Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 13, 2006
The Gospel: John 6:37-51
Sermon: "The Bread of Life"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus said to the people, "Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day." Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." They were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus answered them, "Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
The Bread of Life
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost - August 13, 2006
Raise your hand if this has ever happened to you. You walk into an office or a room and there are several people standing there. They are in conversation. From the looks on their faces and their expressions it is obviously an important conversation. They see you standing there and then turn and continue with their discussion. From the look they gave you it appeared they thought you might already know about the topic of discussion. However, you really don't understand what they are saying. Arriving in the middle of the conversation has left you confused. Understanding the conversation is difficult. Following the conversation is almost impossible. Basically there are two options. One can step forward and ask the people what they are discussing. Or one can just turn and walk away. The most uncomfortable place is standing there and not knowing what to do. Has anyone ever felt quite that way? Has this ever happened to you? I know it has happened to me.
Today's reading from John falls into this type of event. This reading is the middle part of a conversation between Jesus and some Hebrew people. For a moment let's pretend that we have just walked up on this discussion. Jesus is telling them that the Father has given him things. Everything the Father has given him will come to him. The reason he is here is to gather all the Father has given him and to raise it up on the last day. Talk about being confused. What does all of this mean? The people around Jesus respond with an answer that has something to do with Jesus claiming to be bread sent down from heaven. Now, we are really confused. What is going on here? What could they possibly be discussing?
To help us pull it all together let's go back a little in the story. At the beginning of the chapter Jesus feeds the five thousand. He uses the five loaves and two fish from the young boy and feeds the crowd. The crowd wants to make him a king. Jesus withdraws going up a mountain. At evening the disciples come down to the sea and cross to the other side. Jesus was not with them. Jesus comes to them walking on the water. They continue across the sea.
In the morning the crowd realizes Jesus is gone. They had seen the disciples leave and they knew Jesus was not with them in the boat. No other boats were missing, but they decide to go to the other side. When they arrive Jesus is there. They want to know when he arrived. It is with this question that the conversation begins. In the conversation Jesus is challenging them to see him for who He is. The crowd, however, has difficulty getting past the feeding and his unexplained arrival on the other shore. They can't get past the events to look for the meaning.
It's kind of like the optical illusion pieces we see printed in magazines or newspapers every once in a while. Perhaps you have seen them. There is one where if you look at one way it appears to be a flower vase. If you look at differently you might see the face of a man in profile. Another one that is often printed is ducks in flight and fish. The ducks are moving left to right and the fish are moving right to left. What do you really see?
Jesus is challenging the crowd to look beyond what he is doing to the meaning behind it. Jesus knows they are stuck on the miracle of the feeding. They wanted to make him an earthly king and that is not Jesus' mission. He has come to bring salvation. The salvation he is to bring can only be accomplished by the free offering of his life for all. The key to receiving eternal life is to believe in Jesus. Salvation is accomplished by his free offering which Jesus states comes from God.
Now, this imagery should not be strange to them. They know the story of the Exodus. They know how God saved Israel from bondage and fed their ancestors in the wilderness with manna. They know that the manna was perishable. One could gather it, bake it, and eat it, but if it wasn't consumed in one day it was bad the next morning. Yet, God continued to provide for the people.
Jesus is proclaiming to the crowd that he is the bread of life. What he has to offer is not perishable. Eternal life with God is not perishable. God has sent him to deliver this message by word and example. The example is not just the signs and the miracles. The example is Jesus himself. Signs and miracles only point to the source. The source of the signs and miracles is the key. Can they comprehend Jesus is that key?
The problem for the people of the crowd, and I am afraid it is our problem too, is that we focus on the here and now. The crowd focused on the bread and the fact that they were full. Who can blame them? Food and drink are important necessities of life. They were harder to get at that time. There wasn't a burger joint on every comer. They wanted that kind of response from God daily. If Jesus could provide then let's make him the king and he could give them what they want.
And don't we often do the same thing today? God has surrounded us with incredible symbols of God's presence. The vastness of creation, the stars, the sun and the moon, attest to the expansive imagination of God. The plants, the fruits, the vegetables, the water, the land, give testimony to God's nurture and care. Our bodies are an incredible example of God's attention to the smallest detail. Think about just how much in our body has to work just right for us to see, or feel, or taste. Yet, do we recognize these symbols as God's presence or do we simply write them off with some scientific or knowledgeable explanation?
By far, the greatest miracle of God has been given through the Son. Jesus took the worst the world had to offer. Yet, on that third day, death became something not to fear. Eternal life with God became open through the Son just as the light poured into the empty tomb when the stone was rolled away. Jesus gave us a physical gift to recall all that God has done for us, the Eucharist. In this gift we are spiritually fed and filled. Here again, do we recognize Jesus as the bread of life or do we simply see him as another Jewish man claiming to be the Messiah?
So, in a few minutes, we are coming forward to be fed. The miraculous feeding by Christ does continue in the Eucharist. For us, is it just a piece of bread and a sip of wine? If it is, then it is as perishable as the manna, and we definitely leave unfulfilled. However, if it is the Body of Christ, the bread of the world, then we acknowledge the presence of God in our lives in a deeper way. We understand the love of God in a fuller way. Our eyes are open to the miracle of God around us and within us. We are spiritually filled with hope and renewed in our faith. Perhaps we hear and begin to understand the final words of this reading from John. Christ says, "I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." To God almighty be the power and the glory. AMEN!