Bread as a Sign

a sermon for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost

There is a story about Second World War that tells of the children who were orphaned. It seems that as the war was coming to a close, the Allied troops gathered as many of the children who had lost their families as they could find, and took them to camps where they could be cared for. The camps provided everything they needed: food, shelter, safety, medicine. But in spite of the excellent care they received, many of the children were so traumatized that they simply could not sleep at night. Then someone came up with the idea to give each child a loaf of bread, not to eat, but to sleep with. Holding their bread, the children were finally able to sleep. It seems that the bread was a sign to those children – a sign that said, “I have eaten today, and will be able to eat again tomorrow.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives the people a sign.


There is a story about Second World War that tells of the children who were orphaned. It seems that as the war was coming to a close, the Allied troops gathered as many of the children who had lost their families as they could find, and took them to camps where they could be cared for. The camps provided everything they needed: food, shelter, safety, medicine. But in spite of the excellent care they received, many of the children were so traumatized that they simply could not sleep at night. Then someone came up with the idea to give each child a loaf of bread, not to eat, but to sleep with. Holding their bread, the children were finally able to sleep. It seems that the bread was a sign to those children – a sign that said, “I have eaten today, and will be able to eat again tomorrow.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives the people a sign. He had been traveling with the Disciples, healing and preaching, and the people had come to know him everywhere he went. One day, as they were retreating in the mountains, a crowd gathered. Jesus realizes that the people needed to be fed. But one of the disciples objects on financial grounds. “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get even a little.” Then Jesus takes a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, gives thanks, blesses it, and feeds all of the people. It was a sign.

One of the things that I love about our congregation is that we have always been great at sharing our bread. Our outreach ministries have always been very active, and “feeding” has been at the heart of that. Of course, lots of us have participated in Hotdogs for the Homeless, and we’ve long supported Sharing God’s Love, which provides food and clothing to people here in Irmo. And lately, a group of folks, led by Bob Chestnut, has been studying poverty right here in our own backyard, and working on starting a backpack ministry for kids at Oak Pointe Elementary. Feeding people is absolutely the most important thing we are called to do as Christians. Maybe that’s why there are so many stories about Jesus and food.

When people are hungry, Jesus says to feed them. But what if folks are hungry for something other than food? Folks who are lonely, and need someone to visit with them; folks that are grieving, who have lost someone they love; folks who are addicted to alcohol or drugs, and are looking for a place to recover; folks who have been abused, either as children or as adults; folks who are out of work, and have lost hope in finding a job; folks who are sick, whether in body, mind, or spirit.

Jesus fed the people on that mountain that day, but he gave them so much more than food. He gave them love, he gave them attention, he gave them hope. And he showed them that their lives could be so much more than simply looking for their next meal. They, too, could help feed and nourish other people around them. After all, that’s how the food was distributed – it was passed around, from one person to the next, from one family to another, from neighbor to neighbor. Jesus served the people, but then they, in turn, fed one another. And by feeding each other, the crowd itself was fed.

I believe that is how the church works, too. We gather to be fed so that we can feed others. And we are called to feed not just the body, but also to nurture the spirit and the soul. We are called to be a sign, a sign of what it means to be Jesus in the world.

And how do we do that? We do that by sharing the Good News that we are all created in the image of God, and that God loves us unconditionally, just the way we are. The news that God loves us so much, that he came to live among us as Jesus, to teach us how to love each other, and restore us to the fullest life possible, a life of abundance through Jesus Christ. That no matter how far we stray from the will of God, or how often, we will be forgiven simply by turning around and asking for forgiveness. And that one day we all will be reunited with God and each other, not by anything we do ourselves, but through the grace that God so freely showers on us.

Sometimes people need bread for the body. There is no question that there are lots of poor and hungry people who need help with groceries or just a simple meal, and we should do everything in our power to make sure they have food. And, sometimes people need bread for the soul. They need a companion to share the burdens of life, or someone to show them they are loved. Either way, the fact is that we all need to be fed. And as Christians, our job is to feed God’s people. But first we must be fed by the spiritual food that Christ has given us at the altar. Christ feeds us with spiritual food, so that we, in turn, can be a sign for the rest of the world.

The children who were given bread during the war, were given much more than something to eat. They were given something to hold on to, a sign that they were loved and they would not be turned back out into the streets to face starvation and death in the morning. Jesus gives us so much more than bread for our bodies. He gives us a sign that God will still be here to feed us – in body and soul – this morning and every morning to come.

I’d like to close by telling you another story. Last week, the committee that is working on our very first Rally Day got together. (Rally Day will be at 9:00 on August 26th.) We decided our theme would be “Come and be Fed,” and we wanted it to include a breakfast as part of our worship service. But how were we going to feed all the people who come? After all, as Philip pointed out in the Gospel, this could get expensive. So Patty Law started looking for ways we might be able to do it, and she ended up calling the Waffle House, just to see if they could cater the breakfast. And you know what? Not only did they agree to provide the food, but they would also send people to help serve it.

And you know what it will cost? Absolutely nothing.

Perhaps it’s a sign.
Thanks be to God!

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