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John 6.51-58 - August 30, 2015

“The Bread of Life”

John 6:51-58

August 30, 2015

 

51I 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.” 52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53So 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. 54Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This 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.”

 

I was staring at a grape.  It was small, roundish, and purple, like most other grapes.  The difference between this grape and others is that I was contemplating eating this one.  That might not be an unusual thing to contemplate for most of you, but for me, eating a grape is very out of the ordinary.  You see, I am a “picky” eater and have some serious food issues.  If it was grown in the ground, I probably won’t like it.  I am actually afraid of some foods.  Yes, it is weird, but that is who I am.  So why was I contemplating eating this grape?  It wasn’t a dare.  I wasn’t trying to stretch myself.  It was part of the Lord’s Supper. I was attending a worship service at a Baptist Assembly with about 2000 other people and it was a very well done worship service.  I was moved, and had anticipated taken the Lord’s Supper, and they gave me a grape.  So the question was not simply whether or not I wanted to eat the grape or not, but could I not embarrass myself, could I overcome my own gag reflex and still worship?

 

What they had done was to replace the grape juice with actual grapes and the normal bread with different types of bread from around the world.  I wasn’t worried about the bread.  I’ve never met bread that I didn’t like.  I think of bread and I think of hot sourdough, French croissants, focacia bread at good Italian restaurant with olive oil and cracked pepper, and my mother’s spoon drop biscuits.  But I was worried about that grape.  Bread is a staple in our diets, but even more so for a group of disciples in the first century.  Bread was often the only food that many people had. 

 

So then Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.  I am the living bread that has come down from heaven.”  That’s strange, like saying “I am the butter of the universe.”  So what do we do with this statement?  How do understand what Jesus is trying to say?  He obviously isn’t made from wheat...what is he trying to say?

 

Today's gospel, John 6:51-58, is one of Jesus' hard sayings.


There are so many times when Jesus demands hard things of us. "Go, sell all that you have and give it to the poor." That's hard. Or, elsewhere, "If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out." Or, "Be perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect."


But in today's gospel, Jesus doesn't demand anything of us other than our faith. Rather, he makes promises. He tells us that he is the bread that has come down from heaven. He is the bread that will satisfy all of our longings. We are to feed on him and we will be satisfied forever.


And yet many of the listeners were offended by his words.  Isn't it ironic that it is the promise of Jesus that offends here, rather than any of his demands or commands? Jesus promises us that he is the answer to our deepest hungers; that we are to feed upon him and be filled, that he is to be more to us than food and drink - the source of our very lives.


And it scares the wits out of us. In these moments, we consider that perhaps our real problem with Jesus is not so much, "Who was Jesus?" but rather, "Who is Jesus?"

 

So who IS Jesus?  Well, he is the bread of life.  I mentioned last week how people are spiritually hungry.  People are searching because they are empty inside and the spiritual emptiness drives them to look everywhere for some spiritual sustenance.  Like a person hungry enough to rummage through a dumpster for stuff others have thrown away, people are looking for spiritual food today.  Something that will make them feel alive.  Jesus says, “I AM the bread of life.”  Bread is filling.  It gives us life.  Jesus not only saves us, he feeds us.  To everyone searching to end his or her spiritual hunger, Jesus is the bread of life.   But it’s more than that.  Jesus is the very thing that sustains our life each and every day.

 

Today I want you to think of Jesus in the way he urges here - as bread. He is that bread which satisfies you when nothing else can. You chew on him, bit by bit, take your time and savor each morsel. It is not dramatic. Just life giving. Take time to enjoy him, to let him become part of your life and thereby give you life.

Sometimes we speak of the dramatic incursions of God among us, those striking, life-changing moments when it is as if God has invaded your world, swept over you, and grasped you with intensity.

But today, on his summer Sunday, Jesus bids us to think of him as bread, as a meal, as that daily, life-giving, sustaining presence that keeps us going.

When I ask people why they are here in church, Sunday after Sunday, this is one of the main reasons they give: "I am here to get nourished to make it through the week." In this church, there is rarely anything too dramatic, too striking. Mostly, when we are at our best, it's just the weekly, ordinary reading of Scripture, praying of prayers, singing of hymns, preaching and listening to sermons. Perhaps this is why the table, the Lord's table, rather than the pulpit ought to be the true visual center of a church.

For you, it is that which enables you to keep on keeping on as a disciple. It nourishes you. It is your bread. It is your life. Jesus bids us to feed upon him, to ingest him, bit by bit, to take his being into our lives, to let him nourish us unto life.

 

I enjoy cooking, in large part because I enjoy eating, but I know that I am not really a good cook.  I have been told I am a good cook by my kids, but that’s really just because they are always hungry enough to eat their shoes.  I know I am not a good cook because I can’t make a decent sauce.  Gravy I can make and make well, but sauces are different.  It takes real skill to make a good hollandaise or béarnaise sauce from scratch.  Cervantes once said that “The best sauce is hunger.”[1]  We have to be hungry before we can really eat. Go without bread long enough, and you will be very hungry.  Adlai Stevenson once said, “A hungry man is not a free man.”  Not only does the bread of life save us, he feeds us and frees us as well.

