A Sermon preached by Dana Stokes at Gloria Dei on August 1, 2021
Did anyone ever ask you “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” Who do you want to be? Isn’t it interesting how often we ask kids what they want to be? Starting early in life we ask “what do you want to be when you grow up?” The answer given usually has something to do with an occupation. Policeman, teacher, nurse… I have a friend who early in life wanted to be a cashier. She thought people handed you money all day long and you got to keep it. “What do you want to be?” Maybe we’ve been asking the wrong question? If someone asked you not “What” but “Who do you want to be?” how would you answer that question? Do you want to be someone who makes people laugh and feel at ease? Someone who helps other people? When you look in the mirror do you know who you are? Who does God say that you are?
The passage that we just read in the gospel text tells us about who Jesus is. Jesus says “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” This story is coming from the Gospel of John. John, unlike the other Gospels, is not a book that begins with the birth story of Jesus. No mangers. No wise men. It doesn’t decipher the lineage of Jesus. It jumps right in without regard to previous time and space and tells us about who Jesus is and the relationships that He has. In this book of John, seven times Jesus gives “I am” statements. Among them: I am the bread of life, I am the good shepherd. I am the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus knows who he is.
In looking at these verses, also notice who Jesus is talking to. He’s talking to the same five thousand people who in last week’s passage were fed the loaves of bread and fish when they were hungry. They are literally following Jesus. These are believers without an identity and what I mean by that is they don’t know who they are. These are people who are longing to know what it means to follow Jesus.
The first reading reflects back to another group of lost believers, the ancestors of these very same people, who in the book of Exodus, follow Moses from Egypt to the Promised Land. In the centuries that these ancestors have been enslaved in Egypt, they’ve lost their identities. In these four hundred plus years, they’ve forgotten what it means to be God’s person in this world. So in this time of wandering in Exodus – which I’ve heard one minister refer to as God’s wilderness training camp1 – the ancestors fear that they have been led from their enslavement in Egypt only to starve. But God through Moses each morning gives them manna – bread from heaven – to collect so they won’t starve while they re-member and re-learn, as a people of God, who they are and what that means. They’re learning to have faith again. Each morning they collect the manna. It says that some gathered much, some little. When they measured everyone had gathered just as much as they needed. And no hording. Some didn’t listen and tried to save part of it until the next morning but found it full of maggots. The lesson was to remember to trust God every day.
Let’s face it, we are God’s people but we tend to have the memory of a goldfish. We forget. We forget who we are. We forget what God has done for us.
Jesus knows who He is. That’s a good thing because at this point Jesus in his human embodiment has a lot of ever-changing uncertainty in front of him. Knowing who He is and whose He is keeps him boldly moving forward feeding thousands, proclaiming the good news, healing and… dying.
In this past pandemic year and a half there’s been a lot of uncertainty. Many of us have had an opportunity to reassess who we are. Some have learned to work from home or go to school remotely. There has been time for reflection. Coming out of this time of reflection are movements like the YOLO movement – you only live once. One may think, maybe I don’t want to continue in this same job? Maybe it’s time to retire? Maybe it’s time to change careers? Change location? Move out? Move the aging parents in? Who am I?
God calls us to be God’s people in this world. With that call God gives us the freedom to remember and the freedom to forget. With baptism we become the flesh and blood representatives of God in this world.
Martin Luther described it this way (and I am grateful to the writer Barbara Brown Taylor for further explanation2.) Our vocation is to be God’s person in this world. Our office is what we do for a living. Our common call at baptism – whatever our office in the world – is to serve God through that office. It’s where we exercise the diversity of our gifts. Whether one waits tables or sits on a board of directors, works as a therapist or a teacher, trades securities or sells cars, owns a company or stays at home with the children: it’s us understanding this is what we do while we still remember who we are and understand ourselves to be God’s people in this world.
Ever play a team sport? There are different positions to play on the team. Everyone’s not standing in the same spot. When you go out onto the field or the court you play your individual position yet you still remember you’re part of a team – the team you’re playing for. You delineate – this is who I am and that is what I do. We forget to do that in life. Who you are is not the job that you work. Who you are is not your circumstances. Who you are is God’s person in this world, living out your faith not just in church but in everyday life. Who you are empowers you and supports what you care about. We believe in love so we act in love. We believe in kindness. We act in kindness3. We become the reflection of God to someone else.
What does that look like in everyday life? It’s the school custodian cleaning extra during COVID to keep the kids safe. It’s caring for a pet; being a compassionate listener. It’s the volunteer at the food distribution. It’s shoveling the snow off your neighbor’s sidewalk.
Remember whose you are and, remembering this, who are you going to be this week? I pray that we will all find a way to be that reflection.
1 Pastor Lee Zandstra
2 “The Preaching Life”, Barbara Brown Taylor
3 WorkingPreacher.org, August 1, 2021