Tag Archives: bread of life

The Bread of Life: The hardest loaf to swallow

John 6:51-58

… So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 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…. (Read the whole passage)

Today we receive our fourth loaf of bread. We have been abiding in the 6th chapter of John’s gospel for 4 weeks now, and still there is one more week to go. The ongoing discussion that we have been eavesdropping in on, between Jesus and the crowds, began with the feeding of the 5 thousand, with 5 loaves and two fish. But soon after the food had been eaten and the baskets of leftovers collected, the crowds and Jesus get into a debate. A debate about what the bread means. A debate about who Jesus is. A debate about who God is. A debate about life in the community of faith. 

And now, instead of just celebrating the simple and beautiful miracles of 5 loaves and 2 fish becoming enough for all and then moving on, we have delved deep into the heart of the issue between Jesus and crowds. We are dealing with the big issue for the people listening: Abandon all they know to be truth, and accept the promise of life and grace, a promise made by wandering carpenter turned preacher. Abandon their families, friends, culture and all sense of security that exists in a troubled world and life, for a promise that has no guarantee. 

For the crowds listening to Jesus, the idea of eating flesh and blood would have made them squirm, as it does us. Yet, for the Jewish crowds, the challenge to their religious practice and tradition would have been equally hard to accept. The eating of flesh and blood was something done in pagan temples. The pagans believe that by ingesting the sacrifices made to their gods, they could acquire their god’s powers. 

In the temple in Jerusalem, some of meat that was sacrificed was permitted to be eaten and it was not because it had any special power, but because it was good food. And the blood used in temple rituals was understood to have purifying effect, not magical powers. 

But what Jesus was talking about was on a whole other level. Eating my flesh. Drinking my blood. This is a direct challenge to the way the Jerusalem Temple and religion operated. Jesus is suggesting that there are other ways to obtain God’s forgiveness than temple sacrifices. There are new ways of acting and being under the law. That there is a new understanding of how God feels about sinners and the unclean. 

Eat this bread, eat his flesh, and you will live forever Jesus says. But at what risk? Giving up the system, the traditions, the practices, the worship that everyone knew and understood. Give up knowing how the world works, even if it is hard and exclusive world. Even if often the poor and common people cannot obtain forgiveness or be made clean or find God’s love because it is simply too far from reach. 

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American Lutheran Pastor and Professor Joseph Sittler wrote about his experience with a parishioner who held fast to her understanding of prayer. Sittler’s congregant often boasted about her prayers for parking spots. 

“Whenever I am going to work or to the mall or to church or to the theatre, I pray for parking spot. And without fail there is always one waiting for me when I get there.”

This understanding of prayer bothered Sittler, and often he would try to show her different ways to view prayer and how God answers it.

“Have you ever not found a spot? What about others praying for parking?” he once asked. Yet these questions did not sway the woman’s view. 

Another time Sittler asked, 

“What if there was a mother with a sick child driving to the hospital? And what if you were on your way to a routine doctor’s appointment? What if you took her spot? Which prayer did God answer?”

“Well mine of course” responded the woman fiercely. “Because I prayed harder and had more faith”. 

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As modern Christians, we understand Jesus’ words today in a eucharistic context. We know, we can feel it in our bones that Jesus is pointing us to the Lord’s Supper. To that holy meal that we share each week that feeds our faith, that binds us together as a community and that gives us strength for service in the world. 

But we also know what it is to squirm with the crowds who are debating with Jesus. We may feel icky at the idea of eating flesh and drinking blood, but we can place this idea within a larger understanding of what Jesus is getting at. 

Yet, like the crowds, we too have our own views and understandings. We have traditions and our system for religion. Like the crowds, we know how good faithful people worship and pray, how we keep the laws and rules and act morally. We know who among us has the sincerest faith and the most studied understandings. And when we begin to differ, we also know the arguments that prop up our point of view best are the ones that condemn others. 

And so while we share in Jesus body and blood, we don’t escape the challenge that Jesus presents today. We don’t escape the challenge that Jesus gives to our traditions and systems, to our abilities to keep the rules and judge those who don’t. And most importantly, we cannot escape the fact that Jesus is telling us today, that it is God and God alone who obtains, who gives, and who allows us to be forgiven. It is God alone who gives us life. It is not by our own merits, or faithfulness, or acceptance of Jesus that saves us or makes us pure. It isn’t by being a good Christian that we save ourselves. It is always in the moment we think we can wrap our hands around this faith stuff and the moment we think we know what God wants and likes, that we lose it all. It is in the moment when we think we have got the right understanding, that Jesus steps in and reminds us that it is always different than we think.  

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Over the course of years, Joseph Sittler tried again and again to convince his parishioner that parking spots were not likely to be one of God’s chief concerns. And again and again, he was rebuffed. “You need to pray harder and more sincerely” was the response he got over and over again. 

Until finally, one day in Advent, and the topic of praying for parking came up again, Sittler knew how he would respond to this certain and self-assured parishioner. After hearing once again, that when this woman prayed for parking spots God always provided, Sittler said, 

“What do you suppose a very pregnant Mary was praying for as she bounced along on the back of that donkey while riding to Bethlehem.”

“I don’t understand what you mean, Pastor”, the woman replied. 

