Bread of Heaven – Nov. 24, 2019

Bread of Heaven

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

John 6:25-35

November 24, 2019

Main Idea: Jesus feeds us.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

I love bread. I crave bread.  The smell of it, the texture of it, the taste of it.  It makes me happy.  A warm loaf, just out of the oven, with just a bit of butter, ummm, I could eat the whole thing.   Bread is an intrinsic part of most diets around the world.  It has been around since the earliest of human civilizations when prehistoric people made a gruel of water and crushed grains and poured it on hot stones.  The english word Lord comes from an old English word which means the Keeper of the Bread.  The word Lady comes from an Old English word which means the Kneader of Bread. ( Bread has been and remains important to humanity (low carb diets notwithstanding).

Our Scripture text this morning is specifically about bread. Jesus says “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (6:35)  On this morning of giving thanks, in this week of giving thanks, we are invited to break bread, to share a meal, which is Jesus himself.  For a few moments this morning let’s explore just what this means.  Jesus feeds us as nothing else can.

A long time ago, a clergy colleague of mine liked to quote some ancient scholar who said “In the Gospel of John, a flea can wade and a camel can drown.” When our Monday Bible Study read the Gospel of John we often said that it was as clear as mud.  And this is by design. Throughout the book, there is always more than one level of understanding. The crowds of people, the religious leaders, even his disciples do not understand who Jesus is or what is his mission.   In our text for today, the crowds which have followed Jesus ask him 4 questions but they don’t understand any of his answers.  Jesus and the crowd both speak of belief, of work, and of bread, but they each mean very different things. With every question and answer, Jesus invites the crowd and us to move deeper in understanding who Jesus is and how we can receive “the Bread of Life”.

This conversation between Jesus and the crowd occurs after the feeding of the 5000 (6:1-14) which is a story found in all four gospels.  Jesus takes 5 loaves of bread and two fish and is able to feed 5000 people.  The people are so impressed by this sign, that they say “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”(6:14) and they then decide that they want to make him king.  Jesus and his disciples slip away and travel across the Sea of Galilee to the city of Capernaum.   On the next day, the crowd follows him there.

When the crowd first finds him they ask; “Rabbi, when did you come here?” meaning “How did you get away without us noticing? and “Why don’t you want to be our king?”  Jesus responds by saying that they were only looking for a meal ticket.  They have followed him to get more food, not to learn what he has to teach them.  Jesus tells them not to work for food that will go bad, that will perish, but to work “for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”  For God has set a seal on him.

The crowd hears that they must work for this imperishable food which comes from God so they ask “What must we do to perform the works of God?”  And Jesus answers; The only work is to “believe in him whom God has sent” (v.29) namely, Jesus. The crowd thinks “Sure, that sounds easy!”

The next question from the crowd is either completely clueless or cynically clever, because remember, they were just fed by Jesus the previous day and now they are looking for another meal.  “So if we are to believe in you, what sign are you going to give us?  You’ve told us to work.  What work will you be performing?  Perhaps some more bread, since Moses provided bread from heaven for our ancestors in the wilderness.” Jesus responds that it was not Moses who gave bread from heaven but God who gives the true bread from heaven.  Not just in the past but right now, in the present and in the future.

The crowd says “Sir, give us this bread always.”  “Sign us up, sounds great.  Whatever that is, we want it.”  But they still are thinking about food and daily meals.  They want Jesus to feed them every day like the Israelites were fed in the wilderness.  They do not expect Jesus’ answer;  “I am the bread of life.”

Jesus calls the crowd and calls us to believe, to trust, that he is the bread of life, the bread of God, the true bread of heaven. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (v.35)

Now, to help us contemplate what Jesus is saying, I offer you bread.     (hand out bread – not gluten free)

As you take a piece of bread,  I invite you to really look at it, feel it, smell it, taste it.  Think of your favorite kind of bread.  Remember when bread has filled you and taken away your hunger.  Remember when you or someone you love has made bread and you have eaten it warm out of the oven.

How can we understand Jesus as the Bread of Life?  “The one who speaks to us in this peculiarly metaphorical way is the one who desires not only that we think about him but that we feed on him, ingest him, implying that we could starve to death without him.” (William H. Willimon, FOTW)

Too often we work for “food that perishes” and this leads us to have deep hungers within us.  We try to feed ourselves through our work, or our hobbies, or our self-help programs.   Our job might sustain us for a while until we lose it or we retire and then we are hungry again.   We might exercise to build up our self-worth and body image which might work for a while until we injure ourselves and then we are lost again.   We convince ourselves that we are completely self-sufficient until life takes an unexpected turn and we are left with no resources on which to depend.  

Too often we expect that if we just follow the rules God will reward us or that God will rescue us from problems of our own creation.  This is what the crowd assumed with their mention of manna in the wilderness.  But the gift of Jesus is not a reward for good behavior or a get-out-of-jail-free card.  Jesus is a gift freely shared with us and the whole world. “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (v.33).

Jesus is the Bread of Life, the food that endures for eternity. Jesus doesn’t want us to just think he is good teacher or to just think he can help us out when we are in trouble.  Jesus wants us to feed on him, to bring him into the very center of our lives.

To believe in Jesus is to recognize “the ground of our being”;  to realize that all that we have, all that we do, all that we are, comes from God and that in every moment we are being held and sustained by God’s love.  To believe in Jesus is to know that there is nothing that can separate us from God, nothing that can diminish us as beloved children of God. To believe in Jesus is to believe in what he believed; love of God and love of neighbor.    

On this Thanksgiving Sunday, in the midst of so many blessings, let us be most thankful for the gift of Jesus, who fills us up with God’s love so that we might hunger and thirst no more.

Let us pray,  Abundant Lord, Keeper of Bread, how can we thank you enough for the gift of Jesus our Christ who reveals your nature and plan to us?  All that we are rests fully inside your care.  Help us to see your work in our lives and empower us to share the Good News of your love through service to your people and all of creation.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen