What are you looking for? A sermon on Jesus, the Bread of Life

What are you looking for?

Blessings to you from the Holy One, a God of abundance and generosity, and from Our Lord and Savior Jesus, and from the Holy Spirit! Amen.

You know, a lot of pastors I know like to study scriptures and write sermons in coffee shops.  For me, Café Diem gives me just the right amount of distance from the rest of my life.  While I might run into someone I know and chat for a few minutes, for the most part I can leave behind the laundry, the phone, and the lists of other things that must be done.  The background hum from others gives me something to strike against, honing my attention so I can bring my mind to bear on the sacred texts.

So Tuesday I sat down to a brunch of Belgian waffle and coffee and read over the notes I had taken earlier on the texts.  I said a prayer to Holy Wisdom, referred to in our Old Testament lesson.  Wisdom, or Sophia in the Greek version of the Old Testament, is described as a Person who was with God in the beginning and through whom all was made.  Does this sound familiar?  John’s Gospel refers to the Logos, when he writes, “in the beginning was the Logos, the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and through Him all things were made.”   This is the same as the Sophia, or Wisdom person in the Old Testament; some scholars even refer to this person as Jesus-Sophia.  So I said a  prayer to Jesus-Sophia for Wisdom to share with all of you today, and now here I am.  May it be so!
The first thing that I noticed as I ate my waffle is that this story, which we read through the lens of our practice of Holy Communion, as we ought to, comes after the feeding of the hungry multitude.  Jesus is contrasting the Bread of life with the ordinary bread we eat to keep us going.  But He only does this after he feeds them.  Jesus does not belittle the physical needs of the people; He meets them where they are.  He meets them with a miraculous multiplication of food that begins with the sharing of a few loaves and fishes and ends with a demonstration of God’s abundance.  To those who have had their fill, Jesus said, “Do not work for the bread which perishes.” But He fed the poor also.

Missionally speaking, this is an important thing to notice.  There is life, and then there is abundant life, transcendent life, eternal life.    Like Jesus, we the Church must consider both.  As members of Christ’s body, we must heed the prayer of the poor,  and where we can, we must share of the gifts we have been given. That is why the early church gave until there were no needy people among them.  We affluent Christians must think about this.

Jesus feeds hungry people, but He is not content to offer us only the bread of everyday life.  Jesus offers us transcendant life, abundant life, eternal life.  I AM the bread of life, Jesus says.  We are invited to eat of Him, to receive Him.  Like Mary, we are invited to offer our lives as dwelling places for Jesus, God’s Holy Word, bearing Jesus into the world. For us who are in the Church, today’s Gospel is clearly a reference to Holy Communion, but we have the benefit of hindsight.  The Judaioi, the Judaeans, criticized this saying.  It seemed like one of those pesky parables that they could not make sense of.  We shouldn’t be too hard on them for this. Taken literally, this teaching of Jesus could really only make sense after the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection.

But for his listeners at the time, it could make sense in other ways.  It made sense in terms of the feeding of the multitude with bread, just as Moses had fed the Israelites with manna in the wilderness.  Jesus has come down from heaven and is greater than this manna. Jesus’ feeding of the multitude was a sign that Jesus was the great Prophet that Moses spoke of, the One God would send.

The teaching about Jesus the Bread of Life could also be understood in terms of the I AM sayings of Jesus. And this is where they speak most clearly to us.

I AM: Jesus describes himself 29 times with the words “I am” in the Gospel of John.  Sometimes, he uses the words alone, and sometimes he adds words that describe who He is.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth , and the Life, the true Bread, the resurrection and the life, the vine, the shepherd, and the door.

Jesus’ very first words to seekers in the Gospel of John, ch 1:38, are, “What are you looking for?”  Listen to those words for a moment.  “What are you looking for?” We are all looking for so very many things.  We are all involved in a search for security and in the pursuit of happiness. We want a great retirement account. We want good health and long life.  We want beauty.  We want to be beautiful people and to  make and to own beautiful things. We want success in our work. We want well-being for ourselves and our children. We want “the good life”.

