HANDING OUT THE BREAD OF LIFE (John 6:24-35)
I was talking to Dan Poindexter the other day, about the death of his brother. He gave me permission to tell this story.
The curious thing for Dan was that, although he grieved and missed his brother, he was not more emotional about it; and yet there would be these memorials he was asked to attend, where he would have to show emotions for the sake of others, to be in solidarity with them!
We talked about this, and wondered if he should go, or stay at home and heal on his own. And yet there was no huge need for healing.
What was going on?
We talked about the death of his first wife Mary, and how his brother Alan’s death must have brought that back to mind and made life worse.
And yet it didn’t. It made life better. Why?
It made life better because in remembering Mary’s death, he really remembered the life that was given back to him by this church, and by his family and friends. He remembered the love that was shown him by this church, and by his family and friends. He remembered the resurrection he felt in the months after her death, instead of the crucifixion he felt at the time of it.
Love instead of Death. Resurrection instead of Crucifixion. The same experience the disciples had after the death of Jesus – his Resurrection instead of his Crucifixion, his Presence after his absence.
Then, in the light of the Resurrection instead of the shadow of the Crucifixion, they remembered and taught all that he had done and taught – all that would have been false had he died and stayed dead, but was magnificently true because he was alive again. It all was true, his life, his love, his gift of himself. Never to be remembered again – or at least put in its new perspective – would be his death and the evil that men did. That is why we date Christianity from the 1st Easter instead of the 1st Good Friday – for that is when Christ became fully known, on the shores of the sea of Tiberias feeding his disciples bread and fish, the way he had years earlier fed the 5,000; instead of on the cross, mourning the forsakenness by his father.
That is why Dan is going out to those memorials now, to be a witness to his own Resurrection and the possible Resurrection of others; to show you can get through even this, rather than staying in the Crucifixion, or revisiting old griefs.
Dan is going so he can feed others with the bread of life, the bread of life Christ gave him in the wilderness through the love and action of blessed friends who, in the words of our own mission statement: through words and actions shared the message of Christ with each other and the community.
You shared the message of Christ, the message of love, with Dan. Now he shares it with the larger community.
Christ comes not to be worshiped but to serve – us. He came to wash our feet after long and weary days when we come home to put them up, not to have us wash and reverence him.
Then he asks us to pass on this footwashing – in his name – to other weary travelers; the way Dan’s feet and heart were washed by loving friends, and he now passes on that love to others.
We are the Body of Christ and we are called to live this way, to pass on “through word and action” the message of Christ. Or, as St. Francis put it to his disciples, to “go forth and preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.”
It is to nourish through words and actions the way we have been nourished through words and actions. And that means to stand out, to be different, not to fit in.
It means being Nathan to the world’s David, calling it – our friends and neighbors, our towns and village and county and country – calling them to account when, like David, they sin and look after their own needs and wants through actions and social policy, instead of looking after the needs of others as we are meant to do.
It means calling as Rector a Nathan to your David, who will call you to account when you have strayed from the right path; for God loves you too much to allow you to stray too far from him, and he loves the world too much to rob them of the message you could give if you were living in the right way.
May God also give you not just a prophet who sends you but a pastor who loves you, the way Nathan was both prophet and pastor to David, hearing his confession in Psalm 51, and so restoring him to communion with God.
This is the second countercultural message the church gives the world about God; not only that God calls them to be righteous and punishes them to get them back on the right track (and not just for punishment’s sake) but that God forgives sin when it is confessed instead of handing out ever harsher penalties – again to get them back on the right track instead of just for confession’s sake.
So we all become prophets of love, prophets of God’s love for the world, prophets of God’s presence in the world, prophets of God’s help in the wilderness. We point to the manna, to Jesus’ message of life and love, and say: Eat that. It’s all around and it’s good for you.
It’s all around and it’s good for you. Jesus is all around and he’s good for you. He’s not in heaven, waiting for you to run an obstacle course until finally you maybe get to him. He does not wait for you to score a perfect 10 on the balance beam and only then embraces you. He catches you when you fall and helps you get started again.
We have been on a journey together, from Egypt to the Promised Land. Every interim time is like that, and God imposes a wilderness experience upon us every few years or so – as he did with the children of Israel – to call us back to him, to remind us that we depend on him alone, and to make it impossible for us to rely on any other alternative; not a rector, not piles of money, not anything.
He reminds us to look for manna in the wilderness. So I looked for the manna of pastoral care for you when I leave and, lo and behold, 5 people stepped forward as Eucharistic Visitors. I looked for the manna of preaching and prayer leadership, and 4 of each stepped forward.
Manna is all around. Christ’s true and life giving message – in word and action – is all around. You just have to look for it. For in not looking for it out of hopelessness or ignorance, you do not find it unless it is forced upon you. But in looking for it, you do find it.
Christians are those who look for it and pass it on to those in need, the way so many did to Dan, the way he does now to others, the way you are called to do to Cornwall and Orange County.
Now you seek a leader who will lead you the rest of the way into the Promised Land of love for all. I have not gotten you there. But I hope I have helped you identify the manna that lies all around, among you and within you, to be nourished by it and nourish others with it, until you get to that Promised Land.