Bread for the Journey: Restoration
Scripture: Isaiah 58:3-12; John 6:24-35
Rev. Charles Svendsen, Apr 23, 2017
Today, the Sunday after Easter, has been called "Cannon Sunday." You can fire a cannon through the church and hit no one! We enjoyed glorious Easter worship here at WPC, wonderful music, fun Easter egg hunts for our children, 810 worshiped in three services which is slightly up from last Easter. A couple of funny things happened over Easter. Palm Sunday night up in SYF (Senior Youth Fellowship) we were looking at the Good Friday story, and I had high school students read aloud off the screen and one of our ninth graders read from Matthew 27:2, "They handed Jesus of to Pilates the governor, "Pontius Pilotes." And I got his permission to tell you this! The second funny - you remember that we announced that Charles Lees turned 98 last Monday? Charles, in the second service, took a bow. Well, after the service an older gentleman didn't hear Charles Lees' last name, and he came up to me and said, "I can't believe it, you look fantastic for 98!" It's because I'm doing a lot of Pilates!
Today we are starting a three part sermon series entitled "Bread for the Journey." Today, Restoration, Next Sunday, Roads, and on May 7th, Riches.
Our session, through our mission and social justice committee, is supporting the Manna food bank at their new location in Thousand Oaks. Over the next three weeks we want to raise awareness of Manna and pledge funds for a Westminster pantry to build shelving and restore space for non perishable food items in their new facility which is an old-fashioned church building. So our 3 year goal is $75,000. I encourage you to stop by and visit Manna during this campaign.
Our Scriptures this morning reflect this "Bread for the Journey," today a restoration theme. Our gospel base in our sermon series will be the long John 6:3-71 - we will be listening to all 68 verses over these three Sundays but coupled with John we will also look at the restoration of Isiah 58, the Roads of Luke 24 (the Emmaus story) and the Riches of second Corinthians 8, so wrote the apostle Paul,, "That through our Lord Jesus Christ was rich yet for your sakes he became poor that by his poverty you might become rich."
To Isaiah 58:3-12. These verses were written probably after Israel returned from exile in Babylon. They were coming back to Jerusalem to "restore" as best they could the splendor of Solomon's temple, but, of course, they couldn't. So they fell into the trap of substituting ritual and religious busyness for true compassion and open handed giving to the hungry and homeless and poor in Israel's midst. The writer is really a poet here and the poet starts with a series of mocking questions, (verse 3), "Why do we fast, but you, Lord, do not see? Why do we humble ourselves but you, Lord, do not notice?" And the reason given that the Lord does not "see" the fast nor "notice" Israel's humility is that Israel was, on their fast days, "looking to their own interests and oppressing all their workers." On their "fast days" just when Israel was acting religious, they were really quarreling and physically fighting the Lord, writes the poet, does not pay attention to such "phony worship" that religious and busy fasts on one hand and yet quarrels and fights on the other - that's not true worship! "The fast that I choose, I bless, and I value" says the Lord is (verse 6) "to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke." A word about "yokes" in the Bible. "Yokes" in the Bible were "power arrangements" that politically and economically put excessive burdens on one people and gave supremacy to another people. The clearest example of one people oppressing another was Egypt and the children of Israel.
Just as Pharaoh was wrong in exploiting and oppressing the Jews in Egypt, so Israel returning to rebuild Jerusalem, don't deny dignity and joy to your neighbors, Isaiah warns. Don't impose excessive burdens on your fellow Jews or even strangers. Rather, writes the Isaiah poet, "Share your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into your homes." Notice the balance between breaking down systems of injustice working in the political arena against social inequity "losing the bonds of injustice" and individual acts of ministry "sharing bread with the hungry, bringing the homeless into our homes." So the Christian can be a congressperson making fair laws, and the Christian can operate a food bank like Manna. Both the Christian social activist and the Christian individual responder provides "Bread for the Journey." And when we do so, writes the poet Isaiah, verse 11, "The Lord will guide you continually.. satisfy your needs in parched places... make your bones strong." You, Israel, as you care for justice and care for the needy, you shall be like a "well watered garden." And to those returning Jews that have both systematic and personal righteousness in their hearts and hands, this promise is finally given, verse 12, "Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt (Jerusalem), you shall raise up the foundations of many generations with all who came before and with all who would come after. To you, "You shall be called repairer of the breach" of "the patcher of the hole in the wall." You shall be the restorer of streets to live in." In other words, "you are bringing the neighbors back to the neighborhood, your neighborhood."
