“Jesus – The Main Course”                                                            August 19, 2012

I Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 and John 6:51-58                                    Stephens City UMC

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

I.                   I must confess that I enjoy a good meal.

A.    While on vacation through parts of New England and New Brunswick, Canada, I enjoyed a lot of good meals.

1.     I basically went on a seafood diet.

2.     New England Clam Chowder, Seafood Chowder, Sea Scallops, Clams, Crab, Lobster – I’m ready to go again.

3.     I can still taste that delicious seafood in my dreams.

4.     And I left out the fresh Maine Blueberries.

B.     Not only did I enjoy eating all that seafood and the blueberries but I never had to cook nor did I have to clean up afterwards.

1.     What a deal and I felt good after every meal.

2.     I didn’t have to rush through my dinner time as I didn’t have a meeting to attend afterwards like the other week when I had 7 meetings in four nights and could have attended an eighth.

3.     Maybe you’re like me in that when you are nervous you over eat.

4.     I have been known to eat to calm myself down – especially my favorite comfort food which is ice cream.

5.     A large dish of ice cream can help take away some of the pain from the day.

6.     When I eat like that I often rationalize by saying to myself “You need your strength so you need to eat.”

7.     It’s a short step from that to “Eating ice cream will make you strong.”

II.                 So I have definite ideas as to what makes for a good meal but in our New Testament lesson for today Jesus expresses his own ideas about what makes for a good meal and he says “I am the bread of life.”

A.    On the surface this sounds a little psychotic and in the first century Christianity was considered a “mystery religion” and many refused to give us a try because they thought we were cannibals.

1.     I mean, a friend or a family member would say “Come with me to our worship service. The high point is when we eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood.”

2.     Many responded with “I think I’ll pass on that.”

B.     Now, of course, when we hear these words of Jesus “I am the bread of life” we begin to think about Holy Communion, but in John’s Gospel Jesus makes this comment prior to the Last Supper.

1.     What he is referring to is the fact that he is the Word of God, the Word with a capital W that gives life to the world.

2.     This is the meaning of the old hymn “Break thou the bread of life, for me, for me. As thou didst break the loaves beside the sea; beyond the sacred page I seek thee, Lord; my spirit pants for thee, O Living Word!”

3.     Let us remember from the Book of Genesis that God spoke a word and there was life.

4.     Such is the power of the Word of God.

5.     2,000 years ago people heard Jesus preach and teach and they took in his words so that for them he was the Living Word.

6.     This experience is in keeping with other passages from scripture such as Ezekiel 3:3 where the prophet is told “’Son of man, eat this scroll and fill your stomach with it. So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.’”

7.     Many years later this gets repeated in John’s vision as recorded in Revelation 10:10 “I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, …”

C.     Some of us at points in our life have had to “eat our words” and that was not as sweet as honey in our mouths.

1.     But to eat (as in to take in) the words of God and specifically the Word of God who is Jesus who is the bread of life is a sweet experience.

D.    Now as the Rev. Alex Stevenson of Central UMC in Spartanburg, SC, has commented in article entitled “The Main Course” that in this passage Jesus is saying that he is not the appetizer, he is not the soup, he is not the salad, he is not the dessert, but he is the main course.

1.     He is what truly nourishes you.

2.     As Rev. Stevenson is bold enough to say “Jesus is soul food.”

E.     Now we in the church strive mightily to feed people’s souls.

1.     We offer worship.

2.     We offer Sunday school.

3.     We offer small groups.

4.     We offer Vacation Bible School.

5.     We offer mission opportunities.

6.     And of course we offer Bible Studies.

7.     There are people who can’t get enough Bible Studies, but remember that all those opportunities I just mentioned are merely a means for experiencing Jesus.

8.     A Bible Study is not Jesus himself.

9.     A Bible Study and a Sunday school class and a small group are offered to set up the main course.

10.             They are appetizers, but Jesus himself is the Bread of Life.

11.             In what I read by Rev. Stevenson he urged people to examine themselves about their spiritual eating habits.

12.             He noted that if you limit yourself to appetizers that you will not physically die, but you will be malnourished.

13.             If you feel that you are not being spiritually fed (and I’m trying to put this nicely) that may be on you.

