August 9, 2015 – Bread of heaven

Pentecost 11 August 9, 2015   John 6:35-51   Bread of heaven

********************************

My mother will very soon be moving in with my sister, and we’re thinking of mom every day…And I keep remembering things my mother said when I was little. And probably because once again we’re talking about eating… I’ve been especially hearing my mother’s voice saying, “Eat all your food, dear…”

Now days I seldom have any problem eating everything served. But back when I was little, my parents sometimes had to tell me more than once…to clean my plate if I wanted dessert… or wanted to stay up even a little while after supper…

And sometimes Jesus reminds me (just a little…) of my mother…

We’re into the third of a four or five course meal… served by Jesus in John chapter six. Picking up where we left off, recapping briefly, hearing again in our opening verse of our first gospel reading, Jesus’ last word from last week: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Last week Jesus was counseling us – (as if we were young people just about to enter the workforce) – not to go to work for bread that perishes – but to work for the food that feeds us for eternal life… The crowd asks ‘what then must we do…to do the work that God requires? Jesus said ‘this is the work God requires – to believe in the one God has sent.’ (That, of course, would be Jesus.)

What sign can you give to show us we should believe you? Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, the bread of heaven,’ the crowd says.

It wasn’t Moses who gave the manna,’ Jesus says. ‘It is my Father who gives the true bread from heaven that comes down to earth and gives life to the world.’

‘Sir, give us this bread always,’ the crowd says.

‘I am the bread of life… Whoever comes to me will never be hungry… Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty,’ Jesus says.

Now, maybe if Jesus had just stopped a little earlier… this dinner party would have been a huge success. If Jesus had only said, ‘That’s all for tonight folks. Tune in again tomorrow, same time, same station…We’ll be feeding you with all the finest bread you can eat…’ If only Jesus had better marketing staff… All the guests could have gone home happy, saying, ‘Great dinner, Jesus. We’ll be back tomorrow. And yes, we’ll be sending our offerings to support your ministry. And yes, please, do send a copy of that twelve CD sermon series boxed set your assistants mentioned. Thank you, Jesus. See you later…

But…so often (a bit like my mother long ago) Jesus has a lot more on the menu than we’re prepared to eat… And instead of sending us home when we think its time to go, Jesus brings on another course, saying, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…

And even before these words are out of his mouth, the dinner guests – the large crowd that’s actually experienced, remember, eating till completely satisfied, starting from nothing but a tiny plate of hors d’oeuvres – two little fishes, five loaves of bread, over which Jesus gave thanks, then shared – But now, instead of a whole lot of ‘thank you Jesus,’ now we’re hearing the dinner guests grumbling and saying, ‘Don’t we know this guy’s family? Don’t we know who he is and where he comes from? Who the hey does he think he is – saying he’s come down from heaven?’ (He’s from Nazareth – which, last we heard, is not to be confused with heaven. Just a hick town in the sticks…)

And what Jesus is saying now really does sound more than a little scandalous… When we start adding it all up, connecting all the dots of all Jesus has been saying… Maybe we’ve been duped? Maybe this is a false prophet? Maybe this Jesus guy’s been doing mass hypnosis? We can almost hear these kinds of questions arising… As the implications of what Jesus is saying – that he himself has come down from heaven – starts to sink in… Now we’re teetering on the edge of a potential food fight… As dinner conversation turns edgy…With guests talking about what we think we know… about someone we think we’ve always known…

And this is now obviously not a story just about food… It’s also about the genealogy of Jesus and who his family really is… The popularity of genealogies is nothing new. There’s no less than ten genealogies in Genesis, first book of the bible, and Chronicles opens with a nine-chapters-long-genealogy-of-the-people-of-Israel… Genealogies punctuate many early books of the bible, like drum or string bass solos… Adding rhythm to the biblical symphony….Matthew’s gospel opens the New Testament with a 40-plus-generation genealogy of Jesus’s step-father’s side of the family, back to Abraham…Then Luke’s genealogy traces the family line of Jesus all the way back to Adam…

