Sermon Seeds: Help, Not Hinder
Sunday, August 8 , 2021
After Pentecost Year B
(Liturgical Color: Green)
2 Samuel 18:5–9, 15, 31–33 and Psalm 130 or
1 Kings 19:4–8 and Psalm 34:1–8
John 6:35, 41–51
John 6:35, 41–51
Focus Theme: d
Help, Not Hinder
By Cheryl Lindsay
Too often, religion is used to divide. Belonging to a faith community may seem more like rooting for a sports team or even a country as in the Olympic Games. But, even that analogy points out the disconnect from what sports participation and fandom should be and the reality of what it is. Simone Biles, widely acknowledged to be the greatest gymnast of all time, decided to withdraw from this year’s Olympics in order to preserve her mental health. It was a bold and courageous move on many levels. The prioritization of mental health and well-being is a counter cultural stance to take in a world that indoctrinates us to base our value on our economic output and productivity. Unfortunately, the topic of mental health still carries a stigma weighted down by devaluation and shame in a way no longer associated with most illnesses. Her transparency about her struggles received well-deserved accolades and well-wishes from around the world. At the same time, vitriol poured forth from those who see athletes, not as people, but as commodities for their entertainment and enjoyment. Walking away from the pinnacle of recognition and glory was an audacious statement that Ms. Biles is more than her metals and taking care of herself means more than standing on the Olympic podium.
Of course it’s only audacious because of a culture that considers self-care to be a luxury rather than a way of life and prizes winning over being.
The Gospel according to John is structured around signs and sermons. Jesus performs a miracle or some action that points to his divine nature, and then, he provides an explanation that points to his motivation to enter into humanity. The lectionary has walked us through this chapter that includes multiple miracles and moments of teaching:
The sixth chapter of John's Gospel is a rich kaleidoscope of colliding images and themes. It begins with the dramatic feeding of the five thousand, one of those rare pre-Passion Johannine events with Synoptic parallels. This miracle of compassion occasions next day a synagogue dialogue that weaves with mounting wonder from miraculous bread already eaten (vs. 26) to a new heavenly bread promised (vss. 27-34) to a life-giving bread that is somehow Christ himself (vss. 35-5ia) to the supreme bread which is his very flesh (vss. 51-58). (Vernon Ruland)
This passage comes after Jesus has fed the multitude, escaped the plot to crown him, and walked on water. “The multitudes of John’s narrative misunderstood the significance of the signs and events surrounding Jesus.” (Thomas R. Valletta) As a result, Jesus now finds himself in a preaching moment as he uses “bread of life” as a metaphor to illuminate his presence among them:
What, then, did John mean? It was clearly his manner to write about one thing while wanting his readers to see through that to another. All his “Signs” point to something beyond themselves. And in the case of this discourse on the Bread from heaven and the eating of Christ’s flesh and the drinking of his blood he provides his own pointer by registering a protest and giving an answer to it in w 60-63 : *It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Not only that, he has given a hint earlier on of a deeper meaning, when to the protesting…Jesus says: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him”, (v 56) In the rest of the Gospel there is a great deal both about abiding in Christ and about the life-giving power of his words, but there is no further reference to the eating of the flesh and the drinking of the blood, not even at their last supper together before Passover. Indeed, it is in this setting that John has Jesus use the simile of the vine and its benches as descriptive of the essential relationship between himself and his disciples. (Francis John Moore)
One description proves insufficient to convey the relationship that Jesus seeks with humanity. The Creator enters into the creation…just as the food we eat enters into our bodies. Eugene Peterson describes the studying the word (scripture) this way, “We come to realize that what we need is not primarily informational, telling us things about God and ourselves, but formational, shaping us into our true being.” Should encountering the Word Made Flesh provide a different experience? In offering themself as the bread of life, Jesus invites us to take them in, to be nourished by them, and shaped from their essence.
This passage can often be used divisively, pitting one faith against another, but Jesus’ words do not suggest that reading. In fact, the admonition, “Do not complain among yourselves,” discourages acrimony and disagreement. This is an invitation accompanied by a promise from the One who comes down from heaven because they care about the ones on earth. Jesus comes to help, not hinder.
Does our collective faith witness demonstrate that we follow that same model of incarnational ministry?
