Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 13)

Text: John 6:35
"I am the bread of life," Jesus told them. "Those who come to me will never be hungry; those who believe in me will never be thirsty. Now, I told you that you have seen me but will not believe".

The Bread that gives life

"Food, glorious food," the hungry boys in the orphanage sang in the musical Oliver.
"Just picture a great big steak -
Fried, roasted or stewed.
Oh, food,
Wonderful food,
Marvellous food,
Glorious food".

Oliver dared to ask, "Please, sir, I want some more". He wasn’t being rude; he was just hungry. Oliver didn’t have to worry about being overweight. His problem was quite the opposite.

We have so much food available to us these days – food that our forebears would have imagined only in their wildest dreams. We have so much to choose from. Can you imagine the look on great grandma’s face if she was able to visit us today and take a walk into one of big supermarkets? Great grandma grew what she could in the garden, swapped vegies for eggs, had a baker come by with his horse and cart once a week, that is, if she didn’t bake her own bread in her wood stove, made sausages and salted down meat when great grandpa killed a sheep or a pig. Can you imagine what she would think as she wandered between the fridges and freezers filled with so much food? I wonder if she would be impressed or just wonder how lazy the modern generation has become.

Whether we grew our own vegies and meat like great grandma or buy it from a supermarket, food is essential for our bodies and brains. The right kind of food provides our bodies with all the goodness they need to keep them healthy and active.

It was part of God's plan from the very beginning that the people he would create would depend on a regular source of food and water. That’s why he gave them that beautiful garden. It was not only good to wander around in and relax but was also a giant vegie and fruit garden. In the very first chapter of the Bible we hear God say to the first people, "I have provided all kinds of grain and all kinds of fruit for you to eat" and a few chapters later he adds animals bird and fish to their diet. From the beginning God provided what Adam and Eve needed to be happy and healthy. He provided them a safe place to live and very importantly gave them what was needed to keep their bodies active and healthy. When God created the first people he made them in such a way that eating and drinking would always be a part of the life of every human. We cannot exist without food.

The Bible leaves us in no doubt about where our food comes from. It is supplied out of the love and generosity that the Creator has for his creation. Even after the first people disobeyed God and fell into sin, God's provision of food and water never stopped. Isaiah points out that it is God who taught the farmer how and at what time of the year to plant barley and wheat (28:24-26).

In today’s Old Testament reading the people of Israel are out in the wilderness and they are feeling the effects of having nothing to eat. They complain that at least in Egypt they could sit down to a hearty meal of vegies and meat but out here in the desert there was nothing. 

Of course, they forgot who it was who was watching over them and guiding them to the Promised Land. They didn’t remember that God had just rescued them from slavery and certain death at the hands of Pharaoh and his army. They had short term memory loss when it came to the fantastic rescue they experienced when the waters of the sea parted and they were able to cross unharmed and had an even shorter memory loss when God turned the bitter water at Marah into sweet drinking water.

Maybe that’s what a lack of food does. All that God had done for them had paled into insignificance as their bellies rumbled and muscles cramped. All they could think of was food.

God knew they were hungry. He knew they needed food. After all he had created humans and made them in such a way that they depended on food and water to keep their bodies alive and well. They didn’t need to grizzle and complain. God caused food to rain down from the sky – a flaky kind of substance that was called manna and they were able to gather it and make bread from it. He also gave them a daily supply of meat. We read, "In the evening a large flock of quails flew in, enough to cover the camp, and in the morning there was dew all around the camp. When the dew evaporated, there was something thin and flaky on the surface of the desert. It was as delicate as frost. When the Israelites saw it, they didn't know what it was and asked each other, ‘What is it?’  Moses said to them, ‘This is the food that the Lord has given you to eat’" (Exodus 16:13-15).

The arrival of this food had nothing to do with luck or fate or good fortune. Moses makes it quite clear who gave them this life-saving food - none other than the Lord.

At the moment the gospel readings are from John chapter 6. This chapter starts with Jesus providing food for a hungry crowd. They had followed Jesus out into the wilderness with little thought where they would get food. There was only one sensible person among the 10,000 or so that were gathered there to listen to Jesus - a small boy with five bread rolls and two fish. Jesus challenged the disciples to find enough food for them all but it was too hard for them. Where could they find enough money to buy so much food and who out here in the wilderness could sell them such a large quantity? So Jesus takes charge. He feeds every single man, woman and child there that day using the boy’s lunch. There were even leftovers.

You can imagine the buzz this created amongst the crowd as the food just kept coming on until they were stuffed. They wanted to make Jesus king. Some believed he was the prophet they had heard about in the scriptures – the prophet who would hail the coming of a new age when the Messiah would come and peace and prosperity would return to their war ravaged land. They followed Jesus for good religious and pious reasons but Jesus could see that their motives were all wrong.

They could see that he could make their lives better. This man sent by God would get rid of all poverty, hunger, give them their land back and drive out the Romans. It’s possible that this prophet would restore Israel to its former glory – perhaps give it even greater glory than in the days of kings David and Solomon. But Jesus tells them they were too focussed on the food that will spoil and not on the food that lasts for eternal life.

Jesus says that he is the food that they should be seeking. God has given food in the past to his people especially out there in the wilderness and God had given 10,000 a plentiful supply of food at the picnic when Jesus supplied the food. That kind of food is important and essential, but there is one kind of food that is even more important and essential – Jesus. "I am the bread of life" Jesus told the, "Those who come to me will never be hungry; those who believe in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35).

Sharing food in Jesus day indicated friendship, fellowship and oneness. When a weary traveller came to the door, it was assumed that he would be given food and rest. We hear of Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors – a sign of how much God loves even the worse sinner. Jesus is the Bread of Life who brings togetherness and unity between God and humanity and between one person and the next. For people like Zaccheus the tax collector, the outcasts of society, the people no one else would talk to, Jesus was truly the Bread of Life as he forgave their sin and assured them of God's love.

Just as food is essential for our physical safety and well-being, Jesus is essential for our eternal safety and well-being. When Jesus says "I am" he is referring to the name of God in the Old Testament and making the connection with the God of the Israelites who gave them food and drink and kept them alive. Jesus goes one step further and states that he is the Bread of Life.
He is the food that gives eternal life.
He is the food that encourages and comforts the guilty sinner.
He is the bread that enables us to carry the heavy loads that life can put on our shoulders.
He is the food that will strengthen us to face anything that comes our way.
With Jesus, the Bread of Life, there is nothing more that we need. This is bread that God gives to us as a gift. This is the bread that is not only good for the here and now but also for eternity.

This bread will change you. This bread will strengthen you for the journey ahead. This bread gives eternal life. This bread gives hope in the face of trouble, confusion and death.

As World War II was drawing to a close, the Allied armies gathered up many hungry orphans. They were placed in camps where they were well-fed. Despite excellent care, they slept poorly. They seemed nervous and afraid. Finally, a psychologist came up with the solution. Each child was given a piece of bread to hold after he was put to bed. This particular piece of bread was just to be held—not eaten. The piece of bread produced wonderful results. The children went to bed knowing they would have food to eat the next day. That piece of bread gave the children a restful and contented sleep; it gave them hope and peace and security in the face of their terrible loss and uncertainty. If a small piece of bread can do that how much can the Bread of Life that came down from heaven give us the hope, peace, security and eternal life that only god can give.

"I am the bread of life," Jesus told them. "Those who come to me will never be hungry.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
2nd August 2009

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