Bread of Life (2): fill up on bread—Sunday 19, Year B (12 August, 2012)

Reading
John 6.35, 41-51
Note: I enjoyed dipping into 52 Loaves by William Alexander as I prepared this sermon.

 

I can still remember my mother’s wonderful words to me: ‘Fill up on bread!’

She said these words to me often, as I frequently complained that I was still hungry after dinner was finished.

Fill up on bread. I didn’t like a lot of the bread I was given to fill up on though.

I do like good white bread—crusty loaves from the bakery are great—but the white bread I knew as a child was pretty insipid. You know, that tasteless, stick-to-the-roof-of-the-mouth white fluff that has passed for ‘bread’ since before I was born.

That was the only white bread I knew in my childhood, so it’s not surprising that I always preferred brown bread to this so-called bread.

I’m not the only one who thinks a lot of bread tastes awful. The American celebrity cook Julia Child once said,

How can a country be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?

Indeed.

I didn’t avoid tasteless white bread for health reasons. But did you know that The Scotsman—a newspaper from, you guessed it, Scotland—had the following piece:

Wildlife experts in Scotland have urged the public to help save swans by feeding them brown loaves instead of white. A lack of nutrients in white bread is leaving the birds crippled with a condition similar to rickets in humans.

That wasn’t written in the 1890s or the 1930s. It was in 2008, only four years ago.

In Australia, thiamine and folic acid or folate must be added to bread flour by law. What’s that about? Thiamine prevents a disease called beriberi. Beriberi is a nutritional deficiency; the patient may develop fatigue, muscular weakness, breathing problems, vomiting and heart failure.

Folate promotes healthy growth during the early weeks of pregnancy. It helps to prevent conditions like spina bifida developing in the growing baby.

But why must we add folate and thiamine to bread? Why not add them to caviar? And there’s your answer. We still relate to ‘Give us today our daily bread’. Most people eat bread most days if not every day. They hardly ever have caviar.

And we eat lots of bread, so much so that without supplements the bread we eat may cause nutritional deficiencies.

Fill up on bread? It depends what kind of bread you’re talking about.

Jesus says,

I am the bread of life.

And not the Kleenex-tasting bland white variety! Jesus is good bread, satisfying bread. He goes on to say:

Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

That’s not what his hearers wanted though. And it may not be what some of his people want today.

The crowd wanted bread alright. They wanted bread from Jesus, they wanted him to keep them in bread. (And why not? Hunger is no fun at all.) But they didn’t want Jesus to be bread.

Perhaps we want Jesus to give us bread too. We want ethical teaching from Jesus to support our political biases. We want Jesus to praise the things we approve, and condemn the things we hate.

Jesus’ teachings are indispensable if we’re going to follow him. But when Jesus says ‘I am the bread of life’, he means more than his teachings. He means himself. He is the Bread of Life.

If we centre our lives around him as Lord and Saviour, if we ‘feed on him’, we will neither hunger nor thirst for he himself is our daily bread. If we centre our lives around him, if we ‘feed on him’ daily, Jesus’ promise in John 10.10 is ours:

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

You know, John’s Gospel is full of images of abundance. There is

  • Light that overcomes darkness
  • Water that becomes wine
  • Living waters that flow for ever
  • Bread given freely in the wilderness
  • Life that conquers death

Jesus has come to bring abundant life, eternal life. When we receive Jesus as the Bread of Life, we need never hunger again. And it’s not just about us. No one else should hunger, whether that hunger is spiritual or physical—any and every hunger is our concern.

Is this really about the Lord’s Supper at all? There are those who are very familiar with church who say it isn’t. They say it’s purely about accepting Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. They say we can centre our lives on Jesus without bringing the Lord’s Supper into it. Are they right?

In this passage, we see Jesus having an argument with ‘the Jews’. John never wants us to get only the surface meaning, so this isn’t about any Jewish people today and it’s certainly no excuse at all for any anti-semitism.

In this passage, ‘the Jews’ are the people who know the story. They’ve been taught it since they were at the breast. They know what to expect and will allow no surprises to come their way. They can’t believe there’s anything new.

Anyone who is a regular churchgoer or a regular preacher is in danger of being in this category. One of the spiritual disciplines we must cultivate is the capacity for the scriptures to keep surprising us, and the capacity to listen to the Spirit’s voice calling us from unexpected places.

One of the surprises of this passage is that John has Jesus himself talking about the Lord’s Supper. In the last verse of today’s lectionary reading, Jesus says:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

We’ll talk about this more next week. For now, let’s just note that these words are pretty close to the Words of Institution that we’ve heard so many times as we come to Holy Communion. We take these words from the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:

For I received from the Lord
what I also delivered to you,
that the Lord Jesus,
on the night when he was betrayed,
took bread,
and when he had given thanks,
he broke it and said:
This is my body which is for you.
Do this for the remembrance of me.

In the same way also the cup,
after supper, saying:
This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it,
for the remembrance of me.

Paul says the bread is the body of Jesus, John says it is the flesh of Jesus.

So is this passage only about the Lord’s Supper? It’s about the Lord’s Supper, and more. It’s about an abundant life centred on Jesus our Lord and Saviour, a life which would be less abundant if the Lord’s Supper were removed from it.

Fill up on bread? It depends what kind of bread you’re talking about.

Jesus says,

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Fill up on the Bread of Life. Come to him. Come to him daily, so that as you come to him in Holy Communion, in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, you may come in expectant and hopeful faith.

 

1 Comment

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

One response to “Bread of Life (2): fill up on bread—Sunday 19, Year B (12 August, 2012)

  1. Anonymous

    Living your life like Jesus is nourishment for the soul. In times of stress, anger, frustration and impatience I wish I had a button to over ride my weak frontal lobe long enough for my inner voice to remind me: “Stop! Think! How would Jesus respond?”. Sometimes I feel like God has me sitting on a giant time-out mat (called Earth) and Jesus is the one sitting to the side with a gentle hand on my shoulder and an empathetic smile that seems to say “You know you need to think about your behaviour and make good choices”. The irony is not lost on me as a parent who feels just a tad hypocritical when I have to chastise my children for behaviours God knows I am far from perfecting myself. I wish I was more mindful of living each moment in life and including more ‘bread’ in my daily diet so I can become the person we both want me to be.

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