First Reading: 1 Kings 19:4-8
4[Elijah] went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
Psalm: Psalm 34:1-8
1I will bless the Lord at all times;
the praise of God shall ever be in my mouth.
2I will glory in the Lord;
let the lowly hear and rejoice.
3Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord;
let us exalt God’s name together.
4I sought the Lord, who answered me
and delivered me from all my terrors.
5Look upon the Lord and be radiant,
and let not your faces be ashamed.
6I called in my affliction, and the Lord heard me
and saved me from all my troubles.
7The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear the Lord
and delivers them.
8Taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are they who take refuge in God!
Second Reading: Ephesians 4:25–5:2
25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. 28Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5:1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Gospel: John 6:35, 41-51
35Jesus said to [the crowd,] “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They 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’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.45It 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. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 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.”
CHILDREN’S SERMON: Turn to your neighbor and tell them briefly about your favorite type of bread or a favorite memory involving bread.
Let us pray: Lord, may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.“
We start today where we left off last week. We are still tracking with the conversations between the hungry crowds who followed Jesus from one side of the Sea of Galilee to the other, being fed with teaching but also with bread and fish. Could Jesus be the Messiah and the King that will feed them forever?
Before we jump to the crowd’s discussion with Jesus, let us review the scene of Moses and the people of Israel in the wilderness, as there is a strong parallel that both Jesus and the crowd are drawing on. In Exodus 16, God delivered the people of Israel from Egypt, protected them through the Red Sea, three days later gave them water at Marah and led them to springs at Elim. But, … but 15 days into the next leg of the journey, the people “grumble.” The food supply for so many seems so little. So God supplied quails for meat and manna for bread. Moses told the people, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning because he has heard your grumbling against him.”
Drawing a parallel to Moses and the people in the wilderness grumbling, Jesus claims to be bread from heaven, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” The people grumble, looking at Jesus but blinded by physical reality. Is he not the son of Joseph? Sometimes what we know, or think we know, blinds us to the spiritual truth that is facing us. Jesus claims to be bread from heaven but obviously he is a person they think they know.
You shared with your neighbor your favorite bread. My whole family would vote for Paul’s Bakery in Kenya. It was on the outskirts of our town and we would stop by and get a long, rectangle loaf that was fresh from the ovens, dense in texture, aromatic, with the plastic bag clinging to its warmth. We would each take a handful and savor it in our mouth. Did I mention how good it smelled? Sometimes our faith is like those memories of our favorite bread. The bread Moses provided appeared every morning on the ground and satisfied. How can Jesus be like that bread? The people are confused and they grumble, just like the people of old.
So what do we “know” that stops us from hearing or understanding Jesus saying that he is the bread of life? For many Americans, I thinking spiritual learning is thought to be done in Sunday school as a child with Bible stories and pictures. “Adult Sunday school” seems like a contradiction of terms. We know the basics and the adventure of daily devotions does not entice us. OR, perhaps we remember those spiritual highs of camp as youth. The campfire, rousing songs, good fellowship, challenging speaker all lie dormant in our hearts as we come to church and our soul wants that emotional experience that warmed us so. Many, many young adults finish confirmation and feel they now know the basics of faith and do not need to build on that cognitive foundation. Perhaps we too feel our baptism and confirmation is enough and growth does not seem necessary. God loves us, right? For other adults the reality of life with all the potholes of divorce, death of children, illness creates a cynicism about faith and Jesus. Our hearts are numb with disappointment as we have a sour taste in our mouth about Jesus. And of course, how do we choose which church, which faith, where to start devotions – so many choices, we throw our hands in the air — tomorrow! Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” and we do not think of that bread of our dreams that smelled so good and that we could eat at any time and was so satisfying. Like the Jews, familiarity breeds, perhaps not contempt but laziness in our relationship with Christ.
I want to read The Message version of the next part of the conversation. It is far easier to follow Jesus’ reasoning of the text.
