Sermons from Rev Canon Dr Ian Davies
Sunday 9th August
John 6: 35, 41-51 Jesus – the Bread of Life (cont)
“I am the Bread of Life…” They’re simple enough words. Yet to those listening this was an astonishing, shocking statement (We’ve embarked on a bit of a series here). We’ve seen...
At every turn he’s defying their expectations, turning their understanding on its head – subverting their thinking. He won’t be boxed! But why are his words so shocking to them? Well for a start (and before declaring anything else) Jesus dares to associate himself with the name of God by actually using the words ‘I AM’ – (time after time) - which would have reminded the Jews immediately of what (?) - the story of the burning bush (if you remember) when God tracked down Moses to tell him he was going to be the one to rescue his fellow Israelites from slavery in Egypt. When Moses asked him for his name his response was “I am that I am” – it is one of the most famous verses in the Torah. ...and doubly shocking because Jesus then compounds his blasphemy by claiming to be ‘the bread of life.’
What on earth did he mean by such statement? Bread is certainly important. In the ancient near East at the time of Christ ‘bread’ was fundamental and foundational to daily life. In every village the sound of the millstone grinding the wheat would have been heard. And if it wasn’t, it meant there wasn’t any bread to be had and that would have been disastrous. For most people of that time and in many cultures since, bread was their only sustenance. Anything else was a luxury. Even today whenever you sit down to a meal in Israel and Palestine you’re provided with bread (& usually humus and great salads too)
So essentially Jesus claiming to be ‘the bread of life’ is another way of saying that he is fundamental to daily life; that he’s all we really need for life as God intended it to be. It’s an incredible statement! Physical hunger is going to return no matter how much bread (or pizza!) we eat. Jesus is claiming that he alone can satisfy the hunger and the thirst of our lives.
We saw last week how hard he was trying - to get the people’s minds off temporal, everyday things and onto eternal and spiritual matters. And they didn’t like it. John tells us the people began to complain. But I don’t think it was just the seeming effrontery of Jesus’ words – or the fact that they would tried to demean and dismiss the ‘local boy made good’ with “who does he think he is” – although that must’ve hurt Jesus. Jane Williams says ‘living constantly with those who misunderstand and misjudge is part of the daily fate of the incarnate Son of God. But perhaps there’s a deeper resistance to what he’s teaching them here – and (as with the various responses we considered last week) maybe this also lurks somewhere is all of us.
One of the hard lessons the children of Israel had to learn in the wilderness was that their God, Yahweh, was not at their beck and call. He wasn’t obliged to them. He hadn’t decided to rescue them from Egypt because they were a great nation, more powerful and numerous than the others around. Neither were they a particularly moral or godly people. There was nothing in them, as they stood, that commended them to God’s special interest and purposes. It was simply that his loving choice had decided to make them his own people – he’s always chosen people, (& in Israel’s case) so that they’d be a nation through whom his purposes and love for the world would be made known. Mind you they weren’t terribly good at that either. Yahweh’s people had grumbled and complained many (many) times before – and particularly when they were in the wilderness in the Exodus story.
And so we have the same themes coming out in John’s gospel (and in Elijah’s story if you noticed).
Jesus emphasizing God’s sovereignty is startling to say the least! That it is God who draws people to believe in his Son is a warning for us all not to suppose that we’re part of the Church because we’re special in and of ourselves – like we’re doing God a favour by being here (“God’s really lucky to have me”!!)
Oh boy do we need to have closer look at ourselves sometimes! There’s a story that C.S. Lewis was once being interviewed by an American journalist who was writing about well-known public figures who had converted to Christianity during adult life. The theme was ‘decision’. The journalist wanted to get Lewis to say how he had made his decision for Christ. Sadly for him Lewis wasn’t playing, because he utterly refused to put his faith in those terms. He hadn’t ‘made a decision’, he said God had closed in on him and he couldn’t escape (though at the time he badly wanted to!). The closest he would get to using the language the reporter was interested in was to say “I was decided upon” and in his autobiography Surprised by Joy Lewis describes it in a more evocative phrase: “his compulsion is our liberation”.
