August 12, 2018

2018 Aug12

“The Bread of Life: Simple, Basic, Common”

Proper 14 - Year B
A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger

 

John Chapter 6 is all about Jesus

being the Bread of Life.


We had the Feeding of the 5,000 two weeks ago when Skip Parks preached. Last week we would have heard the preamble to today’s Gospel reading, with the last sentence being the same as this week’s first sentence. The verses that are missing in today’s Gospel are used at funerals – Jesus proclaims that all who believe in Him, He shall raise up on the last day.

 

What I like about Jesus referring to Himself as the BREAD of Life, both here and at the Last Supper when He says, “Take and eat this bread, which is my body” is that it’s basic…bread was and still is a basic staple of daily life. Pretty much every culture in the world has a type of bread as a staple. Wikipedia starts its entry on bread with:

 

Bread is a staple food prepared from a dough of flour and water, usually by baking. Throughout recorded history it has been popular around the world and is one of the oldest artificial foods, having been of importance since the dawn of agriculture.

 

For at least 12,000 years, we have had bread made from processed grains.

 

Let me just put some minds at ease about bread. Some people get uncomfortable talking about the religious and spiritual significance of bread because more and more people are gluten-intolerant. Bread as a foodstuff, as a staple, is wheat-based in our culture, but not in every culture. There are hundreds of breads that are made from grains that do not contain gluten. Actually, in Wikipedia’s list of about 100 breads from around the world, the first two are not made from gluten-containing grains. The Egyptian bread is made with corn, and the Slovenian one is made with potato and buckwheat, which is not even a cereal grain. So, we can talk about bread and the Bread of Life without alienating those who don’t or can’t eat wheat-based breads. For those of you who are avoiding carbs, well, that’s your own issue that we don’t need to go into!

 

So, back to bread being a staple: Jesus is comparing Himself to a staple which everyone who hears Him, everyone who heard this story about Him, every person who reads this text needs on a daily basis. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says, “Pray this way: Give us each our daily bread” because that was the basic daily need. He didn’t teach us to pray for a Michelin-starred 7-course tasting menu. He didn’t teach us to pray for a $20 hamburger. He taught us to pray for the basic necessity for our basic nutrition in order to live our basic lives.

 

But the Jews get angry because Jesus said, “I am the bread that came down from Heaven.” What is important to remember is that the Exodus was the single most important event in Hebrew History. It is also fundamental to modern Christian faith practice. That 40 years – from Moses demanding that the Pharaoh release the enslaved Israelites to the occupying of the Holy Land – contains most of the fundamentals for Jewish and Christian theology. So, what the Jews thought was a comparison of Himself to the manna that the wandering Hebrews received in the wilderness was pretty blasphemous, pretty outrageous, it would have been like when the religious right put a soundbite into mainstream media that cause people to hate all Christians.

 

So, Jesus clarifies that He is not the manna, but He is better than the manna! So now the Jews are really furious! The Bread from Heaven of the Ancestors - Manna - was life-giving, that is for sure. God sent the manna because The Israelites complained:

 

“The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’” Exodus 16:2-3

 

This manna was the response to “If only we had died in Egypt…for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill us with hunger.” Without the manna, the whole race of the Israelites would have perished; God’s Chosen People would be no more. So, the manna was life-giving! But it was also short-term and temporary. It wasn’t very pleasant: it was a fine, flake-like substance, described as the color of hoarfrost, maybe the size of a coriander seed. My seminary professors said that the most similar modern thing that it might have been comparable to is flakes of oatmeal. It came once a day, with the dew, and each family was to gather only what they needed, otherwise it spoiled and got worms by morning, or melted in the sun. They were to gather only what they needed. You can see this theme of requesting only what one needs throughout the Bible. So, the first difference between manna and the Bread of Life is that the manna was temporary, and Jesus is forever.

 

The other difference between the two life-giving breads is that, even though manna sustained the Israelites in the desert, they eventually died human deaths.

 

“Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

 

What Jesus is describing can only come from God, so the Jews are outraged that He would make this metaphor.


Theologically, Jesus as the Bread of Life has become our basic daily staple that we need for sustenance and for the culmination of the relationship with God. The Bread of Life Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel is putting God back at the center of the lives of the Jews through Jesus Christ. This is then reinforced at the Last Supper through the use of bread as His body. And at the Last Supper, Jesus brings in another key moment of The Exodus: The sacrificial lamb. He does this by using the wine as His Blood.


You may remember the command of the First Passover at The Exodus: Each family is to bake enough bread and roast enough lamb for their family. If they have more than they need, they are to share it with others. So, after the lamb had been slaughtered and his blood splashed on the door, all those gathered around the table had what they needed. That is made very clear.


There is another dimension to Jesus as the Bread of Life: It is shared. It is not explicit in this passage, but it is explicit in the Last Supper, and in the Feeding of the 5,000 that opens John 6. And this is where I personally begin to associate the preparing and sharing of food as a spiritual experience.


Today, Gina Hafemeister has made our bread for Holy Communion. She is a consummate breadmaker, and makes her bread with care and love. She is sharing not only her bread with us, but her craft, her Gift of the Spirit, part of herself, with this community. That is what Jesus did – on a much deeper level – and commanded us to do in remembrance of Him.


Sharing a meal is why we come together on Sundays, and we share it communally. In Ephesians we read: for we are members of one another. Some people believe that they can foster their spirituality on their own. That is certainly part of our spiritual journey, but so is coming together to share in a corporate spiritual experience. Our participation in the Eucharist has a synergistic effect when done together, when we know that Jesus is in our midst. When we commission the Lay Eucharistic Visitors, we say that “We who are many are one Body because we all share in one Bread, one Cup.”


We, as a worshiping community, are “members of one another”. However, in the context of John 6, I like to think of us as ‘companions’ – we are companions of one another. Why companions? The word ‘companion’ is a medieval word from the 13C/14C roughly translating to ‘bread fellow’ or ‘one with whom bread is shared’. If Jesus is going to tell us that He is the Bread of Life, and whoever eats of this bread will live forever, then


as we in this community come to

share in the Bread & Wine of The

Eucharist, we are “bread

fellows”, companions of

one another.


There is a power in the sharing of food as companions and “bread fellows”. The sharing sort of has its own spirit. Food embodies culture and personal character; it is not just a superficial exchange; it is an exchange of identity, of self, a building up of trust and friendship. Sharing food has power beyond our emotions and person and helps form bonds. This would have been fully understood in Jesus’ time and culture. The process of producing, obtaining, preparing, sharing and eating food was much more a part of every person’s life and survival than those tasks are for us today. Jesus knew how integral bread was to the lives of His earthly community. For Jesus, this was the ultimate act of sharing oneself, one that goes beyond our human understanding because it is of God and the sharing of Godself, it is a sacrifice on God’s part: The last bit of today’s Gospel is probably also an allusion to the sacrificial lamb: “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”. Jesus was drawing all the believers into being companions, “Bread Fellows”. Jesus makes us His Bread Fellows to share this daily staple of life that gives us life in a new and neverending way.

 

What is the theological significance of Jesus sharing something that is basic and common? Well, that points back to another key aspect of the Jesus Movement:

 

sharing something that is simple,

basic, common means that it is

within reach of everyone and it

is for everyone. And that is the

message that we are called to

share once we have shared as

Bread Fellows at the altar.

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