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Sermon for August 1, 2021

 I am sure that many you have enjoyed watching the Olympics, just as I have.  The competition is intense and I admire the talent and dedication of the athletes and their stories.  This week, I was moved by the story of Billy Mills, a long-distance runner who competed in the Tokyo Olympic games in 1964.  Billy had to overcome some significant obstacles.  He became an orphan.  His mother had died when we was eight and his father died when he was twelve. Billy had hypoglycemia, which caused him to be weak, it was difficult to race when he didn’t have enough sugar in his bloodstream.  Billy Mills was raised on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota, the son of a woman who was 3/4 white and a father who was 3/4 Lakota Sioux. During his career in running, there were times when he was asked to step out of the team picture because of his native heritage.  After college, Mills joined the US Marine Corps.  But the biggest obstacle Mill’s faced in the 10,000-meter race in Tokyo was his past performance.  The favorite, Ron Clarke from Australia, held the world record of 28 minutes, 15 seconds while Mill’s best time was over 29 minutes.  Mills was not thought to be a serious contender.  Near the end of the race, Mills found himself near the lead.  As they neared the finish line, Billy Mills found an extra burst of speed and won.  His winning time of 28:24.4 was almost 50 seconds faster than he had run before.  Mill’s gives credit even now to his father’s encouragement.  As the eight-year-old Billy mourned his mother’s death. his father shared some words, saying he had broken wings but someday he would have the wings of an eagle and encouraged him to look beyond the hurt, the hate, the jealousy, and the self-pity.  Mills remembers the race vividly.  With 80 meters to go, he was in third place, yards behind the two leaders. Mills passed a runner and out of the corner of his eye saw an eagle on the runner’s jersey.  He remembered his father’s words and they gave him the strength to make a final push and win the race.  Later, he found the runner and the man’s jersey had no eagle. 

Mills had been inspired by his father’s words and a vision.  We can be inspired by an individual in our lives as well. This morning, we realize that our inspiration comes from Jesus.  Jesus told us that he is the bread of life.  The bread that nourishes us and helps us. We receive many gifts from God.  Those gifts come to us over and over again.   Let us take a few moments to reflect on God’s gifts, God’s inspiration and God’s vision for our lives together. 

God’s gifts come to people even when they are complaining and unhappy.  In the first reading, the people complained about Moses and Aaron.  There was no food in the desert. They were better off in Egypt, they said.  God heard their complaints and provided meat and bread for the people to eat. 

Haven’t we all had times when we felt that we were out in the desert.  Our faith was being tested and we questioned whether God was present with us.   In my own life, there have been times when I felt separated from God. Each time, I came to realize that God was always with me. God gave me nourishment to help me find my way out of the desert, to see where my path should go.

It seems that God intended the forty years the Israelites spent in the desert as their learning experience.  In Deuteronomy, it is written, “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, … in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”.  Now, some people chose fasting as a way to listen to God’s word.   

The Psalm celebrates God’s benevolence toward the people.  I especially liked the last verse of the Psalm, “So they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.” They wanted food to eat and God gave it to them.  We may not need food to eat but God will give us what we need.  

The gospel story takes us beyond the feeding that is done for our bodily needs to help us understand how God feeds us in other ways.  After Jesus fed the entire crowd with the bread and the fish, he and the disciples left and went by boat to another town.  The crowd pursued them. They wanted some more of that bread to feed their stomachs.  Jesus told them he came to offer something much more important.  He would provide food for their souls.  “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.”  It was hard for many to her those words.  They either didn’t understand what he was saying or didn’t believe it was possible or didn’t think it was important.  Jesus gave them the words they needed to hear but for many their minds were closed.  They were unable to grasp what he meant.

As we read those words now, we have a better understanding of what Jesus was talking about.  Jesus told us that he is the bread of life.  Each Sunday that we come to church for a service, we have the opportunity to experience the feeding of our souls again, we open ourselves to let God change our lives again.  Jesus gives us the inspiration, the strength, and the grace to live our lives now and to prepare us for an eternal life in heaven.  It is a gift that carries us through when times are good and when times are bad. We know that God cares for us every day and always. 

One saint said it this way, “Just as earthly bread sustains the fragile substance of the flesh and prevents it from falling into decay, so Christ quickens the soul through the power of the Spirit and also preserves even the body for immortality”  Just as the crowd came to Jesus and begged for bread, we also come and give thanks and ask Jesus to feed us the bread of eternal life.  The bread of life comes to us in so many ways, sometimes through the words of a friend or family member.

One of the gifts we receive is the opportunity to learn from Jesus.  He taught about how to live together as his people.  Jesus brought people together, everyone was welcome. His apostles followed the leadership of Jesus and created communities of love and sharing.  We then are encouraged to continue to raise up the people of God.  In the letter to the Ephesians, we are told it starts with the gift of grace.   We know God’s grace is the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God.  It is through this grace that we are strengthened and renewed.  It is this grace that changes our hearts and souls. 

The people in Ephesus were exhorted, encouraged to use this grace to build up the community of faith.  They were reminded that each of them had a special gift and that they were to use their own gift for the good of everyone in the community. 

I think it is a message that speaks to us here today.  We have many gifts in this congregation.  There are prophets and evangelists and teachers.  But we also have people with gifts like hospitality, being an usher or a person who welcomes others.  We have people who sing and others who read the lessons and still others who serve at the altar.  We have people with technical skill who help us communicate with each other through social media.  And we have people who come and through their presence speak of the importance of community. And there are more skills that I haven’t mentioned.  Together, we are to building up the body of Christ.  We are one body and one Spirit, we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all.

This church is a loving and caring community.  I have always felt the Spirit of God working in this church.  In a few weeks you will enter into a new time for soon, I will be retiring.  It is sad for me to say goodbye.  I will miss each and every one of you.  This church was a loving community before I came and it will be after I leave.  It is just a time for each of you to offer your talents to maintain the spirit of God in this place. 

My wish is that each of you will take a small step to hold this place together and that you will be so strong together that the next rector will feel just as I did, loved and cared for.  He or she will say that there is a lot of love in this place. 

We do these things not because we have to.  No, we do these things because we are thankful. We are thankful that Jesus is the bread of life.  We’re thankful that the bread gives us the strength to create a loving community of believers.   Let us take the energy, the love and the knowledge that we receive from God’s grace, God’s living bread and God’s mercy to share God’s love with each other.  Amen. 


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