Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen
Jesus and Bread. That’s the theme.
For five weeks our Gospel lesson has been from the sixth chapter of St. John, the Bread of Life discourse.
It begins with Jesus’ feeding a crowd of five thousand people, having only a boy’s lunch, a few barley loaves and a couple fish.
As the chapter goes on, Jesus teaches the crowds about himself, that he is the true bread of life who came down from heaven, that all who eat of it may not perish, but live.
After the feeding of the five thousand the crowds were ready to seize him and make him King.
After Jesus explained that he is the Bread of Life that came down from heaven, and that they would “eat his flesh and drink his blood” the crowds left him, leaving only his disciples, because the teaching was too hard for them.
Their stomachs were filled, and they wanted him to be their King.
But when he shared with them what truly happened, they could no longer associate with him.
From King to outcast in a few short moments,
There are two major themes in Jesus’ teaching, both of which appear to be equally offensive to the crowds.
The first is that he is the “Bread of Life” and that just as the Israelites ate the manna in the wilderness so to would those who followed him eat this bread, and live. Even more offensive is that uses the words, eat my flesh and drink my blood.
After two thousand years of celebrating Holy Communion, we likely don’t realize what an offense those words would cause. Cannibalism.
That’s enough to turn one’s stomach.
The second theme is Jesus’ teaching is that he has come down from heaven. This divine origin troubles the people, and they just cannot see it. After all, they thought that they knew him, the Son of Joseph and Mary, the boy who grew up among them.
And now he says that he is from heaven?
This was hard to accept.
I find myself asking two questions of the crowds who were with Jesus that day.
Was it because they simply didn’t understand Jesus that they rejected him and his teaching?
Or was it because they did understand him, that they found what he said to be intolerable?
Similar questions can be asked of us.
Like his disciples, we have chosen to follow him, and we accept his teaching regarding him being the bread of life that has come down from heaven.
But is the reason we can so easily accept Jesus and his teaching because we have truly understood him?
Or is it possible that we have accepted him and followed him, because we don’t fully understand him?
Christians have long understood these passages as dealing with communion. “Eat my body” and “drink my blood” are obvious references to communion.
But this is the thing.
Eating bread and drinking wine as part of a ritual is common to both Jews and Christians.
Specifically, the bread and wine are part of the Passover Seder, and other times as well.
That would not offend Jews.
Something else was going on, not merely eating a bit of bread or drinking some wine.
Obviously, there is the understanding that “this is my body, this is my blood” that is part of communion.
But even that wouldn’t be so difficult to accept.
So why is this teaching so hard that the crowds turned back from following Jesus?
The second part of that teaching is that Jesus is the Bread of Life, from heaven.
It is Jesus’ talking about having come down from heaven that is a stumbling block for his followers.
They knew him.
They knew his family.
They thought they knew where he came from.
I have a sister-in-law who is Jewish. She was telling us how she explained to her boys the difference between Jews and Christians.
Her explanation was that both Jews and Christians believed that Jesus was a great man who had many good things to teach us about the Law and Life.
But Christians believe that Jesus was God’s Son and came down from heaven. Jews don’t.
That you see is the problem for Jewish people.
Did Jesus, one of their own, come down from heaven and take on earthly flesh?
What is it that is so offensive about Jesus?
Was it what he taught?
Or who he was?
What I believe we can say with absolute certainty is that for those people who first encountered Jesus, who heard his teaching and came to know who he was, the encounter with Jesus was a game changer.
It made a difference.
For some it meant they could no longer follow him.
And for others it meant that they would follow him, even if it meant their death.
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Those two simple words, “I am” also point us in another direction.
I am, or in Hebrew “Yahweh”, was the name God gave Moses from the burning bush.
And for Jesus to make such statements is to claim the name of God as his own.
At the beginning of this passage the crowds were ready to seize him and make him King.
At the end of the passage, it is becoming clear that Jesus is not just an earthly ruler, but the King of the Universe.
And that makes all the difference in the world.
Either you will refuse to follow him at all, or you will follow him even to the point of giving your life.
Fast forward 2,000 years to our own time and our own place.
At times I wonder if being a Christian in this country that is in large part a Christian country and culture—is just too easy.
Does the decision to follow Jesus carry with it any weight; does it truly change our lives?
Is it radical enough that some would turn away?
Is it significant enough that others would be willing to give even their lives?
What difference does it make?
I think that one of the most difficult challenges facing us as Christians in this day is that living a life of faith, as we understand it, no longer means being set apart from the world.
Rarely does it change our politics.
Rarely does it affect our economy.
When people become Christian, often the rest of their life continues unchanged.
It’s both the curse and the blessing of living in a Christian culture.
My sister-in-law, who I mentioned before is Jewish, has a different experience.
Her faith, which is different than the majority of our country, sets her apart.
There are things about her life that are different from our culture because she is Jewish.
I find myself wondering if there is anything about my life that is different, life changing, because I am a Christian.
Does Jesus make a difference?
And what is the difference?
“I am the Bread of Life.”
I once heard it said about the Amish, that the reason that they did not adapt to modern things, was not that the modern things were evil, but rather that they felt it was just important to set themselves apart as Christians.
They desire to live their lives different from the world in order that they might not become one with the world.
Are there ways that we can live our lives set apart from the world in order that we might focus more intently on Jesus as the Bread of Life from heaven, and the life that he, and he alone, grants?
It’s a simple question in the end.
Jesus gave his life for me—what difference does that make?
I am forgiven—does that change the way I act?
Jesus is the Bread of Life from heaven, I will not perish—so how then will I live?
I guess what I long for, most of all, is that others might see the way I live, and know that there is something different about me, and that difference is the faith that I hold.
I want them to know that Jesus made a difference in the life I lived and the love I shared.
That, to me, is the most significant challenge facing the whole church in this country.
Are we different because we bear the name of Christ?