For the Hungry, Exhausted and Dispirited — John 6:24-35 — Sunday August 2, 2015

Ex 16:2-4, 9-15; Ps 78:14-20, 23-25; Eph 4:17-25; John 6:24-35

Last week we heard John 6 and the feeding of the 5000.  Today we read John’s account of Jesus’ explanation and interpretation of the deeper meaning of that feeding miracle.

The interpretation reflects back upon the Exodus and the Wilderness Wandering of the Israelites.  Jesus defines himself as the continuing gift of manna from God to all people in one of the great “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John.  Here, “I am the bread of life.”  Elsewhere, I am the living water, I am the light of the world, I am the good shepherd, I am the resurrection and the life, and so forth.

These are all divine statements.  They could not rationally be stated by any human being who was not also divine — including any sovereign or political leader, the Pope, the Dalai Lama, Confucius, Buddha, or Mohammed.

I asked some parishioners what that statement meant in their lives, “I am the bread of life.”  One said, “Well, I have experienced Jesus [as the bread of life] on two levels. I have gone to the altar rail feeling completely exhausted and drained, and after receiving the bread and wine went back feeling refreshed and strong.

Then, [on another level,] when we were struggling financially… sometimes scratching around for cents to buy bread we never went hungry . Gifts of food would arrive ! And each month also a cheque from an anonymous friend. Physically and spiritually we were constantly provided for and blessed. Thank you Lord !

A second person said this: Jesus as the bread of life… My turning point in life was when I was in hospital for the 10 months . I was  20 years old and had been on my own since I was 18 years… a young deacon [from the parish] visited me every second week.

It’s strange that you ask me about that passage. [The deacon] explained about how Jesus used bread to illustrate how much he loves us and can make changes in our lives.  Also the sacrifice of his life that when we eat the bread it’s his body! Making sense

A third person spoke of the nourishing effect of communion between believers is the same as the nourishing effect of communion with Jesus and the Eucharist.

God feeds us in history not only for our survival and nourishment but to accomplish salvation for the whole world

In the first of our readings today (Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15) and Psalm 78, in the wilderness, the Israelites had been delivered from slavery (in Egypt), and were on their journey to a land of their own, that God would give them (in Canaan).Manna, though it was “food from heaven”, yet, it was not an easy or free lunch.  But it was sufficient, with effort, to sustain them on their journey to God’s purposes for the whole world.  

In Jesus’ prayer that he gave us, “Give us this day our daily bread,” refers to the food which enabled the Israelites and us to survive on God’s mission.

In our Gospel reading from John 6, Jesus’ audience was looking for a material miracle.  They wanted something for nothing — or even, for him to turn stones into bread, as the tempter had previously suggested.

Jesus, however, specifically opposed the idea that this was free bread, designed to cater for the lazy.  To follow Jesus was the route to survival.  Not only survival, however:  it was the route to eternal life: true freedom; true love, and true life for the person and the world.

Think of William Wilberforce (1759-1833) who we remember each year on 30th July. He spent his life fighting for the repeal of slavery in the English Parliament.  His whole life long!  Certainly God sustained him, yet so poignantly, the actual repeal of slavery came only (just) after the death of Wilberforce.  To follow Jesus means to have your whole life spent in the service of Jesus.  And yet, God’s purposes are achieved in God’s time, not in our time.

We can consider another dimension of what this means.  You cannot follow Jesus as a single individual alone.  In the early (first Century) Christian writing called the Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), the bread of life is made up of wheat and broken bread gathered together from all the hills, meaning all the people of the earth.  Following Jesus immediately entails being part of a group of people, the people of God.  We may not always see eye to eye, but to follow Jesus is to be an equal member with everyone else who follows Jesus.  Perhaps someone will say, “I worship God (alone) in my garden.”  Well, that is not normal Christian worship.  In our Ephesians reading we have, “The body’s growth in building itself up in love” (4:16).

Our personal interactions are avenues of God’s grace, and they are sacraments of divine nourishing.

Among the people of God, each one an equal member with the next one, there must be justice.  In every Holy Eucharist we read, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.  Just as the dimension of freedom is not free of cost; so also this other dimension of following Jesus.  So a just and equal relation with one another, all of us, is both valuable, and costly.

When we ask for and receive Jesus’ body, the bread of eternal life, Jesus gives us everything that is worthwhile, now and into eternity.  This also costs everything we have.

Jesus leads us into a freedom that is a costly freedom.  Jesus will sustain us with bread from heaven which is himself.  There will be fruit in God’s time.  But the cost to him was his life, and the cost to us will be our wholehearted commitment.  We have to be ready to offer up our own lives.  In this week, let’s open each meeting, interaction and conversation to be a divine channel, praying that God’s grace will reach each person near us.

In the name of Christ Amen.

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