Sermon for Pentecost 10, Year B
Based on Jn. 6:51
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
It has been said that: “Some people live to eat, while others eat to live.” The harsh, cold fact of the matter is: that we live in a world of plenty and in a world of starvation. What does it mean for us today when we hear Jesus saying: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever?” What does it mean, when Jesus says earlier, in verse 48, that: “I am the bread of life?”
Bread has been ~ and still is ~ the staple food of all humankind: whether it’s the barely loaves of ancient Israel, the chapatti of India, the lefse of Norway, or an all-grain loaf of Canada, it’s all bread. Human beings often grow weary of even the most exotic foods, yet we never seem to tire of bread, regardless of how much we have eaten, we still enjoy and appreciate it.
There are many references to bread in the Bible. In the Hebrew Bible, bread is referred to as “the staff of life” because just as a staff enables a person to stand and walk, in a similar way bread supports human life. The wilderness manna did sustain the lives of Moses and the Israelites as they journeyed to the Promised Land. Many Jews believed that when the Messiah came, he, like Moses, would be able to feed people with a manna miracle. In other Older Testament passages, bread is used in several religious rites such as the Passover meal, and sacrificial offerings. It is also a symbol of the word of God.
In the New Testament, bread is associated with all of our food ~ as in the petition, “give us today our daily bread.” Bread is also a symbol of everything we need to live in this world. Bread, in addition to this, and as a messianic expectation, is the food we shall eat in God’s future realm. Most importantly, however, is the claim that Jesus is the bread of life, the true bread from heaven as we receive him through the means of God’s word and the sacraments.
Jesus, the bread of life, the living bread from heaven; yet today our world remains in a terrible predicament. And what is that predicament? Well, as Glenn H. Wilms, in his book, The Contagious Commitment perceives it: “Is it that on planet earth we now produce enough cereal grains alone to provide every man, woman and child with 3,000 calories as day ~ yet one out of four wastes away with 300 calories or less? That is an implication of it. Is it that if the manufacturers of massive weapons of destruction ceased in al nations and the materials and energy used in their manufacture were put to building homes, there would be homes and conveniences for all people on earth? That is an implication of it.”
Or, according to a copy of Executive Woman International, if the world were to shrink in size to a village of 100, with all existing human ratios remaining the same, the society would look like this: There would be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 from North and South America and 8 Africans. Seventy of the 100 would be non-white. Seventy of the 100 would be non-Christian. Fifty per cent of the world’s entire wealth would belong to only six people ~ and all six would be citizens of the United States. Seventy would be unable to read; 50 ~ that’s half the population ~ would suffer from malnutrition, 80 would live in substandard housing and only one would have a university education.
In light of such a terrible predicament, is it not true that we need Jesus as the bread of life now more than ever?! We need Jesus, the bread of life, the living bread from heaven to feed us in the physical sense and in the spiritual sense. Every day, the media communicates how urgently the people in places like Rwanda, Ethiopia, East Timor, and so on, need the world’s help. Our church, together with other Canadian churches, have issued special urgent appeals to provide for the almost overwhelming physical/material needs of the citizens of these and other nations. As Jesus’ feet and hands in the world, we are called upon to share the bread to life in physical/material ways with all who find themselves in such dire need. The world’s poor need Jesus, the bread of life in the physical sense if they are going to remain alive.
We also need Jesus, the bread of life in the spiritual sense. Today there are many who are malnourished spiritually because they refuse to eat anything but junkfood. These spiritual junkies are looking for a quick and easy religion. They want maximum benefits by making only minimum commitments ~ or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once put it, they want “cheap grace.” It’s a tailor made religion, designed to cater to people’s selfish instincts and wildest fancies. It often pretends to deliver pat, easy solutions to all of life’s complexities. In the end, there is no spiritual nutrition in this junkfood religion; thus it cannot give life.
Another form of spiritual malnutrition today is the willingness of many people to believe in false messiahs. They turn to everyone but Jesus, the bread of life. One example of this is the film Cool Hand Luke, about a southern chain gang.
According to Curt M. Joseph: “The prison is run by a pompous warden assisted by a menacing captain who never speaks and whose expressions are hidden by a pair of mirrored sunglasses. The inmates suffer at the hands of these two men until Cool Hand Luke arrives as an inmate.”
“Luke defies the guards and their inhumanity in many unique ways. He gives life and hope to the inmates and they all live vicariously through him. But every man has his breaking point and finally even Luke is broken.”
“Luke is stretched out on a table with arms out to his sides as other inmates gather around after a severe beating. They try to lift his spirits by encouraging him to fight back, fight back for their sakes. At that point Luke cries out, “Quit feeding off me,” and then passes out because of his wounds.”
“We cannot feed off other human beings, but we can feed off Jesus the one who is the bread of life.”
As our true Messiah, he will satisfy our hunger and thirst. He has promised that: “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”
There is still another kind of spiritual malnutrition ~ this kind is far subtler. I am speaking of those people who come to church on a regular basis, year after year, yet they fail to grow and mature in their faith. Their relationship with Jesus, the bread of life remains at a superficial level. That has to be the worst tragedy of all! They come and partake of the bread of life through the means of the word and sacraments ~ but they fail to chew on and digest this bread of life. Without properly chewing and digesting the bread of life, there cannot be growth and maturity ~ there cannot be health and nutrition.
We need to allow the word and sacraments to reach into the deepest regions of our souls, our minds, and our bodies. Then Christ will be alive and working in, with and through us. Then we will be empowered by Christ to fulfill the ministry he has given to each one of us. Then we will be Christ’s living, healing, saving presence in our homes, in the workplace, in school, in the whole world.
As we partake of the word and sacrament here today, may Jesus, the bread of life, the living bread from heaven, empower and inspire us to accomplish his ministry in, with and through our lives.
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