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Wed, Dec 16, 2015

Bread of Life

Duration:11 mins 47 secs

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

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. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.” (John 6.25-40)

I am in a covenant group with five other women here at Reid. We meet weekly, sharing our lives, our hopes, our fears, our tears. We also spend time discussing spiritual works that we read over the course of the week. Our most recent book is by Henri Nouwen called Life of the Beloved. In it, Nouwen shares with a friend what it means to be Beloved, how to become Beloved, how to live lives as one of God’s Beloveds when the world around us treats us as anything but. It all comes down to the Spirit and the Spirit’s work in our lives while we live in a very unspiritual world. Nouwen identifies this good, spiritual work in four parts: taken, blessed, broken, given.

Do you recognize the words, the movement?

In our scripture passage, people are chasing after Jesus. He has had a busy time of it, lately. We learn in the gospel just before tonight’s lesson that Jesus and his disciples have made it to Jerusalem, in the midst of much healing and teaching, and in the midst of many clashes with Jewish leaders over everything Jesus has done, everything Jesus has said. The religious ones have ramped up their persecution. Jesus has ramped up his words, delivering what amounts to a sermon, or a lecture, or a defense of himself. Of his relationship to God. The Father. His Father.

And then Jesus just walks away. Or, rather, he sails away. He travels to the other side of the Sea of Galilee with his disciples because, it seems, the weight of the world is increasingly on him. Too many people need too many things. He is becoming less and less and needs time to recharge, to replenish. To pray. And yet, people follow. They can’t get enough. There isn’t enough of him to give to everyone, so he and his disciples escape up a mountain. And still, the people pursue him. The time comes to feed them. But there are only five loaves of barley bread, two fish. Surely not enough. But Jesus says, watch me, one more time. He takes the bread, blesses the loaves, breaks them into pieces, and gives them to the people. And, lo and behold, there is plenty. There is always plenty, it seems, when it comes to Jesus.

The people murmur, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6.14) And Jesus, hearing this, realizes that they are on the verge of crowning him king. It is neither the time nor the place for that. And so he leaves, this time without his friends, and goes further up the mountain.

Next thing we know, the disciples just up and leave without him. They pile into a boat and head out. A few miles off-shore they encounter a storm. They are afraid. And then, look, it is Jesus, walking towards them. Needless to say, they are still scared witless. But he says, “It is I; do not be afraid.” (John 6.20) That is all they need to hear, for they are no longer fearful. Instead, they grab Jesus, pile him into the boat as well, and land on shore.

Meanwhile, the people are wandering around, trying to figure out where Jesus and his disciples are. They saw the disciples leave, but they didn’t see Jesus leave with them. And so they converge on the remaining boats and cross the sea in hot pursuit to Capernaum, where, you guessed it, they find Jesus. Or, rather, where Jesus allows himself to be found.

And what is the first thing out of their mouths? “Rabbi, when did you come here?” (John 6.25) The people want to solve the mystery of Jesus’ whereabouts. But Jesus knows the real reason for chasing after him. And so he answers them this way: You are looking for me, not because of what I have done, not because of what I have said, but because I fed you. And yet, you will be hungry again. The fish and barley bread will not keep you full for long. But I have food that will last for eternity.

The conversation continues, ranging from works to signs, eventually settling on the work and sign of God given to their ancestors, as they chased after Moses and wandered around and murmured. These current day followers have forgotten everything that has happened over the course of many days as they ask this: why should we believe you? What have you done? We need something tangible, that we can see, just like our ancestors had. Remember them? They got manna. Bread given to them from Moses, from heaven. Every single day so they would never have to worry about what they were going to eat the entire time they were in the wilderness.

And Jesus says, as plainly as he can: It wasn’t Moses, my friends. It was my Father. And my Father has got even better bread up his sleeve. He has True Bread. Bread that gives life, not only to you but to the world.

The people said, give us this bread. As if they haven’t already been receiving it, the entire time they have listened to Jesus, been healed by Jesus. And so Jesus says this: it is I. I am the Bread of Life. I am the Bread that is inexhaustible, that is given without condition. I am the Bread that satisfies more than any other bread you have ever eaten or will ever eat. I am the Bread that has been broken into many, many pieces, given for all.

One might think that this would be enough, as Jesus’ words of comfort on the turbulent sea were enough for his friends. As the inexhaustible supply of bread and fish were enough on the side of a hill. But the conversation continues and the Jews begin to complain, again. Fear of want, of security, is a pervasive thing, isn’t it? And so Jesus persists, promising that he, himself, this life-giving Bread, guarantees that one will live forever. One just has to receive it, eat it, be nourished by it. For Jesus is the Beloved, the perfect Son of God. Chosen for us, blessed for us, broken for us, given for us. We imperfect, improbable children of God.

There is more. The Bread of Life came to nourish us so that we would also be a nourishment for the world. Just as Jesus knows what it means to be called into relationship, we are to believe that we are chosen. Just as Jesus knows what it means to be spoken well of by the Father, we are to remember that we are blessed. Just as Jesus knows what it means to suffer, to hurt, to wonder and struggle, we are to recognize that we are broken. Just as Jesus was delivered into the world, delivered for the world, we are to embrace that we are given. Called and blessed and broken into many, many pieces to serve, to share life with, many, many others who are imperfect, improbable children of God, too.

Will you believe it? Will you remember it? Will you recognize it? Will you embrace it? Will you come to the eternal banquet, sit at the eternal table, partake of the eternal Bread who was taken, blessed, broken, given for us, so that it might be for forever? And invite others to do the same?

“I am the Bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” (John 6.35) Thanks be to God. Amen.

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