Are we really still hearing more stories of tragedy, and violence, and heartbreak from King David’s family? Are we really still hearing Jesus talk about bread for the third week in a row? Indeed we are. And there are two more weeks of bread ahead of us, just so you know.
In the Old Testament lesson today we hear more stories of war, we hear the gruesome details of how David’s son Absalom died and we hear the cries of grief and anguish from a man whose son has been killed.
It leaves us wondering how much pain can one family take? How much pain can one nation take?
Read the book of 2 Samuel sometime; start with 1 Samuel if you like. We have gotten a good chunk of the story in the last few weeks, but there is much more too it. Every character is both a sinner and saint. They are deeply human; deeply flawed. Like us, they are deeply embedded in the unfolding drama of God’s life in the world. Their whole life, their whole history— in fact the entire history of the people of Israel-- is a story of the same cycle happening over and over again.
God and God’s people begin in right relationship with each other. God created them and God loves them. But God’s people go off track. They forget that they are God’s people. They forget to live as God has told them to live. And bad things happen. Something bad happens to them or they make a bad decision, either way they find themselves in trouble, and apparently separated from God. This is when they turn back to God and ask for help. They repent and seek to be reconciled. That is when they realize that God has never left them, that God has been with them all along, waiting for them turn back. With God’s help they are able to get back on track and the relationship between God and God’s people is restored. But as life goes on there is another tragedy, another war, another heartbreak and the cycle repeats itself.
This is the cycle of David’s family. This is the cycle of our human family. We are caught in this same cycle-- another tragedy, another war, another diagnosis, another shooting, another tear in the fabric of our lives. It can start to feel pretty threadbare.
So where do we turn? Who do we cry out to? Where do we turn? Not for solace only, but also for strength? Not for pardon only, for all the ways they had messed up, but also for renewal— for a way out of the cycle?
When Jesus said to the crowd, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty,” not only did they not understand what he was saying, they were angry at him for what he was saying. They wondered, “Who does this guy think he is? What reality is he living in? He says that he is the bread that comes down from heaven?! We know this guy! He is Mary and Joseph’s kid!”
They knew who Jesus was, or at least they thought they did. They knew who God was and they knew how the world worked. They were not interested in Jesus telling them anything different.
But Jesus was trying to tell them something very different.
He was trying to tell them how God was at work in their lives. He was trying to tell them that he was God. And that he could give them bread that if they ate they would never be hungry again and they would never die! And… he was that bread!
You can imagine their confusion.
I can just hear them saying, “God doesn’t just become an ordinary person! God is not down here with us, in this mess! God is transcendent and powerful and we need that God to save us and pull us out of this mess! We need Almighty God to fix what is going on down here. We need manna from heaven, just like our ancestors had in the wilderness.”
But Jesus was trying to tell them that they needed more than what their ancestors had. They needed more than manna from God. They needed God and God was right in front of them. Anything less than God would leave them hungry and thirsty for more. We need bread to live, yes. But we need more than bread. We need bread from heaven. We need God to live.
We are a hungry people. The only thing that will really fill our hunger, is to be full of God, to take God into ourselves, to feasts on Christ’s body and to become what we eat. God did come down here and got right into our messy lives. And as if that wasn’t offensive enough, God came not in power and might, but in weakness and vulnerability. And chose to die so that we might live.
We still think we can do it our way. That we can force the cycle to a different conclusion this time, even though we are still doing the same thing--matching violence for violence, and trying to eat our fill of empty and meaningless bread.
The only way to break this cycle is the in-breaking of forgiveness and reconciliation-- God’s body broken for the sins of the world. A body we eat to remember who we are. To once again become who we are. Jesus is this bread for us. And only by following the way of God in Jesus will we be able to break out of the cycle of death, and live into the cycle of life— the eternal life that is open to us here and in the world to come.
Thank God there is more bread! There is always more bread. Amen.
This sermon was preached on August 9, 2015 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson, Maryland (Proper 14, Year B)