Sunday’s sermon: A Hunger So Deep

Text used – John 6:35-59

  • The smell of fresh-baked bread. There’s nothing quite like it, is there?
    • Walking into Grandma’s house as a kid after she’d just baked bread
    • Maybe it’s a hobby you picked up during the pandemic, either out of interest (something you always wanted to try but didn’t feel like you had the time for before) or out of necessity (to avoid going to the store)
    • Doesn’t have to be homemade → get that same mouth-watering, warm, yeasty smell when you pop a batch of premade rolls from HyVee or wherever into your oven
    • Even if you’re someone who’s never once baked any kind of bread in your entire life, you know that if you walk into a Subway at the right time of day, you’ll catch a whiff of that wonderful, fresh-baked-bread aroma.
    • Bread isn’t just delicious → it’s elemental to the human experience
      • Some type of bread found in some form in basically every culture around the world
        • Flat breads
        • Risen breads
        • Quick breads
        • Every day breads
        • Dessert breads
        • Fancy loaves and rolls for special occasions/celebrations
      • And you know, one of the most beautiful and most amazing things about bread is that from some very, very basic ingredients – some type of flour or grain, water, and salt … from these incredibly ordinary and humble ingredients, there is truly no end to the kinds of bread that can be made. 
        • Different breads in different cultures
          • Bannock cooked by the Inuit people who’ve made their home in the Artic for millennia
          • Injera – crepe-like flat bread common in Ethiopia and Somalia used as platter, utensil, and meal
          • Pillow-soft Japanese milk buns
          • Crackling crust and soft interior of a French baguette
          • They even found a petrified but fully intact loaf of nearly 2000-yr.-old bread in the ruins of Pompeii![1]
          • Maybe most recognizable here in the Midwest: potato-tinged familiarity of lefse (whether you add butter and eat it with meatballs … or add butter and sugar and cinnamon … which is not a war we will wage today)
        • Different recipes handed down from one generation to the next within the same culture
        • Even variations made on family recipes from one generation to the next! → Maybe Grandma used walnuts in her Christmas loaf, but you prefer pecans. Maybe your great-aunt’s recipe for hot cross buns calls for raisins, but you prefer currants. Or maybe you’ve gone completely off the rails and added crazy ingredients like saffron or a raz el hanout spice blend to your great-great-great grandfather’s favorite biscuit recipe … just to spice things up a bit!
    • The bottom line is, bread is essential to who we are as a people. It both expressed our own heritage and build bridges between cultures because bread – in one form or another, in one flavor profile or another – is something we all have in common.
  • It’s no wonder, then, that Jesus spends so much time talking about bread in our passage this morning.
    • Disclaimer before we get any further with today’s passage: reading/contemplating/preaching anything from John = like a game of theological pick-up sticks
      • Handful of major theological themes scattered throughout every passage
      • Can’t pick up one theme without bumping into all the others
      • Also can’t pick up all of them at once
      • Which is my way of fully acknowledging that there’s a lot that we could tackle in this passage, but we just can’t get to it all. But, as always, if you’d like to talk about any of it further, I’m more than willing to sit down with you … maybe over a cup of coffee … and some bread.
    • So let’s dig into this “bread of life” passage a little more.
      • Context w/in the greater narrative of the gospel
        • Comes on the heels of two pretty miraculous occasions
          • Beginning of ch. 6 (vv. 1-15) = Jn’s account of the feeding of the 5000 → Now, all of the gospels include some version of Jesus feeding the crowd of 5000+ people with nothing but a couple of loaves and fish. Only in John’s gospel does that meal come from someone in the crowd – a young boy. But all agree that after blessing and breaking the bread, and after the disciples shared the meal around, there was still an overabundance of bread and fish leftover.
          • Next passage starts with disciples heading out onto Sea of Galilee by themselves (Jesus went up on a mountain to pray after the feeding of the 5000 … today, we call that self-care, y’all … even Jesus did it!) → water becomes rough, and in the midst of the wind and the waves, Jesus walks out to the disciples’ boat across the surface of the water
            • No mention of Peter joining Jesus out on the water in Jn’s gospel à this account just ends with: Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and just then the boat reached the land where they had been heading.[2]
          • Part of the passage directly leading into today’s reading = discussion btwn Jesus and the crowd → crowd had gone looking for him after they realized he was no longer with them following the feeding of the 5000 → Jesus gets a little contentious with the crowd: When they found [Jesus] on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” (Sounds like an innocent-enough question, right?) Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you at all the food you wanted.”[3] → From there, Jesus launches into his discourse on the Bread of Life.
