In 1621, English poet and priest of the Church of England was made Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, a highly-respected and well-paid position. But life wastrel to John Donne, and soon after he accepted the position of Dean at St. Paul’s, his daughter Lucy – only 18 years old – passed away. As he was dealing with his grief, he suffered a near-fatal illness – some combination of typhus, fever and influenza. While he was recovering wrote a series of poems and meditations on health, pain, and sickness, one of which became known as the poem turned into anthem our choir sang this morning. Meditation 17 goes like this:
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.”
~ John Donne, 1624
Every time a piece of dirt is washed away from the continent, we are the less. Every person is part of me, and I am a part of them.
John Donne- in his weakness and in his convalescence – wrote one fo the most amazing odes to community. No person is an island. We are all dependent on each other.
The message of Jesus is similar to Donne’s. We all belong to each other, we abide in each other, as we abide in God.
We continue with our series on Jesus as the Bread of Life, this is our 4th of 5 sermons and the symbolism used in the gospel of John chapter 6, in which Jesus continues his diatribe on his identity as “the Bread from heaven”. It begins like this:
56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
Now, if you were listening last week, I pointed out that the verb used hear for “eat” is in Greek the verb “to gnaw” and it is different than the verb “eat” in its roughness and physicality. To gnaw is to chew, to tear into, to devour – Those who gnaw on my flesh, remains in me and I in them. (1) He continues:
57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
He we have Jesus explaining to his followers the difference between Moses and himself. And this was a scandalous teaching. No one was better than Moses. No one. Moses led the Jews out of slavery. Moses provided manna in the wilderness to a starving people. Moses brought the Law down from Sinai. Moses was the prophet – the voice and hands and feet – of God. And here Jesus says, “58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you?
Of course it does. Of course this teaching would be challenging to the ears of a faithful Jew. This teaching alone was enough to get a man killed….
But here Jesus is pointing to the differences in “the old ways of thinking” (the fleshly ways, the ways that only led to our physical survival, our physical growth) and the “new ways of the thinking” (the spiritual ways, the ways that lead to a higher purpose.) He points to this dualism directly in verse 63:
63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
Verse 63 says “the spirit gives life and the flesh is useless.” This is Jesus trying to explain why he (and his message and his teachings) is important and – according to the writer John – should be taken seriously. Now, imbedded in this teaching is the Greek philosophical idea of Dualism.
What is Dualism? Every subject has it’s opposite ; every force has an opposing force: Good and ______. God and ______. Light and ______. The Spirit and _______. Now, of course, as we experience life we experience not only the Black and White, but all the shades of gray in between. So – although Dualism is powerful philosophical idea – the FLESH should not be so demonized. (IMHO)
The body is more than A SHELL, into which the spirit is inserted. The body is important as we interact with each other and with God. The physical nature allows us to experience the beauty of this world, the joys of creation, the other creatures God has made, and all that life has to offer. But in John, the body is devalued next to the Spirit.
“This is a difficult teaching,” the disciples say in verse 60. “This is a hard word.” It is challenging for those listening to Jesus to understand – that Jesus is the “bread that has come down from heaven.” It is challenging for those listening to Jesus to understand – that Jesus tells us to gnaw on his flesh and drink his blood. It is challenging for those listening to Jesus to understand – that Jesus is “the bread that feeds the spirit, not just the body – like Moses did.” Jesus is a “hard Word.”
Now recall that John begins his gospel with these words:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.
John begins his gospel by describing Jesus as the Word and by chapter six, Jesus is The Hard Word.
He is hard to accept. He is hard to understand. He says that he has come down from heaven. The crowd thinks that he has come from Joseph and Mary. He offers his “flesh and blood” to be eaten and drunk and the Jews find that impossible to understand and accept. (2)
Because Jesus is a Hard Word – difficult to understand – we may choose to ignore the things we don’t like or we don’t “get” or we may spend 5 Sundays talking about one concept….. running it into the ground. Or we may – with careful thought and reflection – pray for an open mind to understand what Jesus is getting at. It is challenging for us to understand the fullness of who Jesus was and how Jesus works, but with “ears to hears” and a mind to understand, we may be able to grasp this single concept: Jesus is bread to those who are hungry; Jesus can fill us up when we need filling; When we are empty, Jesus can be our food – food for our bellies and food for our souls.
How does Jesus fill us up? Well THAT my friends, depends on us. We who have been filled by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, share that love with others.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
Let me expand on Gandhi’s idea by saying this:
There are people in the world so lonely, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of a listening ear or a warm hug.
There are people in the world so desperate, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of a warm meal, or a new pair of shoes, or a loving teacher, or a new friend.
If Jesus is the bread of heaven, then we are the bread delivery-system, the traveling bakery, the bread distribution system – to offer that bread to those who are hungry.
May God grant us ears to hear this challenging teaching.
May God grant us minds and hearts to understand what Jesus wants of us.
May God grant us eyes to see where we are needed.
May God grant us spirits that will not give up when we are faced with opposition, courage to keep moving and hands to offer this Living Bread to God’s people.
Now and always. Amen.
- D. Mark Davis found on http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2012/08/scandalizing-words-are-life-giving-words.html
- Brian Stoffregen found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john6x56.htm