Sunday, August 12, 2012

John 6:24-35 - Sermon - The Bread of Life Part I

John 6:24-35
The Bread of Life Part I

The basics of bread are easy.  Flour (the ground up seeds of wheat) plus water plus a yeast.  This makes up the basics of any bread recipe.  No matter what type you are trying to create it has to have these three ingredients; flour, water, and yeast.  Some sort of bread has been around for thousands upon thousands of years, some say about 30,000 years.  It has been a staple in life for the last 10,000 years.  Wheat and barley were one of the first plants domesticated and planted as a source of food and revenue in Asia and Europe.  Bread was a vital part of any civilization and that is true today.

Today there is a movement of artisan breads that are more readily available.  These are the fancy breads that we see in the bakery section of the grocery stores or at the bakery.  These can get really fancy with different crusts and flavors inside.  Now instead of just regular bread you can go to a restaurant and see that the sandwich comes on ciabatta or focaccia bread.  There is a new awakening for the types of bread that we use in our everyday lives.  Growing up I remember when Subway had either white or wheat and now that have five or six breads to choose from.  But no matter what type it is at its core it is still basically flour, water and yeast.

I have attempted to make types of bread before.  I went through a stage of experimenting with homemade pizza dough but I never really made a real loaf of bread.  As you can read in the newsletter article there are twelve basic steps in making bread.  I didn’t really realize this and I have learned this week that each one is crucial to the outcome of a good bread.  Each step has to be followed and the artisan part, or the art of baking, comes out during these steps.  It is how someone uses the time involved, the temperature of the oven and the ingredients to determine what the bread looks and tastes like.

Peter Reinhart is on staff at Johnson and Wales at the Charlotte campus and is world renouned for his baking.  He did a talk a couple years ago about bread and transformation.  I found this talk incredibly insightful and so you will hear a lot about it over the next coupe of weeks.  Remember that name though because I will be mentioning it a lot.  Peter informed me that there are the twelve steps and all of them are vital and important in the baking process.  Let’s walk through those twelve steps this morning to bring everyone on the same page.  You can also find these steps in the newsletter article as a reference as we go along.
1.      Scaling – or as the French call it Mis en Place.  This is the weighing and measuring out the ingredients.  Too much of something can through the whole recipe off.
2.      Mixing – this is the process of adding those ingredients together at specific times and at specific temperatures.  As I experimented with pizza dough different recipes had water and yeast at different temperatures and they all came out different.
3.      Fermentation – this is when the yeast starts to work.  Yeast is a living organism that turns sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide.  During this part of the process the yeast starts to teat the enzymes in the flour and turns them into flavor.  As Peter Reinhart says all bread really is yeast burps and sweat and start guts.  Yummy!  Without this process though you would have flat, flavorless bread.
4.      Folding – during this part of the process you are degassing the dough.  You are breaking up that CO2 that the yeast is creating and making room for the yeast to continue to work.
5.      Dividing – this is simply splitting the dough into workable amounts to yield however many loafs the recipe calls for.
6.      Rounding/Pre-shaping – putting the dough into the desired shape.
7.      Benching – this is letting the dough sit a while and relax again. 
8.      Makeup/Panning – This is simply putting into the pan that will bake the bread
9.      Proofing – during this step the yeast is proving the yeast is alive and healthy.  This is the final rise of the dough
10.  Baking – you are cooking the bread in an oven
11.  Cooling – letting it rest and cool in order not to burn ourselves
12.  Storing – this is when they package it up or eat it up like I prefer.

These twelve steps will yield bread; the substance truly is part of our daily lives and has been for almost forever.  These are the same steps that were around 100 years ago and even over 5,000 years ago.  The process has not really changed over time although the artisan part has here and there.  But that is how we get bread.

Bread is the stuff that last week Jesus used to feed 5000 people.  He took the five loaves of bread the youth had on him and he fed all those people and had twelve baskets of leftovers with.  It was that miracle that set the stage for this sermon series.  As we go through the rest of John 6th chapter we learn how people reacted to being fed in that miraculous manner.  Here is what happened.  After feeding the 5000, if you remember, Jesus was nervous because the people wanted to make him their king.  In order to escape that he went up onto a mountain alone.  While he was up there, the disciples headed off on a boat headed to Capernaum.  As they were traveling the waters started to get rough and the wind drove them out onto the lake about three or four miles.  Then they saw Jesus walking out to them on the water.  After the disciples panicked a little Jesus got on the boat and they were at Capernaum.

We pick up the story this week with the crowd.  While the disciples and Jesus were heading the Capernaum the crowd was waiting for Jesus to come down of the mountain.  In the morning they knew that only one boat had left with the disciples on it and that Jesus wasn’t with them.  No one saw Jesus come down off the mountain and walk across the water.  They were wondering where Jesus went and so they hopped into some boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.  When they get there they find him and they are really confused.  What they really want to know how Jesus gave them the slip and got over here.  There was only one boat missing and he wasn’t on it but now he is here…?

Jesus answers them in verse 26, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted.  Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you.  God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”  Jesus knows that they are not searching for him because he gave them the slip but because they are hungry for more.  They are hungry to learn more about the one who fed them that miraculous meal. 

In a commentary I read this week Benjamin Sparks wrote about Rice Christians from 19th century China.  This is what he said, “There was a name in nineteenth-century China (and perhaps all over Asia) for persons who came to church because they were hungry for material food.  They converted, were baptized, joined the church, and remained active members as long as their physical needs were met through the generosity of the congregation.  But once their prospects improved and they and their families no longer needed rice, they drifted away from the church. Hence missionaries called them ‘rice Christians.’”[1]

This happens all the time even in the modern church.  I know people who go to certain churches because their kids get a discount at the church’s school.  Or they become members in order to get a lower rate on the wedding they are planning.  We all know people who come to church for what the church can give to them and then when they don’t get that anymore they leave.  Jesus sees a little of that in the people who followed him to Capernaum.  They wanted more of that fresh miraculous bread but Jesus knows that stuff will fad eventually. After a while that bread will taste just the same as everything else.  What they need, what their souls are truly hungry for is the “food that endures for eternal life.”

After they hear this they want to know how they can get that type of soul food and Jesus tells them all they have to do is “believe in him who God sent.”  They come back with a follow up question, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you?  What will you do?  Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”  I wonder if these types of questions grated on Jesus’ nerves?  They get under my skin from time to time.  This question that the people ask just proves that they are only in this quest for Jesus for themselves.  They had just witnessed two miracles, Jesus feed the 5000 and then mysteriously getting to Capernaum without a boat and now they are demanding a third.  Plus they are using scripture to attempt to get Jesus to do what they want.

We do this all the time.  We have an idea about how God is supposed to act and so we attempt to force God to do it that way.  We constantly demand signs to answer our questions or as another hoop that God has to jump through for our obedience to happen.  When we do this we are simply being “rice Christians.” 

Yet what Jesus is offering us today is the Bread of Life.  He is offering us food today that is richer than anything at the most expensive restaurants in Uptown Charlotte.  He is offering us something that is everlasting.  What Jesus is offering us is the chance to be transformed by the Bread of Life.  If we believe in Jesus then we will never go hungry and never be thirsty.  This is metaphorical here.  There are places in the Bible that you cannot take absolutely literally.  We will need real and physical food and water to live life.  But what we are truly hungry for, meaning, purpose, acceptance, belonging, love, grace, forgiveness, peace, is all found in the Bread of Life. 

It is amazing that all this bread is (holding up the loaf of communion bread) is flour, water, and yeast.  The people who created used the same process, the same steps as we walked through earlier.  Over those steps raw materials are transformed into something that almost miraculous.  Time, temperature and ingredients came together to create what we will partake in today, the physical bread we will feast on.  God, the artisan of life, used time, temperature and ingredients to send his Son to be the sacrifice needed to save humanity.  That process is also being felt in our lives too.  Maybe the timing is just right for you to start your transformation?  Maybe you are realizing that God’s miraculous ways are present in your life and you want to continue to the process of being made whole?  Maybe life has turned up the heat in your life and it seems a little overwhelming?  Maybe the right ingredients are not present in your life and you need to go all the way back to step one again and rescale your life, reprioritize your life again?

The good news is that Jesus offers us a way to do just that.  The meal that we are about to partake in is a means of Grace where we can physically met, connect, and be transformed by the Almighty Baker.  We come today to the table and partake of one loaf because we who are many are one in the body of Christ.  Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  Let us ready ourselves and then come forward to be fed by the Bread of Life.

And all God’s people said…Amen.

[1] Proper 13, Pastoral Perspective in Feasting on the Word. O. Benjamin Sparks, P.308.

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