“Luke 2 verse 7” Sittler offered. “And she gave birth to her firstborn and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

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Just when we think we have the world figured out, just when we think we have God figured out. Just when we think we can point to God and say, if you worship, or pray, or act, or serve in this way, you will be in God’s good books, Jesus lands in front of us again. Jesus lands in a manger when there are no room at the inn. Jesus lands on a mountain top with hungry people needing bread, but needing God’s love even more. Jesus lands on a cross, and transforms death into life. And here, Jesus lands as body and blood in our midst, at our table, in our mouths and into our bodies. Jesus lands in, with and under us, reminding us that just when we think we have God figured out… Jesus is the one who is giving us life, and we are forgiven, not because of our efforts or faith or ability to know, but solely because of God’s love for us. 

This fourth loaf of bread might be the hardest to swallow. The first loaf was a miracle, a miracle reminding us that with Jesus there is enough for all, enough for us. But today, as we hear again of the Bread of Life, as we hear about who the bread of life is and what it means for us to eat this bread… we are stripped of our comforts, of our traditions and systems that help us to be self assured and certain of our understandings. Today, Jesus feeds us bread from the living Father, and we will live. It might not be comfortable and it might make us squirm, but in this Jesus, this God who turns what we know upside down, in Christ there is life. 

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Looking for the Bread King

John 6:24-35

Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”… Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (Read the whole thing)

Sermon

Five Loaves and Two fish. They just ate the five loaves and two fish that Jesus turned into such abundance, into so much for the crowd of 5000 that there was still 12 baskets left over. Yet, the crowds that have been following Jesus still want more bread. They want something more for their stomachs, something more for their hunger.

It has only been a week since we heard again the story of the miracle of the five loaves and two fish, and for the crowds wanting more bread today, it has only been moments since this miracle. Following the grand feast on the mountain, Jesus escaped to be by himself. The disciples, tried to cross back over the lake, only to be met by Jesus walking the water. And the whole way, the crowd has been stalking Jesus and the disciples. The crowds are looking for more.

Jesus tries to show the crowd a different way, he tries to show them true bread from heaven, but the crowd wants more bread. Bread that can be eaten, bread that fills their bellies. Last week the crowds were given bread and fish to eat, they were given a sign of God’s work and power right in front of their eyes. Yet today, they want more, they want more miracles, more manna like from Moses, more power to be shown and they want it for themselves. Jesus tries to turn their attention to what he is doing and what he is offering right in front of their eyes but they can only imagine God’s work on their terms. They might not exactly be certain what they want from Jesus, their Bread King, but they know they want something big, flashy, exciting and low risk.

Like the crowds who followed Jesus, we also can get caught up in a particular vision of what God’s work looks like in the world. “What must we do to perform the works of God?” the crowds ask Jesus. We like to ask our own versions of that question. What is God’s plan for my life? How can we attract people to our church? When will my prayers be answered? What can we do to make our church grow? Why is God letting this happen to me?

There are 3 things that the crowds are said to be looking for in this passage:

At first, John says they are looking for a Jesus… for a king. Someone to protect and care for them, someone to provide and entertain them.

And then Jesus accuses the crowds of looking to full their bellies. They are seeking instant gratification, to have some kind of emptiness they carry filled in the short term.

And then the crowds themselves say they are looking to do the works of God. They are looking for God on their terms, they are looking for easy access to God, some sign, some work that shows them they have found the right person to follow. They are looking for assurance.

We know what it is like to look for kings, for instant gratification, for God on our terms. We are about to enter into a election season, and we will be bombarded by political leaders saying all the things they think we want to hear. They will present themselves as benevolent leaders, seeking only what is best for us… or what is the best way to get our vote.

We know what it is like to seek instant gratification. Fast food, the latest gadgets, short line ups, speedy customer service. We want things and we want them now.

And we know what it is like to want God on our terms. As people of faith we genuinely want to be faithful… but only up to the point where it is isn’t too inconvenient, or risky or uncertain. God can ask to be disciples, as long we can do it in a couple hours a week.

As we are standing with those crowds… seeking God on our terms, seeking to have our bellies filled…

We are confronted with Jesus’ words about life. Jesus offers and then gives to us something different than that what we want. We want the Kings who say what we want to hear, the satisfaction of full bellies, we want God who is powerful yet tame.

And we want all of these things with the crowds,  while we haven’t the slightest clue that, Jesus, that God in flesh, that God’s greatest work made visible in the world is standing right there before the crowds, before us.

God is right there, before us, offering himself, and would rather find a God that fits our vision, than see God’s work right before our eyes.

And yet, despite our search God in our image, Christ stands there in our midst, offering himself to us. Offering us grace, love, mercy and compassion.

Its normal and human to want what the crowds want. It is in our nature to want a God that fits our expectations.

The crowds want a king, but we get a saviour nailed to a cross.

The crowds want bread to fill their bellies, but God gives us the Bread of life to fill our souls.

The crowds want God on their terms, but God comes to us and meets us on God terms. God meets in flesh, God meets us in Jesus.

The crowds don’t really know what they are looking for. And we so often, don’t know what to look for when it comes to finding God in our world.

But today, Jesus comes to us and helps us discover that God is right here, standing among us, pointing to the true works of the divine, to the works of God in our midst. God is not found in Kings or politicians, in fast food bread that fills us only for a moment. God is not a God of our invention. God is a God of love and mercy, a God of words of hope and promise. A God of water that quenches our thirst. A God of bread and wine that truly fill that emptiness inside of us.

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.” We want bread, and God satisfies our hunger and thirst with body and blood, bread and wine. We want to do the works of God, and God gives us Jesus the Christ, God with us in the flesh. And despite our efforts to look for God in all the wrong places, God gives us – for free and without condition – the bread of life.

Amen.