43-46 Jesus said, “Don’t bicker among yourselves over me. You’re not in charge here. The Father who sent me is in charge. He draws people to me—that’s the only way you’ll ever come. Only then do I do my work, putting people together, setting them on their feet, ready for the End. This is what the prophets meant when they wrote, ‘And then they will all be personally taught by God.’ Anyone who has spent any time at all listening to the Father, really listening and therefore learning, comes to me to be taught personally—to see it with his own eyes, hear it with his own ears, from me, since I have it firsthand from the Father. No one has seen the Father except the One who has his Being alongside the Father—and you can see me.
Jesus responds, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.” The people are mistaken. The bread is a gift from God and God draws them to him even as the smell of bread draws us to the kitchen. It is only after we are drawn to the bread, drawn to Jesus, that we are able to eat, to be fed. Jesus points out that the joy of the experience is actually rooted in the relationship with the giver and the relationship we experience around the gift. We need to realize the gift, the bread, is God reaching out for relationship.
We are continually challenged by the Word of God to see beyond what we know, the obvious, through our human experience to see the eternal truth that God is calling us to. The parables Jesus tells always have that ironic twist that makes us think and reinterpret reality. It is the Samaritan, the foreigner, who is the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells Nicodemus, an old man, he must be born again. Jesus heals on the Sabbath. The water at the wedding becomes wine. Jesus is using the image of bread to speak of feeding that deep hunger in our hearts that draws us to God who wants relationship.
Perhaps another way of saying this is that faith is not a work we do but a relationship we are drawn into. We do not read the Bible because we want good marks from God for starting or ending the day right. We don’t do it because we have to. We do it because even as we check in with our friends or spouse, we want to check in with God and chat. Drawing close to God and hearing his voice feeds our souls even as bread feeds our bodies. God calls us to wholeness.
I think the word we use now to talk about a “substitute” or look alike product is “knock off.” Can you believe there is a coffee shop called “Sunbucks” with a logo in a green circle? Lots of things imitate and present a false identity. Jesus claims he is from the real God who teaches us personally, face to face, an incarnation of God the Father for his creation. He is the real thing, not the substitute and he is the one who will raise us up on the last day. He is the real thing. Don’t be confused by what you think you know about him! Don’t chase knock-offs because they are cheaper.
So how do we reconcile grumbling and faith that results from God drawing us in? We live in that irony. We live in the mysterious. We have free will as we come and yet we are drawn. Perhaps that realization gives us patience with youth who are still developing, with friends who are so resistant to our stories of faith, or with those so burdened with grief. It may even give us patience with ourselves when we sin and help us immediately humble ourselves and seek restored relationship. Our task is to share the truth and God works with the heart. Our task is to see beyond the obvious and be sensitive to the real message and how God is working. Faith is a journey and we are all traveling and needing each other. The real map is Jesus who is one with the Father and presents truth to us. Are we blinded by what we know and settling for knock-offs today?
Jesus now summarizes in light of the Moses’ wilderness experience. The manna, the bread, given from God in the wilderness did indeed feed the people as they traveled but they eventually died. Jesus is not bread just to keep the body alive but he is the bread from heaven that will keep our souls alive for eternity. He is the living Bread! The Message translates this way:
47-51 “I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life. I am the Bread of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died. But now here is Bread that truly comes down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever. I am the Bread—living Bread!—who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever! The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.”
So how do we pull this together? What does it mean to you and me living in a Pandemic, in political polarization, is social distress around our world? Our world proclaims the value of honoring diversity of ethnicity or of faith. We are afraid of being judgmental and critical. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or offend. This text challenges us:
- Don’t allow what you think you know about Jesus to blind you to the eternal truth he is offering you. Faith is a journey and not a decision made at some moment in time. There will be deserts and mountains but Jesus is one with God and incarnated so we might know truth.
- We are drawn to God through Christ and it is in that eternal relationship that we will find the real bread that feeds our souls. Don’t settle for knock-offs that are cheaper and may be fun for a moment but are not the real thing. Look for the food that sustains and strengthens through all situations.
- Jesus is the living bread! He will carry us into eternity. He died on Calvary and we remember that every time we take communion. No matter how distressing today may seem, God is walking with us to eternity. We can trust in him!
As we think of the words of praise we would use for that memory of tasty bread and fellowship, let us look beyond what we experienced to the God who leads us into even more satisfying bread experiences! Praise his name. Amen.