O Little Town of Bethlehem

This has been bread month. By that I mean that today makes the fourth week in a row that we’ve been reading from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John.

July 27th – Feeding the 5000      August 2 – “I am the bread of life.”   August 9 – “I am the bread of life.” Twice!  plus “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”

Today – Repeats the last verse of last Sunday’s Gospel, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” And then a little eucharistic theology: “Eat my body and drink my blood.”

And guess what? Next Sunday’s gospel portion will include part of today’s reading.

Now, imagine that you were a preacher or even a parish musician. You have to preach about bread for five Sundays in a row, and to select hymns about bread for five consecutive weeks—based essentially on the same texts and phrases. Yun Kim has done a masterful job on picking the hymns, and I’ve avoided the topic by preaching on the Old Testament. But I’ve run out of excuses, so today my subject is bread and Yun has us singing about the Little Town of Bethlehem.

Actually, the Christmas carol was my idea. First of all, I like Christmas carols, and the Christmas season is so short that I never really get enough of them. Second, I thought that we might get a jump on the retailers who will kick off the Christmas season in ernest after Labor Day. And third, I love the fact that O Little Town of Bethlehem was written in 1868 by an Episcopal priest, Phillips Brooks, a few years after he visited the Holy Land. Brooks later became Bishop of Massachusetts. And fourth . . . . let me back up a moment and try to tie this all together.

The compilers of our lectionary may have gone a little overboard with the four consecutive bread readings with the repeated phrases and verses. However, the four gospels agree that Jesus was all about bread. John may have summed it up with Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life,” but Matthew and Luke actually begin their stories by telling the world that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

So the fourth reason for O Little Town of Bethlehem is that the Hebrew name, Bethlehem, literally translated, is beth, house, lehem, bread. Jesus was born in the house of bread.

“Yet in thy dark streets shineth, The everlasting Light, The hopes and fears of all the years, Are met in thee tonight.”

Of course, bread is a metaphor for all that sustains us. Without food and nourishment we wither and die. In order to flourish, we not only need to eat, but to eat well. So it comes as no surprise when John tells us that Jesus came so that we might not just live, but live how? — abundantly.

To live abundantly is to live in the company of Jesus who is the Bread of Life.

Here at Christ Church feeding is what we do.

  • At CityHeart we feed people with the bread of hope.
  • Men’s gateway shelter, the women’s and family shelter, the Episcopal Food Pantry, the Red Wagon ministry where we collect food for the “hungry in our city”
  • The basket where we receive offerings for the hungry
  • Waffle Shop feeds bodies and souls.

These aren’t extras These are at the heart of what we’re all about as followers of the bread man.

The mission of Christ Church “is to love and serve God, giving of ourselves as we worship, wrestle with questions of faith and nurture the Christ in all people: the friend and the stranger, the satisfied and the needy, the believer and the unbeliever.” In other words, our purpose is to feed, to nurture people, with spiritual and physical food, so that they might thrive.

Our metrics are wrong. The annual parochial report to the diocese and The Episcopal Church, due on March 1, each year, measures institutional numbers focused on weekend church attendance, income, and expenses. Left unasked is the most important question of all. How many people have you fed?

This fall we’re planning to offer a weekly series of conversations on things that matter — as a way of expanding our food ministries—feeding the souls of people, some of whom may not now be members of the church nor may ever be members of it. It’s called LifeTree Cafe to be held in the Oregon District on Tuesday evenings, 7-8 pm, right on 5th Street.

Subjects will vary week by week: immigration, depression, addiction, homelessness, marriage, race, and insights from people who have walked away from church. Participants will be asked to reflect on these and many other topics from their own experience, the stories of others, and from the perspective of what Phillips Brooks called “the hopes and fears of all the years.”

I invite you to be a part of it: to feed hungry souls by connecting them to Jesus, the Bread of Life. We will need a number of volunteers: people to lead, set up, participate, do some publicity, provide financial support, and offer prayer. I’m not asking anyone to make a commitment today—simply to think about how you might help people be fed by the man from the house of bread. We’ll be rolling out the LifeTree Cafe sometime in September—engaging people who might never think of coming through our doors to satisfy the gnawing hunger in their souls. We’ll be getting back to you soon with more details about how you can help.

Remember: week by week we take into ourselves the Bread of Life that we might truly become bread for the malnourished in our city.

May God give us the vision and the means not only to feed hungry bodies but to nourish their souls . . . with abundance.

Amen.