A Reading from the Second Book of Samuel (18:5-9, 15, 31-33)
The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom. So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword. Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him. Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.” The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.” The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
1 Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice; *
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
2 If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, *
O Lord, who could stand?
3 For there is forgiveness with you; *
therefore you shall be feared.
4 I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; *
in his word is my hope.
5 My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
more than watchmen for the morning.
6 O Israel, wait for the Lord, *
for with the Lord there is mercy;
7 With him there is plenteous redemption, *
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians (4:24-5:2)
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (6:35, 41-51)
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
About a week and a half ago, on August 1, I began my seventeenth year at St. Mark’s. That’s hard for me to comprehend. It does not seem that long since I came here to join you in your ministry. But then, as people get older, it does seem like the years pass more quickly.
Getting older certainly has its downside: just ask anybody here who has moved beyond middle age about the things that they used to do with ease, but which now take a lot more effort. On the other hand, getting older also has its pluses. One of them is the ability to see patterns in life: to recognize approaches to problems and opportunities that have been tried before and, one hopes, to learn both from successes and from failures.
In an election year, for example, we can listen to candidates for various offices promoting particular approaches to the economy. And, if we’ve paid attention over the years, those of us who have been around a while might observe: “that sounds just like what we heard and what we tried thirty or forty or fifty years ago. It never worked then, and there is no reason that it should work any better now.” As Albert Einstein observed, “Insanity consists in doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
That same observation can serve us well as a church. Over the summer months, we have been trying to clean out a lot of old material that has accumulated over the years in our church office and in other places around the building. Among the many boxes of papers, we have found folders and binders from several different diocesan programs, each of which, at the time, was held up as the way to renew and build up the church, freeing us from the past and preparing us for and leading us into the future. Several of these grand visions have come and gone during the years that I have been here, but there were also others before I came. The oldest that we have found so far went back about 25 or 30 years. Each promised great things, notably without the people in the church having to do the one thing that we actually need to do but that we avoid doing: simply telling people about our faith and inviting them to come and join us. Each program had been promoted with great fanfare and great enthusiasm; but, within a couple of years, each of them had largely been forgotten, and we have moved on to the next new thing. We never seem to learn.
Making the same mistake over and over again is not just something that happens in politics or in churches. It is something that people do in their individual lives as well. We tend to keep looking for happiness, for security, for fulfillment in life in all the wrong places. It never seems to work, but we never seem to learn that lesson either.
Many people, for example, keep looking for that happiness and fulfillment in financial security and in having the other things they own. You’re probably familiar with the study that was done a number of years ago, asking people of all different income levels how much money would be enough: with how much would they be satisfied. The prevailing answer across the board was “about 20% more than I have now.” No matter how much people had, it was never enough to satisfy them and make them happy. They always wanted more, convincing themselves that that “little bit more” would finally do the trick. But it never did.
Others have looked at the problems and challenges facing our core cities and towns and those in them who are not as fortunate as we may be, and have tried to find happiness and security by simply moving away from them and trying to escape them, as though physical distance would make these “not our problems.” Yet they would come to find that that approach did not bring them any greater fulfillment in life either. Running away just doesn’t work.
Still others have tried to isolate themselves from the world around them, carefully choosing and limiting the places they go and the people with whom they interact in an attempt to escape others’ problems and to make life as comfortable and non-challenging as possible. They, too, come to realize that this approach is not going to bring them deep and lasting happiness either.
In many different ways, we try over and over again — to use an image from today’s gospel reading – to pursue the manna that we think is going to feed us, approaches that we think, or at least hope, are going to make us happy and bring us genuine and lasting peace. But we keep looking in the all the wrong places.
In today’s gospel, we continue our series of readings from St. John’s “Bread of Life” discourse. And in these readings, Jesus’ hearers keep looking for happiness and peace and fulfillment in all the wrong places. They keep looking back to the manna that their ancestors ate in the wilderness over 1200 years earlier. And they keep longing for that kind of manna again, assuring themselves that, even though it didn’t work the first time, this time it will bring them security and happiness. But Jesus tells them bluntly, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and what happened? They died.” That manna, as good and important as it was, did not fulfill their deepest needs; it did not give them life, nor could it ever.
Instead, Jesus offers them the bread that will feed that deepest of hungers. He offers them himself. He calls them to turn to him and to commit themselves to a life, not of trying to escape from or isolate themselves from the needs and problems of others, but of giving of themselves to address those needs, just as Jesus immersed himself in the needs and problems and longings of those around him, serving the world in God’s name. It is there, he assures them, that real happiness is to be found.
As this story continues over the next two weeks, we will see that most of Jesus’ hearers refused to accept his message: they kept looking for and working for the manna that would never and could never satisfy their deepest hunger.
But some did listen. Some did embrace him and the life to which he called them. And those that did discovered, of all things, that he was right. They discovered in him the bread for which they had been longing. And they discovered that, by following his example, they, too, had found the bread that would feed them for a lifetime and for eternity.