Bread of Life
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 6:35–51
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 11-12, 2018
“Bread of Life”
If there is one thing that is central to eating in most cultures around the world, including our own, it is bread. And there are so many different types of bread to choose from: flatbreads from the Middle East, focaccia from Italy, croissants or baguettes from France, German rye, Grandma’s homemade buttermilk biscuits. Even with concerns about things like carb intake and gluten that are found in bread, there are amazing breads now available that are low carb or gluten-free. Over the centuries, bread has found its way into many parts of our lives, including the way we communicate. To “break bread” with someone means much more than just eating. It means to sit down, engage in conversation, and get to know the other person. “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou,” wrote the poet, Omar Khayyam. “With bread, all sorrows are less,” wrote Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. And here is one you may not have heard before: “How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?” So wrote the late Julia Child, and she should know as an expert on all things related to French cooking and baking. I’m guessing that she was referring to our own nation, perhaps inspired (or uninspired) by Wonder Bread. There isn’t much to it, but lots of people, especially kids, love it. It’s been around for almost a century. The name, “Wonder Bread,” was inspired by the wonder of the International Balloon Race that took place at the Indianapolis Speedway, which was the basis for all those little balloon-shaped circles that we see on the package (https://www.wonderbread.com/our-story). That label still stands out and is easily recognized. There is a different wonder bread that is before us in today as Jesus tells us in the opening and closing verses of the Gospel lesson: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst… I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:35, 51). Our 3-part series from John 6 on Jesus the Bread of Life continues today under the theme, “Bread of Life.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Today’s Gospel lesson picks up where last week’s lesson left off. In fact, the opening verse for today was the closing verse from last Sunday. Having fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fish, Jesus is now teaching them – and us – about a different kind of food; food that is non-perishable with no expiration date. Jesus himself is that food. He is the Bread of Life come down from heaven. Again, as we heard last week, the people fail to understand. They do not grasp that Jesus is the new manna sent from the Father to feed his people. He is the fulfillment of that manna of old. The children of Israel commonly referred to both manna as well as Torah (the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch) as the “Bread of Life.” But like last week, there’s more grumbling, just like God’s people grumbled in the wilderness (Exodus 16:2-15), prompting God to send manna and quail. But now the grumbling is because they know Jesus, and their familiarity has bred contempt: “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’” (John 6:42). They know him, but they do not know him at all. Perhaps that is a problem for us as well. For many of us, having known Jesus all our lives, do we really know him? Do we want to know him more deeply? Has our familiarity with Jesus bred contempt for him as the Bread of Life?
We hear about bread in today’s Old Testament lesson (1 Kings 19:1-8). Elijah the prophet was at a breaking point. Unable to compel the court of Ahab, king of Israel, to abandon worship of the Baals and return to the Lord, he is in deep despair; in crisis mode. Having shown the people the power of the true God over against the false gods in a contest on Mt. Carmel, Elijah commanded that these deceivers be put to death. Queen Jezebel then sends word to him that in less than 24 hours he will be executed like they were. Fearful for his life, he is on the run and goes south over 100 miles into the Judean wilderness. Exhausted and demoralized, he collapses under a broom tree and asks God to let him die. The Lord, who is gracious and merciful, hears Elijah’s plea and responds, not with what Elijah asked for, but with what Elijah needs. Instead of death, the Lord provides nourishment to revive and sustain Elijah. That cake of bread and jar of water revitalized the man of God to continue his journey all the way to Mount Horeb, where the Lord would meet him, not in the windstorm, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the still, small voice (1 Kings 19:9-18). That cake of bread and jar of water became the bread of life for Elijah. In our own lives, we too may find ourselves at the breaking point. Discouraged and demoralized like Elijah, we feel we cannot go on and may even ask the Lord to let us die. As with Elijah, the Lord hears our cries and responds, not always with what we ask for, but with what we need. Instead of death, the Lord provides nourishment for our lives. That bread and water which revive us may take unusual forms, as it did for Elijah. Those gifts may come from unexpected places and people, but the outcome is the same: to revive and sustain us for our journey.
Jesus the Bread of Life feeds us and nourishes as nothing else can do. The psalmist reminds us: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). Try as we might, we can search all over creation for things which may sound good; things which promise to satisfy us and give us peace, but they can’t deliver the goods. Only Jesus is able to do that, as he tells us: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life” (John 6:47). Can it really be that easy? It sounds so simple; too good to be true. And we all know that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I can only tell you about Jesus. I can’t make you believe in him. That is the work of the Holy Spirit, who calls us and keeps us in this one true faith. So discover for yourself. Feed on Jesus the Bread of Life in his saving Word – that Word that tells of all that God in Christ has done for us through the life and ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus. Feed on Jesus the Bread of Life in his holy Supper, where he comes to us under earthly forms of bread and wine and give us his very Body and Blood to sustain us on our journey of faith. “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:50-51). Amen.