Readings: Psalm 51:1-12 , Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15, Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6:35, 41-51
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, August 12, 2018
There were all sorts of people used to call at the house where I grew up in England. The milkman would bring the milk. The paperboy would bring the Daily News. The Postman would bring the mail. The little grocery store around the corner would deliver fresh foods. And there was also the Bread man.
The Bread man came in a big bread van, with a drop down step at the back. He usually only carried four products. White Bread sliced, White bread un-sliced, Brown Bread sliced, and Brown bread un-sliced. But on Saturdays, something special. Long French loaves. Fresh baked rolls. Cakes and Apple Pies. And, occasionally, if I'd been real good, mum would let me climb the steps, go in the van look around and choose something nice for supper. I can still smell the aroma of that fresh newly baked bread in the back of the van. Delicious.
These days’ things are different. You go to the supermarket and you are faced with a whole aisle of choices. Sliced, unsliced, white, brown, white bread that's really brown bread, bread for those on a diet, bread designed to enhance your energy. The list is endless!
Jesus tells the people in our reading that He is the 'Bread of Life'. He talks of the manna that the Hebrew people ate in the wilderness and compares Himself to that manna. He is bread that came down from heaven to nurture the people of God.
Bread sustains us. In the Lord's Prayer Jesus teaches us to pray that we may receive our daily bread. God knows we need material things for our physical well being. Jesus also tells us that we cannot live by bread alone, but need every “Word” that comes from the mouth of God. That life is not just a matter of seeing that our physical needs are met, but that there is a spiritual side of us that also needs nurturing.
There are more than enough folk around to advise us on our eating habits. Here in the United States obtaining our daily bread is not a problem for the majority of people. Maybe a culture like this should amend the Lords prayer to read, "Give us our daily bread .... and not a crumb more!"
Though materially wealthy, we can be spiritually bankrupt. The abundance of things that we fill our days with tends to obscure the need to nurture the spiritual side of our lives. We have many, many distractions that save us from even having to think about the health of our souls.
In those moments when we do contemplate life’s deeper meaning, there is a bewildering spectrum of choices that we can pursue in order to become spiritually healthy. Jesus is not the only 'Bread of life' on offer to us in today’s world.
Maybe in days gone past things were less complex. Generally speaking most people in the United States were, to use the term in a broad sense, "Christian". Admittedly there was a choice of denominational brand names that you could identify with, but in general terms, if a person wanted to nurture their spiritual life, the Church was the place where they would expect to turn.
That is no longer the case. These days there are more spiritual roads on offer that there are brands of bread on the shelves of Giant. There is Christianity and Islam and differing forms of Buddhist and Hindu religion. There are New Age philosophies, Wellness and Self-Awareness programs, there are secular philosophies that rule out the possibility of there even being a God; a thousand ways to satisfy the needs of your soul.
But was it really that much different when Jesus spoke of Himself as being the bread of life? The Greeks and the Romans embraced many different philosophies. Within Judaism there were different groups such as the Pharisees and Sadducees.
And for many folk the simple business of keeping bread on the table was one that occupied much of a person’s time. Maybe things were not as different as we some times imagine! The "Way" that Jesus spoke of, the Kingdom He preached, was even then just one option among many.
The message of the church, from its birth in Jerusalem until the present, has been that Jesus Christ stands apart from all the others. That there is about Jesus a “uniqueness” that demands our attention. That truly He is the “bread of life come down from heaven.” That commitment to Him fulfills our spiritual hunger in a way that nothing else can.
1. Jesus promises to satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst.
I heard a lady on the radio describe her experience of becoming a Christian. "It felt like coming home!" she said. There was an old blues song that contained the line, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child." Back in the sixties the Rolling Stones sang, "I can't get no satisfaction. And I tried, and I tried and I tried and I tried. But I can't get no.. satisfaction. No,no,no!"
