Another Bread Story?
Sermon delivered at First Christian Church, Farmville, NC
I have a couple of confessions to make to you as I stand before to share God’s word. The first, I will tell you now. I am Baptist. I am use to once a month communion services. When I started attending several months ago, a weekly communion service was a new thing for me. And if you know anything about Baptists, Baptists don’t like change. I use to have a joke. How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? We don’t know. We stood in the dark arguing that change wasn’t necessary and never changed the bulb.
In my Baptist experience, with the Lord’s Supper….you DON’T make any changes to it. I was reprimanded once as a fresh new minister, when I led communion and distributed the trays to the servers in the wrong direction. I was the topic at the next Deacons meeting. In the last church I served, we lost half out congregation during the summer, so I made the worship personal by changing the presentation of the Lord’s Supper to intinction. Needless to say, I was the topic of the next Deacon’s meeting. So yes, change in Communion is difficult and I’m coming to you today with that background in mind.
Here we are with another bread story. Last week, Jarrett talked about Jesus multiplying bread, worship that is for God and not ourselves, and relationships, most importantly, how God first loved us. He reminded us that what we do is not meant to be about us. It’s meant to be about God, about Jesus. The work we do, the service we have been called to provide, is not about us. It’s not about the church. It’s about God.
That message leads us to this week. You may notice there is a connection from last week’s scripture. Last week’s scripture ended with the first verse of this week’s: verse 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.” The bread of LIFE.
This isn’t just another bread story.
This crowd witnessed Jesus feed the 5000 and wanted to know more. The next day, they found Jesus on the other side of the lake, in Capernaum. They asked Jesus to keep serving the bread of eternal life that He mentioned the day before. Standing in front of them, Jesus explained in detail, I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty….I am the bread that came down from heaven. Jesus is speaking about the “I AM” of life, the “I AM” of God that came down from heaven to raise you up, to fill your hunger, your thirst and to fulfill your life. Jesus is the “I AM” of the New Testament. Why? Because he was sent down from Heaven by the “I AM of the Old Testament. Remember?
The phrase, “I AM,” was used as a statement of identification. Before we heard about the manna that came from heaven to feed the complaining Israelites when Moses was leading them out of Egypt, Moses was getting direction from God. He asked God in Exodus 3:13: Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” Do you remember how God responded? God responded in what I believe to be one of the most significant moments in scripture. Verse 14, “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ I AM WHO I AM.
As an ordained minister, I get asked questions about God a lot, from what does God look like, is God male or female, to does God really love those people. Most of the time, these questions start an engaging discussion about theology. Once in a while though, the questions come after I say something that goes against the theology of the person I’m talking with; the theology they grew up with, the God they believe in, the traditional God with the black and white answers. I might say or write something that does not match what they believe about Jesus. We could be discussing what Jesus meant when He shared this parable, to why didn’t Jesus talk about that topic and somehow it will turn into something more.
I understand when someone hears a theology different from their own, it challenges them, startles them. They will hear I am a follower of Christ, a Christian who believes in Jesus like them, but when I make a statement that goes against their beliefs, they are surprised and wonder how I can say such things as a Christian. Outside of the questioning my faith, I get it. I understand that. I may say something that goes against their tradition. It goes against their traditional Christian faith. We’ve all felt that way. We’ve been through it. I know I have.
I find that people want to put God in a box. All of us have. It might be the God we grew up with, wrapped up in who we believe God is and who we believe God ought to be. People want God and scripture to be black and white, with definitive answers. People get frustrated with me when I say scripture is not that simple and I am not going to put God in a box. My reasoning has to do with God’s answer to Moses in Exodus 3:14. God told Moses to name God as “I AM WHO I AM”. Five simple words turned into an exclamation point of identification. It is clear God does not want to be put into a box and I am not about to put God in a box either.
