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Free Sample for August 2,2015
By David Howell
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Preaching Mark 6:24-35
This passage begins Jesus’ Bread Sermon, found in verses 22 through 69 of chapter six and the source of the gospel lections for four weeks. In a quick reading, the preacher might think the whole chapter says the same thing: Jesus is the bread from heaven. Yes, but what does that mean? Each sermon should hone in on the meaning of a particular pericope and then follow the idea as it develops in subsequent passages.
A sermon series could follow F.D. Bruner’s outline, that verses 25-40 teach “the height of the Christian faith” like the upward arm of the cross. Verses 41- 51 teach the “breadth of the Christian faith” like the horizontal arm of the cross, and verses 52- 58 teach “the Orthodox depth and earthiness of the Christian faith” like “the lower-vertical deep-into-the-earth beam of the cross.”1
How do we help people connect with these texts, when bread evokes such a different feeling for us than it did in the time of Jesus? With some people avoiding the excess calories of bread and others who can’t eat it because of gluten intolerance, bread is not a significant source of food and life in our culture as it was then. One possibility is using the current food fixation to create food-centered sermons to which people can relate.
One year I used these texts for a sermon series on “Our Spiritual Diet” and tied each sermon to a popular food-related television show. The sermon for this particular passage was called, Top Chef Challenge. In that reality television show, contestants are judged by a panel of professional chefs who set up spectacular challenges for them. If they are able to accomplish the task, the judges set another one that is even more difficult than the first! One challenge was to create a two-egg breakfast dish in ten minutes—using only one hand. On a Christmas episode, each contestant had to choose a wrapped gift from under the tree and use whatever ingredients were inside to whip up a dish. Another time the chefs had to prepare a four-course meal consisting of scallops, lobster, duck, and Kobe beef, with thirty minutes to shop for ingredients and two hours to prepare the entire dinner.
No accomplishment is ever enough; no achievement exciting enough, stupendous enough, fantastic enough. The judges always want more.
When the crowd followed Jesus to the other side of the sea, after the miraculous feeding at the beginning of the chapter, they were challenging him as if he were a contestant on Top Chef Challenge. Oh, you gave us bread and fish? We liked that! You get a good score and go on to the final challenge! Let’s see what you can do next!
The people fired a series of rapid and rather impertinent questions at Jesus. Instead of being grateful for what Jesus had given them, they had a “what have you done for me lately” attitude. The preacher might use this to ask the congregation to consider how often that is our attitude. We challenge God with more and more requests instead of recognizing what God has done for us and being grateful. This could lead to a sermon on adding the ingredient of gratitude to our spiritual diet.
Jesus pointed them to the truth that rather than asking for more signs, they should give thanks for the gift they had already been given: salvation through faith in him. Jesus redirected their goal—to get more bread—and aimed it higher, as Bruner said: “The human person knows deep down inside oneself that the food that gives us this earthly life is not lastingly satisfying. We long for a deeper quality of life.” 2
Jesus then tells them how to get that food: the Son of Man will give it to you. They do not have to do “works” (plural in v. 28), but trust in the “work” (singular in v. 29) that God has already done in sending them the bread of life. “This is the work of God…that you trust,” Bruner said. “God gives us this trust, true; but we, then, pass this given trust back to his Son.” Bruner suggests that it is a wrong notion to think that God does everything and that we do nothing, just as it is also wrong to think that God does part and we must do our part, too. “No, God does the one great work of trust, and we simply (but really) bring this already worked and working trust back to his Son.” 3
The upward arm of the cross, the height of the Christian faith, is that there is only one thing we must do to be saved: believe. May we never get over our wonder at the good news that we do not have to earn our salvation through works. It is the free gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. The only necessary thing is to receive the gift of the bread of life.
Rev. Dawn M. Mayes
Community Presbyterian Church
1. Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 379.
2. Ibid, 384.
3. Ibid, 389.
***Purchase recordings of 2014 Festival of Homiletics (and earlier years). PurchaseSee Tom Steagald's Preaching Journal! Tom is the Pastor at Lafayette Street United Methodist Church in Shelby, NC, and adjunct professor at Hood Theological Seminary (AME, Zion) in Salisbury, NC. Tom has just published Shadows, Darkness and Dawn: A Lenten Journey with Jesus (Upper Room). Previous titles include Praying for Dear Life and Every Disciple's Journey, both from NavPress. He is a frequent contributor to Feasting on the Word, The Abingdon Preaching Annual, and other preaching resources. Tom's journal will detail each week's work to "discover" the sermon to be preached at Lafayette Street.
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