Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 8, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

(2 Samuel 18:5-9, 31-33)+Psalm 130+Ephesians 4:24-5:2+John 6:35, 41-51

They say that the senses of smell and taste are closely tied to memory. When I interviewed people for the Fire Memorial Project, I heard again and again about the lingering smell of smoke in Hoboken during the arson years and how that smell can, even now, evoke the traumatic memories of the fires.

When I was a very small child, my family – five siblings and my parents – would pile into our Volkswagen bus and drive the 90 minutes or so from our little town in Eastern North Carolina to Raleigh, where my grandmother lived until I was about 6. The one enduring memory I have of those visits is that my grandmother would put out her cut crystal goblets and silver spoons and serve us vanilla ice cream covered in Hershey’s chocolate syrup. To this day, the taste of Hershey’s syrup can take me back decades to those visits with my grandmother.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

These words are so important that we hear them twice – at the end of last week’s reading and at the beginning of this. The crowds followed Jesus after he had miraculously fed 5,000 of them with a few loaves and fish, and he wants them to understand that it is more than just their bellies that he is there to fill.

Ah, but there are the doubters, those who watched Jesus grow up and know who he is, and he can’t possibly be the son of God or a worker of signs and wonders. These “Jews” who are complaining are not “some other people.” They were all Jews. It’s just that this group did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for. How can he say that he has come down from heaven? How preposterous.

But those who followed Jesus, those who had tasted the bread, they knew. They hungered and were filled, and so they followed to be filled again, not just with a barley loaf but with the bread of eternal life.

“Taste and see that God is good,” the psalmist says (Psalm 34:8). Whether it is the home baked bread that we enjoyed pre-COVID or these communion wafers that have been the principal form of the sacrament for ages, you know it when you taste it. Once you have tasted God’s love, you know it when you taste it again. When you feel it. When you experience it. Or as the old youth group campfire song went:

            That’s how it is with God’s love,
            Once you’ve experienced it.
            You spread the love to everyone,
            You want to pass it on.

Today, we welcome three children into the Church family through the sacrament of baptism. They will likely not remember what we do here today. But as they grow in faith, grow in this community, grow in love of God and neighbor, they will absorb those memories so that they will recognize it when they taste it. When they feel it.

The portion of the letter to the Ephesians that we heard a little while ago says…

be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (4:32)

A fragrant offering. You know it when you smell it, when you taste it. When we live in love and gather to share in this bread of life, we recognize Christ in one another.  Taste and see how good our God is.

ASEPSermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 8, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas