“Good news is communicated by what we are and how we relate to others.”
This statement comes from Chapter 7 of Monika Hellwig’s The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World. I first encountered this text in seminary, but with the readings from the Gospel of John lately, I thought it might be appropriate to look it over again.
In our Gospel reading for Sunday (John 6:35, 41-51), once again Jesus is telling the people he is the bread of life. Over the last couple of weeks, we have explored the miracles of Jesus and we have talked about spiritual and physical hunger. When Jesus has told his followers that he is the bread of life, they were eager to hear and receive this good news. They didn’t question Jesus’ credentials, they accepted the good news because he was in relationship with them.
But in this week’s Gospel, there is some question. There are questions about how Jesus can make such bold claims that he is the bread from heaven. Here “the Jews” represent temple leaders and those who held power. They complain that Jesus cannot possibly be who he claims to be because they do not recognize him as the Messiah. For them, a Messiah was someone who was a political and military leader, someone who would liberate them from Roman occupation; not someone who was necessarily concerned with embracing outsiders, soothing the suffering, or comforting the afflicted.
If we take a look back over the last several weeks, those who have followed Jesus have been outsiders—Gentiles, tax collectors, fishermen, the poor and the hungry. They went looking for him because they desired a relationship with the Divine and one another. They were seeking a new community. They were seeking healing, peace and love. This week there are no followers present, but rather complainers. And these complainers are the insiders—the powerful, the ones in leadership, the ones who are always right.
Where else do we see this kind of struggle in our lives?
After hearing about the shooting of the Sikh’s at their temple in Wisconsin last week, I have been praying for peace and understanding in faith communities. I have been troubled by the confusion that we have around people who “aren’t like us”—in other words, outsiders. Because of the way Sikh’s look (headcoverings, turbans, long beards), they are often mistaken for Muslims and Arabs, and therefore often the victims of racially motivated crimes. In the case of the Oak Creek shooting, Wade Michael Page, a member of a white supremacist group, walked into a temple and open fired. Prior to entering the temple, those gathered were engaged in praying and singing, which would then be followed by a community meal. Sikhs are a peaceful, loving people. They believe in God. They have sacred texts and practices. The three principles of Sikhism are: remember God, earn honestly, share with the needy. They support religious freedom. The ideology of white supremacists groups in very simple terms is the white race is the right race, and it is the race chosen by God.
Please understand that I'm not comparing "the Jews" of John's gospel with white supremacists. I'm merely illustrating the struggle of insiders versus outsiders. The powerful versus the peaceful.
Somehow, I’m just not convinced that when we are called to be children of God, it means engaging in violence, ostracism, or power plays. Being children of God isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong, but learning to live in community and relationship with one another. According to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we are to be members of one another, we are to put away all bitterness and hatred and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Theologians call these the “marks of Christian living”. And in the case of Oak Creek, the Sikhs and the community which supports them are behaving more in line with Paul’s teaching than those who engage in violence and hate.
I want to go back to Monika Hellwig’s statement “Good news is communicated by what we are and how we relate to others.” As participants in the Body of Christ, as partakers of the Bread of Life, as Children of God, we are called to community. We are called to listen, forgive, and heal. We are called to love and charity.
What if we replaced the phrase “good news” with some other phrases about Christian living?
“Kindness is communicated by what we are and how we relate to others.”
“Forgiveness is communicated by what we are and how we relate to others.”
“Love is communicated by what we are and how we relate to others.”
So in light of the events in Oak Creek Wisconsin, and the many events of our daily living, I invite you to reflect on those marks of Christian living. Are we filled with bitterness and complaining or are we acting in kindness and looking for healing? Are we members of one another or only concerned with ourselves? Do we engage in exclusion or inclusion? Which is more important—power or peace?
Food. I like it. I’m guessing you like it. Some people have more than enough of it, some have enough to get by, and others don’t have any.
When I worked in student affairs, our motto was “if you feed them, they will come”. Some wise sage had figured out that the best way to get the attention of college students was to feed them…then talk to them about rules, registration, and other information.
When I worked at St. Matthew’s, our motto was “feed them”. St. Matthew’s was in a poor part of the city, and most of our congregation was made up of people without a lot of food. So we fed them a lot. Sundays included pre-and post-church snacks. We ran a food pantry twice a week, and there was always a line out the door. Food was vital to this congregation.
And here in Hood River, food is important. The FISH food bank always takes donations, and people are always fed. When the Warming Shelter is open, meals are provided. Our community is very aware that people need to be fed.
When we have full bellies, the challenges and tasks of life become less daunting.
Our Sunday gospel from John (6:24-35) picks up right after Jesus has fed 5000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread. There was no reason to apply the “if you feed them, they will come” motto…the people were there and they were hungry…physically and spiritually. And so they were fed until they were satisfied. This Sunday, the people have gone looking for Jesus, asking for another sign and more bread.
But this time instead of giving people bread, Jesus tells them about the bread of life.
Jesus says “I am the bread of life”. It is through Jesus that people are fed, healed, and renewed. So what kind of sign did the people want? Were they looking for more food? Were they looking for someone to be their leader (don’t forget, they had tried to make him their king)? Or were they looking for healing and love; the free gift of grace from God? Maybe it was all of these things, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If they were hungry, they wanted to be fed. If they felt that life was chaotic, they wanted organization and leadership. If they felt broken, they wanted to be healed. Ultimately, what they were looking for, and what I think most of us are looking for, is something to make us feel loved. And that love is found in the bread of life.
Knowing about and experiencing God’s grace through the life of Jesus—the bread of life—isn’t the end of the story though. Once we have participated in the bread of life, we are called into relationship with each other and with God. Partaking in the bread of life calls us to discipleship and fellowship.
Why did we feed people at St. Matthew’s? Because we had been fed. Most of the volunteers at the food pantry were also poor people, but they had experienced God’s love and healing, and they wanted to share that with someone else.
Why do we feed people through the Warming Shelter and FISH? Because we have been fed. We give of our time, talent and treasure to feed those in need because we have experienced the grace of God and want to share it.
In the Ephesians reading, Paul reminds the early church members (and us) that we are to lead a life worthy of our calling. What is our calling? It is to share in the bread of life. And Paul tells us that the way to be worthy of our calling is to lead a life that is humble, gentle and patient. We are to love one another, which means serving and supporting each other. We are to maintain unity and peace. As partakers in the bread of life, we become members of the body of Christ.
In Paul’s letter he talked about being equipped for ministry. The Greek word for “equip” is katatismos, which means to restore, create or prepare. As members of the body of Christ, as partakers in the bread of life, we are healed and restored, participants in creation and the coming Kingdom of God, and we prepare ourselves to be disciples and follow Jesus.
When we celebrate the Eucharist, we aren’t given a big meal, but instead we are given healing and love that can only be found in the bread of life. I invite you to come…you will be fed.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.