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Sun, Apr 15, 2018

I am the bread of life

Series:I am
Duration:18 mins 23 secs

Our Second Reading today comes from the Gospel of John, chapter 6, verses 35-51. The chapter begins with Jesus feeds 5,000 people from a boy’s lunch of 2 fish and five loaves. This miracle excites the crowd and they attempt to take Jesus by force and make him their king. But Jesus withdraws and makes his way to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The crowds eventually find him there, looking for another great miracle. But Jesus uses the occasion to talk to them about bread and who he is. Let us hear this Word of God.

35 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. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 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. 40 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.”

41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I 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.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. That is the fundamental confession of faith, right? Jesus is Lord and Savior. Jesus is Lord - the sovereign, the ruler of our lives. Jesus is Savior – he saves us from our sins and restores us to right relationship with God and one another. Yes, Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.

From the beginning the church has used that language to talk about who Jesus is. The apostle Paul calls Jesus “Lord” more than 225 times in his letters. He even writes that no one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, from the earliest days of scripture, the church has called Jesus “Lord.”

So, it may be surprising that Jesus rarely uses that term to refer to himself. He uses it occasionally. Remember just a few weeks ago Jesus sends two disciples to get a donkey from Bethany and tells them that if anyone asks what they are doing they should reply, “The Lord needs it.” There are a few others, but it is rare. The Gospel writers report that other people call Jesus “Lord,” but Jesus does not describe himself in a sovereign, ruler of this world, kind of way.

So, then what about “Savior?” This title is even less likely – only 40 times in the entire Old and New Testaments. It is used only four times in the gospels. The first in the song Mary sings when she visits her cousin Elizabeth during their pregnancies and the second by Zechariah after the birth of his son John. Then on the night of Jesus’ birth, angels announce to the shepherds that “unto you is born in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” We get a two for one in that verse. A final reference to Savior is made by the women of Samaria after meeting Jesus in John 4, saying “we know that truly this is the Savior of the world.”

Those are the only four occurrences in the gospels. So we do not find the title “Savior” on the lips of Jesus either. Despite the fact that his name literally means “he saves,” Jesus never claims that he is the Savior from sins or alienation, or the restorer of relationships or anything else. Other people say Jesus is the Savior, but he does not say it about himself.

All this reminds me of a pivotal text in the Gospel according to Mark, when Jesus asks his disciples “Who do the people say that I am?” They respond that some believe he is John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the prophets. Jesus continues, pressing them directly with the question, “But who do you say that I am?” It is still the question that all disciples of Jesus, that you and I, must answer.

This morning we are beginning a series of sermons from the Gospel of John which seeks to answer that question by first turning it around. Before we can truly declare who we say Jesus is, we need to hear Jesus tell us in his own words who he is. And if Jesus does not use Lord or Savior to describe himself, what does he say?

Well, in the Gospel of John, seven times, we find Jesus say, “I am …” It is language reminiscent of God’s name given to Moses, YHWH: “I am who I am.” Yes, in these texts we find a glimpse of who Jesus really is in his own words. And what does he say?

“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;”

“I am the vine.”

Each week between now and the end of May we are going to explore one of these “I am” statements of Jesus. For as New Testament Scholar NT Wright has written:

What matters is not just what Jesus can do for you; what matters is who Jesus is. Only if you’re prepared to be confronted by that in a new way can you begin to understand what he can really do for you, what he really wants to do for you.

So, in this season of Easter, this season of resurrection and new life, I invite us to see and encounter Jesus in a new way, a way that perhaps confronts our established and familiar pictures of him. Yes, he is our Lord and Savior, absolutely. We are not going to lose that! But, what might we discover if we seek to hear Jesus in his own words?

We begin with the first saying, “I am the bread of life.” Around the first of the year there was a frequent television commercial for Weight Watchers with Oprah Winfrey in which she practically shouts, “I love bread!” That strikes us as odd for a Weight Watchers commercial because it has been ingrained into our minds that bread and carbs lead to weight gain, not weight loss. We should be eating less bread, not more, right?

Do you realize what a luxury it is to think like that? For the majority of human history, and still for the majority of the world today, the challenge has always been too little bread, not too much. Finding enough bread to survive was a daily struggle. In first century Palestine when Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” the average person would either grow grain on their own or personally know the farmer who did. That farmer worked his or her land, cared for the soil, planted the seeds, watched the sprouts grow, tended the crops and removed the weeds, harvested the grain, and ground it themselves or personally took it someone who did. Once one had flour, making bread required time and effort – measuring out ingredients, mixing, kneading, and baking.

Now I know there are some wonderful bread makers in this church, but I would guess that today most of us buy our bread at the grocery store. At any store in town, there is an entire aisle devoted just to bread. I walk down the aisle and pick out the loaf I want (checking to be sure it is not blue). I go home, untwist the twist-tie, pull out a slice, and make a sandwich – all without any thought or connection to how this slice of bread ended up sitting on a plate in my kitchen.

When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” he offers us another lens through which to consider the bread we eat. Jesus is not talking about what we eat just to stay alive. What it takes to get enough energy to last until tomorrow. That kind of food was available to the people of Israel as manna in the wilderness. It temporarily satisfied their physical hunger but they had to gather more every day. That is the bread available to us in the grocery store. It is just temporary.

There is nothing temporary about Jesus as the bread of life. Jesus is inaugurating a new Exodus, a new people of God. As Duke Divinity School theologian Norman Wirzba writes, “The bread that Jesus is … is food for the healing, transformation, and fulfillment of life, rather than its mere continuation.” Usually when we eat food, if we think about it at all, we think of the food being absorbed into our bodies so that the food becomes a part of us. Jesus is talking about receiving the bread of life, receiving Jesus himself, in such a way that the bread transforms us. Eating the bread of life is not the destruction and absorption of Christ, but the entrance of Christ’s life into our own. As we eat the bread of life, our life begins to participate in His and we find ourselves changed.

So for Jesus to say that he is the bread of life is not just to say that he is our nourishment or even that he provides what we need just for this day. No, “I am the bread of life” means that Jesus is the one at work transforming lives and the world through his presence. To eat the bread of life is to be invited into eternal life. Again NT Wright says,

It is another way of saying what the [first chapter of John] said: Jesus is the Word, the one who comes from the father into the world to accomplish his purpose. And in this case the particular emphasis is on nourishment. Until they recognize who Jesus really is, they may be fed with bread and fish, but there is a deep hunger inside them which will never be satisfied. [Sir, give us this bread always] can be used to this day, as it stands, as the prayer that we all need to pray if our deepest needs are to be met. … The entire story John is telling is designed to end with Jesus pioneering the way into [a] newly embodied life, and the promise of the present chapter is that this life will be shared by all who taste the living bread.

So, my friends, as we end today we come back to the question we will ask throughout this series: Who do you say Jesus is? For more than merely a Lord, more than merely a Savior – Jesus is the bread of life, the pioneer of a new life in which our deepest hungers might be filled. Do you believe this?

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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