It seems as if this drawing of the Father with chords of love, goes on in the secret place of the human heart. And when Jesus says they will then be taught of God – he’s quoting from Isaiah 54 - recalling one of the Old Testament’s greatest prophecies of the renewal that will come about when God pours out his incredible love bringing his people back from exile. And the passage in Isaiah goes on to invite everyone who is thirsty to come to the waters and drink freely.
Tom Wright says that the point of the Isaiah passage that Jesus seems to have in mind here is the complete and utter helplessness of Israel at the time. That’s why God needs to take the initiative with each one of us. Only when people are humble enough to recognize the way God uniquely comes to us in Jesus can they taste the bread from heaven and drink of the water of life. And God’s initiative is always balanced, in the Bible, with an open, free appeal: anyone at all who is thirsty is invited to come to the water that is on offer; anyone at all who comes to Jesus will not be rejected Those who come to Jesus in faith are promised that he will raise them up on the last day – and it’s a hope that runs all the way through John’s gospel. ‘Eternal life’ is the quality of life that is promised the moment we place our trust in Jesus. It’s the very resurrection life of Jesus himself – as well as something that continues after death. But that’s just an added feature – because that fullness, that quality of life is for now. “Whoever believes in me has eternal life.” Present tense – because this is the nature of the life that God has always planned to give to his world.
entire story John is telling is designed to end with Jesus pioneering the way we
can all experience this newly embodied life.
But we need to note how the reading ends. In order for these promises to
be fulfilled ‘the bread of life’ must be ‘eaten.’ Just as physical bread must be
‘eaten’ and become part of us to bring nourishment to our physical bodies so the
‘bread of life’ (Jesus himself) must be ‘eaten’ (received by faith) and become
part of us to bring us spiritual nourishment.
Like Elijah’s story, our journey through life takes us through some very dangerous country – sometimes quite desolate wilderness. Elijah’s (quite human) response is to pray that he might die:
“It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” And then he lies down under the broom tree and falls asleep; a sleep that I know that probably all of us here understand. It’s the sleep of exhaustion; the sleep of stress so high and the energy to go on fighting so low that it can just sweep over you – and the new day comes way, way too quickly.
(I love this story though). During the night - something happens. There’s an answer to Elijah’s desperate prayer. An angel comes and touches him – wakes him up - and tells him to “get up and eat”; that there is food - a cake of bread on a hot stone - and drink – a jar of water near to hand. And on the strength of a couple of meals he’s able to get up and make his journey to Horeb - the mountain of God - Mount Sinai. Lots of interesting things happen – you can read them for yourself, but at the end of this journey through the wilderness he gets a vision of God - and is given a message of hope for his own life and for the nation. So as we close, let’s take to heart of the words of the angel to Elijah: “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” It’s those barren places I’m thinking about – where we can feel completely alone – for whatever reason - relationships or situations that don’t work out; people we love getting really, really sick; perhaps losing those we love. To survive we need to eat the food and the drink that God’s prepared for us through his Son. We need to cry out to God when we’re in need (and have a good rant sometimes – just read the psalms!), when we’re in despair, and then pay attention to the tap that comes upon our shoulder in the middle of the night - the voice that whispers in our innermost ear - and tells us to believe, to trust, to rise up and take the bread and the water that will be there for us.
Are you running on empty? I feel a bit like that – and the Christian life can be a real struggle. Do you sometimes feel that you don’t have the strength to travel on even for one more day, let alone another 40? (or is it just me?)
Perhaps it’s time to eat. If you think about it, the food is all round us - especially in this place - in the people who sit beside you and care about you - people who have a little faith - people who know the story and know where God is to be found – and that won’t (ever!) let us go.
God is here in the truth that we proclaim - in the bread that we consecrate -
in the very light that enters through these wonderful stained glass windows -
in the ordinary things - the daily miracles we so often take for granted – like the sun finally making an appearance yesterday after days of cold, wet, gloomy weather.
God is present, here, in Christ, saying “I am the bread of life…the living bread that came down from heaven – and whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” God is fully present in the One who said to his disciples and to us: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Solid food is available – food that will sustain us on our spiritual journey. Isn’t it a great tragedy not to take it and eat it? It’s a tragedy that can so easily be avoided if we but take the time to look around, and to fix. feast our eyes on the One, Jesus, who alone truly satisfies. Amen