Sermon: One Bread, One Body

August 5, 2018
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
John 6:24-35, Ephesians 4:1-16

This was also the day of Church of the Holy Cross’ annual picnic, and we were joined in worship by members of the Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa of Hilo.

Of all the metaphors for the life of faith, I turn most often to: hunger.

Hunger is, after all, among the most foundational of human needs. Jesus accused the crowd of following him because they were hungry for bread, rather than because they were interested in his words and signs of God. Notice that they didn’t deny it – they just asked what they had to do to earn it.

Why shouldn’t they be interested in food? They were, most likely, far more familiar with hunger than you and I. In the first century, poor people ate mostly fruit, vegetables, and bread – and probably not enough of any of it. Peter, Andrew, James, and John, as fishermen, would have eaten more fish than other members of Jesus’ closest circle of twelve. Their catch went more to the wealthy of Galilee than to their closest neighbors.

Someone who could make bread multiply – who could see that a great crowd was no longer hungry – that’s somebody to keep track of. If they had to do some work for the bread, that was fine. They were used to work. But on the morning after Jesus’ sign, feeding 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, the first priority was: bread.

In this conversation, however, it’s Jesus who keeps raising the bar. He doesn’t tell the crowd to stop asking for bread. He tells them to ask for more than bread. He tells them to do work which is easier than the ritual nor ethical requirements of the day. He tells them to ask for a bread that is greater than the miraculous sign of manna, for a bread that does not spoil.

He tells them that he is the bread of life, and that in him they will never hunger again.

D. T. Niles, who served as President of the Ceylonese Methodist Conference and of the World Council of Churches, once wrote: “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” That is, Christians find their spiritual hungers satisfied in Jesus, and then tell others where, that is in whom, they found it.

We are both of those beggars. We are the ones somebody told where to find bread. We are also the ones to tell others where our deep hungers have been satisfied.

We come to find the bread of life in Jesus from so many places. We come from different cultural traditions. We come speaking different languages. We come with different worldly resources. We come with different needs and hungers.

We come, together, to find the bread of life in Jesus.

Of all the scandalous things about Jesus, that may be the most scandalous thing of all. We’ve learned from an early age the difference between “I” and “you,” and it’s a useful distinction. If I have some awareness of where you are, I’m less likely to get an accidental elbow in the nose. If I understand that you are different from me, I make fewer mistakes about the things you need or want, what makes you feel fulfilled and what makes you feel disregarded. If I know that you are not me, I can love you and I can receive your love in return.

There’s a difference, however, between “I and you” and “we and they.” When human beings start separating groups, it’s usually to promote the interests of one group over the well-being of another. Although it’s widely believed that social order restrains the selfishness of individuals, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in Moral Man and Immoral Society: “In every human group there is less reason to guide and to check impulse, less capacity for self-transcendence, less ability to comprehend the needs of others and therefore more unrestrained egoism than the individuals, who compose the group, reveal in their personal relationships.”

That is: individuals act more generously than the groups of which they’re members.

Probably the greatest example of this difference is in the history of the Christian Church itself. As individual Christians, we know we are called to lives of welcome, of generosity, of healing. We are called to humility, to gentleness, to sharing grace. Yet in the history of the Church, we find repeated examples of coercive power, up to and including war. We see wealth accumulated and guarded, rather than shared. We see complicity in the structures of racism and sexism, of white supremacy, of heterosexism. We see a repeated “Us” vs. “Them” that empowers the Church at the expense of someone else.

Jesus fed the crowd without asking them if they were Christians. He fed them as the first invitation to placing their trust in him. Christianity, all too often in these days, has been used to identify who we will treat well and who we will treat badly. I am among those skeptical of this new Religious Liberty Task Force. It looks very much as if it will permit discrimination by Christians against those they decide are non-Christians.

Does that sound like Jesus, who used his freedom to see that people were fed better than they’d ever known or dreamed?

So we need to take the advice offered to Ephesians: and come together to this table. There is no “us” and “them” in Jesus, there is only “us.” “Unity” is the word, repeated seven times in this Ephesians passage. There is one bread, there is one body.

We live in a time when people in power use difference to create division, to separate people so that they can maintain their power. Asserting our unity in Christ has never been easy, and it isn’t going to get easier. As Martin Luther wrote: “This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.”

(Found in this commentary by Brian Peterson)

For now, let us, as one body, with many members endowed with many gifts, come to the one table, and the one bread. Let us renew ourselves in Christ, and renew our unity in Christ. Let us come and eat: one bread, one body.


Niehbuhr, Reinhold, Moral Man and Immoral Society (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons), 1960 edition, p. xi. [Return]

Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Not the same as the prepared text, but you can tell they’re related to one another!

The image is “Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio – Web Gallery of Art. Info about artwork: Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on August 5, 2018

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