Dissatisfaction, feelings of somehow being alienated, dispossessed or far from home are common features of many people’s lives. People try to deal with those feelings in all sorts of ways. Some just get by and presume that's the way things are meant to be. Some try and party it out of their system. Some just evolve ways of dealing with it. But the feeling is still there that maybe, there's more to life than this!
"Come to me" invited Jesus, "And I will give you rest." "I am the bread of life, He who comes to me will not hunger, He who believes in me will never thirst." When we come to Jesus, we come home. We come to see how only He can satisfy the deepest needs of our souls. He encourages us to call on God in childlike faith, "Abba, Father." No longer do we need to feel like parentless children.
2. Jesus is the Bread that nourishes.
In our bible reading we heard the people murmuring against the idea that Jesus might be the One who could meet their needs – “The bread of life indeed!” “We know who He is. Mary and Joseph's boy, that's all!”
As the people murmur away, Jesus reminds them that their forefathers had eaten the manna in the wilderness. Where were they now? Dead and gone. What He was offering was something more than physical sustenance. He intended to nourish them, body, soul and spirit. What He could offer was not temporary refreshment, but eternal life. He was the bread they could eat and not die!
Of course He was not implying that they would never grow old or offering them some secret elixir of eternal youthfulness. Elsewhere Jesus proclaims, "I have come that you may have life, life in all its abundance." But, predictably, the people looked on things at the surface level only. They were far too preoccupied with life to consider what really living might entail!
Today, when the challenge to become a disciple is issued, often the first question that forms in peoples minds is, "Well all this sounds very good, but what do I have to give up in order to get it!" How pervasive is this idea that somehow we can do anything to earn the love of God. As though by our good behavior we can somehow slip into heaven. That if only we give up this and don't do that then God will see us all right at the end of the day.
Wrong! There is nothing we can do to increase God's estimation of our worth. He loves us unconditionally. It is a matter of Grace. The Grace of God that is greater than our sin. Asking, "What do we need to give up?" only reveals the emptiness of our souls. That we still believe love is something we can earn, rather than a gift to be accepted and embraced.
Whatever God may ask us to give up is for a reason. God has something better in store. We entangle our lives in stupid, unfulfilled, empty, trivial things. Jesus wants to nourish our soul that we become people who are richer, fuller, and more alive to God. God never asks us to give up something unless there is a better alternative. We don't always see it that way!
3. Jesus is the living Bread.
Jesus tells the crowd, "If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh."
The people do not understand that He is here talking of His crucifixion and resurrection. At first hearing it almost seems like some morbid invitation to cannibalism! Later many would understand that He came and gave His life on the cross of Calvary that His love would become the bread on which they could feed.
As Christians gather around communion tables, and ponder those words about eating flesh and drinking blood, far from being some morbid remembrance, the actions and symbols of bread and wine, take on a deep significance. Under the touch and inspiration of the Holy Spirit every act of worship can be a renewing and enlightening influence that draws us closer to God.
I started out talking about the bread man that used to come to my mums house in his big bread van, and how I loved on a Saturday to be allowed to choose something special. The wonderful odor of newly baked bread!
There was only one way to really know if the bread was anything special. You had to eat it. You had to taste it.
Among the many religious and spiritual diets on offer in today’s world, there's only one way to discover if Jesus truly is the bread of life He claimed to be. Follow Him for yourself.
Take Him up on the terms He offers. Give your life over to His care because you have the faith that God's desire is for your life to enjoy God's richness. Nourish your life on His Word, through Worship, through working for God's glory as the Holy Spirit enables you to do.
Hear God's invitation. To "Taste and See that the Lord is good!" Trust in the Bread Man who gave His life on a Cross that you may be free and forgiven, the One who was raised to life, that through the daily influence of the Holy Spirit, you may really live!
Hear again His unique claim, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger, he who believes in me shall never thirst!"
May the Holy Spirit lead us all to a deeper appreciation of God's love towards us!
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.