The interconnection between word/idea and eating/food permeates the biblical narrative from the beginning to the end, but is especially pronounced in John’s account. Muir and Tappenden categorizes them as targets. Food is the source and ideas are the target, yet the two move back and forth toward each other in mutuality:
The target domain IDEAS is compared to, mapped onto, and equated with the source domain FOOD, thus producing an ontological metaphor that gives concrete substance to more abstract notions of teaching, learning, and thinking. But the process does not end there. As we will see below, while it is true that the concrete gives substance to the abstract, the more nebulous target domain also comes to enrich and deepen the common, everyday somatic experiences of the source domain. This is particularly true in instances where the source and target domains become wrapped up with each other in social practices, as is the case with food and learning in the ancient world. Because the acts of both eating and teaching/leaming often share a common context in the ancient world—namely, the banquet—there is a dialectical relationship between the two: yes eating (i.e., food) structures the experience of learning (i.e., ideas), but learning (i.e., ideas) also structures and gives shape to the experience of eating (i.e., food), a process that cognitive linguists call “reverse mapping” or “backward projection.”8 Through this mutual shaping of source and target domains, expressions of the ideas are food metaphor are as wide and varied as the communities that employ it as part of their meaning making apparatus. (Steven C. Muir and Frederick S Tappenden)
Both food and ideas have substance, but independently, that substance manifests in distinct ways. In Jesus, the two reside synergistically. The nebulous and the tangible become one, each magnifies the presence of the other.
An idea that goes unrealized becomes a myth–it’s a nice idea that seems reasonable, but it isn’t true or real. Perhaps that explains why Jesus insisted on feeding the multitude after teaching them. Undemonstrated words lose their power. It’s more than a miracle or even a sign of the divinity of Christ. It’s a necessary accompaniment to the teaching of Christ.
Several years ago, a dear friend had been ill for several months and unable to attend worship. Eventually, she recovered enough to come back to the meeting house. That first Sunday after she returned happened to be the week that we celebrated communion. I vividly remember her walking toward the communion table. Her weakened body relied on a cane and the assistance of others to enter the building, but she walked down that aisle with hands raised and joy bursting through her countenance. Her steps were slow and measured, but she could be heard shouting expressions of praise toward God as she approached the bread and the cup. The bread of heaven and cup of blessing at the table set by Jesus were made flesh, demonstrated as real, and proclaimed as true in that sacramental act for her…and for the community gathered with her.
The term evangelical, rooted in the Greek “to spread the good news,” has been loaded with heavy baggage. For some, it’s too attached to a partisan political movement to be claimed by the body of Christ any longer. But eschewing the word (if that is one’s choice) doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning the intent of God for the restoration, well-being, and care of their creation. The witness of my friend that day had a sense of triumph to it, but the opponent was a disease not another person or community. Her actions were an unmistakable statement of faith without a diminution of any other religious adherence or lack thereof. I don’t recall the sermon that day, but I do remember her nonverbal testimony. Our faith community had been praying for her, but even the visitors that day could decipher that she was carrying good news.
I’ve heard preaching described as one beggar telling another where to find bread. Folks are hungry–physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually–while so much of the church spends its time and other God-given resources complaining among ourselves. Jesus still comes to us, receiving whatever meager offering we might have, magnifying it, spreading it, and making it a sufficient and helpful feast for all around a table set with bread from heaven.
For further reflection:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” — Fred Rogers
“Sometimes, the best way to help someone is just to be near them.” — Veronica Roth
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection:
Invite the congregation to explore new ways to spread the good news tangibly with a sensitivity to help and not hinder community.
Moore, Francis John. “Eating the Flesh and Drinking the Blood: A Reconsideration.” Anglican Theological
Review 48, no. 1 (January 1966): 70–75.
Muir, Steven C, and Frederick S Tappenden. “Edible Media: The Confluence of Food and Learning in the
Ancient Mediterranean.” Lexington Theological Quarterly (Online) 47, no. 3–4 (Fall 2017): 123–47.
Peterson, Eugene H. Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006.
Ruland, Vernon. “Sign and Sacrament: John’s Bread of Life Discourse (Chapter 6).” Interpretation 18, no. 4
(October 1964): 450–62.
Valletta, Thomas R. “The ‘Bread of Life’ Discourse in the Context of Exodus Typology.” Proceedings 11 (1991):
The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Sermon Seeds Writer and Editor (firstname.lastname@example.org), is a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
2 Samuel 18:5–9, 15, 31–33 and Psalm 130 or
1 Kings 19:4–8 and Psalm 34:1–8
John 6:35, 41–51
2 Samuel 18:5–9, 15, 31–33
5 The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.
6 So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. 7 The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.
9 Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.
15 And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.
31 Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the LORD has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.” 32 The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.”
33 The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.
1 Kings 19:4–8
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
1 I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3 O magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD,
and was saved from every trouble.
7 The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8 O taste and see that the LORD is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
John 6:35, 41–51
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”