Now we are in the Gospel of John. This is the only gospel where you will see Jesus using the “I AM” statements. Jesus proclaims who He is. “I AM the Bread of Life.” John tells us in the beginning; Jesus is the word that became flesh. In the beginning was the word and the word was with God, the word is God. God is Jesus. The word became flesh and lived among the people. Jesus said, “I AM,” and He upset some people. Jesus upset the Jews and even though Jesus himself was a Jew, they complained. Why? Because they know Jesus as Joseph and Mary’s son, not as the one sent from Heaven. There was still conflict between the Jews and Jesus. And now, Jesus was challenging the traditional knowledge of the Jews, about what they knew of Jesus and what they need to understand now – what matters is Jesus in the present.
How many times have we not believed something, or questioned it because of what we already know? We depend of our previous knowledge, of what we learned before. Sometimes, we need to go beyond what we know and accept the invitation into the unknown. Paul reminds us in Romans 12 when he instructed us not to conform but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. In order to go into the unknown, Jesus is telling the Jews and the reader, not to rely on your knowledge, but transform through your commitment and your faith. The writer of John is doing that here.
For the Gospel writer, there is a purpose to the “I AM” statements. Jesus is getting personal. It’s about relationship. Jesus using the “I AM” statements reminds the crowd and us, the readers, that Jesus is God incarnate. Jesus is the way. Jesus was sent by God. Jesus is the word made flesh.
Why would God do that?
For God, it’s about the relationship, too. The “I AM” of the Old Testament was the God of anger, locusts and frogs, death of livestock and first borns, the God of floods and judgment. But not in the New Testament. God sent Jesus to initiate relationship with us, an intimate relationship with each and every one of us. The word became flesh. God became flesh, in the name of Jesus. You can’t get much more intimate than flesh. God became human. God became flesh to understand us better and for us to understand God as best we can; to trust the God we know now.
Theologian Marcus Borg, in his book, The God we Never Knew, writes of a God who wants an intimate relationship with us. People who grew up in church, likely grew up with the God that we look up to, the God who is out there somewhere, beyond out physical reach, a God more powerful than we can understand. This is the God we never knew as children, doesn’t want to be out there anymore, out of reach, out of sight, out of mind, authoritative and judging. God wants to be in here, in us, with us, through us and all around. God wants to be with the beloved children, the ones called out by name. God wants such an intimate relationship with us, that God sent Jesus to make that possible.
Jesus is taking us there. Here in John 6, this eternal life, the bread that will make us hunger and thirst no more, this taking in Jesus is to get closer to Him, therefore get closer to God. Jesus is being intimate, personal, revealing, both in his relationship to God and in his relationship to us. So much so that Jesus talks of the eternal father who DRAWS us in. Did you catch that? Verse 44: “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.”
As I started in my Christian faith, it was my understanding that it was OUR decision and OUR decision ALONE that we accepted Christ and believe in God. When we were ready, we come forward, accept Jesus and are baptized. Here, Jesus is shaking our traditional beliefs, going past our knowledge and asking us to look beyond that and see how God is pulling us in. The Father who sent Jesus is drawing us into relationship and we follow. That’s our faith, our faith in the One that was sent and the One who sent him.
God draws us in through the prophets, through the teachings and lessons that intrigue us, that renew our minds, strengthen our hearts. “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”
Think about that for yourself. Did you become a Christian by sitting alone, reading the bible and wondering what all of it meant? Or did it start with someone reaching out to you, inviting you to church, to a picnic, to a softball game. Was it someone who brought you a meal when you were sick or when someone died? Was it the pastor whose messages stepped on your toes or the music that tugged at your heart? Did you learn more about God and the love of Jesus Christ when you worked at the soup kitchen, built handicap ramps, or when you met Harry Albritton?
I bet your life with Christ started when someone reached out to you with a kind heart, helping hand. I bet you felt Jesus’s love in the way someone treated you.
