I Am…You Are To Be: The Bread of Life--John 6:26-35
It may not be as obvious now as it was a couple of years ago, but I love bread. I love most all breads, with the exception of any that have onion or oats (because of allergies), and I am not a real big fan of banana-nut bread. For years my favorite bread was the yeast roll at Golden Corral. In fact, there were many times were I would eat an extra yeast roll or two instead of visiting the dessert bar (and that was on top of any that I ate during rest of the meal). This summer, though, I found a new favorite while we were on vacation. It is Norlander bread. It is good warm or room temperature with butter spread on it. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for my waist-line, you cannot readily walk into a store around here and purchase Norlander bread.
When it comes to folks watching their waist-line, bread tends to be a “no-no.” When I was in seminary I went through a period of trying to lose weight. I used a modified version of the Atkins diet, the biggest factor of which was eliminating the bread and pasta from my diet. My friends would make fun of me when we would stop at Burger King, or somewhere like that, and I would order my burgers without the bun. It was pretty successful and in a month’s time I had lost twenty pounds. I happened to visit my doctor during this time and she commented on my weight loss. I told her what I was doing and asked her if it was okay, as in healthy, in her opinion. She said it was perfectly fine, and that I would be successful in losing more and keeping it off, if I was willing to make it a lifetime commitment. I said, “you mean give up bread and pasta for the rest of my life?” She said, “pretty much.” I knew leaving the doctor’s office that I was done losing weight…and sure enough, within a couple of months of starting to eat bread again, all the weight was back, plus some.
Today we begin a new series at St. Paul’s. In this series we are going to journey through the Gospel of John examining the “I am” statements of Jesus. Through the Gospel, Jesus says, “I am” seven times—“I am the Bread of Life,” “I am the Light of the World,” “I am the Gate,” “I am the Good Shepherd,” “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and “I am the Vine.”
When we hear these statements, if we have grown up in the church, or even if we are not a Christian, we don’t think too much about the significance or scandal that would have been heard and understood when Jesus first spoke them. We may not think the statements much more than if Bill was to say “I am the Church Council Chair,” or Linda was to say, “I am the Choir Director,” or Kathy was to say, “I am the Director of Elections,” or Al was to say, “I am the exterminator.”
However when Jesus said it, it was heard with a good bit of scandal. To understand the scandal, we must go back to Exodus 3. God had appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told Moses that he was to go back to Egypt (remember Moses had fled Egypt, though being raised in Pharaoh’s household, he killed a fellow Egyptian who was beating on an Israelite) and lead the Israelites out of slavery. Moses, from the very beginning, was trying to find a way out, said, “If I go back to Egypt and tell the Israelites that the God of their ancestors had sent him, they are going to want to know who this God is and I don’t even know your name. What am I supposed to tell them?” God replied to Moses, “‘I Am Who I Am.’” God continued on, “‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, I Am has sent me to you…The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever and this is my title for all generations.’”[i]
“I Am” was understood as means of identifying and addressing who God was. Those surrounding Jesus in the Gospel of John would have known this immediately. So now you can imagine the reaction of those who heard Jesus, not once, but seven times say, “I am….” As they would have heard it, they would have heard, and on more than one occasion Jesus was accused of, blasphemy. The Israelites, the Jews, of Jesus day would have heard Jesus identifying himself with God…saying that He was God.
For us, today, that is not controversial. We know from the beginning of the Gospel of John that Jesus is to be understood as God made flesh. We know, at least as Christians, that Jesus, the Son of God, is to be understood as God Himself—a member of the Holy Trinity. We know that if we want to see what God looks like, we have no further to look than Jesus, the Word, God’s Word, in the flesh.[ii]
Today we heard Jesus say, “I am the Bread of Life.”
Prior to our reading this morning, earlier in John 6, we find Jesus teaching on a hillside late into the evening. It comes to be dinnertime and rather than sending the people on their way to eat in their own homes as one of the disciples suggested, Jesus takes the dinner of one young boy, the only one to volunteer up any of his own food, and used those five loaves and two fish to feed over twelve thousand folks. Jesus and the disciples went on their way afterwards, trying to find some peace and quiet, they sail across the sea of Galilee. The folks, so impressed with being fed off those loaves and fish track Jesus down, and innocently ask, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” You ever done that before?? Track someone down intending to be where they were and bump into them and act all surprised, “Oh, what are you doing here?” or “Oh, you came too?”
But you can’t fool Jesus. Jesus confronts them. You didn’t just happen here…you tracked me down…and you didn’t track me down because you think God’s kingdom has come, you tracked me down because I gave you that food yesterday and you want some more.” Jesus continued on, “If that’s why you are here, then you have missed the whole point of what yesterday was about. You have got to stop chasing after the food that perishes and seek after the food that endures for eternal life—the food that only I can give you.”
