A Sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 13 – Year B – 2 August 2015
John Edward Miller, Rector


The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 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. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”          – John 6:24-35


The Collect

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Ten years ago this October I traveled by limo with friends to Charlottesville to experience The Rolling Stones in concert[1] for the first time. The show exceeded my every expectation, and the band delivered a near-perfect performance, replete with great music, amazing aerobic moves by Mick Jagger (who was 62 at the time), enough energy to thrill the crowd filling Scott Stadium, and grace under pressure, despite a bomb threat that delayed the show and caused the Stones to be whisked away to safety for a while. It was, all in all, a wonderful evening.

This past July 1, my son John enabled me to get a second look at the Stones in Raleigh, North Carolina.[2] He got us tickets as my Father’s Day present, and I was really touched that he would propose to take me on such a road trip. We enjoyed the journey and a phenomenal concert.

Mick, who turned 72 this summer, is still dancing and prancing all over their elaborate stage. In fact, during two straight hours of heart pounding rock-n-roll, he never stopped moving. Furthermore, he shows little sign that he’s finished with live appearances. The rest of the Stones are showing signs of aging, but are also able to crank out the hard-driving rhythms and guitar licks they’re famous for, including lead guitarist Keith Richards (who’s still lithe and vertical, despite a life that would’ve laid me low long ago).  I loved it, even though the sound system caused temporary deafness in one ear. Oh, well.  C’est la musique!

Anyway, the place was packed, and the parked cars and busses covered a great expanse of land nearby. So we thought it wise to make our move to leave while the massive crowd awaited an encore. We had no fear of missing the last selections, though, because the decibel levels achieved by the wall of sound were so high that we could’ve heard the show closer from a mile away. As we walked to retrieve our car, the Stones delighted the audience (and me) as they belted out the same encore that I heard in Charlottesville a decade earlier. They sang, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

The band released “Satisfaction”[3] fifty years ago, in 1965, and I purchased the 7-inch 45-rpm vinyl recording that year. I nearly drove my parents crazy as I played it over and over on the living room stereo, and singing it a la Jagger as my brother picked out Keith Richard’s famous three-note riff on his electric guitar. [Lead guitar sound]. It wasn’t long before I had the lyrics down, and could easily lip-synch or sing:

I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no

When I’m drivin’ in my car
And that man comes on the radio
And he’s tellin’ me more and more
About some useless information
 Supposed to fire my imagination
 I can’t get no. No, no, no.
Hey, hey, hey. That’s what I say.
When my mother breezed past the living room concert stage, and heard those, and other, lyrics coming from me, she paused and gave me a show-stopping, raised-eyebrow look. She didn’t have to say anything; she just folded her arms across her chest and stared. My brother and I got the message: our parents were not clueless; they were on the alert. Something about that song had gotten their attention.

There is a black and white YouTube video from a live television performance of “Satisfaction” in 1965. The BBC studio is jammed with teenagers who become increasingly more agitated and hysterical as the song unfolds. It is, after all, about sexual frustration and commercialism – two major themes of adolescent Angst. The music and the words, and the pouting lips and leering eyes of Mick Jagger, as well as his gyrations, provoke the crowd into a frenzy. And standing amid the teenagers in this hormone storm of emotion there is someone that seems entirely out of place. He is a Church of England priest dressed in a dark suit and clerical collar. At first he seems bemused by the British rockers, but near the end of the song the clergyman surveys the scene and resolutely shakes his head. He obviously doesn’t like what he’s seeing. And it just may be that his concern is well founded.

But fifty years later Keith and Mick are still bonding with the crowd with these words. Obviously they are touching a nerve that runs through our culture – linking the aging rockers onstage with all ages groovin’ in the stadium. Shall we attach a name to that live wire?

As a college sophomore I enrolled in Economics 101 with Professor E. C. Griffith, a specialist in labor relations and management. Dr. Griffith, like his other colleagues, shared the task of teaching this introductory course. He let us know from the outset that he would likely give a pop quiz every week, so we kept up with the assignments. I remember his first lecture, in which lay the groundwork for his approach to the course. He began by saying, “Humans are creatures of insatiable wants and desires; economics is the study of human behavior in a marketplace governed by the law of supply and demand.”

