10 Pentecost proper B13
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 6:22-35 Sermon
August 5, 2012
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
473 "The Church's One Foundation"
373 "By Grace I'm Saved, Grace Free And Boundless"
465 "Christ Is Our Cornerstone"
54 "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah"
THE SMELL OF FRESH BREAD
TEXT (vs. 27 & 35): “[Jesus said] Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.... I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst."
This morning, I want you to get a picture in your mind. It's a cold winter day, and there's snow on the ground. As you walk along, the snow is squeaking under your shoes. You approach this rather old weatherboard house, where the white paint on the outside has started to turn gray because of age. You walk up on the front porch and knock on the screen door, which has been covered over with plastic to help keep the wind out. There's an old thread spool screwed to the door to use as a handle. You wait outside while you hear someone softly come to the door and open it up. And there stands an elderly lady, barely a hundred pounds soaking wet, and she's wearing an apron. "Come on in out of the cold!" she says as she smiles, and she holds the door open for you to come in.
As you shut the door behind you, and as you stamp the snow off your feet on the throw rug by the door, the warmth of the house and the equally warm greeting you received is complimented by the almost overpowering aroma of freshly baked bread coming from the kitchen. AAhhhh! This must be what heaven is like: nice and cozy and full of love, with the smell of fresh bread in the air. And you figure that it can't get much better than this.
This is not a scene that I've concocted in my mind either. This house actually existed in Emerson, Nebraska; and the elderly lady was Martha Biede, a widow lady who used to baby-sit me as a young boy. I think I've told other stories about her before, but this one seemed very appropriate for the topic of discussion today.
Grandma Biede, as I used to call her, was quite a lady indeed. Her old house was heated with one large oil stove situated in the middle. And I don't think she ever bought a loaf of bread at the store. Once a week she would always bake her own bread that she would eat all week. That was one of the main staples of her diet. And that bread was awesome too!
She had one of these old toasters, the kind that was shaped like an "A." The heating element was in the middle, and there were doors on either side that flipped down. You'd put one piece of bread on each door and close it. Then when it was toasted on the one side, you'd open the door, flip the bread over, and toast it on the other side. But you had to watch it carefully, or it would burn!
She would put two pieces of that perfectly toasted homemade bread on a plate for me. Then I would smear it with sweet cream butter and homemade crab apple jelly. And in my estimation, that was a feast almost fit or a king. Maybe it lacked all of the trimmings and trappings of a fancy meal; but to me it was something awesome. I'll never forget Grandma Biede's house and her homemade bread.
Our Gospel lesson for today is from John chapter 6, which is a section of Scripture known as the "Bread of Life" chapter. Jesus is using bread as a metaphor in a couple of different ways. He talks about bread in terms of nourishment for our earthly bodies. But then he talks about himself. He is the Bread of Life, which is nourishment for our souls.
For the last several weeks, we have been looking at the events surrounding this teaching of Jesus, from both Mark's Gospel, and John's Gospel. The feeding of the 5,000 was the central event here. Jesus, with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, is able to miraculously feed this enormous crowd that was assembled to hear him. He did this, because there was no other food around. The people were hungry, and he felt compassion for them. So he ministers to their immediate physical need. He takes the gift of food from a young boy, and feeds everybody from it. When I've preached on this theme in the past, I remember using the theme, "God makes great things happen with small gifts." This is a good example of just that.
But now we have moved on past that. Our Gospel lesson for today is dealing with the repercussions of that miracle. This is what Jesus is doing today. This is another one of Jesus' great teaching moments.
The huge crowd of people went looking for Jesus, but he was nowhere to be found. I would guess that some of that great crowd of 15,000 or more would have probably gone home, but there still remained a sizeable number who went looking for him. And who could blame them really? Jesus had given an impressive example of his divine power. He not only fed the people, but he also had performed some incredible healing miracles. This was the kind of guy that the people wanted to have around.
Think of it this way. This is a presidential election year in the United States. If someone came along who fixed the economy, ended poverty, eliminated terrorism and war, put Social Security and Medicare in the black, and reformed health care, that person would be extremely popular, wouldn't you think? If such a person were running for president, that person would be a virtual "shoo-in," and would win an election by a landslide. It's too bad something like that will probably never happen. But think of the possibilities of it!
This is the type of thing that the people saw in Jesus. They saw him as the "fix-all" to the problems of society. To have someone in power like this, there would be no more hunger. People would no longer have to slave away to produce enough food to put on their tables. There would be no more sickness, because simply touching Jesus' garment could heal people of virtually any disease or malady. So yes, Jesus was a very popular person.
The unfortunate thing is that Jesus was popular for the wrong reason. The love and compassion he had was only seen in an immediate earthly sense, and not an eternal heavenly one. And that's where Jesus needed to set the people straight. This is what he does in verses 26-27 of our Gospel lesson. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
Now it is time for Jesus to make the distinction between the miracle and the metaphor. In the miracle, Jesus satisfied the people's physical hunger. They needed something to eat. But as everybody knows, people get hungry again after a while. Food does not last indefinitely. The Apostle Paul states the same thing just a bit more graphically in I Corinthians chapter 6, verse 13: "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food—and God will destroy both one and the other." In other words, once your life is over on this earth, you are no longer hungry for food. Both things are but temporary; they will not endure.
