St. Augustine of Hippo

Episcopal Church


What Brings You Here Today?

August 5, 2018

The Reverend Nathanael Saint-Pierre

What makes us follow someone? No matter on social network or in real life, we follow someone because of an interest. Maybe because what he is doing sparks something in us, arouses our curiosity or feeds one of our needs, one way or another.

After Jesus fed five thousand people, he became a sort of celebrity. People started to look for him and wanted to be with him, wherever he was.

But were those people looking for Jesus for the right reason? Are we followers of Jesus for the right reason? What brings you here today?

Human nature is always looking for something, whether we accept it or not. Some of you are here to pray, others for communion (both the sacrament and being in community), others, I’d like to believe, are here to listen to my sermon. People are in churches for different reasons. Some have stopped going to church because church doesn’t respond to their needs anymore. In Jesus’ time, Israel was under occupation, Israel’s citizens were not free to worship their God, they weren’t allowed to be a nation. Instead, they were conquered and had to pay a tax to Caesar, the Roman emperor, their oppressor. People could not eat as they should or live according to their faith, customs and culture. They had to go by the rules of the occupant, the rules of the conqueror, the rules of the colonial power. Imagine how lost and in despair you would feel to have your own home controlled by a stranger, his rules imposed on you, you having to obey and execute what he dictates. He’d change the color of your walls, take away your own pictures and pictures of your family to install his, move you out of your room to use it for himself; even forbidding you to go in and out as you wish. You would feel a stranger in your own home. You would lose your privacy and independence. You would feel controlled and without freedom. 

Beside sermons and discourses, Jesus went further to address the needs of his followers. He provided food for five thousand in very mysterious ways. Jesus cured many and made a name for himself. He was so powerful among them that they wanted to make him a king. People living in despair need someone who can build them back up. They wanted more from this miracle maker. They wanted more of the message of hope, they wanted more signs, they wanted to be convinced that deliverance was in sight. They wanted to stay close to that guy who had done unexplainable works. They needed the guidance that was so lacking; a guidance that no political or religious leader was able to provide. They wanted to have their conviction reaffirmed that God didn’t let them down, and was about to come to their rescue. What brings you here today? Are you, like the Israelites of Jesus’ time, experiencing a sense of loss?

John, differently from other gospels, never uses a story with just one possible meaning or layer. At the end of today’s reading we’re about to uncover the different layers in which John presents Jesus to his community. Jesus did not feed the five thousand just to fill their bellies. Jesus did feed them with fish and bread. But if one digs deeper, the bread and fish were just a foretaste of a meal to come. This was not just a meal to feed the body. God sent the bread from heaven that is far better than Moses’ manna. Those who eat from this bread will never be hungry for God. Those who partake from this meal will never feel disconnected from God. Those who receive this bread will be redeemed. Although many may want to follow Jesus because they need to satisfy their hunger literally, Jesus IS the bread of heaven capable of giving eternal life. It is not an accident that before he was assassinated, Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it, and said: “This is my body”. The body betrayed, the body mistreated, the body battered, the body whipped, the body finally crushed and crucified is the bread of heaven, a perpetual remembrance of an irrevocable pact with God. Yes, eating that bread will not prevent one from being literally hungry, but eating that bread will fill one’s spiritual need like nothing else can.

What are you here for? And what brings you here? I hope you’re here for the word of God and the bread of life. I hope you’re not here only because you like me or because you think we have a Sunday feeding program. Although I am suspicious that, whenever the coffee hour has a substantial meal, attendance in church increases; some of us show up for it and avoid the actual service. Maybe all we have to do is advertise “Come to St. A’s this Sunday – there will be a delicious hearty meal”, and the church will be packed! I pray you’re here to hear that the troubles in your life are not because God has forsaken you, or has let you down. By eating the bread of heaven, you have made God a perpetual part of you. Have you heard this saying: “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you what you are?” Eating this bread makes God part of you and you part of God. The quantity does not matter; there’s enough for all. This bread is God’s mercy, this bread is God’s grace. God is always in you even when you distance or disconnect yourself from him. God is with you while oppressed. God is with you while rejected. God is with you when judged by others and found inappropriate. God is with you night and day as long as you hold onto Jesus, the bread of heaven, who takes away the sin of the world.  Come and taste! Taste and see! Amen.