Ultimately, the everyday bread without which we cannot live this physical life is not enough.  We are restless for something more. Jesus knows that we are made for, and we long for, something more, more than Belgian waffles at the coffee shop. Something more than a fine wine with dinner. Something more than a lovely piece of jewelry, or a hole in one…or the perfect easel, or the blue ribbon at the State Fair or a vacation getaway on an Alaska cruise line.  Something more than winning the superbowl or the lottery. Something more than any of the lesser things we seek and crave and work for.  It may be true that “Snickers satisfies you,” but not for long.  All these wonderful gifts of God, all these created things, we can enjoy with thanksgiving, but the life Jesus wants to give us in and through Him is more than all these things.  It is Jesus’ life – life for the light of the people.

Indeed, the manna in the wilderness preserved the Israelites without planting or harvest through their long journey. But this holy bread and cup will give us resurrection life, abundant life that begins now and carries on into eternal life.

The scandal of the Gospel of John is its particular answer to the question, “What are you looking for?”  The I AM sayings identify Jesus specifically with the One in Whom all our needs are met.  When Jesus says “I am the living bread,” He is saying, “What you are looking for is Me.”  Imagine what we would think if I said that to you.  If I said, “What you are looking for is me!”   It would be laughable.

But Jesus is the Truth. He is the Way.  When He says it, it is genuine.  He is the pearl of great price.  He is the treasure in the field, worth so much that a person would sell everything to buy it.  He is the center of our life, of all life.  He is the One we have been searching for all along.   As the popular song goes, “Everything is a lesser thing, compared to You.”  We are invited to believe in Him, to take Him in, to remain in Him.  We are invited to allow Him to remain in us, to abide with us so that He is always with us and we with Him.

When Jesus takes the bread and fish from the boy on the hill, and gives thanks for it, and gives it to the people to eat, he engages in a ritual which we also see in the accounts of the Last Supper written by the other evangelists. There is no Holy Communion account in the Gospel of John.  This love feast is as close to it as we get.  The writer of the Gospel here is telling us that the meaning of the feeding of the multitude is that the person of Jesus offers life in a way greater than anything mere bread can offer.

Jesus is inviting us to become one body in Him, because in eating and drinking Him in we will be evermore intimately joined to Him and to His will for the world.  When we eat and drink of Him, we eat and drink Life,  Abundant Life, Transcendent Life that begins now and continues into Eternal Life.  Hearing His Word and believing His promise, we abide in Him and He lives in us. When we eat and drink of Him, we become joined to Him as kin, received as blood relatives, united with Him. We become like Him, loving what He loves, valuing what He values, giving as He gives, becoming an offering for the sake of the world.  We will become one with the one we eat, sharing one Spirit with Him.  We will live, die, and rise with Him. No wonder St. John Chrysostom writes that those who come from the altar come forth as lions breathing fire, for we have, within us, the living Christ.

Have you ever thought about the humility of Jesus Christ, who, though He was in the form of God, became a human being, and suffered all things, even unto death, and who for our sakes gives Himself to us in a little morsel of bread, for our sake and for our life and salvation?  “In Him was life,” says St. John, “life for the light of humanity.”  Jesus becomes small in order to raise us to greatness, to new life in Him.

That is why mission cannot ever be just food pantries, although it must include them.   Oh, the world needs justice and it needs bread. Oh, how it needs these things.  But it also needs the Just One, the Living Bread.  Offering the bread of this life, giving justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry, prepares people to hear the Gospel. It prepares them to understand, with gratitude for having the things they need, that there is something more without which we are not complete.  And it is our gift and task to give them both.  And this, this gift and task, is what we are looking for, because it is participation in the life of God.

Jesus invites us today to the altar that we might receive Him, live in Him, remain with Him.  This is like a wrapped gift.  Receive it. Unwrap it.  Take Him in and receive Life.  And then be ready to share the gift which is the Giver, Life, for the light of the world.  Amen.

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