St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Pentecost 11 2012 Sermon
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Rev. Joyce Avery

Bread!  Just what is bread?  It makes good sandwiches, it's a side extra for a meal, it's something that children tear the crust off before eating it, it's a comfort food, it's fortifying, it gives you strength, and etc.  Sounds like we should not even consider giving it up.
 
Let me tell you about Bread, by quoting from a man born in the Middle East, now deceased, who has brought into the English language for us a sense of the importance of Bread, to the ancient as well as some modern Semitic minds:
 
“As the son of a Syrian family I was brought up to think of bread as possessing a mystic sacred significance.  I never would step on a piece of bread fallen in the road, but would pick it up press it to my lips for reverence, and place it in a wall or on some other place where it would not be trodden upon.  
 
What always seemed to me to be the noblest traditions of my people was their reverence to the "Aish" (bread; literally "the life giver").  We would always invite guests to partake of the "Aish".  The Aish was something more than mere matter, inasmuch as it sustained life.  It was God's own life made tangible for his child & man, to feed upon. The Most High Himself fed our hunger.
 
Everything these Semites did, they did in the name of God.  In the name of God, they would plant seed.  As they harvested, they would thank God for the harvest.  As they ground the grain, the name of their God would be on their lips.  When the wife kneaded and baked the bread, blessings would pour from her mouth.  Is it any wonder then, that when Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He began with "Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed by thy Name.  Give us this day our daily bread"?”
 
These are two different ways of thinking about Bread! They are both good for us and we need both of them, especially the later one, when Jesus tells all, that he is the Living Bread which comes down from Heaven;
 
You know what?  "We need a new Almanac, with all blank pages, that is for people who know everything."  This could have been said two thousand years ago in Jesus time, as we can see clearly in today's Gospel lesson in which Jesus makes some remarkable claims about himself.  "I am the Bread of Life", "I have come down from Heaven", "It is my father's will that whoever sees the Son and Believes in Him shall have Eternal Life, and I shall raise him up on the Last Day."
 
The People who think they know everything, whose minds and hearts are closed, even to any new word from God Himself, begin "complaining to each other" about Jesus. "Surely this is the Son of Joseph," they say.  “We know his father and mother.  How can he now say, I have come down from heaven?" Jesus says in reply.  "Stop complaining to each other ... It is written in the Prophets: "They will all be taught by God."”
 
Jesus wants to correct their state of mind.  He wants to change their way of thinking, Their attitude is such that they are not capable of perceiving anything about God, and about God's plan for their fulfillment which goes beyond what they already know.  Their know-it-all attitude closes them off from the possibility of any new word from God.  Until they open themselves up to this possibility, they are not qualified to comprehend what Jesus is saying to them.
 
Nevertheless, to his detractors who are calling his qualifications into question, Jesus says, "I have come down from heaven.  God the Father has sent me to bring you to Eternal Life.” Over-and-over He says it. ...“I am the Bread which came down from Heaven.  I have come down from Heaven.  I am the Bread of Life.  I am the Living Bread which came down from Heaven.”
 
Jesus knows that the closed state of mind of his detractors makes them impervious to anything He says.  But He makes it clear that once that state of mind is straightened out, the Father will draw them toward His word, and they will be able to accept and to respond to His Message of Eternal Life.
 
A Religious periodical once published the story of a man who decided to let the Lord take over his life.  He went to church and made a dramatic entrance, bursting through the main doors and dragging himself down the aisle, moaning and groaning about the sinful live he had been living.  Most in the congregation knew him as the worst drunk in town and, now, here he was acting like a madman.  In the House of God, of all places!
 
The episode took place just as the pastor concluded his sermon.  Quickly, he left the pulpit and hastened to the man's side.  "What do you want here?"  "I want God!  I need God!", the man wailed.  "You have come to the right place!”, said the preacher.  He then motioned for the ushers to escort the man into the first pew and, as they did, he whispered something in his ear.  And from that point on, the man was serenely quiet-- Not a peep!   Afterward, one of the man's relatives asked him what the pastor had whispered in his ear to quiet him down so.  The pastor replied, "Be still now!  God is speaking to your heart.  Don't Drown Him out!"  
 
"Follow me," speaks the voice of Jesus to our hearts. "Follow Me on the road to happiness.”  The problem for you and for me is that another voice ­keeps trying to drown Me out.  Speaking not to your heart, but to your head, it tries to convince you that you can achieve happiness "on your own".  That you can substitute your own happiness-formula for God's, that you know it all and, therefore, you are the sale authority on where your fulfillment lies, and that your own happiness is unrelated to the happiness of others.
 
Jesus has the Divine Formula of Service--of binding up the wounds and the hurts of others.  The real lesson therefore, is this: only by losing ourselves in loving service to others can we find the happiness we seek, for the "know-it-alls" in Jesus' time, his formula for the good life was unacceptable.  The same is true, of course, for the "know-it-alls" of our time, whose vision of what lies ahead is based solely on their own meager resources.

Among the many "Wise King Solomon" legends that have been passed down through the ages is the following:  "Once upon a time, a very wealthy Queen invited King Solomon to her court to test the supposedly ever-present wisdom of the famous king. Presenting Solomon with two bouquets of flowers, she announced: "One bouquet of flowers was made by my very best Artisans, the other is from the Garden.  We would like to see if you, in your wisdom, can tell us which is the real bouquet."
 
Solomon sat and carefully examined each bouquet. The color was the same, the leaves the same, both had drops of dew and, sure enough, even the imperfections were the same.  Solomon was unable to tell the difference.  Just as he was about to admit defeat, a bee flew through an open window.  The people of the court tried to catch the bee, but Solomon motioned for them to allow the bee to stay.  The Bee traveled around the room and finally lit on one of the bouquets.  Whereupon Solomon immediately announced that, that one was the genuine bouquet."
 
What does this ancient story tell us?  It tells us that even the wisest and most astute can learn from a blade of grass, a bumble bee, a butterfly, or a rainbow.  All of these have something to teach us, even the "know-it-alls" can learn from nature.  How much more to be learned, therefore, from the very source of nature, the very source of all creation, the very source of our life itself!
 
Be still now! God is speaking to your heart!  Don't drown Him out!  Amen



 
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