Just as Marcus Borg talked about the relationship that God wants with us, Borg recognized that through the Eucharist, Jesus wants the same thing – to be present within:
To use the Eucharist (Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Mass) as an example, the visible, physical, and human products of bread and wine are the means whereby Christ becomes present in us. Christians have differed about the explanation of the process – whether the bread and wine are changed into Christ’s body and blood, or whether the body and blood of Christ are present “in, with and under” the bread and wine, or whether the meal is a “remembering.” But even the “softest” of these understandings, a remembering, involves bringing Christ into the present. The human products of bread and wine become a means of grace, earthen vessels whereby the sacred becomes present in us.
The sacred becomes present in us……
My guess is this is why you have the Lord’s Supper in the middle of the service, where it can be the focal point, the center of what worship is and not stuck on the end where the pastor will feel rushed to get it done, so everyone is out by 12:00.
And that is what we have here. Jesus was talking to the crowd, explaining what the bread of life means, a relationship with the Father, through the Son, the one sent down from Heaven. He is the bread and Christ wants to be present in us. God wants to be in relationship with us, around us, within us, through us. “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever;” When we took part in the Lord’s Supper today, we were reminded that Christ extended the invitation to us all, to take part, to remember and to do.
I told you in the beginning, I had two confessions. You know I’ve been attending here for a while but not many of you know that I am a staff chaplain at the hospital. I asked Jarrett not to share that information because I wanted to be able to come to worship and simply be. But now you know.
I work with the patients that are admitted to the trauma and surgical critical care service. With traumas, I have seen and heard things that I never in my life imagined I would see. I’ve witnessed unimaginable pain and suffering, both from patients and from families. As the lead trauma chaplain, I get the tough questions about God’s plan and God’s will. People will ask me the “why” questions. Families wonder if I believe in miracles and in God’s healing. It is not easy to face a family reaching as far out as humanly possible, grasping for some hope and searching for an answer from me. Or to sit at bedside, listening to a patient in tears, wondering why this happened to her or why God protected him and not his loved one.
There are days I get lost and retreat. I pull away from my center as I am expected to be God’s presence for patients, families and all the questions that come. My faith gets challenged and my heart gets weak. But I recognize that I’m no different than other Christians. We’ve all had our retreats, our weakness, our doubts. We’ve all run away like the prodigal son and daughter. I know I’m not different than others.
But when I started attending here and taking part in the Lord’s Supper every week, I began to realize something. This Baptist who is used to a once a month invitation to the table, needed to be reminded more often of who God is, why I am a Christian and why God sent Jesus to have a more intimate relationship with me. Ironically, it’s because of my calling, my work as a chaplain, that I’ve needed a weekly invitation to sit at the table, beside Christ, beside you and take in the bread. Take in the word. Take in the reminder of what I am here for.
Ironically, it wasn’t until this morning that I realized what was going on for me. I was struggling, having my own inner conflict, a discourse if you will. I want to answer the questions to the unanswerable, to bring comfort and hope to those craving for it. My beliefs and my heart are challenged when I see people suffer in ways that never should have happened, whether in the hospital or in the community. I read this scripture this morning. There was discourse and conflict here. The Jews were in conflict with Jesus. Jesus was likely frustrated because of having to repeat over and over what He meant by the living bread. And don’t forget, the crowd searched for Jesus and found him alone on the other side of the lake. Maybe he was dealing with an inner conflict too.
Through this text, as we hear almost daily, of conflict in our country, in our communities, in our churches and within ourselves, through this scripture, we are reminded of the invitation to sit at the table, together. This invitation is open to all, including the people we are in conflict with. We have been giving the invitation to eat the bread and drink of the cup. And we have been handed the invitation to accept an intimate, close and personal relationship with God, who wants to be in relationship with us so much, that He sent the Living Bread to make that possible.
No, it’s not just another bread story.
(c) 2015, Rev. Linda C. Moore
 Borg, Marcus. The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. HarperCollins, New York. 1989