Sermon from Aug 12, 2012

August 13, 2012

“The Stuff of Life”
John 6:35, 41-51

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 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’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 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. 45 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. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 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.”

I don’t know if it happens in the north or not, but upon departure almost all southerners will encourage you to come see them sometime – whether they mean it or not. Well, you should never say this to Sharla and I unless you do mean it – especially if you live in a nice place. We returned from a journey last Monday in which we dropped-in on four different families. We were related to two of those families, so they had to see us, but the other two families were people who made the mistake of telling us to come see them and they happened to have houses near the beach.

We had a great trip. Over the course of about 8 days we drove 2,650 miles in our new car, and in addition to that we spent about 3 hours on two different ferries. We saw some great sights, and we even experienced some nice rain. The entire nation is not as crispy as Arkansas is this summer.

I am capable of feeling guilty about my affection for the pleasures of this world, but it doesn’t generally stop me from seeking them. Prior to our arrival at our first stop I had a text message from my sister-in-law asking me what kind of coffee I liked to drink and what kind of tea Sharla liked. A polite and less particular person would have said whatever they had would be fine, but I answered, “Starbucks French Roast for me, and sweet tea with lots of lemon for Sharla.” You’ll notice I was much more specific about my coffee than I was about Sharla’s tea – which is probably indicative of my sensitivities, but we won’t go there right now. My sister-in-law also knows I have some affection for beer, and she indicated that she had the beer covered, but I was a little disconcerted that she didn’t ask what kind of beer I liked, so I included that information in the text as well.

I’m not proud of the way I am, but I’m not unconscious of my attachments to this world. I enjoy the comforts of this life, and I am guilty of pursuing them. If you gave me the option of being under the shade of an umbrella on the beach with a beer and some pasta salad right now I would be there (it is after noon on the east coast). I enjoy that kind of stuff – but I also know it’s not the bread of life.

And on one level I’m pretty unnerved by this morning’s passage of scripture. I know how capable I am of being lured in to thinking that the object of this world is to accumulate as much of the good stuff in this world as I possibly can, to surround myself with as much pleasure as I can, and to attach myself to the people who I think will help me get what I think I need. I can see why the people of Israel found it so hard to believe that Jesus was the one who knew who God really is because he was not a traditionally powerful and dazzling person. They knew where he grew up and it was not in the governor’s mansion.

I can tell you, this was not an easy passage for me to read this week. This passage exposes some real conflict that arose between the people who experienced the living presence of God in the life of Jesus Christ, and people who saw him as a nobody who was causing trouble in their comfortable and righteous neighborhood. And in the face of this conflict Jesus didn’t play nice. In this particular situation the people who were having the most trouble accepting who he was were the people who were the most attached to the traditional ways of Israel, and in response to that he said that the bread he has to offer was better than the bread that Moses provided.

This isn’t an easy passage for me to read because I understand how easy it is to be powerfully attached to a way of living that we find to be really comfortable, and I can see how threatening Jesus was to the people who were the most comfortable with the way things were. I don’t think Jesus had a problem with people enjoying nice things. The followers of John the Baptist were suspicious of Jesus because he didn’t avoid good food and drink. But Jesus recognized the emptiness of building our lives around the stuff of this world, he identified the problem of clinging to practices that desensitized awareness of God, and he refused to support patterns of existence that disenfranchised those who were the most vulnerable and alienated. Jesus didn’t have a problem with Moses, but he stood against much of what was done in Moses’ name, and in so doing he became vulnerable and alienated. He also became the living bread that came down from heaven.

And our challenge is to partake of this living bread and not to wave it in front of others as if we have received a superior product. I think it’s easy for us Christians to read a passage like this with an air of superiority. It’s easy to get sort of pumped up by this claim of Jesus to be the kind of bread that surpasses the quality of the bread Moses had to offer, and to think that other faith traditions never even had any bread to offer, but this claim of Jesus to be the bread of life has nothing to do with triumphalism. Jesus was triumphant over the demonic forces that propel people to pursue self-serving and death-dealing agendas, but this is no reason for us to feel any superiority in claiming to be followers of Jesus.

It’s just as easy for us to mishandle the bread that Jesus provided as it was for those who died after eating the bread of Moses. Our temptation is to say all the right words that are associated with Jesus without actually allowing God to lead us in to the truth about Jesus.

I’ve enjoyed watching the drama of the Olympics over the past two weeks. I’m totally amazed at the level of performance of the men and women who prepare for the various events, and it’s easy to be drawn in to the various dramas that are associated with the athletes. And of course there is a lot of heartbreak and pain associated with the winners and losers. While there is hardly any difference between what the gold medal winners are able to do and the silver and bronze medal winners do – coming in second or third is an unsatisfying consolation. We revere winners, and we want to be associated with winners. Don’t think I haven’t taken some pleasure in seeing the United States surpass China in the overall number of medals and in gold medals. As I indicated earlier, I often play for the wrong team.

But I know what’s wrong with wanting to be on top, and I also know that’s what we try to do with Jesus. We try to turn Jesus in to the Gold Medal winner in the salvation games, and that’s not who he was or is. I believe he is the living bread of life that came down from heaven, but he is not in competition with other sources of nourishment for our souls. As Jesus said, we are all taught by God. It’s up to God to teach us and God can use any tool God wants to use to bring us in to divine understanding. I believe anyone who has knowledge of God will be connected to Jesus whether they know Jesus’ name or not because Jesus is perfectly connected to God.

And anyone who wants to be connected to Jesus in order to be superior to anyone else doesn’t know anything about Jesus – regardless of how much adoration they may heap on Jesus. When it came to the ultimate dual, Jesus gave up his flesh for the sake of other people, and that very act serves as an eternal reminder of what Jesus thought about this affection we have for earthly superiority.

And this is actually good news for us. As successful as any of may be in this world for various periods of time or regardless of how much access any of us have to the finer things and the pleasures of this world – there is nothing that can compare to the living bread of life that came down from heaven. If you’ve got Jesus in your heart it really doesn’t matter what comes your way or goes away. I know I can get real particular about the quality of the coffee and everything else, but I also take comfort in seeing that life isn’t about having all the best things. That’s a hard game to win, and nobody wins for long.

Even the best athletes fade after about 3 trips to the Olympics. We aren’t built to last forever in this world, and it’s good to know that we can become attached to something who’s nature is eternal.

I’ve had the pleasure of having some contact recently with a good hearted person who has about finished their run on earth. She is a person who has been sensitive to the kind of knowledge that God imparts, and it’s a beautiful thing to see a graceful person approach death. I’ve been reminded that when you’ve become nourished by the bread of life it’s not a problem when you are unable to eat the bread of this world.

It’s easy to resist the wisdom of Jesus and to try to hold on to the stuff of this world. In many ways our earthly existence is dominated by conflicts that are fueled by our refusal to partake of the bread that came from heaven and to stuff ourselves with the kind of bread that keeps us hungry. Some people only discover the value of the bread of life when death is their only option, but Jesus is trying to serve us now, and by the grace of God we will see and hear and eat and share and experience the abundance that is available to us all now and forevermore.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: