Sermon for A Pent 12 Based on John 6: 35, 41-51.
August 12, 2018
Jesus is the bread of life for those traveling through the wilderness. Sometimes we find ourselves in the wilderness without human-made directions. And so we need to trust the way of Jesus. But if that is the sum of it all, there would be no need for a sermon, would there? So we seek better understanding.An interesting thing about the gospel of John is that while throughout the whole gospel Jesus is proclaimed as the bread of life, the sacred sign, the sacrament, John’s gospel presumes the Eucharist and otherwise never tells about Holy Communion as we have come to know it. There is his last supper with the disciples. That is the Passover Meal wherein, after washing their feet, he tells his disciples to serve the world. We assume that Holy Communion was central to John’s own community for which he wrote the gospel. But John does not tell of the institution of the Holy Communion like the other gospels do. Instead, throughout all the gospel of John and centrally proclaimed here, Jesus is the manna of life. We are told to receive him and how to receive him, just as was done for the Israelites about their manna in their wilderness after leaving Egypt. And, just as the Israelites grumbled in the wilderness, so also John notes how the people around Jesus “grumbled.” When the people of God have all they need, still we grumble. So we need reminding of God’s unbounded and sufficient grace.
Around 90-110 AD, John addressed Christians in their own wilderness. He wrote from exile. The Christians for whom John wrote faced the immorality of the Roman head of state and violent hatred from all sides. In addition to systemic bigotry, there were the inevitable personal life challenges facing each of John’s congregation members. They bore illness. They grieved their beloved departed. They lost jobs. They cared for addicted children. They received and resisted the unfairness of the powerful against them. Whatever was each situation, John says that Jesus the bread of life is not just an enhancing accessory or optional prescription or occasional dietary novelty. No, Jesus the Bread of Life is our center and our foundation. Jesus the Bread of Life means love and purpose not just for each of us, but also us together, for the totality of life.
For the totality of life. That’s a big agenda. We don’t often think of “Bread” in that way. There’s an ambiguity in the term “Bread of Life” we do not usually catch. We usually think more about the metaphor “bread” than we think of the size and depth of “life.” The bread of life comes from somewhere and is meant for something. As for bread from: Bread from HEB, for example, is different from any bread that might come from Duane’s kitchen. There is a host of experts at HEB while Duane has never made and baked anything other than pizza dough. As for purpose: The Jalapeno bread from Goode’s BBQ intends to evoke a “yeehah” or run for beer, while, say, Scandinavian hard tack’s purpose (if there is any) is to provide a boring platform for pickled herring. I’ve never heard anything like “yeehah” for that except from starving hikers after trekking without food for a whole day at 14000 feet, and that only with a summer sausage additive.
The point is about where Jesus the Bread of Life is from and for what purpose. When Jesus says “I am the Bread of Life,” he means that his own origin is from the source of all life with the purpose of giving true life in all its dimensions to all for whom he becomes essential. That line bears repeating. Jesus the Bread of Life is the experience of his totality again and again. The history that preceded him, his incarnation as the socially least of human being, his rearing as a tradesman, his education as a rabbi, his solidarity with the religiously and culturally marginalized, his teaching and healing that touched the human core, his infusion of spirit where there had been but dead letter, his easy bearing of transcending authority where others plotted hard to keep their fake power, his crucifixion as the “man for others” with forgiveness last on his lips, his resurrection to God’s side and the truly human side always: all this—ALL THIS!—is re-presented and given again to us who want and need to trust again and again in the truth and experience of Jesus as the Bread from and for LIFE. NOW. FOREVER.
Christ himself offers all that he has been and is and will be to us in every moment so that we might know true and deep and endless life. He promises this through the proclamation of his word. He promises this in his sacraments. These promises are not to the exclusion of other means. But where and when we fickle humans need certainty that Jesus the Bread of Life is for us, he promises to give himself in Word and Sacrament. He does so in fullness, with everything he is about and for, so to build us ever the more unto his image. “How” this happens, by the way, is a standard human deflection. It is not about some manner of transubstantiation this or trans-that. He promises. That’s it. That’s enough. What counts is that Jesus the Bread of Life and ALL his history and future become again central to who we are and what we are for.
This is far from so much of what Christianity has otherwise become. Paul Smith writes that “Christianity began in Palestine as an experience, it moved to Greece and became a philosophy, it moved to Italy and became an institution, it moved to Europe and became a culture, and it moved to America and became a business.”
Of course, God’s business is love, not transaction. God’s economy is gift-based and means to touch all with free bread, so to shape and inspire a gracious people. Jesus Christ the Bread of Life offers himself again and again as the source and center and future of life, for all that could possibly mean for each of us in the uniqueness of our personal lives. The word, the water, the bread, this bread is for you. As Gandhi once said, “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” Our spiritual hunger, too, which we must confess as essential to our being, receives the whole loaf—the whole story and future of Christ—and carries Christ’s fullness of mercy with justice into the wilderness we travel today.
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, TX
August 12, 2018