HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Psalm 34:15-22
GOSPEL: John 6:48-69
SERMON: “Earthly Bread – Heavenly Bread”
Silverware, glasses, salt & pepper, butter, milk and bread. I’ve had that list, in that order, memorized since I was six years old and it became my job to set the table for supper. Except for great holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas we ate in the breakfast room back of the kitchen. Silverware was kept in a drawer in the kitchen, glasses were up in the cupboard, salt & pepper were on the table, but had to be set at each place (everyone had their own – no table conversation interruptions allowed for ‘pass the salt please’), butter was also on the table, just had to be moved to the middle, milk was in the fridge and bread, well the bread was kept in the freezer.
My mother was a genius at stretching the food dollars, and nothing irritated her like bread allowed to get moldy. So the bread was kept in the freezer, where mold did not have a chance to grow. Dutifully each night whoever set the table would get the bread out of the freezer, but no one ever actually ate any bread for supper – because – it was always still frozen. Still bread was understood as a staple of life and would be on the table for every meal. Perhaps in reaction to that particular quirk of my childhood, I never freeze my bread. I like it fresh and would rather have to throw out some moldy bread now and then than to eat frozen bread.
Nevertheless, bread is a basic food for life.
Can you imagine having sausage gravy without biscuits? Or lasagna without a nice slice of garlic bread? Can you imagine going to the Olive Garden and not getting breadsticks with the salad? The only people I know who eat hamburgers or hot dogs without a bun are people on the Atkin's diet.
Bread is important. You can't have a BLT without the toast. You can't have a sub sandwich without a Hoagie roll. Enchiladas or burritos without tortillas would just be a mess. Lox and cream cheese wouldn't taste right on anything but a bagel. An Egg McMuffin without the muffin would just be an egg. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich would be a sticky mess without the bread. Try and imagine soup without crackers or a patty melt or reuben without rye. Just the smell of baking bread can evoke all kinds of warm and toastie memories. Now, my purpose wasn't to drive you nuts or get your mouth watering. But to make it clear how important bread is to our everyday life.
According to the gospel of John Jesus calls himself the Bread of Life. In John’s gospel we’ve heard Jesus say he is the Good Shepherd – he takes care of us; he’s the light of the world; he is the gate for the sheep; he is the true vine; he is the way, the truth and the life. Of all those declarations, to hear that Jesus is the Bread of Life tells us how essential to life he is. Think for a moment just how basic food, not just bread, but any food is to life. Jesus is that essential for spiritual life.
John’s gospel relates that Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. This is the original “hard saying” of Jesus. There are many things Jesus said that are difficult to be certain we understand, and understanding often means they will be even more difficult to accept. John continues, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Well, this is one of those places where we have to talk sense to those who would take every word and verse of scripture literally. Do we think that Jesus is suggesting cannibalism here? Not at all. Jesus does not intend to say that everyone must literally chew on his leg or drink his blood. It’s a simile – Jesus is like bread to us – as essential for spiritual life as bread is for physical life, for the most part on a daily basis.
United Methodist pastor and university professor Leonard Sweet considers this passage in terms of a hunger for relationships in our culture today. Commenting on the overabundance of TV so-called “reality shows” Sweet notes that “There isn't a night left that you can't tune in a bachelor, a bachelorette, a wannabe millionaire dad, mom, a house-full of sleazoids, all trying to establish some kind of relationship with someone else.
“It might be a love-connection, as in the matchmaking bachelor/bachelorette series. Or it might be a conniving alliance against someone else as in the Survivor or Big Brother shows. These shows, regardless of their plot, all revolve around who can establish the most successful relationships.
“Dr. Phil everyone's favorite relationship guru spends all his time trying to teach relationship screw-ups how to fix the stunted, stymied, diseased relationships they inhabit. No matter how nauseating, mind-numbing, bizarre, or insulting we find these shows, the church needs to sit up and take notice of them for they are themselves signs of the times.”
People do need meaningful relationships. In spite of the technology we’ve developed for communicating quickly with each other, Sweet goes on to note, “We're a remote-controlled, security-fenced, internet-commuting, environmentally insulated society. We're increasingly cut off from genuine experiences and expressions of community. We're increasingly remote from real dynamic relationships. Our high divorce rates, our fractured families, our corporate superstructures and our ‘let's-just-move’ mindset all evidence our failures at relationships.”
The reality TV trend is really a relationship TV phenomenon. In a culture filled with false and failed relationships people who are hungry for fulfilling human connection turn to Dr. Phil and “Survivor” for advice, information and instruction. People watching at home can feel connected and actively participate by logging on, calling in or texting their vote.
When Jesus spoke about the greatest sign God had given, the gift of the Son, the miracle of establishing a living, breathing, saving relationship with the one who offers us eternal life this was a relationship as basic and essential to living a true life as bread was to keeping the body alive.
No wonder Jesus called himself the Bread of Life. The relationship between the Son and the world is just as essential and life sustaining. Every culture has some sort of bread that represents the basic sustenance of life. Whether it's with manna in the wilderness or a tortilla, or pita-pockets or bowls of rice, breadfruit or Wonder Bread. . . It’s easy – and important – to bring bread for North Kent Community Services or Kids Foodbasket to fill some empty stomachs. Will you who are generous with basic food gifts offer this world the sign of a Son? Will you crumble some bread of truth to a famished world this week? Will your life and lips introduce someone to the Bread of Life?