 

I told you last week to come back this week hungry.  Did you get hungry?

 

If there is a feeling of emptiness inside, a profound feeling of lacking, a gnawing at your soul that needs to be filled, then you are hungry for the bread of life.  God sent Jesus to be all that will fill us.  All that will fill us.  All you need is Jesus.  There is no need for a mega-church, or a swanky retreat, or even the best devotional book ever written.  Jesus is the bread of life and there is no substitute.

 

Do you know what the word “Bethlehem” means?  It is literally translated as “house of bread,” or “city of bread.”  Do you think that is merely a coincidence that Jesus, born in Bethlehem, says that those who eat of his flesh and drink of his blood shall have eternal life?”  Jesus is using metaphor – speaking figuratively – to say that those who rely on Jesus for their life, will indeed live.

 

I've heard people say before about other churches, "We are not really being fed at this church." They didn't mean that the church was not providing enough covered dish suppers. They meant that their souls were being malnourished. There was not enough substance in the preaching, or the music, or the worship to sustain them through the week and the daily demands of discipleship.

I have often been puzzled these people who leave a church and looking for another and explain it by saying, “We just weren’t being spiritually fed there.”  I mean that’s a complicated situation that’s different for everyone, but still part of that puzzles me.  Jesus is our spiritual food.   It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Pull up a chair and dig in!  I mean, if you are genuinely spiritually hungry, then only Jesus will do.  Dig in!

 

Jesus promises that he is bread. He is the bread come down from heaven, just like the Israelites had manna in the wilderness to sustain them on the exodus from Egypt. Jesus says he is like that bread, come down from heaven to sustain us.

 

A doctor can save your life.  A lawyer can defend your life.  A soldier can give you a liberated life.  But only Jesus can give you eternal and abundant life.  When Jesus says he is the bread of life, it is not mere life, nor life in the sense that it is existence, and not biological life, but Life in the sense of communion with God, a shared life that brings all the power of the Holy Spirit to bear upon every facet of our experience, now and beyond all time.

 

That’s why he said “Do this in remembrance of me.”  That’s why we have this table.  We eat of this bread, not because we appreciate the symbolic nature of the bread, but because we are hungry for Jesus. 

 

A lot is made about this meal...a lot of fuss is made about the nature of it.  I mentioned last week that there are real deep and long theological arguments about this meal, and they are important arguments.  But hunger is not debatable.  The most important thing is not to know the correct answer to this theological question.  The important thing is that you come to this table hungry...hungry for God.  John Calvin kept it in proper perspective when he said, “I would rather experience it than understand it.”

 

It is the same way with Jesus.  The hungrier we are, the more satisfying Jesus is to us.  Maybe when we failed to be filled, it is because we fail to realize how hungry we ought to be.  We ought to hunger for Jesus, because our lives depend on it.

 

The table is an important place for us as Christians.  In every church I have ever been in, there is always a table right in the middle of the front, with Jesus’ words on it.  This is a special table because it represents the fact that Jesus IS the bread of life. 

 

Fred Craddock was coming into a small midwestern town late one night and was running late because of a big thunderstorm.  He was going to meet two men at the church where he was to preach the next day.  When Fred got there, he walked in and found that the two men, in order to kill some time while waiting, were playing cards – on the communion table.

“What are you doing?”

“Playing cards.”

“I can see that.”

“So, you’re against playing cards?”

“Well, no, …I mean…on this table?”

“Well, yeah…I mean…it’s not being used right now…”

“No…not this table.  Never on this table.”[2]

It is more than a special table.  This table represents the greatest sacrifice ever made, the blood of Christ, the body of Christ, our eternal salvation, and the steadfast love of God.

 

So, back to me and the grape.  There I was, sitting there, with this grape in my hand.  Jesus’ blood washes away our sins, that which separates us from God, and I knew I did not want my petty little imperfections to hinder my relationship with God.  I turned my thoughts away from the fact that I had a grape in my hand.  I listened to the music.  I meditated on what the supper means to me, about Calvary, about the blood of Christ poured out for me, about the bread of life.  The minister leading us in the supper said, “In order to taste the juice of the grape, it must first be crushed, like the body of Christ.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  I put the grape in my mouth and bit down.  For a split second, it was salty...and warm, like I had bit my tongue.  Yeah, it was a grape.  But it really was for me, in reality, Jesus.  And I knew that I was alive, and Jesus was in me.

 

[1] Alton Brown on his television show, “Good Eats.”

[2] Fred Craddock in the book Craddock Stories, edited by Mike Graves and published by Chalice Press.