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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, August 2, 2015

Understanding About the Bread

Text: John 6:24-35

In our Sunday worship, we have spent a considerable amount of time in recent weeks focusing on the “Bread of Life.” On the past two Sundays, we read Mark’s version of the feeding of the 5,000, and of Jesus’ interaction afterward with the disciples. Mark made the telling observation that the disciples did not understand about the bread. This week, we read from John’s Gospel. Again, we are looking at what happened after the feeding of the 5,000. In God’s exquisite timing, the Sunday morning Bible class reached this chapter of John two weeks ago, and spent their study time looking at the feeding of the 5,000 and then Jesus’ “I am the Bread of Life” proclamation. Do you think God wants to tell us something? I’m hoping we can stumble upon it today.

There is something in today’s reading from John that reinforces what Mark said about the disciples not understanding about the bread. Jesus has gone across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum after the loaves and fishes miracle. The people who witnessed that miracle have come looking for Him. Jesus confronts them:

“You are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” [John 6:26]

In other words, they did not understand about the bread. Let’s take a look today at three questions:

1.What is it Jesus wants us to understand?

2.Once we understand, what does He want us to do with that knowledge?

3.How does that message speak to the world today?

What does Jesus want us to understand about the miracle He performed that day when He fed 5,000 people with two loaves of bread and five fish? Here in John chapter 6, Jesus says, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27)

He is trying to get these people to raise their focus. They are listening to their bellies. He wants them to listen to God. They are excited about a source of food. He wants them to be excited about eternal things. He is saying, “Look up, for your salvation has come near.” What He wants us to understand about that miracle is that He is giving us a glimpse of the eternal.

• He was letting us peek into the Kingdom of God.

• He was showing us how the world would be if there were no sin.

• He was showing us the world as it will be when God finishes redeeming it.

And the reason Jesus was giving that glimpse of the eternal that day is that He was inaugurating the age when the great transformation would take place.

Not only is God’s redeemed world a place where there is no hunger and no thirst. But it is a place where God Himself is in our midst, and all has been made perfect, and sin is no more. And here, standing in their midst, was God incarnate, Jesus, the source of all things. “I am the bread of life,” He told them. “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

All this talk about the manna and Moses and the wilderness (John 6:31) has to do with a memory deeply rooted in the Jewish psyche. It was during the 40 years after God had delivered them from captivity in Egypt. Here they were, a huge throng of refugees, on their way to the Promised Land. But they were stuck in the desert because they were afraid to fight for a homeland. There is no food out there in the desert. There is very little water. And yet, they survived those 40 years. How did they do that? God provided food and water for them in ways that were obviously miraculous.

We see clearly in this passage from John that they saw the connection. This feeding on the hillside was plainly a miracle, just like the manna in the desert. But was the whole point feeding the people food to keep them alive? That is what they had not understood. For their focus was on the day-to-day issues of life. Their concept of God was about what God could do to help them make it through the day. Their hope was in the stuff of this world.

Jesus wanted them to look up. For their salvation had come near.

I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. [John 6:32-33]

The world today is in just the same condition: their hope is in the stuff of this world. If you were to take a survey and ask people what the greatest problem in the world is, you would get a lot of different answers.

• Some would say it is poverty.

• Some would say it is the nuclear threat.

• Some would say climate change.

• Some would say the biggest problem is crime.

• Some would say it is that we can’t all get along.

• Some would say the world financial system is in shaky condition.

But what is the biggest problem in the world? The biggest problem in the world is that too many people don’t know God. And too many of those who do know God haven’t really turned their lives over to Him. Too many people don’t know God. And there He was standing in the midst of the people in Galilee, and they thought the bread was all about their bellies.

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus said. “Those who come to me shall never go hungry, and those who believe in me will never be thirsty.” Through the rest of the chapter, we see them pressing Him on this. And by the time we get to the end, John tells us that they found it to be a “hard teaching,” and many turned away from following Him. Two days after the feeding of the 5,000, many stopped following the Bread of Life whom the Father had sent into the world. That is the world’s biggest problem. I don’t care what the surveys may say.

You and I represent the people who didn’t stop following Jesus that day. We are the ones who say, “From now on give us this bread.” (John 6:34)

So now, what does He want us to do with this knowledge? It is a question that has to be asked. When God gives us His good gifts, He has a purpose in mind. When God makes us a promise, it gives us hope, and God’s expectation is that the hope will transform us. Jesus was very clear about what He expects of those who become His followers:

• Go and proclaim the Gospel to all creation. (Mark 16:15)

• Go and baptize all nations, teaching them to obey my commands. (Matthew 28:19)

But the third question is, what does this mean for the world today? In the moment in which we live, how do we take our knowledge of the Bread of Life and address the world’s greatest problem? How do we draw people into the Kingdom of God?

