August 6, 2018
“Please Pass the Bread” ~ sermon for July 29 ~Guest Preacher-Jack Bowman
PLEASE PASS THE BREAD
JACK BOWMAN SERMON
JULY 29, 2018
SALISBURY CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
I give special thanks to Mary Costanza for the beautiful violoncello music of Bach today, and thanks to the Deacons who are helping with the service.
SCRIPTURE READING: John 6: 1-21
Please join me in prayer. Lord, we pray that you will nourish our lives as we seek to nourish others. Amen.
My father was raised as a farmer and carpenter and had a long career as a school teacher. He spent his life literally and figuratively feeding those that needed bread. He fed the poor and hungry, whether they were his minority industrial arts students, the hungry in our town, or the homeless sleeping on the benches outside our church.
Growing up, our family gathered on the farm for holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The dining room had a long traditional table that seated the 30 gathered members of the family. The table was carefully set with the finest linen, china, silver and crystal. Beautiful silver candelabra and flowers adorned the center of the table, largely blocking the view from one end to the other end of the table.
Seating was carefully choreographed. My father’s older brother Glade was seated at the head of the table. My father Dale was at the opposite end. Following the prayer, the meal was served family-style. Proper manners were always expected; dishes were always passed as prescribed by Emily Post, in a counterclockwise direction. Despite the long table, group conversations took place on non-controversial subjects. There was never any deviation from proper protocol.
One year, at a poignant break in the conversation, Uncle Glade said to my father at the other end of the table, Dale, please pass the bread. My father calmly reached over to the beautifully-polished silver bread tray, raised the linen napkin covering the bread, and with his fingers, lifted a piece of bread, which he passed through the air, over the candelabra, to my uncle. There was a collective gasp from all at the table. Glade caught the bread. The meal went on. No one spoke of the bread again. We were never invited back for another Thanksgiving meal. My father had done as asked; he passed the bread. I learned that passing bread is not without danger and risk. Your way of doing it may not be well received. My father never preached to others about feeding the hungry. When he saw the need, he would quietly PASS THE BREAD.
Scripture – Jesus feeds the five thousand
In telling our morning scripture story, John recalls more than the actual events of that day on the hillside. John is teaching us about God. He draws on the traditions of his people in order to connect all these things to the larger story of God. Feeding the hungry masses should sound familiar. This is a theme that is repeated often in the Hebrew Scriptures. Moses faced a similar problem in the wilderness when asking: “Where am I to get meat to give to all these people.” In other Hebrew Scriptures, someone bringing loaves that are inexplicably multiplied and shared would have also reminded the people of the story of Elisha in 2 Kings. In Jesus, God is providing the Bread of Life, manna from heaven, and delivering us even from the water that would engulf us.
In this morning’s passage from John, Jesus is faced with the impossible challenge of feeding five thousand people from five loaves of bread and two fish. Faced with this problem, Jesus did not instruct his disciples to feed the hungry. Jesus fed the hungry. (REPEAT) Perhaps he said to his disciples, please, PASS THE BREAD.
Preaching to the choir
When preparing for this morning, I realized that speaking to this congregation about feeding people, is a little like preaching to the choir. You feed the poor. Our program in Bridgeport helps care for those that need food. Our Christian Action committee projects, including the community dinners and the Christmas Giving Tree, make a difference in the lives of people in need.
Our church is out front pushing for affordable housing in Salisbury and Lakeville where the need is overwhelming. We feed the souls of area people with a very diverse palate of beautiful music concerts. On behalf of those being fed by this congregation, I say: thank you!
However, we must avoid becoming like the television star Maverick who used to pontificate from his rocking chair on the front porch of the sheriff’s office. He would say: “I’m working on it” but nothing ever got done. The need is still here and continues to increase because of the cuts in governmental funding for social programs. We need to continue to step up and PASS THE BREAD.
In June, I had the pleasure of representing you as delegate to the Tri-State Convention of the United Church of Christ. The Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island conferences of the UCC gathered together in Springfield, Massachusetts for the annual convention.
As I walked from the parking garage to the Convention Center, I spotted the Springfield village green with the requisite First Congregational Church. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the doors to the church were boarded up and the tall iron fence around the church was chained shut. The church was closed. This historic congregation that served the people of Springfield is no longer. The people sleeping on park benches and asking passers by for food still remain. I wondered if this church lost its relevancy.
Across the street, I entered the convention center where the contrast was striking. Representatives of every church were telling of their fantastic programs for those in need. The leaders were talking about how to keep UCC churches relevant. They were stressing collaborations, and greater outreach to the needs of the people. To do this, the three conferences voted to merge. The vision is that we as a church will be better able to PASS THE BREAD.
Worried people, worried congregations, God’s abundance
We live in a world of fear and scarcity, and that we might not have enough. What are our barriers as individuals, as a church, as a society? We live in a fear shaped culture, where we’re being taught we have a lot to fear from others – like immigrants, or people not carrying their load, or supposed allies who are “ripping us off.” Here’s where our theology of grace fits in. People of faith start with a focus on the generosity of God, the abundance of God the provider, and not on our fears. As our friend Rich Reifsnyder reminded me, “we can’t outgive God. Having that kind of assurance in this fundamental theological conviction can give us confidence to take a risk” and PASS THE BREAD.
Let’s apply John’s teaching about the power of God to the life of our congregation, our expectations for our shared life, and the needs for those expectations to be transformed. What hope do we have in spite of perceived shortages? Do we worry about whether we are being true to the gospel, speaking courageously, and acting boldly on behalf of all those who are hungry, or are we worried about whether our church will be able to pay its bills. This is an especially pressing question during difficult economic times, when the temptation to concentrate on survival and maintenance might distract us from our true mission.
We want our church to survive so that it can minister as Jesus to the suffering, feed the poor and speak a prophetic word in a world that has often wandered from compassion to justice to hoarding and aggressively defensive self-interest. We do need to worry about shrinking endowments and offerings in face of rising costs. However, let’s challenge ourselves to focus not just on the reasonable, not just on basic needs, but on multiplying resources so that we might experience a revelation of amazing grace. Have you ever witnessed such sharing, such wonders, such grace? Generosity itself is a miracle to me, and it expresses a power – God’s power – to completely transform lives. And I don’t mean the lives of those who receive as much as those who give.
Who do we feed today?
Who are we being called upon to feed today? In Jesus’ case, the crowds came out from their homes, their towns, seeking something from Jesus. It was fairly obvious who needed to be fed. What are crowds looking for today? Recognizing the needs for today may be more difficult. When we see traffic streaming on Sunday mornings into malls, beaches and athletic centers, what hunger are they seeking to satisfy? People have hungers, for the basic necessities of life, security, safety, acceptance, love of family, love of God, and food. The people of the church are called to help with many of these needs. Malls, lakes, and sports teams address other less critical needs. As we see the need, let us follow the lead of Jesus, and please PASS THE BREAD.
Please join me in prayer.
Dear Lord, today we lift in prayer: (see list)
We pray that you will care for those in need of healing, those with hunger, those with no place to live. We ask your calming influence on those in government, that those in whom we have placed our trust will remain calm and remember the great needs of the people in this country and world. We ask your blessings on this church, those who give so generously of their time and talents and financial resources for the programs of this special church. We continue to learn from the lessons of Jesus and join now in his prayer taught to us by your son Jesus:
Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever, and ever. Amen
Lord, we ask that you hear the individual silent prayers of our people.