July 8, 2018: The Bread of Life

There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.  – Mahatma Gandhi

There has long been a connection between food and God’s favor: when our cupboards and our bellies are full, we feel blessed. When our cupboards are bare and our bellies are hungry we wonder, “Why has God deserted us?” The connection between food and God’s favor is so powerful that we use the connection even today: we gather around the table, in a church potluck or a family meal and give thanks to God for God’s blessings. Jesus gathered his disciples together and “gave thanks to God” at the Last Supper and we recreate that each time we take Communion together.

This month, we will be examining Jesus’ saying “I am the Bread of Life.” What does it mean? How does it impact our understanding of who Jesus IS and who WE are. It is  – of course – connected with the ideas around Holy Communion, and by the end of this month, you will be looking forward to Communion, to remember and commemorate Jesus, who is the bread of life.

* A year ago, I was in India as representative of my non-profit Friends of Padhar Schools. and as I think back to that trip – and to all of my trips –  I remember that many of the gatherings I attend revolve around eating: big celebratory dinners, inaugurations with lavish snacks and Masala tea, home visits with homemade puddings and pastries. Every time I gather with the people of Padhar, there seems to be food involved.

But the meal that made the biggest impression on me was one I witnessed while visiting the Mission School last time I was in Padhar, the small village in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Now, the Mission School serves the village of Padhar, but also surrounding villages and half of it’s 400 students are residents of the School and Rehabilitation Centre for the Blind. This facility serves as a live-in dormitory and also provides tutors and life-skills training for children with visual, auditory, physical and mental impariments. The children who live outside the village often travel hours – on foot and by bicycle – to attend school. In the morning hours, the school teaches the younger children kindergarten through 5th grade. And at lunchtime, the school cooks provide lunch to the children – usually a simple meal of rice and lentils.

One day, while I was working with a team of volunteers, the almost 200 children from the primary school sat carefully on the ground – lined up in rows in the hallway of the school and ate their simple meal – for some, the only meal of their day.

They walked to school with an empty belly; they sat through school with an empty belly; they interacted with well-fed foreigners with an empty belly. And then they ate their simple meal and they laughed and smiled and enjoyed their food. In their own ways, they demonstrated their gratitude to God for their blessings of food, and kindness, and life.

There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.
– Mahatma Gandhi 

* Bread – FOOD – is vital to life. And in our passage today, Jesus says to his followers, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

What does it mean to be hungry? What does it mean to be filled?

Let’s take a look at the scripture from the gospel of John, chapter 6, beginning at verse 24, and here we enter the story after a big event – You see, Jesus was doing his work teaching and preaching throughout the countryside and he noticed a crowd began to follow him. Word spread about this miracle-maker healing the sick and people were curious, perhaps they had needs to be fulfilled and illnesses to be cured, so they followed. And when the disciples and Jesus sat down on the mountain to have a meal, Jesus asked Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ 

He was aware of their hunger, he was aware they were out in the country – no bakeries or convenience stores around – and being a good host, he asked “‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ Realizing the disciples had neither a plan nor provisions, Jesus took the five fish and two loaves and made a feast for the people. And after this event, Jesus and the disciples left to continue their mission. (And that’s where we pick up the story.)

So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’

The people chased after him saying, “Where did you go? We are not satisfied! Why did you leave us?”

Their question: “When did you get here?” might be a question of control: “We want to know exactly what happened. How did the miracle happen? What kind of power do you have? How can we get some of that? We want details.”

Author William Easum – who is known for his books on church growth –  describes one of the obstacles in church growth to be worship, not of God, but of control. “Established churches must either cease worshiping the god of control, or they perish!” [p. 9]. he says. ”… making decisions and controlling what happens is more important in established churches than making disciples” [p. 12]. In our text (and larger context) we see “the crowd” trying to exert their control over Jesus. (1) They hunger for control.

In verse 28, they ask Jesus, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”  To me, they seem to be asking, “What can we do to control God?”  (2)

This, to me, shows the humanity of the crowd. It is a familiar reaction to uncertainty and mystery. How many of us, when our lives seem out of control, start making to-do lists or clean out our closets with frantic fury or say, “Today is the day I will go back on my diet or start exercising.” When we are impacted by the uncontrollable nature of life – or of God – we try to first, discover the mysteries and then “tame” them. Like a trainer with a wild horse, we try to calm the wild nature of God and put God in a more manageable pen.

But Jesus understands, there is no “taming” God. We will not always know the ins-and-outs of how God works. We will not understand how life works. But the people  following Jesus want a guarantee – ‘Look, if we are going to believe you, and follow you, we need a sign that tells us there is a good reason to follow. We need some kind of guarantee.”

They had earlier witnessed the sign given in Jesus’ feeding of the 5000! As if to prompt Jesus, they recall the manna in the wilderness. But Jesus says, “Moses did not give bread from heaven; only God gives it.”

The effect is to say: eternal life is not to be found in the gift of the Law, which was often described under the image of manna and food. Rather the true food of eternal life comes only through Jesus as the divine envoy. And this bread will fill them eternally, so they say, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

Jesus then makes his famous declaration which draws together both stories: ‘I am the bread of life. Anyone coming to me shall not hunger; anyone believing in me shall never thirst.’(3)

What a blessing to never hunger. And not just for physical hunger, but to truly be FULFILLED. And Jesus declares himself to be that for us – to fill our bellies, to fill our hunger, our needs for control, certainly, love, compassion, justice. “I am the Bread of Life.” he says, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

As you may know, I am the director of a non-profit organization called Friends of Padhar Schools, and we are fundamentally a fund-raising program to support schools in rural India. Although we are not directly affiliated with the Christian church, our Board of Directors comprised of United Methodist Clergy and folks from the non-profit and business world. And – in my humble opinion – we are doing the work of Jesus for children in rural India. For example, this past week we reached our goal to find sponsors for 47 students to attend school, to have the proper writing and reading materials, the proper school uniform and a hot meal to fill their bellies mid-day. In a real and tangible way we are “the bread of life” to children

”WE can be bread for the world –  Bread for those who need life.

      •  How can Jesus bring life to our congregations and communities today?  Bread of life!
      •  Jesus brings an opportunity to host a baby shower for foster parents  at the Serenity House. Bread of life! 
      • Jesus interrupts a church meeting where we struggle with scarcity models and reminds us that generous living and giving brings life to us as well as to others.  Bread of life!
      • Jesus breaks into our grief with reminders that no one and nothing is lost from God and death is not the end of the story.  Bread of life! 
      • An older congregation is interrupted in worship by the sounds of children as a new family visits.  Bread of life! (4)

When we offer hope and help to our neighbors, we embody Jesus, the bread of life. When we love for and care for our neighbors – in our community and around the world – we embody Jesus, the bread of life.

May we, who are filled, provide the bread of life to those who are hungry. And may we look to God and give thanks.

  1. Brian Stoffregen found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john6x24.htm
  2. Ibid.
  3. William Loader, http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/MkPentecost10.html
  4. The Rev. Dr. Katherine Thomas Paisley, found on http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/tenth-sunday-after-pentecost5#planning