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Pentecost 10B Sermon
John 6: 24-35,
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

August 1, 2021


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John 6:24-35

24So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
28Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35Jesus 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.

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 9Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.’“ 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. 11The LORD spoke to Moses and said, 12“I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’“
13In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

So they said to him, “What sign are you giving us that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Last week we heard the story of Jesus feeding a multitude of 5,000 people with five barley loaves of bread and two fish from John 6. This morning that same crowd realizes that Jesus has moved on and they want to find him. Jesus accuses them of tracking him down because they want more bread - he fed them once, and they want fed again! The crowd’s memory is short - this sign of multiply loave and fish was just the day before, and yet they have forgotten that somehow Jesus shared bread from heaven with them. Short memories shouldn’t surprise us, though. We all have them, even the people who uttered these words to Jesus. They “remember” God providing this manna to their ancestors while they were wandering in the wilderness between slavery and the promised land - it was a miracle, a sign of God’s providing presence with them. They must have been so excited when they awoke every morning to see this white, flaky substance, gathered it in, ate of it and were able to eat quail in the evening and be filled. The Israelites were not all that happy about it; they constantly complained that it was not what they really wanted.

Our first reading is a story from that wilderness time. It was the epitome of what we call, “liminal space” - a threshold marking the entering or beginning of a new reality and the closing or leaving of another. To be sure, the wilderness through which these people traveled was harsh and challenging and God had to provide food, water and protection at every turn. But it was also difficult for another reason besides the physical challenges. It represented leaving what they knew and embarking on something brand new - a new and different kind of life and blessing from God. And no matter how much they complained about that previous life, it still seemed better than the unknown that was ahead of them.

Evidently their short, selective memories forgot the harsh conditions under which they lived. The back-breaking labor that they had to endure as they built the cities and monuments of the Egyptian empire under punishment of the whip or worse. All they seemed to remember were the fleshpots and eating their fill of bread. Now, when we think of fleshpots, we often think of people who have a voracious sexual appetite. That is a new nuance that the word has taken on, but the biblical term here refers to the pots in which meat was cooked or boiled to be eaten for meals. Evidently the Israelites had access to these cooking vessels and meat to cook and eat regularly. They did not really care for the daily diet of manna in the morning and quail in the evening, but they knew that to survive, they had to gather and eat and continue to move on through this liminal space to whatever it was that God had in store for them next. Maybe that is why it was referred to as the land of milk and honey. These were the things that provided nutrition and taste to the diet. These were the things to which they could look forward, even if they were in the dark about what life would be like there.

These fleshpots have come to symbolize the forces of backward pull that operate upon all of us when we hit snags of hardship, fatigue, discouragement or other such hinderances in the pursuit of a joyous, fulfilling life. We can get a little depressed and complain and gripe and even long to return to what we are familiar with even though it was not as golden as we are remembering it to be, instead of trusting in God to lead us to something new and glorious. The death that was present in our past seeks to draw us back, leaving us discouraged or confused when we consider what could lie ahead. This is true when folks who have suffered through terrible illness cannot let go to cross that threshold of death into God’s gift of eternal life. It is also true for people stuck in abusive relationships or lifestyles who cannot picture themselves living any other way. It is also true for all of us right now as this Delta Variant is causing the pandemic to rage once again and all we want to do is to return to life before March 2020 … even though there were many things in that life that were not perfect or maybe even detrimental to us anyway.

Why do you come here to Clinton heights? I ask that question as modern-day folks who are looking for Jesus to provide us a sign of his presence with us in our own liminal spaces. It is easy to let fear or uncertainty guide our decisions and our lifestyles, but God calls us to walk through this wilderness by faith. Now by that I do not mean throwing caution to the wind, forgetting medical prevention, treatments and advice and take our chances trusting that God will protect you! I mean trust that God is with us to feed, water, tend to us as we navigate this threshold. We are in the process of leaving behind a way of life, and we might not like what that means! It is that way for each of us and our families, and it is that way for our congregation. Accepting that reality and walking forward with all that we need to stay healthy and well, encouraging each other, helping each other out as we are called and gifted, and prayerfully being together for worship, Bible study, serving and fellowship, I trust that God will lead us into the promised land that is to come. I know there will be complaining - and some of it will undoubtedly come from me! But thankfully we have a patient God who puts up with our complaining and continues to walk with us into our future - raining down bread from heaven, the presence of Jesus Christ on us all along the way.

Two of our congregation’s ministries that will certainly look different are Christian Education and music. Both of these areas of church life had wonderful and strong traditional lifespans. As these last 10 to 20 years have gone, the traditional versions of those entities have continued to wane. But isn’t it possible to for all ages to hear and learn and discern God’s word without being in a traditional Sunday school classroom? And isn’t it possible for us to sing and play praises to the Lord without having a traditional choir or instrumentation? We may yearn for those things from “the good old days,” but what God is leading us to is more blessed and joyful for our future - different, but more blessed and joyful, and I hope that you will join me in the months and years to come to walk over that threshold and celebrate together the abundant blessings that we have as we are fed with the bread of life and we live into the future that God has promised to us! Amen.