This sermon was originally preached at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on November 24, 2019. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church”!
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into God’s presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is God that made us, and we are God’s;
we are God’s people, and the sheep of God’s pasture.
Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving,
and God’s courts with praise.
Give thanks to God, bless God’s name.
For the Lord is good;
God’s steadfast love endures forever,
and God’s faithfulness to all generations.
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “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.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
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.
Today is Christ the King Sunday, where we get to honor and celebrate who Jesus was and is. Jesus the table-flipper, Jesus the prophet, Jesus the one who prayed in the wilderness. I have my own, but I’d love to know from you all. What are some adjectives that describe Jesus and his life that you can think of?
I love thinking about Jesus as all-powerful, sacrificial, and all the other big adjectives. And something else is important about him, and we will talk about that today.
Our liturgical calendar, the church calendar, doesn’t work on the same schedule as the calendar we use. Today is actually the last Sunday of the year, which means that next week, Advent kicks us off with a new year. So, if you still have your 2019 glasses from January, feel free to sport them in worship next Sunday.
Advent is a season where baby Jesus is recognized, as we prepare for his birth. What are some ways you would describe baby Jesus?
Baby Jesus is innocent, small, and vulnerable, as all babies are. Now, baby Jesus is a little different than most babies are, but the visual of baby Jesus, lying in a cloth diaper in a barn, that is an important visual.
I believe that when we look at Jesus only like we look at him on Christ the King Sunday, as almighty, as strong, as a table-flipper, we miss half of his power.
We should also look at Jesus as you all just mentioned, as a baby, lying in a manger, dependent on others to continue to live. Jesus, who we as Christians are to model our lives after, is the God that reconciles the world, the God that will come in Glory in Advent. And, that God is also the God who will come humbly to earth in a few short weeks, the baby to unwed migrants and a teenage mom.
Something difficult to realize, but important to notice, is that Jesus the King is the same Jesus as the baby we see lying in a manger. It may seem like a contradiction, that Jesus’ power comes from both his strength and his weakness, and perhaps it is. It certainly breaks boundaries. That is what the Gospel is about.
Our Gospel passage today comes the day after the story of Jesus feeding the multitude, creating abundance out of food that was only enough for twelve. The people were given a feast, yet they came right back to Jesus the next day, asking for more bread. They were hungry again. The people that were coming to Jesus were poor and they were starving. They asked Jesus for another miracle, in the form of bread, because that was what they needed.
Jesus teaches them we read, about the difference between earthly bread, our sourdough, white, or wheat we get at the store, and the bread of heaven, the bread of life. The grocery store bread sustains our body for a short time, providing us with nutrients and substance that will last for a few hours. But the bread of life, Jesus says, ensures that we will never be hungry, and is the life to the world.
Now, of course Jesus is talking about two kinds of hunger here; physical hunger and spiritual hungry, but the point still stands. The bread of life sustains us in a way that even our favorite artisanal bread cannot.
When we participate in communion, that bread of life is experienced through the symbol of a loaf and a cup of grape juice. Communion, much like Jesus’ power, has some contradictions.
Here these words from author Sara Miles of Take This Bread:
“The entire contradictory package of Christianity was present in the Eucharist. A sign of unconditional acceptance and forgiveness, it was doled out and rationed to insiders; a sign of unity, it divided people; a sign of the most common and ordinary human reality, it was rarefied and theorized nearly to death. And yet that meal remained, through all the centuries, more powerful than any attempts to manage it. It reconciled, if only for a minute, that all of God’s creation, revealing that, without exception, we were members of one body, God’s body, in endless diversity.”
Today, we can be reminded that this following Jesus thing we are doing is not about strength or power or privilege. It’s not about ruling or overtaking or politics. Rather, this Jesus thing is about remembering that Christ is the one in whom we find our purpose and identity. The Christ who the Kings traveled to see at his birth and the Christ who taught the gospel to his friends are the same Christ.
Christ invites us to celebrate the complexity of his story and to see ourselves in the vastness of who he is.
We get to be thankful that we serve a God who values that, a God who is subversive and meek and even sometimes seems contradictory. God values our activism and also our rest. God values our voice and our silence. God values our praise and our skepticism. God values us, healthy or sick, lacking or abundant, doubting or believing.
This Thanksgiving, may we remember that Jesus is Lord, now and always. May we remember that our value and power come from our God-given identity. And may we remember to share the good news of Christ with those around us.
Let us pray.
God of abundance, we are grateful people. Thank you for creating us in your image, and for your son Jesus, the example we are blessed to follow. Help us in our lives, to remember you in all your persons, Creator God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit. May we live into the mystery of you, believing that our faith will continue to teach us and sustain us, wherever we go. Amen.