Bread for All: Bread of Life – Sermon on John 6:(22-23) 24-35

August 1, 2021

Children’s Message
Last week we heard the story of Jesus feeding 5000 people with bread and fish that kept multiplying until everyone had enough, and there was some left over. I talked about how, in Communion, we break the bread just as Jesus did, and ask God to make us be the Body of Christ for the whole world, as we eat it together.
Today we will hear Jesus talk about himself as the Bread of Life, and I want to help you understand how we see Jesus giving himself to us when we receive Communion.
Who knows what a symbol is? It’s usually a picture or an object that stands for something else. For example, we have a steeple on our church building, and that’s a symbol for our purpose as a church. The church is supposed to point people to God. Some churches believe that the bread and the juice we use for Communion are just symbols of Jesus to remind us that he gave himself for us. In the Methodist Church, we say the bread and cup become Christ’s real presence among us when we take them. They are more than just a symbol.
So let’s go back to the steeple on our church. Did you ever play “here is the church, here is the steeple, open the door and see all the people?” Let’s do it together. See, the steeple is just a symbol of what the church does – it points people to Jesus. But when you open the door and see all the people, they are the real presence of Christ in the world. It’s the people in the church who point others to God. Let’s pray.
Jesus, help us point others to you for real, not just be a symbol of you. We love you, Jesus. Amen.

We are in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel for the next few weeks. Last Sunday we heard the familiar stories of Jesus feeding 5000 with a few loaves of barley bread and a couple of dried fish, and then coming to his disciples in the middle of the night by walking on the surface of a troubled sea. Today’s reading skips a couple of verses, but I’m going to read them to you because they explain what happens next. So let’s begin – not with verse 24, but with verse 22 – right where we left off last week:

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.
So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 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.”John 6:22-35

This conversation between Jesus and the crowd seems to be pretty straightforward. On one level, it seems they are bantering back and forth about ideas everyone takes for granted. But on another, deeper level, Jesus is connecting the dots – not only to Old Testament stories that everyone knows, like manna in the wilderness, but to other stories within this gospel account, stories that are new and not so familiar.

For example, we hear echoes of John 4, the conversation Jesus has with the Samaritan woman at the well:
Instead of “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again” (John 4:13); we hear Jesus say, “Do not work for the food that perishes” (John 6:27); and instead of the Samaritan woman’s “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (John 4:15), the crowd says, “Sir, give us this bread always” (John 6:34)1

Let’s talk about that bread. Jesus tells the crowd they aren’t looking for him because the signs he does demonstrate he is God’s Son. They just want another free meal, maybe from those twelve baskets of leftovers they saw the disciples gather the day before. But here’s the thing about bread – even the manna they keep talking about. It spoils pretty quickly. Mark Davis writes, “The same metabolic reactions that ferment the yeast in bread dough are the reactions that ferment bacteria in spoilage.”2

It’s Passover time, remember. And what was significant about the first Passover? They had to eat in a hurry, and burn whatever was left – not keeping it for the next day. Because food spoils. Even as the Israelites wandered in the desert, and ate the manna that fell like dew every morning, they were warned against trying to save any of it. It would spoil. They had to learn to trust God to provide for their daily needs on a daily basis. And Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”

Amin amin in vs 26 and 32 gets translated as “verily, verily” in the King James Version, and in other translations as “very truly” or “truly” – but the crowd who first listened to Jesus say, “amin, amin” would have heard more than just “Believe me when I tell you…”

Robert Hoch writes, “Jesus uses the double amen (NRSV: “Very truly, I tell you”) four times in chapter six (see verses 26, 32, 47, and 53). … On Jesus’ lips it speaks to an assurance that his message is guaranteed by God: “[Jesus] is the Word of God; he is the Amen.” Maybe that helps us to hear the double-amen of chapter six as it leads to the declaration that our work is to believe in Jesus. … In John, Jesus is life itself (John 1:4) and has come so “that they may have life” (John 10:10).3

The “I am” statement (Ego eimi) from last week is now amplified – I am the bread of life. Whoever comes won’t be hungry, and whoever believes won’t be thirsty. And it’s important to remember that throughout John’s gospel, faith is never a noun – it’s always a verb. Faith-ing is something you do, not something you have.

So what’s the point of this back and forth conversation with the crowd? What is Jesus trying to teach us in the here and now, as he reminds these people who have followed him across the lake that Moses wasn’t the one who gave them manna in the desert – it was always God; it is always God?

Let’s go back to verses 26 and 27.
Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches here. He knows the crowd missed the point of the miracle we heard about last week, the multiplication of loaves and fish. They were looking for a sign they had already seen, and didn’t even know it. And they didn’t get the miracle of Jesus walking on water, because they didn’t witness it.

You see, the crowd was still stuck in their idea of what a messiah would be and do. They couldn’t see the real thing in front of them, because their fantasy about a king who would replenish everyday bread blinded them to the reality of an eternal rule that shows up in love to be with us forever.

Can you see how we might have fallen into the same misunderstanding? Do our ideas of what church should be, of what being a good Christian looks like – do these fantasies prevent us from becoming one with God through Christ himself? Jesus says our work is to believe, to have faith (but remember it’s always a verb, so it might be better to call it ‘faith-ing’). Faith isn’t clarity about facts or accepting a certain set of statements as true. “Faith means encounter with a person, one who is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life’ (14:6).”4

This might make you uncomfortable. I urge you to lean into the discomfort, spend time in the disequilibrium of uncertainty as you examine just what it is you do believe, and where your trust actually lies. Rest in the ambiguity of letting yourself become something you’ve never been before, something God is calling you to become – each of you part of the Body of Christ, redeemed by Christ for the sake of a world that is hungry and thirsty for God.

Here is the church, here is the steeple. Open the door and see all the people. The question is, are those people pointing to God, or to the steeple that represents our search for God? Do we worship God in such a way that our lives are filled with Christ’s very real presence, or is our worship focused on our idea of who God is and what we think the church should be?

Christ invites to his Table all who truly love him, not some fantasy about him. Will you come, and eat and drink, not to satisfy your stomachs or your taste buds, but to let your life be filled with the very real presence of Christ? Come to this Table, and let your spirit be fed.

1 Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John: Introduction, Translation, and Notes in The Anchor Bible (Garden City: Doubleday & Company Inc., 1966), 267.
4 William H. Willimon, Feasting On the Word, Year B, Vol. 3, 311.

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