Let me begin my sermon with a question: what’s your favorite comfort food? I googled it, and if you let me list some of the most voted American comforts foods, there were chicken noodle soup, baked ziti, mac and cheese, lasagna, tacos, chicken pot pie, jambalaya, different kind of casseroles, stews, chilies, and so on. Why are these all comfort food? I think people usually associate the feeling of comfort with a certain food that is related to some memories of a special person who cooked the food, like parents or grandparents. Then how does comfort food actually comfort people? Is it because of its taste? Or its generous portion or unchecked calories and carbs? I don’t think they’re not the main reason. We feel comfort from food because we can feel the love and care that we once felt when we ate the food before. With the ingredient of personal sentiments, comfort food becomes more than just a food. It is a channel of consolation and support.
Thinking about my comfort food, I figured that I always miss my grandmother’s tofu. I think I already told you about her tofu once before. Anyway, as you already know, tofu is the simple curd made of mashed soybeans. It’s nothing special, and just an everyday food for many Asians. And you can purchase it at any grocery market. But I can proudly say that my grandmother’s homemade tofu was such a special comfort food for me, and it was the best tofu in the world, at least, to me. I remember that she soaked soybeans in water overnight and woke up very early to grind those soybeans in a millstone. My grandparents’ house was in a deep, deep rural area back then, so that they didn’t have any electronic grinder or a gas stove. So it took a while for my grandmother to grind all the soybeans a little amount at a time, made a fire in the old wood stove to boil and churn the soymilk, and finally strained it with a cloth to make tofu. Through this long and painstaking process, she could make only four or five blocks of tofu. But they were more than enough to fully fill and warm up the hungry stomachs of my family in a cold winter morning. The tofu was so fresh that I could even see the steam rise from it. And it was delicious, just by itself. And now I know that I cannot taste that kind of tofu anywhere else. What’s so special about my grandmother’s tofu? Her traditional process of cooking? The soybeans she grew? Were they organic and non-GMO? No…her tofu was special because of her love, the love for her family, the love for her grandson. That love was what comforted me. Nobody can cook better than our grandmothers, because nobody can love us more than them. Food becomes a vessel of love in their hands, at their homes. The taste of my grandmother’s homemade tofu was, indeed, the taste of love.
For the past four weeks we saw how God expresses God’s love through food. God sent quail and manna to the Israelites in the wilderness so that they could sustain their life through the journey to Canaan. When Elijah was hiding himself in a creek, God sent ravens to deliver some food to him, and when he was sitting under a solitary broom tree with deep frustration, angels brought him bread to comfort him, make him walk the way to Mount Horeb, and renew his faith. How about Jesus? Jesus fed five thousand disenfranchised people living around the Sea of Galilee with five barley loaves and two fish. The Gospels tell us that it was greatly important for Jesus to serve food so his disciples could feel his love deeply. Before Jesus was crucified, he had the last supper with his disciples and shared his body and blood with them. And after his resurrection, Jesus went to the Sea of Galilee to find the disciples who went back to their ordinary life as fishermen after his death on the cross. What did Jesus do there? Jesus prepared a meal. The Gospel of John says, “When [the disciples] had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread” (John 21:9). Then, Jesus calls them, “Come and have breakfast” (John 21:12). The simple meal of fish and bread speaks volumes. It was more than just food. The disciples must have realized the unchangeable love of Jesus and felt profound comfort.
However, delivering love through comfort food wouldn’t be enough for Jesus. In Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John, Jesus says several times he is now the food itself for us. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s love in the world, and Jesus offer himself to us as the bread of life. This bread is made in heaven, our true home. So I think we can call it true homemade bread. By grace through faith, this homemade bread of life gives us not just comfort, but invites us to embody Jesus’ love, share that love with others, and enjoy our true life in communion with God. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus summarizes his point for the last time, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:56-58).
Why are we gathering here today in the church? Isn’t it because we all have once had the unforgettable taste of love of Jesus Christ, the bread of life? And isn’t it because we all want to have that heavenly comfort food more and always in our lives? Isn’t it because we are grateful for the love of Jesus Christ that led him to offer one’s body and blood for our salvation and new life?
Sisters and brothers of Christ, the bread of life… nobody can serve this bread other than Jesus, because nobody can love us more than him. Nobody can share this bread other than Jesus, because nobody can completely give up one’s whole body and blood for us. We know that the love embodied in this bread of life has comforted us and it has power to comfort others also. So now is the time for us to share this bread with others. Let us love one another and forgive one another as Jesus did, so that people around us may taste the heavenly flavor of Jesus’ love and become willing to nourish themselves with the bread of life. Let us make our community of faith be fed with self-denying humility, so that everyone we meet can enjoy the delightful foretaste of God’s kingdom. And above all, let us give thanks to our God who is the baker of our true homemade bread of life and let us be ever grateful for Jesus’ love that comforts all of us always. Amen.