His word “insatiable” stuck with me. And I have revisited my teacher’s remarks many times in the intervening years because his description of human desire was accurate. I also remember that he said that demand can be stimulated by constricting supply and by creating dissatisfaction with products and services already received. Advertisements and marketing can spur us to consume what we do not need but think we do.  Trends in the marketplace can turn into dramatic stampedes. Panics, sell-offs, inflation, recession, bull and bear markets are facts of our economic life. Why? Well because we humans are creatures driven by desire, and that desire tends to be centered on the self.

Mick has got it right when he complains, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” The drum beat rhythm of his song is like a pounding pulse. Our quest for satisfaction always leads to another, and another, in an interminable succession of quests. We live, said Thomas Cranmer,[4] by following too much “the devices and desires of our own hearts.” This memorable phrase still resounds in the General Confession of Sin in the daily Morning Prayer: Rite I service, although Cranmer’s declaration that “there is no health in us” has been expunged by those who find it too negative and somber a thing to admit – even to God. But it’s true; otherwise, why seek redemption through the ministries of the Church? Sound hearts and minds could do it themselves with no help from God or anyone else. But we know that isn’t the case. The yearning for satisfaction is distorted. There is a hole in us that nothing we desire, or obtain, can fill. It takes something beyond our reach to satisfy that void.

The prayer of St. Augustine[5] memorializes both the common craving of humanity and the source of wholeness that we so desperately need. He said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” That restless heart will not cease its longing. No amount of willpower, positive thinking, or true grit can quiet its pulsating beat. Our need is not for things, or pleasures, or the latest toy on the market. It’s for us to get real, to ask for help, and extend our open palms to “him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.”[6]

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.” That’s the way that the New Revised Standard Version renders the text from John’s Gospel. However, this fresh translation makes it seem as though Jesus is promising to provide the perpetual remedy for growling stomachs and parched throats. Clearly that is not his intention. Both he and his followers continued to desire food and water, and we do as well. His words are no more meant to be taken literally than his declaration, “I am the bread of life.”

Jesus is using the language of metaphor to give good news to a world starving for sustenance. But the bread that he is talking about is neither a baked loaf nor unleavened flatbread, nor is it manna falling like snow from heaven. This bread contains no wheat or barley, no milk or water, and no yeast. Yet it’s substantial enough to satisfy our deepest hunger and thirst. Jesus identifies himself as life’s bread, meaning that when he feeds us, our “cup runneth over,” and our life is fulfilled. The apparently endless quest for satisfaction is complete.

A practical question remains, though. What, in our experience, is it that Jesus feeds us? What does he give us of himself?

Well, for starters, consider this Holy Eucharist. It is our central act of worship, and one of the two great sacraments of the Gospel – the other being Holy Baptism. In both sacraments we believe that Christ is really present; they provide us settings in which we commune with him, and receive the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. In Baptism we are adopted as God’s own children, and in Eucharist, we are fed. The bread points beyond its earthy ingredients to something heavenly, mysterious, and ever so precious. That is the undeserved gift of God’s compassion in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus his Son. Our Lord made, “by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.” Those inimitable words of Thomas Cranmer are the Gospel truth.

Love is God’s bread; its substance – in acts of mercy, of empowerment, of discipline, of patience and kindness – “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[7] Unconditional acceptance is love’s way. There is no void that love cannot fill. Not even death itself, because “love never ends.”

As I drove back the next morning after our sojourn in Raleigh, I savored the love of a son who would care so deeply for his Dad that he would spend 10 hours on the road from Brooklyn to Carolina’s capital just to take him back 50 years to finally get satisfaction. The bread of love filled me to overflowing. I commend it with my whole being. Amen.

[1] The concert at the University of Virginia’s football stadium was on October 6, 2005.

[2] Carter-Finley Stadium at North Carolina State University was the site of this show on July 1, 2015.

[3] Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” produced by Andrew Loog Oldham, released in the United States on June 6, 1965. The song was inspired by “I Can’t Be Satisfied” by Muddy Waters.

[4] Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) composed the General Confession for the 1549 Prayer Book. A revision of the prayer is located in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer on p. 41.

[5] Augustine (354-430 C.E.) was the Bishop of Hippo, on the North African coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

[6] Ephesians 3:20, American Standard Version.

[7] Paul’s definition of God’s love is found in I Corinthians 13:1-13.