. You know what certain smells or tastes do to you, they flood you with feelings and memories.
Our texts for today revolve around two food stories. On the one had they are very different ((Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 and John 6:24-35) and on the other hand they are remarkably similar. The text from Exodus and its companion in Psalm 78 is about Israel learning to let go of their memories and trust God.
Israel was facing a harsh and unknown future in the wilderness on the other side of the Red Sea. They had just escaped certain death at the hands of Pharaoh and his armies, but now they faced the heat and the sand, and the unknown. So they complained (Ex 16:3) "If only we had died back in Egypt where we sat by the stews and at our fill of bread!"
What were they in Egypt? What was their former life really like? SLAVERY! They were persecuted, abused and killed. And all they remember now are some grand meals? What's with that?
Think about it. How long were they in Israel? (400 years). 400 years of slave memory trumped less than a year of freedom memory. They had strong memories of slave-food, slave-life, slave-lviing. And part of the Exodus and the 40 years in the wilderness is all about erasing slave-memory for peopel-of-God memory. So God started with a new food (even before the 10 commandments) a new bread called "manna". Which is really interesting because the hebrew word for the question of the Israelites about this new stuff "What is this?" is translated "mannu?" and the answer is: Manna!
This new bread was not a bread that was baked but received freely. It was not a bread that could be stored, hoarded or controlled, but was trusted for daily. This became Israel's Real Bread, a new memory. And on top of this story is our gospel lesson for today (Read: John 6:24-35)
I love this text. If you look back to the beginning of John 6 you will read the great story of the feeding of the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish. This is probably many believers' favorite miracle. I ask confirmands during the year about their favorite miracle and this is always near the top. It's a story about the power and abundance of Jesus. It's a story about his compassion for a hungry crowd that the disciples wanted to send away. It's a story about Jesus using the gift of a child, meager resources; kids count to Jesus. And it's a story about the remaining abundance of 12 baskets after everyone is filled. This is so cool! All shortages are overcome by God's grace!
Our text begins part 2 to the story. After the miracle Jesus withdrew and sent the disciples out on the boat. They hit the storm. He walked to them and calmed the storm and they landed safely. But the crowds sought out Jesus. They wanted more Miracle. They wanted anothe banquet of loaves and fish transformed. They wanted another free feast. Because in their memory this was all good. When we are with Jesus great things happen.
How many of us ahve that very spiritual journey? A journey that is really like that of the hungry crowds? We have had the mountaintop experiences with Jesus at camp, CHIC, retreats, small groups or mission trips. We have experienced being overwhelmed by the Spirit at concerts, Promise-Keepers, and big worship. And we want more of it, another outpouring of the Spirit, another miracle feeding of our chronically hungry hearts.
I've been there. I know what that's about. There are times I can tast the grand worship and great speakers like Henri Nouwen, Earl Palmer, Marva Dawn. I can almost hear the powerful sounds of Salem's great organ playing Widor's Tocatta and Fuge and the full choir singing a Bach chorale or a full orchestra with brass and stings.
And Jesus said to those crowds almost the same thing that God said to Israel; that old bread of your keeps running out and perishing. I have something more for you, a true bread that comes down from heaven and does not just satisfy, but actually gives life.
Notice how Jesus does not berate the crowd, but invites them in, invites them in to a closer walk with him. He does the same with us today. He really, really knows how hungry you are. he understands your cravings for the old foods of your memory that keed spoiling; like the foods of power, control, money, status, health. he completely understands the uncertainties of your life as you cross your Red Sea into this next chapter. And Jesus graciously offers us what he offered the crowds and his discples; himself, simply himself. He is the bread of life.
That's what we are doing here at the Table today; an essentiall simple act done by believers across space and time. We take bread and cup as a simple act of taking Jesus into our lives, to satisfy us and make us live. As we prepare to receive the real bread from these loaves and cup from the trays, let's sing reflectively and prayerfully what we believe in the song by the Getty's "In Christ Alone."