Sunday, August 12, 2012

John 6:35; 41-51 - Sermon - The Bread of Life Part II

John 6:35; 41-51
The Bread of Life Part II

There are a total of 7 “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John.  Seven times Jesus describes himself.  Those statements are…
I am the light of the world
I am the gate
I am the good shepherd
I am the resurrection and the life
I am the way, the truth, and the life
I am the true vine
I am the bread of life

All of these seven sayings are metaphors which are very common in John’s gospel.  A metaphor is a figure of speed in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.[1]  For example you probably have heard this metaphors before.  “She is drowning in a sea of love.”  Does this mean there is a woman drowning, which means she is breathing in liquid, somewhere out there?  Does that mean there is a liquid called love that he is breathing in?  No, the metaphor points to the fact that this woman is so caught up in love that it is consuming her. 

Here is another, this one is a little more poetic and comes from the works of William Shakespeare. 

All the world's stage,
And all the men and women merely players; 
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. 

This is simply a commentary on life and a way to describe it.  Life is like a play (which is actually a simile and not a metaphor but I hope you get the picture. 

In John’s gospel there are tons of metaphors.  Jesus uses them all the time to describe who he is.  John uses this to give us a rich understanding and picture of God’s son but also it can make Jesus hard to figure out and understand.  “I am the gate; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” [2]  So we get this image that Jesus is a gate we go through to find pasture.  That gives us insight but only if you understanding what it means to find pasture.  If you don’t know what that means that can leave you wondering.  During my first sermon here I talked a lot about myself.  I told you who I was and I used phrases like, I am a father of two kids.  I am a husband for ten years.  Those were direct sayings that allowed you to get to know me.  But I didn’t say things like “I am the good shepherd,” or “I am the chief.”  I absolutely would not do what Jesus does in this text and say “feed on me.”  But that is what he does when he looks at those people around him and says, “I am the bread of life.”

So what was it like to make bread this week?  I heard a lot of you were intrigued by it.  Connie emailed me about this idea to have the bread maker going during the service to fill up our nostrils with warm baking bread.  Ahh, it smells so good!  How many of you were thinking about what Jesus says about him being bread?  As you went through the steps of baking and put your hands into the warm dough filled with active yeast, did you think of Jesus saying “I am the bread of life?”  As you took the flour, water and yeast and added the time, temperature and ingredients to it, did you think about the one who sustains us for eternity?

Bishop Will Willimon says, "Christianity is not a spiritual religion; it is an incarnational religion. It believes that God has a body, God takes up space, God will not remain ethereal and vague. This Gospel (John's) opens with the declaration, "The Word became flesh and dwelt amount us."”[3]  John’s gospel reminds us that God takes up space in our lives.  He isn’t just an idea, a figure we dreamed up in our minds to compensate for our weakness, but has breathed our air, knows how it is to feel, and wants to take up room in our hearts.

Dietrich Bonheoffer was a theologian in Germany during World War II and was killed in a prison camp because he stepped out on faith and spoke out against Hitler’s regime.  He puts it this way, “The body of Christ takes up space.  That is, the body of Christ makes footprints.  A truth, a doctrine, or a religion needs no space for themselves.  They are disembodied amputees – that is all – but the incarnate Christ needs not only ears or a heart, but living people who will follow him.”[4]  Christ looks at the people around him, who were searching for him and he said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  He looks at them and says, “feed on me.”  “Take, eat, this is my body given for you.”

The people who ate the five loaves and two fish were hungry for more of this Jesus so they searched for them.  We come here today hungry to know the God who is in our midst and at times interrupts our lives as he tries to wedge himself into and find room in our hearts.  The Christian faith is not just an idea or a doctrine, it is an encounter with something, with someone, with the three-in-one God who here in our presence today.  

This is the problem with God, he won’t let us go.  He has all the right too.  If God decided to take humanity to court for a legal separation, we wouldn’t have a foot to stand on.  We constantly disobey, disown, and think we are the creators instead of the created.  Yet there God is, still trying to win us over.  I know countess stories of people who have been below rock bottom only to find Jesus there.  They are suffering depression, alcoholism, addiction, pain beyond belief and life is simply an act of suffering.  Maybe you can relate to that.  When they are so far down that they don’t feel worthy of anything, there Christ is offering a hand out and ready to pour grace into their thirsty souls.  There God is ready to walk right into their hearts and give them the life of the world bread they are truly hungry for.  Jesus is always right there, even when we are truly beyond hungry and are starving for forgiveness and grace, or meaning and belonging.

Let’s face it, as I preached last week I, like you, did not realize that one of our seats would be permanently empty.  Mildred’s death is a shock to us all.  I did not want to end my first month as your minister walking through what we have been through last week.  There is still plenty of mourning to go and pain to get through.  I did not want to show up today and act like that event is in our rearview mirror.  It is still raw, it is still fresh.  Part of me was glad that one of her last acts on earth was feasting on the bread of life.  It was in a moment of communion with God that she slipped from this world to the next.  And where has God been in all of this?  Where has the Holy Spirit been active?  Right here in your lives, in my life, in the lives of everyone who came to the viewing and all who mourn.  Jesus never leaves us and is constantly offering us the bread of life to live on.

From February 1 to March 2, 2003 Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s.  He filmed the dramatic effects it had on his body and psyche.  You can see this in the documentary film, Super Size Me.  During that month he visited McDonald’s three times a day and ate everything on the menu at least once.  During this month he gained 24.5 pounds and an increase in his body mass of 13%.  His cholesterol level jumped to 230 and he experienced other physical difficulties.  We laugh at this a little but the truth is that for that month he consumed the bread of death.  He filled himself up with things that were bad for him. 

It is easy for us to connect those dots.  Too much McDonald’s is bad for you.  Yet how can we look at our lives and be blind to the fact that we are feasting on just as bad metaphorical foods?  How many of us are in a relationship that we shouldn’t be in because it is physically harmful to our bodies or to our children?  How many of us suffer from smaller addictions that we cannot break and if we were truly honest with ourselves hold a little tougher grip on our lives than we like to admit?  How many of us find it too easy to slip into bad habits that we know are not good for us?  How many of us are so in debt that cringe every time we open the mailbox or answer the phone?  Are we filling our lives up with the bread of death?  Maybe I’m not talking about you but I guarantee you know someone who fits those description.

On the altar today we see stacks of homemade bread.  Our senses are on overload as we see and smell the wonders of bread.  We had to move some things off the altar to make room for this feast of the eyes.  Peter Reinhart says that “bread is a transformational food.”  I hope you saw that as you worked through the stages of baking; through the degassing, the mixing, the forming, and the baking.  Ingredients that don’t look like anything come together and make something.  What was lifeless then had life.

The same is true with the bread of life.  Those who are truly hungry are able to go through that transformation.   In the verses today Jesus says, “Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that whoever eats from it will never die.”  What use to send us to the grave is now going to send us to life.  Jesus, becoming the bread of life, and then giving up his life for the world is the cornerstone of this transformation.  This sacrificial act secured eternal life for us all and now he freely offers it to the all of us.  But I don’t want to jump ahead too much.  We will get to more of that next week but we need to realizes that the transformation that Christ offers is unlike anything else in this world. 

Peter Reinhart was on a mission to figure out how to bring out the best flavor in wheat bread.  He was attempting to create something that is good for us and taste great.  He said it is hard to take the healthiest part of wheat, the bran which is filled with germ and fiber, and turn it into something with lots of flavor.  The white part of wheat which is what makes white bread is easy.  It is purely starch with is really just sugar.  Sugar tastes great in all its forms.  That is why Wonder Bread is so wonderful.  But to get to the good stuff that our bodies need, that takes special skills, and an artists touch. 

This world has a lot to offer us.  We can see a lot of white bread around in our world.  Materialism, greed, ego, politics, celebrity, and power all taste great.  They are easy to partake in and understand why so many people like it.  Yet that is not what sustains.  The bread of life is what does much more than the rest of the world.  Jesus looks at our world and he says, “I am the bread of life.”  He is what we need to sustain ourselves for eternity.  He is looking for those places in our lives where he can set up shop and intrude.  He is looking for where he can intrude in order to wake us up to what he is offering.  He is standing right next to us waiting on us to finally admit that we cannot do it on our own and will be happy to take over our lives if we only give him a chance.  The bread of life offers us real true life-giving nourishment, if we only eat.

Metaphors can be hard to understand.  They don’t just come out and say it.  We have to learn about the topic the metaphor points to better understand how it points out the reality it is suppose to.  As you baked this week do you understand what Jesus means when he says “I am the bread of life?”  As you cut off a slice later on today and put butter or jelly on it, will you understand how the bread of life feeds us what we truly need in this world?   Jesus says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  We need that bread, Lord give us this bread always.

And all God’s people said, Amen.

[2] John 10:9
[3] Pulpit Resource, Vol. 37, No. 3, Year B, July, August, September 2009, William Willimon, p.27
[4] Ibid

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