A spiritual master has lost his key to his house. So he goes outside to the grass to look for it. He gets down on his hands and knees and starts running his fingers through every blade of grass. There come eight or ten of his disciples. They ask, “Master, what’s wrong?” He says, “I’ve lost the key to my house.” They say, “Can we help you find it?” He says, “That would be great.” So they all get down on their hands and knees and search for the lost key. As the sun grows hotter, a smart disciple asks, “Master, do you have any idea where you might have lost the key?” The Master replies, “Of course. I lost it in the house.” To which they all exclaimed, “Then why are we looking for it out here in the grass?” The master says with a smile, “Isn’t it obvious? Here is more light.”
What a strange story…isn’t it? I felt the same when I first read it. But I’m telling you, this story has something to think about. It’s because the story tells us some truth about our human condition. Look at the way that the story describes us, humans: we have all lost the key to our house. Here, the house may represent the place we can live with God—the true source of our full and eternal life. The Bible teaches us that our life can be whole and abundant when we abide in God, when we experience God’s presence every day. The house is where we can be at home with God. But we’ve lost the key to this house; we don’t stay there anymore. Because of our sin, we are separated from the house and alienated from God’s indwelling. This is one human condition: we live without the source of full and eternal life.
But even worse, we not only have lost the key to the house but also are searching for it in a wrong place. We are looking for the key outside the house like the master and the disciples. And we say like the master, “Isn’t it obvious to find the key outside? Look, out there in the world, there’s more light, more things that fill us, more pleasure, more wealth, more fun, and more recognition. Isn’t it obvious?” But the truth to be told, the key is not there. It was not lost outside of ourselves; it was lost inside of ourselves. And that’s where we need to look for it. Because of our sin, our eyes are blind, and we are seeking the key to be whole in a wrong place. This is another human condition: everybody is looking for the key to the fullness of life but nobody knows where to find it.
Then, how can we get the key again? How can we find our way back into the house? The key’s inside and we are outside the house. In this situation, we can get in the house only when somebody comes and unlocks the door for us. We can joyfully dwell with God again only when somebody opens up the door of our hearts. Who is this special person? All of us know this person…who sacrificed himself on the cross to remove the latch of sin and death from the door that separates us from God. This person, Jesus Christ our Savior, is the only one who can open the door of the house and give us the key.
Today’s Gospel reading delivers the same message in a different story. In this story, Jesus calls himself “the bread of life,” and tells us that this bread is the key to fulfill our lives. Jesus also points out our human condition that we live without the true source of full and eternal life. In this world, we don’t have the life-giving bread that nourishes us unto genuine life in God. And we cannot make such bread by ourselves. So, everybody is looking for the ways to the fullness of life by feeding them different kind of mundane bread, such as power, fame, and money. But nobody knows where to find the ultimate nourishment for their souls and for their life. Here, Jesus says to all of us, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever” (John 6:35; 51). The bread of life is the true key to full and eternal life. Only with this bread, we will never go hungry and thirsty again and will reside in God’s house again.
This is the work of God’s grace that we know who Jesus is for us. Yes, Jesus comes and opens the door for us, so that we can enter the house where we can be at home with God always. Jesus also comes as the bread of life for us, so that we can feed upon him, receive his Spirit in our lives, ingest his love into ourselves, and let him nourish us unto life. Jesus truly is the way, the truth, and the life. Thorough our faith in Jesus, we don’t have to stay outside keeping on our meaningless search for the key in a wrong place. And we don’t have to feed ourselves the food that perishes.
Having faith may sound easy, but it’s not always simple. Why? It’s because we still want to stay outside. Our eyes are still looking for something outside. To our eyes, the house of God seems shabby and the bread of life seems tasteless. The abundant life in the presence of God looks unattractive in this world full of other attractions, other stuff to fill in our lives. Some people find it tedious to go to church on a Sunday morning. Some people find it boring and like a waste of time to volunteer for the missions of the church. Out there in the world, it seems like there’s more light, more tasty food. And especially for you, students, when you go to college, I do know, there will be more glittering things than going to church or keeping your faith in Jesus. Yes, even we, Christians, sometimes hesitate to get in the house and nourish us with the bread of life. Standing on the doorstep of the house, our eyes are still looking outside.
In that moment of temptation, I hope we all may remember Jesus one more time, who is the way, the truth, and the life. And we may also remember the simple truth we have from today’s opening story and the Gospel story. “The key to the fullness of life is inside—not out there.” And “the bread of life is the only true bread for our hunger for genuine life in God—not any other bread in the world.” What we do as a church may seem like nothing dramatic or spectacular. Every time we gather, we do the same—read the scriptures, praying of prayers, sing hymns—sometimes quite old—listen to the sermon. But I firmly believe that all these simple acts of worship, all other ministries, and just small things we do in the name of Jesus our Lord, bring us back into the house, into the presence of our God, and let us live our life fully in God’s grace. So sisters and brothers in Christ, let us keep the faith. Let us entrust our lives to our Lord Jesus Christ. May our faith in Jesus always lead our ways to the ultimate source of full and eternal life. And may our faith in Jesus always open our eyes to get the key to the intimacy with God and to nourish us with the bread of life. Amen.
Thomas Keating, The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation(Wit Lectures-Harvard Divinity School, Kindle Edition), 44-48.