  • And let’s be totally honest, here – it’s a pretty heady discourse. It’s not exactly easy reading, right? – text: “This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that whoever eats from it will never die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” … Jesus said to them, “I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Human One and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. It isn’t like the bread your ancestors ate, and then they died. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”[4] → It’s a dense passage. It’s a rich passage. Like I said earlier, there’s a lot there, and some of it could get us digging really deep theologically.
    • Whole “flesh and blood of Christ”/bread and wine idea could lead us down the path of talking about the Catholic theology about communion vs. the Lutheran theology about communion vs. the Reformed theology about communion → If that’s what pulls at your heart and your mind with this passage, I would love to talk to you about it further. Later.
    • Could also spend all sorts of time taking a deeper diver into Jesus’ multiple assertions of his inextricable connection with God and how those who seek God must inevitably do that seeking through the person and work of Jesus himself → Again, if that’s what pulls at your heart and your mind with this passage, let’s talk more … later.
  • What really pulls at my heart and mind when I read this passage is how truly and fully embodied God is in Jesus Christ. God took on all that it was to be human in the incarnation in Jesus Christ. God literally put on flesh and bone and hair and eyelashes and goosebumps. God put on coarsely woven clothes and rough leather sandals. God’s own stomach rumbled and God’s own mouth watered at the smell of fresh-baked bread.
    • Rev. Dr. Jamie Clark-Soles (prof. of NT at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX): If we are going to experience God, it will have to be in our bodies. This is, after all, the Gospel of Incarnation … John 6 is as embodied as it gets … Ingesting Jesus (a phrase used by Jane Webster who has a book by that name), eating his flesh and drinking his blood makes us commingled with him, and therefore God, in the deepest way.[5] → Friends, it was God who created us – created our bodies in all their beautiful and frustrating and confounding glory, created all of our daily needs to be fed and nourished over and over again, created each individual olfactory receptor that allows us to smell that baking bread and each individual taste bud that allows us to savor it. Remember, it’s in John’s gospel – John 10:10 – where Jesus promises those gathered around him (disciples, crowds, and Pharisees) that he came so that “they could have life – indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.”[6]
    • And that’s the other really powerful connection that I love about this passage. Jesus is very specific. He is not just bread but “the bread of life,” “the living bread.” Over and over again, Jesus uses these two phrases.
      • vv. 35 and 48: “I am the bread of life.”
      • v. 51: “I am the living bread.”
      • v. 50: “This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that whoever eats it will never die.”
      • vv. 51 (further in) and 58: “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
      • Also v. 51: “the bread that I will give for the life of the world”
      • Again and again and again, Jesus links himself and abundant life with bread – the most common, humble, varied, and accessible food element throughout history. → powerful for 2 reasons
        • FIRST: wide-spread accessibility of it all → text: Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.[7] → Gr. “world” literally refers to the whole world in the most inclusive sense
          • Humanity
          • Everyone
          • All peoples
          • WHOLE. WORLD. Period. Full stop. God embraced and took on the fullness of humanity in Jesus Christ for the whole world. No exceptions.
        • Also powerful because of that Eucharistic link that we touched on earlier – that distinctly communal element → Every single time we gather together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together – every time we break bread and share it, every time we partake together and pray together and praise God in our shared presence together here at this table, we participate in and are nourished by that abundant life.
          • Rev. Dr. Clark-Soles: We experience God in the flesh. Our flesh is invigorated by the Spirit. Jesus, God, and the Spirit indwell us; we participate in them in our actual bodies. … For all of us, the eucharist (or communion, or the Lord’s Supper) reminds us we are part of a community, a community of life. Human beings were not made to be alone and cannot attain or maintain abundant life without others. We are in it together. Period.[8] → Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/07/07/ancient-bread/.

[2] Jn 6:21.

[3] Jn 6:25-26 (with my own insertion).

[4] Jn 6:50-51, 53-58.

[5] Jaime Clark-Soles. “Commentary on John 6:35-59” from Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/bread-of-life/commentary-on-john-635-59-2.

[6] Jn 10:10.

[7] Jn 6:51 (emphasis added).

[8] Clark-Soles.

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