In another life I drove a 1957 Austin A34 Saloon. I purchased it in Edinburgh, drove it all over the U.K. and finally shipped it to New York City. I had it in Maine and Connecticut. My little Austin sat quietly in a pig bard for years. Finally I gave it to two young men as a project. Just last Monday, I called a vintage car shop to ask, out of curiosity, what my '57 Austin A35 was worth, and the gentleman asked me one question and only one question, "Has it been properly restored?" So, we through projects like Manna can be proper restorers of streets to live in. We can bring neighbors back into the neighborhood. Bread, physical bread, for the journey. But Isaiah 58 is only one side of the coin. The other side is John 6, and we can't have Isaiah 58 without John 6. So what's this lengthy chapter all about? At least the first 12 verses! Well it all comes down to the first of the seven great "I am" sayings of Jesus in John's gospel: "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." So our lesson begins today at verse 24. Jesus had just fed the 5000 with the little boy's 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Following that miracle is the mysterious narrative of Jesus walking on the water. Next there is confusion in the crowd as to where Jesus' boats and disciples and Jesus were. Finally our "pericope," our text, really revolves around three questions. The crowd asked, after finally tracking Jesus down to Capernaum, first question: "Rabbi, when did you come here?" the persistent crowd was in pursuit of Jesus. He had just fed 5000 and he looked o the crowd like a perpetual food supplier. And Jesus addressed their persistence, "You are looking for me for all the wrong reasons. Don't become preoccupied with food that will leave you hungry later. Set your hearts on bread that endures for eternal life." Jesus did feed the crowd physical bread, but that was not enough. Life is more than eating. The crowd was thinking and yearning for only the temporal bread. Jesus was moving their hearts to the eternal bread. You see, the miracles of Jesus were signs for John that point to life - eternal life given by Jesus, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" Jesus responds "You are asking the wrong question. Ask rather about eternal food!"
Second question the crowd asked was, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" In other words, what could they do to produce such miracles? Jesus feeds 5000 and walks on water. How can we the crowds do something like that? And Jesus gives them an answer like the Apostle Paul would have given. Jesus said, "This is the work of God that you believe in the One whom God has sent." Instead of doing "works," Jesus directs the crowd to "believe" in him whom God has sent. That's a matter of trust. That's a lesson for our prayer life. Instead of asking God for "works," e.g. thinks like housing and health and happiness, all good but maybe better, ask for "belief": Belief in the One whom God has sent. "Rabbi, how did you come here?" "What must we do to perform the work of God?" Third question: "What sign are you going to give us today so that we may see it and believe?" Jesus was such a patient teacher! They had just seen 5000 people get fed with 5 loaves and 2 fish. But that was yesterday! Today they are hungry - again. The crowd seems to want Jesus to feed them all over again and they cite the Manna that Moses gave their ancestors in the wilderness. They even quote some Scripture from Exodus 16, "Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat." And Jesus gently corrected them, "I tell you it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you true bread from heaven." And they said, "Sir, give us this bread today."
I'm not sure the crowd ever got that Jesus was offering them spiritual bread, the true bread from heaven, not manna but Jesus himself.
But finally, Jesus puts it plainly in verse 35, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
To all who are hungry, to all who are thirsty this morning, the Gospel for today, the second Sunday of Easter, is "to come to Jesus," "to believe in Jesus."
We need to give our bread to the needy physically, and we need to share Jesus, the bread of life. As we consider our gifts to the Manna food ministry, think and reflect and about how we might share our bread for the journey. That might be called, in our day, "the repairer of the breach," "the restorer of streets to live in."
So in our ministry and mission for and with Manna, we share Jesus, the Bread of Heaven.
The grass withers, and the flower fades, but the promises of God abide forever. Amen.
Westminster Presbyterian Church