Dialogue Sermon: Rev. Natalie Shiras with Rabbi Josh Breindel
August 5, 2012
Deuteronomy 8:1-3, 7-9a, 10, John 6:24-38
It’s a joy to welcome Rabbi Josh Breindel back in the pulpit this morning. He was here with me last summer and last in this church at the service on Thanksgiving Eve. I preached from his pulpit in a dialogue sermon in March. Josh and I enjoy the opportunity to preach together.
This morning’s gospel is focused on the bread of life which is both a Christian metaphor and a Jewish metaphor, “lechem ha-chayim” in the Hebrew. As a Jew Jesus certainly would have used the Jewish blessing of the bread which begins, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe”. In our Christian tradition the bread of life is a metaphor for Jesus and his work. We are not simply to believe in him. We are not simply to follow him. We are to regard him in the same way that we regard the daily bread we eat, as utterly necessary for our life. He promises us that he will give us this bread forever. Here we see an intimate, life-giving, utterly essential relationship that Christians have with Christ.
This passage comes right after the feeding of the 5000. Jesus has just fed the hungry multitudes. So when Jesus mentions “bread”, the crowd gets excited again and wants more of this “bread”. How wonderful it would be to have someone provide bread instantly, especially if you are a hungry person! Give us wondrous bread, they were saying. Give us bread that will never end. Give us a sign to show us that we will never be hungry again.
Rabbi Josh speaks of the traditions of miraculous food—Jesus, Elijah, Elisha—the theology of plenty. Mitvah—the commandment to feed the hungry
We live these words in our daily ministry. At Church on the Hill we have several ministries that address hunger. We collect food for the Lenox Food Pantry and theChristianCenter. We give to the Boomerang Invalid Society in St. Petersburg, Russia that provides food for disabled pensioners. Jesus provided bread for the hungry multitude. We can’t follow Jesus without making hunger a cause of concern for the church.
And yet Jesus says to the hungering crowds that something even more significant than physical hunger, even more significant than having their bellies filled is going on here. When Jesus speaks of “bread”, no doubt there were some in the crowd who remembered that God provided bread for the Hebrew people in the wilderness during the Exodus period. God had liberated the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. But freedom from slavery is not much good if you are starving to death in your freedom. Therefore every day God provided manna from heaven that the people ate. They had to trust God that the manna would appear. So that is what the crowds listening to Jesus expect him to do—to provide that bread every day.
Jesus speaks of this “bread” in a particular way. He says to them in effect. “I am the bread. Feed on me.” Jesus asks us to ingest his essence. We are to relate to Jesus the same say we relate to a loaf of bread straight out of the oven. You smell that bread, want that bread. When my brother and I would walk to the bakery as teenagers inTurkey, we could not wait to get home before we tore off pieces of that hot bread. It was so good. Jesus wants us to ingest him with as much eagerness as that loaf of hot bread. And why? Because he wants us to claim his love, to claim his forgiveness, to be infused with righteousness. He wants us to be spiritually nourished by getting deep inside him, by letting him flow through us, fulfilled in love.
Rabbi Josh—Jesus’ perception of bread from Deuteronomy. One does not live by bread alone. Bread symbolizes all food. The pita is eaten at every meal.
In the gospel of John Jesus is considered the word. Jesus is echoing what the prophet Ezekiel was announcing that we take the word, that we take the scroll and eat it, eat the word of God. It will fill us and taste as sweet as honey. As mortals we eat the bread and taste it in order to be satisfied. This bread of life will fill us and bring us righteousness.
Rabbi Josh on sweet Torah study and blessing for the children
We ingest this bread of life. And when we get our fill then we are to feed one another. “Feed my sheep”, Jesus tells Peter three times. We are here to feed one another, to be bread for one another. Let us bless this bread and break it and share it. We are here to teach others to be bread for one another, for our communities, for our towns and cities. “Feed my sheep.” “Love each other as I love you”. These are Jesus’ words to us. Let us eat these words, words, as sweet as honey—
Rabbi Josh—so that our souls may be filled and our souls will bring that blessing to our world. Amen.