Brad's sermon on this morning's lessons (BCP '79 lectionary).
In our Old Testament and New Testament readings today, we hear a lesson the Lord has tried teach his people since the beginning of time, and that is that our truest hunger in our hearts can only be satisfied by God. While we always seem to focus on our human needs - food, shelter, and even things beyond that for our entertainment or pleasure - God continues to call us to look into our hearts and look at what is really important.
In the reading from Deuteronomy, Moses is telling Israel that the Lord is giving them the promised land, full of milk and honey - both the necessities of life and even the good things in life, after forty years in the wilderness. In this context, Moses reminds the people:
He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
There is a place in our lives that nothing else can fill - and that is God’s place. When Moses talks about every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord, we know that Jesus was the Word of the Lord, made flesh,(John 1:14)living, breathing, walking word, that we could see in action through what Jesus did. In our Gospel lesson from last week, one of the things Jesus did was to feed the multitudes by a miracle not unlike the manna given to Israel. God’s people then as in Moses time get all caught up in their physical needs, and the Lord reminds them once again what it is all about:
Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 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.
In short, everything that God is or ever was is Jesus. Jesus is claiming His own divinity when he calls himself the bread of life. Jesus life and work is the fullest expression of who God is; belief in Him is necessary for eternal life. Belief, however, is not just it - Jesus is talking about eating of this bread. Eating is to internalize something - convert that something into your energy and even your body itself, just as your body does food. While not part of the reading today, John’s Gospel goes on and Jesus says that if we eat the bread of life, Jesus dwells within us. We become more like Christ. We do things like Jesus did. While these actions do not earn us eternal life, they are hallmarks of truly incorporating Jesus into our lives, which is what Jesus is trying to tell us in today’s lesson. Note that Jesus is not talking about belief in past tense; it is believing in a past, present, and future tense - not a single act, but a life lived in Christ.
What does eating the bread of life look like in our lives? To put it another way, if you were charged in a court of law with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict? While much has been written and spoken about the Christian life, it is really very basic. Prayer and worship, both individually and collectively, is key. The second is studying God’s Word as found in the Bible. As Soren Kierkegaard, a dutch philosopher and theologian once wrote, the Bible is God’s love letter to us. It is spiritual - the words in it say more than just history or contain instructions on how to live life, but the words feed the heart and mind. Third, is action - doing. Caring for the sick, those in prison, widows and orphans. In our context, a widow is not just a woman whose husband has died, but may be a single mother and an orphan may be a child who parents are still alive but are unwilling or maybe just unable to do for the child. If Jesus is becoming a part of us from our eating of the bread of life, Jesus will touch everyone we come in contact with - friends, family, co-workers.
Paul, in our Epistle lesson today, certainly tells us what eating the bread of life looks like:
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
We are to live in love, just as Jesus did.
All this sounds good so far. But, we short change today’s Gospel message if we don’t recognize the necessity Jesus puts on accepting Him - of eating the bread of life - and living like we have done so. Elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus says that those who do not accept Him have no life within them.
These are tough statements for us to swallow nowadays. In our pluralistic society, emphasis is placed on understanding and mutual respect among people with varying belief systems. Make no mistake, all belief systems claim some sort of exclusivity to the correct way of living and how to achieve eternal life. There is a temptation to read out these words that make Jesus the exclusive route to God in today’s day and time. Sometimes, Christian leaders are criticized for stating that non-Christians should be evangelized, particularly when they belong to another faith tradition, such as Islam or Judaism. The Pope and our own Bishop of Rochester in England come to mind. Also, we all know people who are not Christians but who are very good people - some even Christlike, and it is hard for us to understand God’s plan of salvation for people we know to be good yet do not believe. Yet, we know of Jesus’ call to us at the end of the Gospel, to go and make disciples of all men. We are to share the bread of life. This morning’s Gospel reading gives us some insight into the process of evangelism - of sharing the bread of life - from a spiritual perspective in a context such as ours, or any context where Christianity is not the majority religion, but one of many.
One small point to remember in sharing the Gospel is to understand that Jesus offered the bread of life with complete confidence that those who are meant to hear and receive Him into their lives will, and He will not reject them:
“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”
I can say that I personally believe Jesus’ words, that He is the way, the truth, and the life, that no one comes to the Father except through Him, that belief in him is necessary to eternal life. Do I know from all this that those who perhaps do not accept Christ in a way I can recognize do not receive eternal life, when Jesus does yet say the He will lose none of the people God has given Him?
No, I don’t. All I can do, all that any of us can do, it to take Jesus’ words at face value. That means sharing what we know to be a sure thing for a complete spiritual life and for eternal life - believing and taking Jesus Christ into our hearts, into our lives, as both what we are made up and from where our strength comes. We have to do that work the Lord has given us to do to share the bread of life with others, but, as Jesus said, it is ultimately His Fathers’ will that controls the outcome of the efforts of ministry. In making Jesus a part of us in eating the bread of life, perhaps we will learn to trust the Father’s will as well, be faithful in living in love and imitating Christ, and leave the results of what we do in God’s hands.