Sermon given by Jeff at Gordon Chapel Evensong 13 Aug 17
What are the two biggest sellers in bookshops just now? Cookbooks – and Diet Books! I wonder – what food and which diet will you be offered tonight? Certainly, bread will appear.
The cultivation of wheat and the resultant development of farming emerged around the Tigris and Euphrates in what’s now Iraq. Bread had been the staple diet of the Middle East for generations. So the phrase ‘bread of life’ must have seemed odd, and teaching about bread after which you would never go hungry, beyond imagination, and even though the language of metaphor would have been very familiar to them, this was challenging.
In 1887 a baker named Stony Smith patented a new kind of bread, full of wheat germ. It was brown and initially not many were tempted away from white bread. This new bread was named ‘Hovis’ from the Latin, Homonis vis (the strength of man). Is there a better bread? Oh yes!
For Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never go thirsty’ – later he says ‘it is written in the Prophets; ‘they will be taught by God’. Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him, comes to me.”
We are taught by God, and guided by the Holy Spirit – but we have to be open to them. The people listening to Jesus couldn’t grasp what he said, partly because they closed their minds.
They couldn’t see beyond the man before them and his earthly life. “Is not this Jesus, whose father and mother we know, they argued. What they thought they knew, what they thought they had seen, what they believed possible and impossible, so narrowed their vision, that they couldn’t recognise Jesus for who he really was. They forgot their own Prophets, Teachings and Signs! All pointing to the Messiah.
But lets be fair to them – Jesus words were difficult – for Jesus to talk about eating his flesh and drinking his blood would have been a horror story, because of their very strict rules about what they ate, especially blood.
So Jesus explained; this bread is not about day-to-day existence. This is the bread of heaven – whoever eats of this bread will live forever! It’s about what is real, what ultimately matters.
What does this mean for us? Lets look at it in another way, perhaps take an alternative or parallel view of this reading alongside the traditional one.
What do we hunger and thirst for? Food and drink of course, but also success, peace, love and more. Do we long for things that just meet a present need or fad, or those that will last. Do we trust God?
When the Israelites tried to take and keep extra manna in the desert, it became mouldy and infested with maggots. It was meant just for the day and in some respects, learning to live day by day is to be commended – think of the lilies of the field, or the birds of the air and – ‘do not worry about what tomorrow will bring’.
This bread of life that ensures we will never be hungry is about something else – something deeper. But then Jesus announces that this bread is ‘my flesh’. What’s that about – is it bread – or is it flesh? What is real?
A children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, addresses this question. The Rabbit asked one day ’ What is Real?” The Skin Horse replied that, ‘Real isn’t how you are made, it’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real’. ‘Does it hurt?’ asked Rabbit. “Sometimes’, said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you’r Real, you don’t mind being hurt….Generally, by the time you’r Real, most of your hair has been loved off, your eyes drop out, you get loose joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you’r Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand’. Isn’t that lovely – perhaps I’m ugly to everyone else except Lynne, who’s rubbed off most of my rough edges with love’!!
Sometimes it’s through the difficult lessons of life, that we learn the value of walking with God. You pay more for Hovis than white bread, but it’s bread that does you more good. (hmm – I still prefer white!)
It’s difficult to know what to do for the best – our upbringing may influence how we think and act. The crisis in the financial markets, Brexit, natural and man made disasters, and now the Trump/Korea thing – show that not all we gather, save, prepare and plan for will come to fruition, or last for ever (like that manna in the desert). So how can we determine what is really real and really worthwhile?
Help is at hand for Jesus also said that people ‘will all be taught by God’. Perhaps Jesus was speaking not just about food but about teaching – about ‘food for thought’, rather than just food for the body. Jesus is the bread of life because he gives us ‘food for thought’.
How do we usually feed our minds – perhaps reading books and watching films and tv. However we need to be careful, we don’t want to poison our minds by feeding them the wrong kind of information. I think it was Samuel Johnson who once said ‘Always keep the best company you can when you read’.
Can you remember the most famous instruction that Jesus gave us. I think it was probably ‘Love one another’ though I prefer the translation ‘take care of each other’. That’s real food for thought isn’t it. So when Jesus said ‘I am the bread of life” was he really saying something like “ I can give you really good food for thought – think on this – ‘take care of each other!’
But that’s not all. Jesus made an astonishing claim about this food. He said ‘I am the bread of life – he who comes to me will never go hungry…’. It’s a wonderful thought – to be satisfied with life forever. Can it really be that if people take care of each other they will be satisfied with life – and for ever?
Just think how it could be if we take care of each other – really take care of each other. Husband and wife, families, communities, difference races, all nations caring for other nations. And of course different churches, denominations and religions – learning about and taking care of each other.
And more – that we really become companions in life. The word companion means not just a friend or travelling companion – it means literally ‘one with whom we share bread’.
Will we share it with our neighbour and with the world? Surely that would be well on the way to being satisfied and happy with life for-ever. It would certainly remove many of our anxieties.
So, when Jesus said that he was the bread of life and those who come to him will never be hungry.. perhaps he meant that people will always be satisfied with life if they take his advice, follow his commandments and instructions for living – and take care of each other.
I wonder what would happen if the NHS approved a medicine for eternal life – there would certainly be long queues at the chemists shop.
But –we have something here already in our churches throughout the world and in Fochabers. We offer it throughout the year, often weekly or more. We invite all Christians to take it, and we provide teaching for those not yet Christians, to become part of the community that will live forever. We become a portal to that eternal life – welcoming all to join us, to be companions, and together – eat the bread from heaven.
The bread from heaven feeds our needy souls – and just as Jesus shared food at the feeding of the 5000 we are called to do the same.
As Nikolai Berdayev said “ The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the question of bread for my neighbour is a spiritual question”.
On an aeroplane, we’ll hear during the safety talk, that if oxygen masks are needed, then we should put on our own mask before that of someone depending on us, like a child, elderly or injured person. That way we are better able to safely help the more helpless.
The same is true in our spiritual lives. We prepare and refresh ourselves with Communion, the eucharist, with bible study and prayer to keep us spiritually well fed and healthy. If we don’t then we may not be able to help others.
For when we are well and properly taught – when we are well and properly fed, then we can go out to teach and feed others. We can be food for those in need – the downtrodden, troubled and tired – food for those who are spiritually starving.
We are taught by God – for ‘man does not live by bread alone but by all that proceeds out of the mouth of God”. It was by a word from God that the world was created and is fed. Jesus is the Word of God, ‘The Word became flesh, and lived among us”.
Can we take it therefore that Jesus, in some way, is what we receive in the bread and the wine and in the word that we hear and receive in our hearts and minds.
We know there is poverty and hunger but there is also great wealth in the world – enough to feed our world if we would only share it. But it doesn’t seem to have made for greater happiness and contentment. We have record levels of divorce, homelessness, drug addiction and crime. Money hasn’t solved peoples problems and there is a hunger for something more.
We, the church and as individuals can offer that something more. We can be there – simply be there for others, we can actively care for them. We can offer a place of peace and prayer, and services that we trust will bring them, and us, closer to God. We can show them where to find the Bread of Life. Amen