August 12th, 2012 “Bread Again” Rev. Heather Jepsen
John 6:35, 41-51 with Ephesians 4:25-5:2
This Sunday we pick up where we left off last week. We are following Jesus’ discussion with the crowds and with the disciples in John chapter 6. Jesus is talking about bread, about loaves and fishes versus the bread of life. Last Sunday we were challenged to consider why we come to church. Do we come to fill up on bread, or do we come to experience and know the bread of life? This Sunday we will continue to explore the way Jesus challenges his followers to live.
The Jews, or at least those that oppose the Jewish sect that John is writing for, begin to complain about this strange “bread of life” teaching. Their complaint is probably justified. Jesus appears to want to draw people to him and yet at the same time he pushes them away with all his strange talk about bread, flesh, and his father in heaven. It’s no wonder that folks start trying to understand just where he is coming from.
“Aren’t you the son of Mary and Joseph?” they ask. How could you have possibly come down from heaven if you were born and raised right here with the rest of us? It’s a good question. I think that whenever anyone starts talking like they know something of God we are tempted to wonder just where they are coming from; especially if we knew them growing up. Personally I am thinking of the strange looks I get when I go back to the town where I grew up and tell folks I’m a pastor. “Hey, aren’t you Tom and Patty’s daughter; the one with the red Doc Martins who plays the harp?” When someone we’ve known forever starts talking like they have had a profound experience of the divine, we are all tempted to cock our head to one side and ask “what?” It’s no wonder that folks don’t understand what Jesus is talking about.
Brushing this question aside Jesus launches into a discourse that is supposed to clarify things but just muddies the waters further. Jesus teaches that no one can come to him, no one can even understand him, unless God makes it happen. Again he talks about this bread of life and how it is different from manna in the wilderness. Like manna, the bread of life comes down from heaven. But unlike manna, those who eat the bread of life live forever.
While on the surface it is confusing, if we dig deeper into the metaphorical language of John we find that Jesus’ discussion is relatively simple. In him is something new, something lasting, something different from the things we have fed on in the past. It is my experience that we are a very hungry people. In our hunger, we will consume anything. In fact, we consume everything in our path. We consume everything we can take into ourselves, be it literal food and drink, or the clothes we can buy and wear, or the TV and internet options we have, or all the little doodads for sale around every corner. We are rabid consumers because we are hungry people. We eat and eat and eat and we never get our fill because the stuff we consume contains no nourishment. Like the folks in the gospel of John, we need to hear again about this bread of life, this bread that will not leave us hungry.
Today we gather as a community at the communion table, and in doing this we remember the bread of life. We eat bread together to consider the nourishment that Christ offers. We remember his great sacrifice of love as we consume the loaf and the juice. Jesus says that the bread he gives for the life of the world is his very flesh. At the table we remember, honor, and take part in that gift.
The lectionary continues to pair John with Ephesians and in the letter today we read more about the body of Christ. As the body of Christ we are called to be the bread of life for each other. The community of faith is called to nourish each other in life and in faith. The writer of Ephesians reminds us that we are to speak truth to each other and to control our anger. We are to work honestly so that we have gifts to share with those in need. We are to speak gently for the building up of each other. It is a tall order for any community.
The writer of Ephesians calls us to a higher order of living. The writer calls the church community to a new way of life together. Unlike the world around us who feeds on everything including each other, we are called to feed at the table of Christ and work to nourish each other. “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice.” Stop feeding on the life of others. “Be kind to one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Nourish one another as you are nourished by God.
I particularly love the last line of our reading today. “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Be imitators of God, imitators of Christ, and live in love. What does Jesus show us about living in love? “I am the bread of life . . . the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
This week I was struck by this simple idea. If we are called to be like Christ, and Christ gives of his flesh, what would it mean for us to give of our flesh as well? It’s one thing for me to think about giving my time or energy to the church, it is a whole other thing to think about giving my flesh. To consider an offering of flesh is to consider an offering of life, an offering of vitality, on offering of my very self. An offering of flesh is a costly offering, one that I would feel in my gut, an offering that hurts and might make me uncomfortable.
Imagine how your life would change if you were willing to give as Christ gives, if you were willing to give your life, your flesh for the nourishment of others. To give of your flesh as nourishment for others is so much more than just coming to church on Sundays. To consider an offering of the flesh is to consider a deeper and more profound gift of yourself to God and to the church.
To give deeply to God and the church will cost us. To give deeply to God and the church will feed others. To give deeply to God and the church will also allow us to be nourished in profoundly new ways.
Today as we gather at the table some will come already full. We have gorged on the world around us, on the loaves and fishes, on the gifts of others, and we come to the table fat. When we come to the table fat, we cannot take any nourishment. But if we have given of ourselves, if we have given our flesh, our lives for others, than we come to the table lean. We come to the table hungry. We come to the table to be fed. When we gather in this way, after giving ourselves for the nourishment of others; than we are truly able to eat the bread of life. We our nourished, we are filled, and it is a meal which is lasting.
This whole month we will continue our exploration of Jesus as the bread of life. Last week we considered why we come looking for bread. This week we consider what it means to be bread for others. In the next few weeks we will continue to wonder on this deep teaching; what it asks of us and how it can affect our lives. Let us come to the table today as people looking not for loaves and fishes but for the bread of life. Let us come as people looking to be fed so that they in turn can feed others. Amen.