And there’s only one way to go further back then that… but John goes there… Saying, in his gospel’s opening verses “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and lived among us… No one has ever seen God, it is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart who has made him known…” (This is how John starts talking about Jesus.) And we, the gospel readers, have been tipped off in advance who Jesus is… But the crowds following Jesus, before the gospel has been written down, don’t know this…

And yes, Jesus (as usual) is saying more than we may be hearing at first listening. But when he talks about bread from heaven, that’s a metaphor familiar to the Jews, his people. (John uses the words Jews frequently, sometimes positively sometimes negatively, most of the time neutrally. Always talking about his own people, the way we talk about family.) We’ve read from Exodus 16, two weeks ago, where God, speaking about manna in the wilderness, tells Moses, ‘I’m going to rain bread from heaven for you…’ Last week we heard Ezra the scribe remind Israel again (in the book of Nehemiah) of God’s goodness, saying “for their hunger you gave them bread from heaven…” Psalm 78, again talking about the exodus, says “he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven, he rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven…” All Israel knows these scriptures, and it’s the all-Jewish crowd that first says “bread of heaven” in this conversation with Jesus.

But when Jesus says I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever… Now he’s making this whole heavenly bread thing a little too personal for some…

His dinner guests listening probably remember Wisdom, who was there in the beginning with God in Proverbs 8, inviting the simple (that’s me) saying, “Come, eat of my bread…” (in Proverbs 9). She (Wisdom) is obviously not talking about just bread for the body, since Wisdom continues speaking, saying next “Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” And Lady Wisdom (Wisdom’s always a she in Proverbs) is talking about serving the bread and wine of wisdom in a way Israel was very used to, speaking in a familiar way about bread they could all digest….

But now here’s Jesus telling us “I am the living bread that came down from heaven…and… the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Which sounds like a much more extreme diet than many are willing to even think about eating… And pretty soon even some of his best friends are thinking second thoughts about Jesus.

***

So how then are we to digest all this rich feast of the Word? Theologians and scholars still love to debate what Jesus means. Some, now and through the ages, hear this whole chapter as all about holy communion… (In John’s own unique language of course, since nowhere in John do we hear the direct words of communion – “this is my body given for you, do this in memory of me” – that we hear in Matthew, Mark, Luke and First Corinthians.) Others, through the ages hear this whole chapter six as all about the cross. None of it’s really about communion, at least not directly, they say.

Others say this chapter’s about the teachings of Jesus first of all, then about the cross, then about communion in the last parts of the conversation, which continues on… after where we pause today… Others (and this is where I place myself) believe Jesus has all these meanings in view all along…Though the emphasis is mostly teaching first, cross next, then communion… Still, all the themes are there, all along…

(And…) However we hear it… We’ve probably noticed… Reading St John’s gospel too literally is problematic. Since Jesus (in John) plainly speaks plainly in the more literal sense of the word only some of the time. Maybe every other sentence? Maybe one sentence in three, or four, or five. (I’ve never seen anyone even try to chart the frequency of literal meanings.) But from his own words we know (Jesus makes this very clear) – he’s not speaking literally all the time.

On the other hand, every word Jesus says has to be taken very seriously all the time. And every word from the Word has it’s unique flavor to impart to the whole gospel feast… As Chef Jesus keeps cooking the finest bread…. And serving his most creative metaphors. And… Probably God alone knows exactly what Jesus means all the time.

What I’m very sure Jesus wants us to remember…Along with the words of John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” – which Jesus does mean literally… I am quite sure he also wants us to remember…

What my mother used to say… ‘Eat all your food dear. Eat all the food you like. Eat your peas and spinach and all your vegetables too….’ And I hear God saying, like my mother, ‘Eat your psalms and proverbs. Eat your commandments. Eat your Wisdom. Most of all, eat your Jesus.’

Our bread of life. Our bread of heaven. Our true bread that lasts forever and brings us truly… into eternal life.

Eat your Jesus. And… always remember to say…’

Thank you Jesus.

Thank you Jesus.

Amen.