Pentecost 13B – August 19, 2018

Pr. Michel’s doctor told him he needs to lose weight. Pr. Michel responded, “Of course! I’ve known that for years. But that is easier said than done.” My brother’s doctor told him the same thing. And my brother went on a diet and actually lost 5 pounds. He came up to visit our mother, who at that time was living next to me at 702 W. Main in Trappe. He proudly told her that he had lost 5 pounds. She responded, “Well you must have lost it around your ankles because I don’t notice it anywhere else.” I was mortified and had to give her a lecture after Brother Bill left. It is hard to stay on a diet and lose weight. I know it because I give up desserts and snacks during Lent—and that’s just for 50 days. What is even harder is staying on a diet that has been placed upon you not by weight-worries, but by poverty. Maybe some of you have read the book Larkrise to Candleford or seen the series on PBS. It is an account of life in rural late Victorian England. The diet of a farm workers in England in the 1880s was quite a bit different from ours. The chief staple of the diet was bread with lard spread on top. This was supplemented with various vegetables from people’s gardens. The people were very poor, but this steady diet was easily available. No one starved. And yet occasionally even the poorest people would scrounge up enough money to buy a fish; money that they could not afford—simply because their diet was so boring and their lives as a result were so bland. Eating that fish was one of the very few highlights in their otherwise dull existence. Howard Kriebel’s sauerbraten and Abby Gravel’s peach pie do the same for me.
In this 6th chapter of St. John, Jesus feeds 5,000 people and then at the end of the chapter he calls himself the “Bread of Life.” The meaning of the chapter shifts from Jesus’ concern that people may faint from hunger on the way home after hearing him teach to filling that sustained life with something worth living for.
Certainly eating is one way to enjoy the zest and excitement of life. We eat at most human festivities. I’ve probably eaten at more wedding receptions that anyone else in this church today. When you add funeral luncheons to that, I should receive some sort of trophy for having the best digestive system in Trappe. But we were not created to just be hogs in a feed lot or chickens on a poultry farm. We were created just a little lower than the angels, says the ancient psalmist. If all we do is eat, sleep and reproduce, then we might as well take up residence at 34th and Girard at the zoo, because that’s all the animals do. What is that extra something that makes us a little lower than the angels? Here are a few things that I’ve noticed over the years. Maybe it’s your family that makes you so proud you could burst. Maybe you enjoy teaching and helping to pass on what you know to the next generation. Maybe you are good with your hands. I remember visiting parishioners down in Audubon one evening and admiring a beautiful lowboy in their living room. “Thank you,” said the man of the house, “I made that.” And so he had, Queen Anne feel and all. One elderly woman, who had a magnificent vegetable garden and had won the battle against rabbits and groundhogs, said to me that she feels disappointed, maybe even a little depressed when the weather doesn’t permit her to work in her garden. “If I had moved into the city instead of out here, “she said, “every day would have been like my down days.”
There is a woman at Augustus in Trappe who is equal in wit to the great Audrey Williams at St. Andrew’s in Audubon. Both of those women evidently are graduates of the Toranago School of Banter and Verbal Attack. Here is what happened. Pr. Fluck and I were in Karen’s office at Augustus, where I am the Visitation Pastor, arranging visits to home-bound and institutionalized members of Augustus Church. Pr. Fluck wanted to introduce me to all these people and Karen was making the necessary phone calls. There was another woman in the room to whom I was not introduced. She was proof-reading the Sunday folders that contain announcements and the liturgy. When there was a lull in the conversation, she looked up and said to me, “Do you know me?” I responded, “I don’t believe I do.” She then turned to Karen and said, “That man (pointing at me) was ahead of me in the line last Sunday as we were waiting to shake the Pastor’s hand after the service. And he was going on and on with someone beside him about how he was looking forward to beginning his duties as the next visitation pastor of Augustus. He said he didn’t know any of the young people here but he knew quite a few of the old people and then he turned around and patted my arm–as if I were one of them!” The whole office erupted in laughter. Her timing was perfect. Every word she said was absolutely true. She had nailed me to the wall before I even saw her raise the hammer. Now she didn’t do this because she was grievously offended by my action and wanted to pay me back with a public reprimand. She did it because she saw the humor in the situation and wanted to amuse us all; give us a bit of a lift on a beastly hot day. And I loved it. I no longer felt like a slug creeping along in 90﮿ heat. I felt a little lower than the angels, the way God intended me to feel.
Years ago at St. Andrews, my last congregation, I worked with a group of Cub Scouts who wanted to earn the God and Family award. We were following a curriculum where one of the questions was, “Why do I like to go to church?” One cub said that he enjoyed going to church because he liked to sing. Another said he liked to go because he liked seeing all his friends. But another one astonished me when he said, “I like to go to church to get the Bread of Life.” That was a great answer.
These are some of the things that I sense provide joy and fulfillment in the lives of some of our people. And the point is this—life is more than just a hum drum day-in-day-out drag. Rather it is filled with wonders and miracles all stemming from a God who loves us. His Son says, “I am the Bread of Life. I can give you what you need to change back from a laboring ant to a human being. I can give you joy and peace and satisfaction. I can help you give of yourself. I can help you give love.”
It always seems to come down to that doesn’t it? Jesus fed the 5,000 not because he was forced to—but because he loved them. He will feed us today in his holy word and the Sacrament of the Altar, not with manna from heaven or even with loaves and fish but with his own body and blood—his very self—because he loves us too. Share that love! Give of yourself and see what a difference it will make in your life. Amen.