But now comes the metaphor where Jesus compares physical hunger with spiritual hunger. If we look at Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5, listen to what he says in verse 6: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." This is exactly the point Jesus is making in our Gospel Lesson for today. It is his primary goal to satisfy the spiritual hunger of the people, which is what will take a person from this life on earth into the life to come. The food that endures to eternal life is faith in Jesus Christ himself. That's why Jesus calls himself the "Bread of Life," and "The true bread that comes down from heaven."
The next question and answer is a key point of this whole section. In verse 28 the people ask Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” The people have this idea that they need to do something to save them selves. They aren't seeing God's actions at work. That's why in verse 29 Jesus responds to their question this way: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” The saving faith they need isn't something they generate on their own; rather, it is the work of God. It's only through God the Holy Spirit that they are able to eat of the true Bread of Life and live forever.
Salvation is by God's grace through faith. Remember the words of that very striking hymn we sang just a bit ago? "By grace! None dare lay claim to merit; our works and conduct have no worth. God in his love sent our Redeemer, Christ Jesus to this sinful earth; his death did for our sins atone, and we are saved by grace alone." The Holy Spirit creates the hunger for faith in our souls, which can only be satisfied by faith in our Saviour Jesus Christ. He is the true Bread of Life that God sent to this earth. And when we feed on him, we are feeding on the bread that endures to eternal life. No earthly food can provide what God does.
But still the ignorance of the people comes out. In verses 30-31 the people ask Jesus, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
This situation must have been trying Jesus' patience. Here the people were chasing him down, and why? They did it because he fed the multitude, and he healed the people. They wanted to make him a "bread king" because of what he could do! They knew he was true God because of what he was doing. And now they're asking what he's going to do to prove that he is who he is? They've got the audacity to ask him for a proverbial "dog and pony show" to prove his divinity, and they use Moses and the manna in the wilderness as an example? What in the world could these people have been thinking? Weren't they paying attention?
So Jesus has to set them straight again. In verses 32-33 he replies, "...it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
The next thing the people say to him gives us an indication that they might finally be "getting it." In verse 34 they respond, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Regardless of their understanding, Jesus responds with a very profound statement in verse 35, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst."
When Pastor Norm was filling in for me about five weeks ago, he talked about God's true name. In the Hebrew, God's name is "Yahweh" or sometimes "Jehovah." In the Bible, we usually see it translated as "Lord" in all capital letters. It means simply, "I am." This is how God identified himself in Exodus chapter 3, verse 14: "God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM.' And he said, 'Say this to the people of Israel, I AM has sent me to you.'"
As near as I can figure, Jesus uses this same name to identify himself some 75 times in the Gospel of John alone. Jesus says, "I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Resurrection and the Life, I am the Light of the World," and today "I am the Bread of Life." There can be no mistake as to Jesus being true God indeed. And he wants us to make no mistake about it either. He wants us to know that he indeed is the one sent from heaven to be our Saviour, so that through faith in him alone our sins are forgiven and we are guaranteed an eternity in heaven.
This morning, as I told you the story about Grandma Biede and her homemade bread, I bet I made a few of you hungry. The smell of baking bread is something that most of us know and recognize. And if you don't, just walk a couple blocks up the street to the bakery, and take a good whiff.
What if, when you walked through those big double doors in front of the church, you were met with the aroma of baking bread? Would that have put a smile on your face? Would you have said, "Oh my, that smells good!" or something like that? Would that have made you hungry?
Some years ago, Pastor Jerry Dunn who was the long-time director of the People's City Mission in Lincoln, had a daily radio devotional he called "Slices from the Bread of Life." That's what we are serving up here all the time. That's what we have when our faith is fed by Jesus our Saviour.
I'm going to close this morning by sharing a short story. As World War II was drawing to a close, there were many orphaned children who were homeless and hungry. The allied troops would gather these children and take them to camps where they were properly cared for with clothing, medical aid, shelter, and food. But despite all this, they discovered that the children weren't sleeping well at night. Finally a psychologist came up with the answer. They began to give each child a piece of bread to hold on to when they went to sleep. It wasn't to be eaten, just held. The results were incredible, because the children were able to go to sleep knowing they had something to eat the next day. It gave them hope and peace and security in the midst of their terrible loss and uncertainty. If a small piece of bread can do that for a child, how much more can the Bread of Life that came down from heaven give us hope, peace, love, and security in our lives?
Just as food is essential for our physical safety and well-being, Jesus is essential for our eternal safety and well-being. He is the food that gives eternal life. He is the food that encourages, forgives, and comforts the guilty sinner. He is the bread that enables us to carry the heavy loads that life can put on our shoulders. He is the food that will strengthen us to face anything that comes our way. With Jesus, the Bread of Life, there is nothing more that we need. This is bread that God gives to us as a gift. This is the bread that is not only good for the here and now but also for eternity. This bread will change you. This bread will strengthen you for the journey ahead. This bread gives eternal life. This bread gives hope in the face of trouble, confusion and death. "I am the bread of life;" Jesus says, "whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst."