I’m going to start today with a confession. I admit it, I have watched America’s Got Talent. Well, I wasn’t really watching, rather I “eaveswatched” it. Eaveswatching, ya know, is a hybrid term that combines eavesdropping and watching. It refers to viewing or overhearing a TV show someone else is watching: eaveswatching. Well, anyway, Manny was watching a YouTube video of a young girl on America’s Got Talent who was an awesome ventriloquist. She really was impressive but my take-away wasn’t so much the girl or her act; no, my fascination was with the format of the show.
You see, America’s Got Talent is like an old-time talent show; only on steroids. The contestants get on stage, do their thing, and whoever gets voted best, whoever gets “voted through” moves to the next round. And whoever is left in the end wins a million dollars and a chance to headline a show in Las Vegas. And it works like this. During each performance the three judges sit at their desks with control buttons. If at any time during the performance they become bored they push an X button and a giant buzzer sounds, testing the mettle and concentration of the hapless juggler, singer, ventriloquist or dog trainer on stage. After each act the judges give feedback. But it seems like it’s always the same advice: “Up the ante. Make it bigger. Make it better. Make it more dangerous. Wow us more or you won’t go through to the next round.” [I]
Our text for this week from John’s Gospel is akin to Jesus’ second appearance in the talent show. He was “voted through” last week when he multiplied the five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000 people. Which makes sense in a way, but one has to wonder why the crowd demanded an encore? Why didn’t they get it the first time around?
Now, the crowd did “ooh” and “ahh” over him as a “prophet come into the world”, but that recognition doesn’t do him full justice and slips from their minds as soon as their stomachs start to growl. All I can figure is that the hungry crowd didn’t notice what he was doing for their neighbors, because they were too busy focusing on what he had done for them.
They say to him, “What sign will you do for us, so we may see it and believe you?” What? Didn’t Jesus just feed 5000 people? Didn’t he, at the very least, convince 5000 people to share their provisions with each other? But, instead of faith, instead of indwelling and remembering that moment on the hillside, that moment of unconditional sharing among neighbors, they say in essence, “Let’s see your act again, Jesus. If it holds our interest, we won’t buzz you, and we’ll vote you through to the next round.” They’re treating Jesus like a talent show contestant who has to prove himself to them.
Now, lets’ stop here and think about this text from a devotional perspective. In other words, what’s the message for us in our time?
Well, I would challenge you today to consider the most fundamental mistake made by the crowd; I referred to it earlier. They didn’t consider Christ’s miracle of abundance beyond their own stomach, they didn’t consider the full scope of neighbor feeding neighbor. So, unlike the crowd, we must see that the bread of life, the actual, physical, daily bread of life, real food, must be made accessible to all people. My friends, we don’t have a shortage of bread in this nation, what we have is a distribution problem. There’s enough bread for all, both here and abroad, if only we could focus on what we can do for our neighbor in Jesus’ name rather than what he might be doing for us as individuals. The message here is to put the other before self.
That’s the first part, and the second is this: This text goes much deeper than a simple sharing our resources, we are challenged to come away from this story with a spiritual understanding of what the Bread of Life has, can, and will do in our lives, both as individuals and as a faith community. And what better to symbolize a spiritual understanding of the Bread of Life than the sacraments? My friends, today we will be invited to witness and participate in both of the sacraments of the Church: Baptism and Communion.
I was once asked to explain, in the simplest of terms, the sacraments of our church. I thought about it for awhile and this was my answer. Think of the church as a trail. Baptism is the trailhead. A place where the hikers gather, lace up their boots, make sure their walking-sticks are in hand, and begin the journey. Baptism is a person’s inclusion into the family of God and the beginning or the establishment of their individual covenant with God. Infant, child, adult, it doesn’t matter. Whether one is questioning or confident; passionate or struggling with doubt; Whether one is fulfilling a family tradition or establishing a new one; whether one has a faith as great as a mountain or as tiny as a mustard seed; it finally doesn’t matter. What matters is that Christ is calling us, all of us, to invite all people to join us on this trail of faith.
Which, of course leads us to communion. Communion is the trail itself. A trail that is smooth at times, rocky and steep at other times; a trail with many stops along the way. When we take communion, we reaffirm our covenant with God and with our faith community. As we partake of the bread and juice, we are invited to realize our mis-steps along the way and that we are forgiven. And finally, communion is a shared experience. We practice what’s come to be called “an open table”; all are welcome to participate, because all of us are in various stages of our faith journey; and all of us have, at one time or another, gotten lost. All are welcome to the table, because we’re all on this hike together.
Now, here’s the best part, not only are we travelling together on this trail of life and faith, God is with us every step of the way. God is seeking and welcoming and inviting us to hike along with all of these people you see around you today and to offer, beyond these walls and this community, the very Bread of Life. Jesus is the Bread of Life. The physical bread that sustains our bodies and the spiritual bread that strengthens our souls.
My friends, as we continue our hike, as we continue to share the physical and spiritual Bread of Life, as we come to the fount and the table today, may we all be moved to look beyond ourselves and our own self-interest and see the other and recognize in the face of our neighbors, all our neighbors, the very face of God.
May it be so.