I wish I could give you an easy answer to that. Thousands of Christian scholars, evangelists and apologists are studying that question. Thousands of books are being written about it. Different schools of thought have developed:

• The “social gospel,” where Christians have believed that if they address the physical needs of the world, people will want to become Christians.

• Liberation theology, where Christians have believed that if you set people free from their political bondage in the name of Christ, they will become Christians.

• Or a favorite in our time, appeasement evangelism— go along with the culture; just tell people they are okay as they are, and they will flock to the faith.

And yet, the desperate need is still out there. Hungry people get fed, and they still don’t know Jesus. Oppressed people get democracy, and they still don’t know Jesus. People feel affirmed, and they still don’t know Jesus. It is a daunting task.

A lot of attention has been focused recently on how to reach the young adults in America—the ones who are in their teens, twenties and thirties now. As a body, they seem further from God than in any previous generation of Americans. Every church I know would love to solve the riddle of how to bring those young people to saving faith in Christ.

A couple of years ago, we were exposed to something called “Fresh Expressions.” The idea was that to reach people with the Good News, you go to where they are. You hang out and make friends. You begin to develop a circle around you right there in that setting—maybe a coffee house, or a café, or on a beach. And you begin to share the faith and break bread together. There have been some encouraging stories coming out of urban areas. Maybe this will make a dent.

The people who write books say we are living in a “post-modern” age. Post-modernism is a reaction to the principles that have driven modernity since the Enlightenment 400 years ago. Principles such as:

• There is such a thing as objective truth, and it can be known.

• Human reason and logic can be trusted to search out the truth.

• Science and technology promise to lead us into a better world.

In the mid-20th century, philosophers, particularly in Europe, began to question these principles. They were reacting to the bloody realities of the modern world: two world wars, weapons of mass destruction, and political leaders ordering the killing of millions of their own citizens. But, instead of raising their sights to heaven, instead of turning to the Bread of Life, they began to write scholarly tomes saying that:

• There is no objective truth.

• No human knowledge or belief is universally applicable.

• Science and technology are inherently destructive.

And these ideas have seeped down into the thinking of ordinary people. So now, children graduating from high school will say things like, “there is no objective truth.” And if that is what they believe, then they would easily choose to reject the claim that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

So how do we take the transforming power of the Gospel to people who think like that? That is the big question. It seems like a mountain too high to climb. But keep in mind several things:

1.   It was not the enlightenment that made the Gospel believable. The Gospel has its own power. It has been transforming people in all cultures and all belief systems since the day Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”

2.   We are not alone. The Holy Spirit is hovering in our midst, ready to take whatever we do in pursuit of our mandate and bring good things from it. Transforming people is not a problem for the Holy Spirit.

3.   Love has enormous power. That is why Jesus told us to love one another and to love our neighbor. Whomever we approach with the love of Christ has an enhanced chance of hearing the Gospel when we speak it to them.

Keeping all this in mind, we can look at the young secular person in our culture today as someone we love and want to bring into our family to enjoy and be fed by the Bread of Life. And we will want to know what that person’s needs are.

• What I have read is that, first of all they feel alienated. Who wouldn’t if you have been told that you can’t rely on anything being true or permanent or objectively good or bad?

• Second, they feel betrayed. That isn’t hard to figure either.

o   They know that the promises of science and technology have failed to make the world a utopia.

o   They live in this culture of shattered lives, where the “American Dream” that people used to talk about is very uncertain.

o   They see our political system, so beautifully designed but so broken.

• They lack community. So many people are looking for community in cyberspace, where they hook up with circles of “friends” who pop up on a screen but do not touch them with flesh and blood.

Can you hear in these needs the healing power of the Gospel?

• You feel alienated? Well, come meet the bread of life, who will reconcile you to God.

• You feel betrayed? Well, put your trust in the goodness and love of Jesus, the one who never changes, and whose promises you can take to the bank.

• You lack community? Welcome to a loving family that will meet you where you are and walk with you through your crises and celebrate your triumphs with you, and share the Bread of Life with you.

Last Sunday in his final session of Sunday morning Bible Study, Tad de Bordenave asked a provocative question. He asked, “How can we say ‘Jesus is the Bread of Life’ in a way that is understandable to a young person in our culture today?” That question has dogged me all week, and I hope it continues to do so.

You and I know well what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the Bread of Life.” He meant that everything we need to nourish our souls comes from our relationship with Jesus. How do we restate that for the post-modern person? I have a thought. How about if we say, “I am the source of all meaning?”

A person who is alienated and betrayed and who has no community is a person for whom life lacks meaning. If you don’t have a strong sense that your life means something, you feel lost.

Your life and mine has meaning, and we have that gift to pass along to others.

• Jesus is the source of all meaning.

• He is the one who has declared us worthy.

• He is the one who loves us no matter what.

• He is the one who has called us to a higher purpose.

If we can be a community that invites, attracts and embraces others to come and enjoy the Bread of Life together, we will have understood the meaning of the bread.

© 2015 The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar

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