Here is where the scandal began to erupt. The people said what kind of miracle are you going to perform? Moses gave our ancestors bread from heaven out in the wilderness.” Jesus said, “Nope…you have misunderstood that too. Moses did not give the manna for the people to have something to eat to sustain them each day, it came from God…and it is God who will give you the true bread from heaven that will give life, not for just day to day, but life to the world forevermore.”
The people begged for the food. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (Now before you start asking what does bread have to do with not being thirsty, we have to note that earlier in the Gospel of John Jesus has the encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, promising her that if she asks it of Him, he will give her living water and she will never thirst again.) Jesus provides the living water, and now He says that He is the bread of life, and if you partake of it, you will never hunger again.
The people came, maybe looking for all that bread left over in the twelve baskets, and Jesus told them that they had missed the point. They were not looking for the right thing—what they were looking for would only satisfy them temporarily…Jesus said, “y’all make my case, I gave y’all the bread yesterday, and now you are back looking for more, you are hungry again—that kind of bread does not sustain you.”
How many times do we do the same thing? How many times do we, in our hunger, go seeking after something that gives us a temporary satisfaction, only to find out that the next day (either literally or figuratively) we are hungry again, and go searching for it again…and maybe this time it takes a little bit more than it did the first day to satisfy us.
Maybe it started as a small joint of marijuana and pretty soon it was a rock of crack cocaine…
Maybe it started out as a one-night affair and pretty soon we found that we couldn’t name all the partners we had been with…
Maybe it started out as a new dress, a new suit, a new computer, a new phone, a new car, a new house, and it felt so good, we found ourselves looking to upgrade every chance that comes along…
Maybe it started out as working a little overtime to get a little extra “security” money in the bank, and now we haven’t had a day off in the last six months…
Maybe it started out as a nice scoop of ice cream and now, fifty pounds later, it is nearly a half-gallon ever night…
Each time we think, this will be the time, this will bring me enough, this time I will be satisfied, and yet we find ourselves still hungering. Jesus says, “you are chasing the bread…you are seeking bread that will leave you hungry…If you want to truly be satisfied then you need to come to Me.”
My brothers and sisters, we all have a hole in our lives, a hunger in our lives, a part of our lives which causes us to hunger…and it does not matter how much pleasure or security we try to fill it with…it will never be filled outside of a relationship with Jesus. It is only Jesus who can fill us, only Jesus who can truly satisfy our true need…and that true need is to be in relationship with God and because of our sin, it is only through Jesus that we can be brought back into that relationship with God.
Since the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sought to eat of the one food that they were not to eat…when they sought to fulfill themselves in a way that God had not intended, humanity has hungered…sin has left us wanting…but Jesus Christ comes into the world to fully satisfy that hunger. Jesus says come to me, and eat…experience the forgiveness, the love, the acceptance, the hope, the strength, the redemption that I offer, and find that you will hunger no more.
That may seem like a place to end…but here is where our sermon may turn scandalous to some…note the title of the sermon, “He is…we are to be….” Jesus is the Bread of Life, we are to be the Bread of Life.
Wait a minute preacher….now you are talking blasphemy. It is one thing for Christ to make the claim to be the Bread of Life…to be God’s life sustaining presence in the world…but how can we make that same claim? We are not God! We are not Jesus! Well, that is right in one way, but not in another way…we are not God and we are not Jesus, but we have to remember what we are…and Paul leads us to understand.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we read that Jesus is to be understood as “the image of the invisible God…[that] in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things….”[iii] Paul says that look at Jesus, see God. Yet Paul says more than that.
Paul, in one of many places, tells the church in Corinth, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”[iv] I hope you are tracking with me and understand where this is going. If Jesus was the image of the invisible God, it folks in His day were to look to Him and see what God looks like, and if we, the church, are to be understood as the Body of Christ, it be concluded that we are to be the image of the resurrected Christ in the world today. What Jesus was when He walked the earth, what Jesus is, as He now reigns in Heaven and in our hearts, we are to be to the world.
What does that mean? What does it mean for us to be the Bread of Life in the world today? It means that we are to be that which brings the satisfaction that people need.
I can hear our mission and service team saying, “Hey, we do that well. We have the food pantry, we help out in the Good Shepherd Kitchen, we donate to Loaves and Fishes, we raise all that money for the CROP Walk, and we have the Manna Bags.” And you know what, those are all good things…we as God’s people are supposed to look into the world and make sure that people’s physical needs are taken care of. However, in doing these things were are doing good things…we are providing the day to day manna…we are giving them that which will temporarily halt their physical hunger…but yet we know that same hunger will be back tomorrow. The hard question we have to ask is, “are we offing them the Bread of Life?” Are we introducing folks who are hungering so much that which will truly and forever satisfy them? Are we striving to be that which helps restore them into a relationship with God? Can the world look at us and see Jesus in the same way we look to Jesus and see God? For He is the Bread of Life…and we are to be the Bread of Life.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.