14.             The institutional church offers so much and that is good but really it is on you to use what is offered as a helpful way of getting to the main course which is Jesus himself.

F.     Let me give a positive illustration of what I’m getting at.

1.     When I was at Duke Divinity School I was privileged to take several courses under D. Moody Smith who was named for the great 19th century evangelist Dwight Moody.

2.     Moody Smith is one of the foremost authorities on the Gospel of John and with his friend Bob Spivey wrote The Anatomy of the New Testament which for decades was one of the prime textbooks in seminaries in this country.

3.     A true academic he has done word studies and explored the background of every word written in the Gospel of John and about the Gospel of John.

4.     And it is all in his head so when you ask him a question you get an incredibly in-depth answer.

5.     A number of years ago he was one of the instructors at Pastors’ Convocation that is held every January for United Methodist clergy in Virginia.

6.     After one of his lectures on John’s Gospel my friend Jim Hewitt, the former Senior Pastor at Braddock Street, went up to Moody Smith to thank him for his insights, but then Jim went much further in affirming Dr. Smith.

7.     Jim told him that while it was obvious that Dr. Smith had done the scholarly work, it was also obvious that Dr. Smith had been reading the Gospel of John devotionally.

8.     By that Jim meant that Dr. Smith had read John’s Gospel not just as an academic, but he had read it as a Christian.

9.     Dr. Smith didn’t just want the Gospel of John to be in his head, but he wanted to feed on Jesus who says in John’s Gospel that he is the bread of life.

10.             The primary matter Dr. Smith wanted to accomplish in the work that he did was to take Jesus into his soul and the rest of us could see that.

11.             I remember I was standing near-by observing this conversation and I saw Dr. Smith smile and start to tear up.

12.             You see it is easy for people to throw stones at academic types for being in their ivory towers so that all they do is play head games and thus are not in touch with the real world.

13.             Sure, there are a few for whom that would be accurate, but the vast majority of seminary professors I encountered had an intellectual drive that was surpassed by their spiritual drive because they wanted to feast on Jesus the bread of life.

14.             Many would include a personal witness in their instruction and one witness I particularly remember was the professor who informed us of his office hours and then added, “Also, you may see me enter my office on Wednesday mornings at 9:00 a.m. and decide you want to take the opportunity to talk with me. You can knock on the door but unless the building is on fire and we have to evacuate I will not answer the door because on Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. I am in prayer and the only one I am in conversation with during that time is my Lord.”

G.    Those people understood that Jesus is the main course.

1.     Appetizers are a good beginning.

2.     There are many wonderful soups and salads.

3.     And of course, there is dessert, especially ice cream.

4.     But what really gives life is the main course and in our spiritual diet Jesus is to be the main course for he is the bread of life.

H.    In a few weeks Rocky Lorey will begin teaching Disciple I, and Waverly Reames will offer a class entitled “This Holy Mystery” which will focus on what it means to be baptized into the Lord’s death, resurrection and ministry, while I will lead a study on “Committed to Christ: Six Steps to a Generous Life” that will cover the matters of prayer, daily Bible reading, worship, witnessing, financial stewardship and hands on service in Jesus’ name.

1.     I’m excited about what’s being offered and hope you’ll be part of at least one of those groups, but remember they are appetizers.

2.     We’re offering them so you can get to the main course which is Jesus.

3.     Only you can eat for yourself the bread of life.

4.     I can open the door for you if we try to enter the building at the same time.

5.     I can tell you what time a meeting is scheduled.

6.     I can even tie your shoelaces for you if your shoe comes untied.

7.     But I cannot eat for you, nor can your mother or father or your best friend eat for you.

8.     This is true for all of us because eating is something we have to do for ourselves.

9.     This summer I really came to appreciate seafood, and I think when this fall is completed that I am going to be appreciative of this church’s menu in the way of studies and small groups, but be aware that our society has taught us to rush through life and grab some snack food and run on to the next thing.

10.             That will not nourish you nor will that feed your soul.

11.             Take advantage of what is being offered but don’t limit yourself to the appetizers and be what John Wesley the founder of our denomination called in one of his sermons “An Almost Christian.”

12.             Get to the one who is behind and beyond those studies but who is present so that you might feast on him the main course – Jesus the bread of life who gives us eternal life. Amen.