Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 1, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a+Psalm 51:1-13+(Ephesians 4:1-16)+John 6:24-35

Raising kids is hard. Raising toddlers is especially hard. It can also be funny, though not right when you’re in the middle of it. The toddler meltdown can be one of the most frustrating ordeals for a parent because there is generally not an easy way to make it end other than to wait it out.

How many of us can relate to trying to feed a child, and the conversation goes something like this:

“Here are the grapes you wanted.”

“No! I wanted the purple kind!”

            -or-

“Here’s your sandwich, cut in 4 triangles, just the way you like it.”

“No! I don’t want 4 triangles, I want squares!”

            -or-

“You can have a snack after you get up from your nap.”

“No! I want it now!”

Like Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, stomping her privileged little foot and demanding satisfaction, until she was judged a “bad egg” and dropped down a garbage chute. There were times when my kids were small that I would have paid good money for one of those chutes.

The truth is, children in these circumstances don’t really know what they want. They are trying to assert some independence but don’t have the ability to think things through or engage in rational decision-making, and this leads to frustration and those oh-so-difficult meltdowns.

The crowds that Jesus miraculously fed with the loaves and fish are a bit like children who don’t really know what they want or how to get it, yet somehow, they think that this Jesus is the one who can satisfy their hunger. Our reading skips a couple of verses that serve as a transition between the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water. It says:

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the lake saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.  (John 6:22-23)

Then our reading opens with, “The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus” (6:24). Some, but not all, of those who had been fed knew that their bellies had been filled once. Were they looking for more food, or was it something else that they hungered for? And here’s where that toddler analogy comes in. They don’t know what they are looking for, but they believe that Jesus has it.

“Rabbi…what sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness” (6:30-21). They peppered him with questions, hoping to hear the answer they needed. And this is where that sermon illustration in the flesh that I mentioned last week comes into play. Jesus reveals to them that there is no bread that will satisfy them forever, only him. The bread of life.

For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (6:33-35)

The holy food and drink that satisfy are found in him, not in any morsel of bread or sip wine or water. The Israelites gathered manna in the wilderness provided by God for their physical hunger. They could only gather enough to last a day, two days to carry them through the sabbath. Believing in the promise that enough would be there the next day and the day after that must have been hard. It took believing the promise, just as Jesus is now telling his followers that they have to believe what he is promising.

King David clearly forgot that God would provide enough, because he took and he took and he took some more. It took a lot of courage for Nathan to tell David to his face that he had done something despicable. It may have taken even more courage for David to admit to it. He offers a lament for his sins, as tradition tells us, in Psalm 51:Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; *
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

Wash me through and through from my wickedness *
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, *
and my sin is ever before me. (51:1-3)

David prays that God will not abandon him:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence *
and take not your holy Spirit from me.

Give me the joy of your saving help again *
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit. (51:11-13)

It would be nice to think that David went his way and sinned no more, but that is not the case. He could not trust that God would provide enough. Tragedy befell him just as Nathan hard warned. Just as the manna grew wormy and spoiled when the people could not trust, David’s life unfolded like a Shakespearean tragedy.

No matter how many times we come here, listen to God’s word, pray for one another, confess our sin, and get our fill of the bread of life, we will falter in living our faith. It is the human condition. We can’t help ourselves. We can’t trust that God will provide, that there is enough, that we are enough.

But remember, God was faithful to the people of Israel. God was faithful to David. God was faithful to the followers of Jesus. And God is faithful to us.

There is no garbage chute for the people of God.

The epistle reading from Ephesians that we did not hear this morning contains these words

…lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (4:1-2)

It is worth praying to be worthy of this calling, to receive the gift of trust in the one who created us, and to share the love that binds us together in this sinful and broken world. We don’t need to stamp our feet and demand to be fed. It’s all right here, everything we need, shared together in one Body and one Spirit. We just have to accept the invitation.          

ASEPSermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 1, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas