The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling Emmanuel Church, West Roxbury
Last week, I preached about the power of telling stories, like the story of Bathsheba and King David, and the importance of speaking the truth in love, as the prophet Nathan did when he confronted King David. David’s anger was greatly kindled, when he heard Nathan’s story about the rich man taking the poor man’s lamb; and so I talked about how our anger can reveal many things - like guilt, or injustice, sadness, fear, or hurt. I also spoke about the abuses and uses of power, and how there are power differentials in all of our relationships. For example there is a power differential between clergy and laity, and in some sense that is revealed when we preach from the pulpit. I stand above you and talk down to you or at you. You may or may not like and/or agree with what I say; and so your anger may be kindled. A captive audience, you may sit there fuming, or bored, or confused, and then just tune me out or walk out. Heaven forbid!
Now, when I served in a parish in Connecticut, or at our Cathedral Church of St. Paul last year, I came to know the people in these communities because I was there almost every Sunday and most days in between. Depending upon the community and the possibilities offered in the scripture lessons for the day, I would occasionally offer what I call a “dialogical sermon.” That is, a sermon that is a dialogue between and among all of us. What I have discovered in my years of preaching is that this can be risky. Some people don’t like me stepping down from the pulpit, and talking with them, up close and personal. Some people feel that I am being paid to offer my professional reflections and not to hear yours. Introverts often like more time to process their thoughts, and some people are afraid to speak up because they might sound “stupid.” All of which is to say that I did a little research last week to see if I might take that risk with you this morning.
And guess what!? For better or worse, whether you like it or not, this morning’s sermon will be a dialogue. I’ll try to ease you into the process and keep it relatively simple. I will invite you to step out of your comfort zone and not worry too much about what you will say, trusting in the goodness of this community. I will also invite you to be open to learning from others through the power of the Spirit. Now please also forgive me, for I will get carried away with my own words, a besetting sin of preachers and extroverts like me, and a hard habit to break! I also would like to share with you some of the Biblical research that I did this week.
This morning I want to focus specifically on the words of Jesus, when He said, “I am the bread of life.” There is a 12 step saying, that says “I came to believe” which broken down means, first ‘I came’, then I ‘came to’, and then ‘I came to believe.” So let’s do that with Jesus’ words today when he said, “I am the bread of life” starting with:
1. I want you now to fill in the blank. “I am……..blank.” Don’t think too long or hard, just offer the first word or phrase that comes to your mind; and if you’d raise your hand, I’ll call on each of you in turn. Perhaps we’ll go around more than once, and as always, if you do not want to participate for any reason, please don’t! I’ll start….”I am Nancy.” “I am excited to be here this morning.”
2. What do your ‘I am’ statements reveal about you or others?
○ something about you: the current state of your bodies, minds, heart, and spirits
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is known for his many “I am” statements
● I am the messiah
● I am the light of the world
● I am the good shepherd
● I am the gate
● I am the true Vine
● I am living water
● I am the bread of life
3. What did Jesus mean when He said “I am”?
● I am not only
○ Son of Joseph and Mary
○ Known to them from Nazareth
○ Fisherman, rabbi, teacher, preacher and
● Identifying Himself with God
Victoria Lynn Garvey explains, “In Jesus’ day and culture, the God of Israel was understood to be the font of being, being itself. So for Jesus to identify himself beginning with that phrase (‘I am’) must have been something of a shock. Each ‘I am’ statement invites Jesus’ audience into a fuller understanding of him and his ministry. Jesus is claiming that as wonderful and life-giving as the manna once was, this second gift of bread from heaven - himself- is even more beneficial, even more life-giving.”
The Bread. Jesus said, “I am the bread.”
1. What kind of bread do you like and how do you like it served?
2. What ingredients go into making bread?
3. Why would Jesus say He is the bread?
We can interpret the words of scripture in many ways:
literal, metaphorical, moral, spiritual.
● Jesus is not literally bread, like manna in wilderness
● Metaphorically, like manna, Jesus came from heaven, God
● Moral,the bread is his body, flesh that he gives sacrificially
● Spiritual, believers will never be hungry, thirsty, die
Life. Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”
1. What is life for you? What makes life worthwhile for you?
2. What do you think Jesus meant when he said these words?
In Understanding the Fourth Gospel, Rudolph Bultmann, one of the greatest Biblical scholars of all time, claims that the whole message of Jesus in this gospel is to identify Himself as The Revealer.
Jesus reveals Himself not only as the son of Joseph but also Son of God:
● He is the Word of God.
● The presence of God.
● He reveals the actions of God.
● The life of God.
● The desire of God.
● The love of God.
This is what you do when you show up, and reveal parts of yourself to others, by what you say and do. You reveal the love of God as a Christian.
I’d like to end with a final story.
Alan Bentrup, of the Episcopal Church Foundation, wrote this:
There is a recent surge in interest around evangelism in The Episcopal Church, in part due to inspiration and interest drawn from Bishop Curry’s royal sermon. I love the energy and momentum around evangelism, but I worry that we often are blurring the lines between evangelism and marketing. Are we talking about how great our Presiding Bishop is, or how beautiful our parishes are, or how wonderful our music can be? Those are all good things, but they are marketing.
Evangelism is public witness to the Gospel. Evangelism is sharing the good news of God in Christ Jesus. If we are to be Episcopal evangelists, we must proclaim that good news, what Jesus Christ has done in our lives.
As my family and I were moving last month, we stopped for lunch at a little diner in a small town in rural South Carolina. We were in line waiting to order, and a gentleman behind us in line said hi. My eight-year-old son, who will talk to anyone, asked him his name. A brief conversation followed in which we learned all about his construction business and what his kids are doing (you’ve got to love the South…)
He then asked what I did for a living, so I said I am an Episcopal priest. “I go to the Baptist church down the road,” he said, “but I don’t really consider myself Baptist. I’m a follower of Jesus, first and foremost. Where I go to church is secondary.”
This gentleman, who runs a two-man construction and demolition company in small-town America, knows what it means to be an evangelist. Evangelism isn’t about music. It isn’t about liturgy. It isn’t about church politics. It sure isn’t about clergy.
It’s about Jesus. And everything else is secondary.”
So, go be an evangelist. Reveal the good news of God’s love in the world, by what you say and by what you do; for you will reveal God’s love and the good news of Jesus through you.
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
John 6:35, 41-51
John 6:35, 41-51