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The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 12, 2012
The Gospel: John 6:35, 41-51
Sermon: "Daily Minimum Requirement"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
Jesus said to the people, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
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."
John 6:35, 41-51
Daily Minimum Requirement
A year ago, a bicycling buddy of mine and I were in line at a fast-food restaurant waiting for our burgers. We’d just finished a big ride and figured that we could afford the calories. That’s how we rationalized it anyway. As we waited, my cycling partner suddenly began waxing philosophical, “If it’s true that you are what you eat,” he said, “then I must be fast, cheap and easy.”
Food always has excited strong, and sometimes contradictory, feelings in the human race. Hungrily, we page through cookbooks, searching out the most tempting and succulent recipes. Then we race right over to the diet books to find out why we can’t eat that stuff!
These days there’s plenty of information out there about diet and eating right. The U.S. Department of Agriculture put together the revised “food pyramid” for us a while back to give us a visual picture of what a healthy diet looks like. It spells out the daily minimum requirement of the foods we should eat. The base, the foundation of a healthy diet, consists of whole grains such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, and whole grain unprocessed cereals. No, sadly, that doesn’t include croissants, pastries, and Frosted Corn Flakes. The other steps build on that foundation: fruits and vegetables next, meats and dairy after that, with a very small amount of fats at oils at the top. (Yes, they completely left out chocolate and beer.)
Now if you really listened to the Gospel lesson a few moments ago, you’re probably ahead of me, and you’ve guessed where I’m going with all this. In the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to John, Jesus opens our lesson with these words, “I am the bread of life.” What’s good for our bodies is also good for our souls. We need our recommended daily minimum requirement of Jesus. He uses strong language here. He invites us to eat of himself: to consume him, to devour him, to ingest him, to feed on him.
Of course, it’s a grotesque image if we can’t get by the merely literal level, which some Imperial authorities in the Church’s early life could not. They accused Christians of being cannibals. Justin Martyr, among others, wrote eloquently to assure the Imperial Court that this was far from the case.
But the truth is, “consuming” Jesus is good for us. It’s healthy for us. We’ll live better when we’re faithful and committed Jesus followers. We may live longer, too. Studies have shown that religious people live, on average, somewhat longer than the general population. That may well be, of course, because people of faith tend to live healthier lifestyles, and consider it important to pay attention to those food labels. It’s no coincidence that Jesus uses the image of bread to describe the most basic element of spiritual health. “I am the bread of life,” he said. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). All of our recommended daily minimum requirements of grace, love, forgiveness, the food of “eternal life” (6:27), are found in a life-giving relationship with Christ. Indeed, says Jesus, “…all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day” (v.40). Believing in Jesus, following Jesus and relying on Jesus form the foundation of a healthy, whole and eternal life.
So, if feeding on Jesus is good for us, then just what benefits can we discern from reading his nutrition label? It’s all in how you read the label. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day looked at Jesus’ label and were skeptical about his spiritual value. To them, the label said: “Jesus, son of Joseph the carpenter, son of Mary of Nazareth, a 30-something contractor from a nowhere town out in the country.” They may have been thinking along the lines of Nathanael, the disciple, when he first checked the label of Jesus and remarked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (1:46). The religious elite decided that the old nutritional guidelines for a messianic feast were sufficient and that this Jesus was just the flavor of the month—a fad diet that would soon pass.
For those who believed, however, the Jesus label read: “Manna.” Jesus is life-sustaining, like the manna of their ancestors in the wilderness. Jesus reminds them it was the plain nutrition of manna that sustained their ancestors, enabling them to be free from slavery and enter into God’s Promised Land. But while manna was the basis of their physical sustenance, it couldn’t make them eternally healthy. What Jesus was offering to them and us is a spiritual manna; the kind of nutrition that will fuel us now and in the life of the resurrection yet to come (John 6:40). “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” says Jesus. “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever” (v. 51). The foundational spiritual nutrition of Jesus’ own life, death and resurrection is what sustains us in our own journey out of sin and death and into God’s Promised Land.
Here’s what’s on Jesus’ nutritional label. Jesus thoroughly labeled himself through his “I am” statements found throughout the Gospel according to John. Let’s look at them.
- “I am the light of the world” (8: 12; 9:5). Jesus’ presence in your life and mine sheds light on the very real dilemmas we’re all facing in these troubled times.
- “I am the gate” (10:7, 9). Jesus protects us from the predatory effects of temptation and fear, and he offers us “abundant” life (v. 10).
- “I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14). Jesus knows you and me intimately (v. 14), laid down his life for us (vv. 15, 17, 18) and, as Psalm 23 suggests, he leads us to still waters and green pastures, i.e., Jesus knows what’s best for you and me.
- “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25). Jesus is the promise of life in the present and in the age to come. Because of his resurrection, death ultimately has no power over you and me, and our life in the present can be lived without fear and with purpose.
- “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6). Jesus shows the “way” to God. Through his sacrificial death and resurrection, Jesus embodies the “way”. In his own person he gives you and me a model of the kind of life that reflects God’s own nature. He is the “way” of “truth” that leads to “life” for all who will follow. Jesus makes the truth of God available to the whole world.
- “I am the true vine” (15:1, 5). Jesus supplies us with the necessary nutrients of love and grace. Nourished as “branches” connected to him in relationship, we can begin to bear the “fruit” of service and ministry to the whole world.
Ultimately, we know the true nutritional value of food through long experience and observation. We see people who eat right, exercise and enjoy things in moderation and observe that they are healthy. When we watch someone else eat a steady diet of junk food and get their only exercise from thumb-texting, mouse-clicking or channel-surfing, we know they’re headed for trouble. Going from an unhealthy diet and lifestyle to a healthy one takes discipline.
The same is true of our spiritual lives. So, here is the discipline that lets us take in our daily minimum requirement of Jesus: Prayer, study, meditation, and service. When we engage daily in prayer, listening as well as speaking, study, of the Scriptures and other helpful spiritual writings, meditation, focused attention upon Jesus and his teachings, and service, ministry to others, we grow our relationship with Jesus; we feed upon and ingest Jesus. We start to experience the benefits and want more. We learn that Jesus is, indeed, good for us on countless levels. Each day we come to know what he can do in us and through us. When we are living on a steady diet of our Savior’s presence in our lives, others will begin to notice and want to know our diet secret.
Our Lord’s table is about to be set. In a few moments we will celebrate a meal that’s full of spiritual nutrition. Jesus said the bread he would give “for the life of the world” would be his own “flesh”; the ultimate spiritual nourishment of salvation in his own person. Every time we take the bread and the cup, we are partaking in a life-giving diet. It sustains our souls. It strengthens our spirits. It empowers our lives. Come! The Bread of Life awaits!