Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
I hope you have had a wonderful summer.
I know summer is not technically over, but with school starting this week,
let’s face it, this new beginning marks the end of summer days for many of us.
The start of school always brings with it excitement—
new classes, new teachers, perhaps new friends…
newness, a fresh start is part of why this time feels good.
For some, there is also anxiety, the unknown. How will this year go? Who is in my classes? What will my teachers be like?
Alicia and I and our guest speaker Courtney Bell who drove home from Auburn to offer her wise counsel and experience met with our college bound freshmen this past week.
There were lots of smiles to go around.
It was great to see that
their eager anticipation is outweighing any nervousness.
It shows us they feel grounded; they have a firm enough home base
from which to begin their next journey
and they feel prepared with a good grasp of what lies ahead.
One of the best messages I heard was a good deal of perspective
—these kids know that compared to last year’s freshman class,
they don’t have much to complain about.
Yes, they may have to put their masks on when going to class,
but all in all, they get to have a mostly normal start to college life.
It is from this conversation, I started my sermon this week.
I know in my just over two years of preaching here at St. Luke’s
you have surely scribbled many of my sermon’s pithy and significant sayings—
so here is one to add:
Perspective is where it’s at.
Okay, so it’s not a beautiful proverb, but I am being sincere.
Perspective is where it’s at.
When we lose our perspective,
we get muddled, thickheaded, we are not openminded.
We complain more, we cannot think clearly,
and it is hard to learn anything new.
Great to head off into a school year keeping things in perspective.
There is another word we all have more of a personal connection with
after a year and half of COVID.
This word also start with a P, that is Perseverance.
When I was a school administrator we used to read
study after study about how to help students build resilience and grit—
to learn perseverance.
So many students only hear this: “you gotta try harder, just study more,”
as if all it takes to succeed is determination, stick-to-itiveness.
But the research says there is much more to perseverance than just trying hard.
You have to believe in yourself;
you need to be reflective about where you’ve been.
There are other factors involved too,
but you don’t need a lecture on this.
What is fascinating to learn is that
a person’s grittiness, or their ability to build perseverance,
depends so much upon their connectedness to others,
whether they feel their learning environment
is supportive of them as a person,
that they are not on their own, but part of a group.
In other words, building perseverance has a lot to do with building trust.
As it turns out, perfectly by the way,
as we celebrate the start of a new school year today,
in the gospel this week Jesus is also teaching.
He is teaching about trust.
Sometimes we hear a healing story in the gospel, and other times a parable,
but in the Gospel of John, Jesus does a lot of teaching.
Jesus’ message in this part of the gospel is, “I am the Bread of Life.”
Now this is a message that needs perspective.
It might help to recap what has been happening in the story:
Not long ago, Jesus miraculously fed a crowd of five thousand;
after this he withdraws into the mountains because
in their excitement the people want to make him king.
The people search him out and find him and the disciples,
again they are demanding sign, a miracle,
so that “we may see it and believe you.”
They said, “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness,”
“what work will you perform?”
Here is where I can picture Jesus smiling.
Because this is a great teaching moment.
They brought it up,
the old scriptural story of the Israelites eating manna in the wilderness
so it’s fair game.
The story has it all: complaining, stubbornness, grumbling, and humility—
Jesus masterfully uses their own example
to unlock what he means when he says, “I am the bread of life.”
It was not Moses who gave your ancestors the miracle of manna, he tells them; it was God who sent bread from heaven.
These good Jewish folks knew the story well, but needed reminding.
It was God who provided the sweet manna from heaven.
They knew all the complaining their ancestors did in the wilderness– the kvetching.
They knew their ancestors long ago had lost their perspective –
even absurdly saying, “we were better off as slaves, then now.” Really?
Their perseverance was running low.
They also knew the teaching that came out of this story,
“that man does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
Jesus’ uses all of this, challenging his followers
to move beyond the need for “signs and wonders”
to a build a lasting, a deeper trust in God.
Like the bread from heaven gave you sustenance,
gave you life, and taught you to trust in God,
I stand before you, as the Bread of Life.
I stand before you as living bread, that I give you for the life of the world.
On Friday one of our youth here at St. Luke’s
helped me interview a young man
for our part time youth position.
Over lunch, we talked practicality, we discussed theology,
we essentially nerded out on faith–it was great fun!
At one point we all sat back in our chairs, and relaxed,
agreeing that grasping Jesus’ teaching
depends upon our ability to understand metaphors like this:
I am the bread of life. And, I am the good shepherd.
I am the gate, enter in.
But following Jesus depends upon our willingness to trust.
Today Jesus teaches us, his followers
to think perceptively, to persevere, and to trust,
through this lingering pandemic,
through not only the first days of school
but all year with the ups and downs ahead,
through each day we rise from our beds.
We are called to begin–trusting in the sustaining power of the bread of life.