John 6:35, 41-51; Bread of Life (8-9-15)


I never met a bread I didn’t like.

Flat, chewy Near eastern bread.

Hearty, hard crusted Greek bread.

Dark, heavy German black bread.

French croissants… Biscuits…My grandmother’s spoonbread…

I love every bread I’ve met.

BREAD IS BASIC: we call it the staff of life!

The other day, I was trying out a new restaurant.

The atmosphere was very pleasant.

The waitress was very helpful.

The cook was very good: they served me a plate of pulled pork barbecue, baked potato and creamy Cole slaw.

I had barbecue sauce and tabasco on the side.

It was delicious! But something was missing! There was no bread!

This meal was incomplete without at least some kind of bread.

I asked for some bread and the waitress brought out some hot, crusty hard rolls. It was perfect!

It made my meal complete.  I will return to that restaurant!

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says that he is bread:

“I am the bread of life…I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” (John 6:35, 48, 51)

It sounds so basic.

In our modern days, we may not fully understand what Jesus is saying about bread.

It was a familiar site in every village through which Jesus and his disciples walked: the conical clay ovens, fired with wood, in which the women of each household would bake the daily ration of bread.

These ovens were located out back, behind the houses, to offset the risk of fire. Early each morning, the baker-women would sweep out the ashes from the day before and stoke the ovens with dry sticks. They’d light the fire and direct a child to keep feeding dry branches into it, until the required temperature was reached.

While this was happening, the women would go through the familiar ritual of bread-making: preparing the dough from flour and water, kneading it, adding the yeast, waiting for the dough to rise, then pounding it down, only to have it rise again. When it reached the desired consistency, the bakers would press it out flat and slide it into the clay oven.

What came out was a warm, bubbly loaf very much like pita bread. It was the staff of life indeed, for those people.

Other food items might come and go with the seasons — and with the success of those who hunted or fished for it — but bread was the staple that got them through seasons of feast and famine alike.

The very taste of it, and the smell of it, and the texture of it, reminded them of the goodness of their God, who gives gifts in abundance.

Today, we’ve pretty much lost the sensory experience of eating fresh-baked bread.

The bread we buy is typically baked in some central factory many miles away. It’s packaged in plastic. It’s pre-cut into slices, carefully engineered to fit the slots on a toaster. The best of it is nutritious and good for us in moderate quantities, but the typical slice of store-bought bread isn’t something any of us spend much time thinking about.

Not so for the bread of Jesus’ time.

That bread was baked fresh daily and often eaten warm from the oven.

Break open a loaf ... watch the steam rise from out of its center ... let the rich, yeasty smell penetrate your nostrils...

Taste and see that — indeed — it is good ... that the Lord is good!

We all understand the hunger pains in the pits of our stomachs.

We experience our internal clocks, when our stomachs say its mealtime.

We may be ready to go eat our next meal (2nd breakfast, lunch) right now!

We may also know that gnawing pain in the heart of our soul.

I know a lot of people are hungry—but not just for bread.

Just like my experience at that Barbecue restaurant—people look into their lifetime “plates” and see that something is missing.

They realize that their experience is not complete.

They see all the things they have ordered from their life menu: jobs, family, homes, cars, money, security—but they know that SOMETHING is still missing.

Jesus is talking about this kind of hunger.

When we are physically hungry—it is a reminder that we are physical creatures; human beings that need nourishment or we will die.

But there is also another kind of death to avoid—the death of the soul.

This death is seen when we lose passion for life, when our eyes grow dull to the world, and when we don’t know if we can go on.

This kind of death is not dramatic, not a momentary experience.

This kind of death comes day by day, drop by drop…

It eats away at your soul and leaves you confused, apathetic, and hopeless.

I’ve heard people say: “I came to church to be fed for the week.”

I’ve heard others say: “I am not being fed at this church.”

They did not mean that the church wasn’t having enough pot-luck suppers.

They meant that their soul was being malnourished.

To these people and all of us, Jesus promises that he is bread.

He is the bread of life: he is the bread that satisfies when nothing else can.

Jesus is the bread that came down from heaven to sustain us:

You chew on him; meditate on his teachings; ponder his words.

You bite the bread, bit by bit—let him become a part of you.

You savor the bread—tasting each morsel.

It is not dramatic. It might not be a mountain top experience.

But it is life giving!

Take time to enjoy him.

Let him become a part of your life.

Today, Jesus invites us to think of him as the bread of life.

Eat this spiritual meal daily.

Partake of this life giving gift continuously.

Allow God’s sustaining presence to give you life, strength, wholeness.

I like the story that I heard many years ago.

A small community was upset by a letter to the editor criticizing all of the local preachers in town.

The letter said that preachers waste too much time preparing and preaching sermons on Sunday mornings.

He proposed that preachers should re-structure their time and do something more useful to the community like social work, political advocacy, or just get a regular job like everyone else.

The letters section of the paper was inundated for the next several weeks with people agreeing with the original letter or strongly disagreeing with this sentiment.

Some of the letters were very emotional, full of anger and resentment.

The controversy caused the whole town to polarize.

The war of words continued until one elderly man wrote this letter:

“Dear Editor. My wife has served me dinner every night for 45 years. Although she is a good cook, I cannot remember what I ate last week. But I have the suspicion, that if she hadn’t fed me every day, I would have starved long ago.

I believe it is the same way with the sermons on Sunday mornings.”

Sunday morning may not be as glamorous as the daily TV offerings, it is not as hyped up as sports championships, and it is not as slick as weekly movie openings.

It is just the ordinary reading of scripture, praying of prayers, singing of hymns/songs, preaching and listening to sermons, responding with the Apostle’s Creed.

It is just the practice of gathering together, making announcements, collecting offerings, and sending us out into the world prepared and equipped for outreach and ministry.

Occasionally, we celebrate the sacrament of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

In these ordinary actions, Jesus is feeding you life.

Jesus is here: He nourishes you.

He is feeding you with the bread of life.

Come and eat: bit by bit, bite by bite—take Jesus into your inner being—let him nourish your soul.

Life is not complete without Jesus!

It is like a meal without a piece of bread—it’s missing something.

Jesus said: “I am the bread that CAME down from heaven…” (John 6:41)

This is in the past tense: points to Jesus’ life 2000 years ago.

He came to earth to live and die and lead us to heaven.

Jesus said: “I am the bread of life…this is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die…whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”                   (John 6:48,50-51)

This is in the present tense.

Jesus is still giving us the bread of life—the table is set and ready.

Jesus is providing a spiritual feast.

God’s great gift is available to all who will come.

Come and dine!