Sermon for August 12, 2018
Proper 14 B- Track 1
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 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. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Are you experiencing a little déjà vu in todays gospel reading? We start todays gospel reading where we left off last week. With the first instance of Jesus’ “I AM” statements. The declaration that he is from God and is God. As I mentioned to the good folks at St. Paul’s last Sunday by Jesus declaring that he is the “I AM” is startling to the crowd. The crowd knows their Hebrew Scriptures well, as we have been hearing them discuss the story of Moses in the wilderness and the providing of mana to feed the people. They remember that when Moses asked God to give Moses his name so he could tell pharaoh who sent him God said that he is “I AM” I AM the God of your ancestors. The God of the Prophets. I AM the God of all people.
The people are obviously not at all happy with Jesus declaring that he is the I AM. I AM the bread of Life. The response of the people is so predictable. After all Jesus is the same flesh and blood that they are right? The crowd knows his earthly father, mother, brothers, and sisters. The crowd watched him grow up and learn to be a carpenter from Joseph. They crowd likely witnessed the child Jesus behaving in childish ways. So how can this carnal Jesus whom they know be the incarnate God.
I am willing to bet that you have had similar reactions to your encounters with God. I know I have. When God enters into our lives and leads us out to do God’s work we perhaps wonder “why me”. There are other more literate people in theology that would be better equipped to spread God’s love. There are people who our more eloquent in their preaching and in their conversations, better able to pull up bible texts to prove their point about God than I am. After all God is God and well – I am very human. With faults and imperfections.
The crowd sees all of that in Jesus and is amazed at his claim to be the “I AM” the one who is not only fully human but is also fully divine. This is not the God that they are expecting. This is not the God who was promised who would overthrow the human economy of empire that was keeping them oppressed. How could this human Jesus – son of Joseph and Mary – be the one to provide this new mana from heaven that would give them eternal life?
David Lose, a preacher I follow said, “Think of the audacious claim that Jesus is making. Who ever heard of a God having anything to do with the everyday, the ordinary, the mundane, the dirty? Gods are made for greatness, not grime; they supposed to reside up in the clouds, not down here with the commoners. I mean, who ever heard of a God who is willing to suffer the pains and problems, the indecencies and embarrassments of human life? It’s downright laughable. No wonder the crowd grumbles against Jesus’ words, for such words seem to make fun of their understanding of God’s majesty and, even worse, to mock their own deep need for a God who transcends the very life which is causing them so much difficulty.”
This audacious claim of Jesus, that he is the Bread of Life who will give them everlasting life is crazy. But that is the good news. The God we worship and believe in came to us in human form. It is a gift from God - un earned and unasked for gift. God has worked through the millennia to get our attention. He worked through Moses to rescue the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. He worked through David, who we have seen in the past few weeks is flawed and human, to establish God’s reign in Israel and Judah. God has and still is working through prophets to call us up short when we fall short of God’s dream.
God in Jesus became fully Human while retaining his full divinity to show us the way. To show us that ordinary things – bread, wine, water and ordinary people – you, me and all of our neighbors are called to bring about God’s dream of an economy where all our fed.
Unfortunately, this part of the Gospel of John can also be taken as a clobber verse. As you perhaps noticed while we repeated the end of last week’s Gospel reading we handily left off a few verses. In those verses Jesus says “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’” These verses – along with the ones we heard in our Gospel reading today can be used as exclusionary verses.
I don’t read them that way, but others have flipped them to say that anyone who has not believed in God through Jesus is destined to that fiery place – to eternal damnation. But the reality is that like the mana that came down from God to feed the undeserving, and grumbling people in the wilderness, so Jesus is a gift to us. A gift that we have received as undeserving and grumbling people. A gift that keeps coming to us again and again.
Part of my theology is that God keeps pursuing us with love throughout all of our lives. God keeps providing the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation to us over and over again. God dreams that we will accept his grace – his free offering of salvation and repent of our sins to help spread that gift. To help turn our world into a different world. A world where love of God and love of neighbor is the highest law of our lands. It is not about everyone claiming that they have a personal relationship with Jesus – and therefore they have been saved. It is about us having a relationship in community with Jesus and with God. It is about leaving the task of judgment to God.
We help offer the bread of eternal life to people when we are the hands, feet and heart of Jesus in our communities today. We do that when we work to provide food to the hungry – as we do on this campus with the amazing ministry of River City Food bank – where people are fed without a litmus test of a personal relationship with Jesus. Where we go out in our communities and instead of seeing aliens and enemies – as it seems some do. We see our neighbors – and that we follow the commandment to love our neighbors – regardless of their religious status, regardless of their politics.
Jesus is the free gift from God – unearned and even unasked for. It is not what was expected by the first century crowds and it is not what is expected today. That our God would offer to us mana – the bread of the Gods if we only will accept it. And as we shall see again next week this is not an easy gift to accept.
For now that us give thanks that Jesus showed us that God wants only to feed us. To feed us physically and to feed us spiritually. To provide a heavenly banquet to all of God’s beloved children. Even when the bearer of that gift is unexpected or deemed unworthy.