Pastor Michael Frye:

Benjamin Sparks recounts the story about persons who came into the Christian Church in nineteenth century China because they were hungry for material food.

They converted, were baptized, and remained active church members as long as their physical needs were met through the generosity of the congregation.

But once their prospects improved and they and their families no longer needed the rice they were so graciously receiving, they drifted away from the church.

So the Christian missionaries in China began referring to them as “rice Christians.”

In the same way, the crowds that followed Jesus to Capernaum after Jesus fed five thousand on the mountainside are like those who see faith and church membership as something they can choose for themselves to use for their own needs or to pursue their own interests.

The crowds that followed Jesus saw the feeding miracle as an end in itself rather than as a sign that pointed them to faith in the living God and the Son whom God had sent.

Jesus said: “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.

For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

When the crowd then asked what sign Jesus was going to give them in order for them to believe him, Jesus knew that they were too hung up on receiving physical evidence of his power rather than their seeing Jesus for who he truly was.

Jesus reminded the people that Moses was not the one who gave the Israelites in the wilderness the bread that came from heaven.

It was God who gave them the bread that sustained their lives.

That same God has now given them bread from heaven that will satisfy their spiritual hunger forever – Jesus, the Son of God.

Sparks continues by saying that Christians today can fall into the same trap as the crowd at Capernaum.

We are accustomed to inviting people into the community of faith for such reasons as: “the right kind of worship, a strong youth and family ministry, their mission trips, their great Sunday School program,” and other such things; things, that in and of themselves are important to offer.

However, the true mission of any Christian congregation is to stress that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God, who gave his life for the sins of the world, and who was raised from the dead so that all who believe in him will have eternal life.

Everything else that we preach, teach, and do (including caring for the needs of the poor) should reflect our firm belief that Jesus Christ is the bread of life who satisfies our hunger for grace, peace, and salvation.

It is that message which must become the food that we share with one another and with the rest of the world.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul said: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all, and in all.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

St. Paul’s words to the Ephesian church was an attempt to feed their hunger for direction; to help them see that each of them has been equipped to build up one another.

People, then and now, seek communities of faith where belief and practice come together with clarity and purpose.

The bread that Jesus offers us includes the guidance of the Holy Spirit in how to use the gifts God has given us to his glory, as well as for the lifting up of one another – or as St. Paul says: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God….”

Unity for Paul does not mean uniformity.

It means that even though we may have diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and opinions as children of God, we remain open to God’s truth as revealed to us through Christ’s ministry which unites us around the Lord’s Table as one family that is fed on the supernatural food which is Christ.

This food, is not meant to be “fast food” that we pop in to receive whenever we want and then go on our way.

Its purpose is not to satisfy our hunger for one meal.

Its nutrients are healthy and satisfy the greatest hunger in a way that assures the recipients that God will continue to bring his grace and his blessings into our lives.

The emphasis is also that we are one body being fed on the one bread, which is Christ, which means that our Lord, Jesus offers himself up for all people regardless of station or situation in life.

Look at the way Jesus responded to those who came to him; he never asked them for ID; he never questioned their theological knowledge; he never asked them their nationality; and he never asked them to prove that they were worthy to be in his presence.

He just loved and fed them because they were children of God.

And Jesus expects that those who are blessed by his body and blood will, in turn be a blessing to one another, like the hymn says: “One bread, one body, one Lord of all; one cup of blessing which we bless, and we, though many throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord.”

That should mean something to us.

When we are together in worship or out in the world ministering together, we are one with Christ, and we are one with one another.

When one rejoices, we all rejoice; when one feels pain, we all feel pain; when one needs to be comforted and accepted, we all respond to that need.

Oh, yes; we do have our squabbles and disagreements; any family of faith does; but when it comes down to it, we come to the Lord’s table to be fed as one body on the one body, which is Christ; we come as those who have confessed and been absolved of our sins; and we come to be reconciled with God and with one another.

God’s provision of his Son as bread for the world hasn’t come out of anything that God either wants or needs from us.

It is, instead, God’s unselfish act of covering his beloved children with his blanket of limitless love and grace; it is God’s way of empowering us to be together what we cannot be on our own.

It is God’s way of saying, Each of you is important to me; so important that my Son sacrificed himself to cover you with forgiveness and salvation for all eternity.

It is not up to you to ask whether or not you are worthy; only to say I believe and to live faithfully in my Word.

The big question for us is: Will we continue to lean on our own understanding of what that means for us, or will we lean solely upon the one who provides the food that endures?

This morning when you come to the Lord’s Table to receive the bread and wine, imagine that Jesus is standing beside you whispering in your ear: “As you receive this, remember who you are.

Remember whose you are, and take that with you wherever you are.”

Let us pray:

“Most high and holy God, pour out upon us your one and unifying Spirit, and awaken in us a holy hunger and thirst for unity in you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.