Sunday, August 02, 2015

Sermon; 10 Pentecost/Proper 13B; John 6:24-35

Last week we heard John's version of the feeding of the 5000.  With that reading we began a five week odyssey through John 6 that we call the Bread of Life series.  Over those five weeks we move from everyone wanting to crown Jesus king to people falling away because the words of Jesus are hard.

Last week Jesus fed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish.  Today there's a kind of post-game review of the event and a looking forward of things to come.  Today's gospel not only reviews the feeding story, but begins to connect Jesus with, and as, manna from heaven.

If we ignore the crossing of the sea and Jesus walking on water, last week's gospel ended with Jesus escaping the crowd who would make him king.  Today that crowd catches up to him and demands to know when Jesus arrived.  Jesus, however, deflects the question.

“This isn't about when I came here,” he says.  “It's about why you are following me.  You are following me because I gave you bread.”

He reminds the crowd that, despite the fact that five loaves and two fish fed 5000 people, it is temporary.  Even miracle food can't nourish forever and will perish.  Remember what happened when the Israelites gathered more than one days' worth of manna – it spoiled and became full of maggots.  That makes me wonder about those twelve baskets of bread the disciples picked up after the people were fed.

Anyway . . . knowing that both bread and manna will rot and perish, Jesus encourages the people to work for the food that endures for eternal life.  That eternal food will be given by the Son of Man – Jesus himself.  The people who had just experienced a miracle feeding hear this and immediately demand a sign in order to believe.  If Jesus wants them to work for that food, they want to know what works he will perform.

Eventually this discussion does bring up the subject of manna.  The people had just been fed yesterday and they want to know what sign and/or work Jesus will perform so that they may believe.  They were being confronted with something new.  What often happens when people are confronted with a new way of doing things, or a new way of being?  They revert to old traditions.  They call on the ghosts of their ancestors.  They bring up the, “We've never done it that way before” argument.

Jesus said to not work for perishable food, but to work for the eternal food which he will give.  Really?  Show us a sign.  Show us a work.  Don't forget, OUR ancestors ate manna with Moses in the wilderness.  Scripture says, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”  Can you compete with that?

That quote, by the way, comes from Psalm 78:24.

Have you ever noticed that when people begin to make appeals to Scripture in order to defend the way they've always done it, they will oftentimes pick out a single verse defending their position while totally ignoring the context of the quote and the bigger picture?  That happens here.

Our ancestors ate manna – He gave them bread from heaven to eat.

I gotta hand it to Jesus for not coming back at them by quoting most of the rest of Psalm 78; in particular, verses 30-37 which says things like this:  they did not stop their craving, though the food was till in their mouths; they went on sinning, and had no faith in his wonderful works; they flattered him with their mouths, and lied to him with their tongues.

But Jesus doesn't do that.  Instead he says, “It was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven (past tense), but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven (present tense)”.

When the people ask for that eternal bread always (which seems kind of redundant to me), Jesus makes the startling claim that he is the Bread of Life.

This Bread of Life series is five weeks long.  The gospel reading for today is but one piece of that.  Unlike last week's story of the feeding of the 5000, today's story isn't really a stand-alone story.  It begins to explain what the feeding meant and it begins to look at Jesus' claim that he is the Bread of Life.  The only way to really look at this gospel passage is in the context of the entire series.

So, rather than give you something specific about today's gospel passage, I want to leave you with a homiletical cliffhanger, sort of like the old Batman TV show did.  Being left as bear bait, the announcer screamed, “An un-BEAR-able situation . . . The Dynamic Duo poised for a Grizzly fate? . . . Will the Riddler's revenge be Sweet as Honey? . . . Will they just Bearly escape? . . . Or will they be put into permanent hibernation?”

Well . . . maybe not quite that campy.

But here are some things to ponder as we move forward with the Bread of Life series.

First, how are you nourished?  Are you really being nourished, or are you doing just enough to put off the pangs of hunger?  How much work is involved in providing nourishment?

Second, what does it mean for you to see Jesus as the Bread of Life?  Is that just some spiritual, metaphorical language from John, or is there something deeper and more real to it?

Finally, how might you define eternal life?  Is it heavenly immortality, or might there be a different meaning that can impact our lives today?

Like I said, this isn't really a stand-alone gospel passage, but it is both a place of reflection on what went before and a launching pad for what will come after.  I hope you are able to spend some time with it this week, maybe reading further into John 6; and I hope that, as the series progresses, we can find some meaning for this eternal Bread of Life.



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