Let me begin my sermon with a part of an old Korean Cinderella story. Once upon a time, there lived an evil step mother who bullied her step daughter, who was so kind and loving. One day, the step mother made an order that she fill water into a jar with a crack on the bottom. The daughter knew it was impossible. But she had no choice; she had to do something not to be punished. Feeling helpless, she burst into tears. Then suddenly, a big toad came out of nowhere and put himself to the bottom of the jar to close the broken part.
Thanks to the toad, she could fill the jar with water.
“Pouring water into a bottomless jar.” From the story, this idiom originated. Like the English phrase, “pouring something, like money, into a bottomless pit,” this idiom is commonly used to describe a hopeless situation that will never get any better. Think about it. How frustrating is it to pour water into a bottomless jar? I know no one would do such a thing, and it is quite ridiculous to even think of doing it. But let me ask this question. “What would be the best way to fill water in a bottomless jar?”
I understand this question sounds silly, but let’s give it a thought. Obviously, you can fix the jar before pouring water. You may close the broken bottom of the jar with something, like a big toad in the story or like what the famous Flex Tape guy does in the TV commercial. Now, is there any other way than this? It seems like there’s no other way. But believe it or not, there’s one more. Let’s approach a bit differently. How about filling a bottomless jar by immersing it into water? It sounds like nonsense, but just imagine…we bring a jar, a broken, cracked, and bottomless jar, to a stream and dip it in the water. What might happen then? The water naturally fills the jar. This way, we don’t have to fix the jar, and we don’t have to pour water in it. In fact, this is the best and permanent way. When it’s in the water, the bottomless jar can be always full of water.
I thought we humans are like the bottomless jar. A broken, cracked, and bottomless jar…that’s who we are. We have a natural drive for happiness. And we feel happy when our needs are satisfied, like when a jar is filled with water. But the problem is that our needs will never be permanently satisfied because we are the bottomless jar. It’s like hunger. After we eat food, we feel good for a while, but soon we feel hungry again. From our birth, we live our lives to meet our built-in needs to be happy. Needs for security, affection, belonging, esteem, and power…if we meet these basic needs, we can be happy for some moments. But when the needs are repressed, they may trigger psychological issues: low self-esteem, addiction, aggression, depression, feelings of insecurity, and so on. We continue to pour the water of happiness into us, the bottomless jar, but the jar doesn’t stay filled. No matter how much water we fill, we become empty again. Then, can we fix ourselves? Not really. We are naturally born in this way. Then what’s the permanent way to fill the bottomless jar?
From last week, we are following the lectionary readings that lead us to meditate upon the Gospel of John Chapter six for five weeks. Last week’s Gospel reading was about Jesus’famous miracle of feeding five thousand with five barley loaves and two fish. In that story, Jesus satisfies people’s needs. And the crowd think that Jesus can fill not only their hunger for food but also their hunger for power. This miracle worker has a power to feed five thousand! So they try to make Jesus their king by force (John 6:15), but Jesus escapes from them and takes a boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
But in today’s Gospel story, we see the crowd still follow Jesus even to the other side of the Sea. Who are these people? Most of them were in need. In the days of Jesus, the towns along the Sea of Galilee were inhabited by the marginalized and the rebellious. Their lives were far from being stable. So they were eagerly looking for something from Jesus. That something would be a powerful leadership, a life-changing teaching, a dream for a better world… and most essentially, what they were looking for was the way to satisfaction. The crowd… they too were bottomless jars. They wanted Jesus to pour the water of happiness into their empty jar again and again with his power and miracles. So when they finally find him, Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26).
But Jesus doesn’t reject them but leads them to the way to true happiness. “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” (John 6:26-27). Then, Jesus reveals that this special food is Jesus himself. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). By craving for satisfaction, by seeking “the food that perishes,” we cannot be truly happy. It’s like pouring water into a bottomless jar. But only by believing in Jesus, only by eating the bread of life, we shall never be hungry. Through our faith in Jesus, we can abide in the presence of God; we can immerse our broken selves in the ever flowing stream of grace. Then, we shall never go empty again.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, how can we stay in the ever flowing stream of grace? How can we keep true happiness of new life inside our hearts? We all know that true happiness comes not from the short-term satisfaction of our needs, but from the God who is the source of our true joy. So what we should do is to be connected to the source as much as we can, in other words, to stay in the presence of the Lord as much as we can in our daily lives. This requires a spiritual discipline. Our Methodist tradition has great practice for this. We call it the “Means of grace.” This means of grace includes two groups of practices: “the works of piety” and “the works of mercy.” Let us read them together.
Works of Piety
1. Individual Practices: reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting,
regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
2. Communal Practices: regularly share in Holy Communion, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study
Works of Mercy
1. Individual Practices: doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison,
feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
2. Communal Practices: seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination
(John Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor
Through these means of grace, I hope you can abide in the loving presence of God. Be always aware of God’s presence in your lives. God is closer to you than you are to yourself. Be mindful of the guidance of the Holy Spirit at each step you take. And go deeper into the ever flowing stream of grace and immerge yourself in that living water. May God’s abundant flow of love fill you with heavenly joy and happiness always. Amen.