Sermon on John 6:35, 41-51

"I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

            Last week I shared about a book called “Take this Bread” by Sara Miles. It is a memoir of Sara’s radical conversion to Christianity. Just to rec-cap, Sara grew up thinking religion was pointless but found herself pulled to Christ as an adult after receiving communion one Sunday at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco. The little piece of bread she received at the Eucharist changed her life in wholly unexpected ways. She received the sign she needed to believe in the Eucharist; receiving the Bread of Life changed her life.

This morning I will share the next chapter in Sara’s spiritual journey. As Sara began to work out her own theology she wasn’t attracted to complex concepts like the Trinity but rather to the idea of incarnation. It was the “materiality” of Christianity that drew her in. She was stuck on the idea that “words and flesh were deeply connected.” Jesus was both the word and the flesh. As she grappled with this reality the only metaphor she could cling to was her own experience of being a mother. She reflected that it seemed just as impossible that her daughter grew inside of her and carried her DNA as it did that Jesus lives inside the bread of the Eucharist. For Sara these two concepts were just as unlikely and just as true. And of course in this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus’ followers can’t understand this either. How could Jesus be the Bread of Life from heaven if he is also Mary’s son? The impossibility of the statement that Christ is the bread of life is hard to overcome. And yet it is true.

            Sara describes her hunger for more knowledge of the Bread of Life as “deep, non rational, desiring.” The next step in her journey was to serve on the altar at St. Gregory’s during worship. Serving at the altar helped bring her closer to mystery of the Eucharist. She also read the Bible and studied theology to come closer to her own understanding of Christ. It didn’t make total sense to her but she really liked that Jesus said he was bread and told his friends to eat him. Sara realized that food comes up a lot with Jesus. He fed the thousands of people who showed up, and he ate with sinners and tax collectors. Sara also points out that many of the stories about Jesus after his Resurrection involved food. In one story, his followers only know him after he breaks bread at the table, in another story he cooks fish on the beach, and in another he approaches his followers and asks them for something to eat. Feeding people is a part of Jesus’ mission. Of all the stories about Jesus, Sara could not stop thinking about when Peter asks Jesus how to love him. Jesus simply told Peter: “Feed my sheep.” This phrase stuck with Sara as her conversion progressed and she became more deeply involved at St. Gregory’s.

            The Christian faith that Sara found at St. Gregory’s was complex. Her first year at church was a year of questions. Sara realized that Christianity wasn’t just about faith in God but that it was also about action. As our psalm this morning says, “taste and see.” Sara tasted a connection between food and communion but she wasn’t sure what she was seeing. Or as Sara put it: “Now that you’ve taken the bread, what are you going to do?”

            This is the “so what” moment that many of us can recognize in our lives. What is the practical implication of the momentous choice I have made? I have this new job so what do I do? I am in high school now – what does that mean? Or I have a child now so what? Sara was figuring out the practical implications of her choice to become a Christian. The Holy Spirit intervened one day while she was shifting through her daily load of junk mail. She isn’t sure why, but Sara randomly chose to read a letter from San Francisco’s Food Book. The letter provided detailed information on hunger in San Francisco. It explained that working families that could not afford food often avoided soup kitchens and so they went hungry. To meet the needs of these families, the San Francisco Food Bank wanted to set up food pantries across the city, especially in areas where access to fresh food was limited. Families could shop for the food they wanted in the pantries and cook at home. While reading about this, something clicked for Sara and she thought this is it; this is a way to “feed my sheep.”

            The food bank director was eager for Sara and St. Gregory’s to start a food bank at the church. They are uniquely situated near neighborhoods where food is hard to find. But as you might guess, St. Gregory’s itself had many opinions on the idea of a food bank. It’s not easy to convince a church to take on a new ministry, especially one that involves a big mess and lots of strangers coming in and out of the sanctuary. Sara had to work hard to get the church’s backing, but finally the pantry opened the same week she was baptized.

            For Sara, this food pantry was another way of doing church. She put fold-up tables all around the altar and put some of the most beautiful altar cloths on them. For her, this was another communion table. About thirty-five people showed up to pick out groceries the first day the pantry was open. The next week around 50 people showed up and within a few months two hundred people showed up every week. Now they serve around 600 families a week and are one of the largest feeding ministries in the United States. Sara found a way to feed her sheep.

Sara found her answer to the question: “Now that you’ve taken the bread, what are you going to do?” And I’m not suggesting that we all start our own food banks. God doesn’t call us all to the same ministries. But God does call us to act on our faith, to taste and see. Let the living bread inspire you to act on your faith. I share Sara Miles’s story of feeding the sheep in the hopes that it can inspire practical reflection on faith and action. It has certainly expanded how I look at the Bread of Life and how it is working in my life. What is the Bread of Life calling on you to do? It’s time to taste and see. Amen.

--- The Rev'd Deacon Grace A. Pratt