Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 8, 2021
John 6:35, 41-51
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Just about every culture in the world has some kind of bread. There is the French baguette and German pumpernickel and hearty Swedish rye. There are southern biscuits and New York bagels. There is naan from India and spongy injera from Ethiopia. In Asian cultures, it can be argued that rice is their bread. I once worked with in a powder-coating plant with some Laotians, and on meal breaks I watched them use clumps of sticky rice to pick up chunks of meat with their hands. One of my Laotian coworkers even said to me as he did so: “Laotian sandwich!”
Bread, in whatever form it might take, is known around the world as a staple food, as a daily remedy against hunger, as a necessity for life.
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus says. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus points to this staple of human life – bread – and says that he is like that! He is the staple food of our salvation. He is the bread that fills our deepest human hungers. He is the bread that is the necessity for eternal life. Jesus is the bread of life that perpetually and abundantly fills us up and strengthens us and gives us life over and over again. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry,” Jesus promises.
Jesus makes this wonderful promise to the crowd, and their response is to say: “Pfft. Yeah, right.” Jesus describes himself using this vivid bread metaphor that draws on both biblical history and daily life, and their response is to complain! “How can Jesus say he came down from heaven? We know this guy’s parents!” Like the vain attempts of the historical Jesus movement of our own time, they tried to tie Jesus down to what could be known with human knowledge rather than what was being revealed to them by God.
Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” John chapter 6, which we’ve been exploring for three weeks now with one more to go, features a lot of rhyming with stories from the Old Testament. Jesus miraculously feeding the five thousand in a remote area rhymes with God miraculously feeding his people in the wilderness after delivering them out of slavery in Egypt. And now, just as the Israelites started to grumble about the manna, the special bread God had provided them from heaven, people were complaining about Jesus, the bread of life which had come down from heaven. History isn’t exactly repeating itself, but it sure does rhyme!
And it continues to rhyme. It continues to rhyme as the world around us rejects Jesus as the bread of life from heaven, as God’s gift of salvation. It continues to rhyme even among us as God’s people today as we often complain and doubt and turn to other kinds of bread, expecting them to fill us up and give us life. We look to politicians and activists and entertainers, we look to careers and consumption, most of all we look to ourselves as the source and sustenance of our lives, defining our own reality, and then we wonder why we’re tired and depleted and depressed and hangry.
How do we get out of this rhyme? How do we get out of this cycle of complaining and doubt and the empty spiritual calories of those lesser breads? How do we get this song of idolatry out of our heads, out of our lives?
Well, we can’t. Have you noticed that when you get a song stuck in your head, the more you try to get it unstuck, the more it stays there, cycling over and over? What it takes is something else getting your attention. So it is with us here as we are stuck in this rhyme. “No one can come to me,” Jesus says, “unless drawn by my Father who sent me.” What it takes is a divine intervention. It takes a divine smack upside the head to shake that song out of our minds and get us out of that rhyme. It happens when God the Father gets our attention through his Word. “Everyone who hears and learns from the Father,” Jesus says, “comes to me.”
And that is precisely what is happening to us here today. As we hear this Word, we are hearing and learning from the Father. God sends us his Word today to fill our ears with Christ’s promises, so that we would be filled and fed, strengthened and nourished, with the true bread of life.
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus says to us, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” “Whoever believes,” Jesus says, whoever puts their trust in him, “has eternal life.” “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Jesus says, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”
Today we hear and learn from the Father, so that we can be drawn away from our doubts and our idols and the lies we live by and be drawn instead to Christ.
He is the staple food of our salvation, the one we turn to on a daily basis for strength and life, the one in whom we believe, the one in whom we place our trust.
He is the bread that fills our deepest human hungers as he so freely grants us forgiveness, restoring us to right relationship with the God who created us.
He is the bread that is the necessity for eternal life. And the bread that he gives for the life of the world is his flesh – crucified for our sins, raised for our justification, given to us even now in the bread of his holy supper.
There is no bread on earth as hearty, or as sweet, or as nourishing as this bread – the bread of life which is Christ.
Whoever eats of this bread, Jesus promises, will live forever.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church