For those of you who have been at church the last couple of weeks, you know that we have been talking a lot about feeding and bread. We are right in the middle of the Bread of Life series of the lectionary, where for five weeks, we hear about Jesus as the bread of life. We have read how Jesus fed a huge crowd of people – five thousand, in fact – with just five loaves of bread and two fish. And then how the people get hungry again and so they chase after Jesus to see if he will feed them again. Instead of offering them bread to eat, he offers them himself – the bread of life.
So today and the next two weeks, we will be talking about Jesus as the bread of life. And in today’s text the bread can start to taste a little…..stale.
I mean, you heard the opening verses; it just isn’t all that exciting. In fact, it is kind of confusing. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’” After a while it just sounds like all the same religious talk that we’ve heard so many times before. All the same stuff you can read on billboards all the way up I-35. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Jesus is the bread of life. If you believe in him, you’ll get to go to heaven when you die. So, believe in him. I don’t know about you, but I find that eventually, I just start to tune it out and think about my grocery list.
And it is too bad, really, it has come to this. Because these words in the gospel of John were never meant to be boring and stale. They were meant to be earth-shattering and life-changing. But that’s what happens to words sometimes, they can wear out and they don’t always mean what they used to – in fact they can change their meaning all together.
In 1675, a fire devastated London and among the ruins was St. Paul’s Cathedral. Christopher Wren, an architect was selected to rebuild this Cathedral. For 35 years, he worked on St. Paul’s Cathedral. Can you imagine going to the same work site for that amount of time? Finally once it was finished, he was able to show it off to Queen Anne. And when she sees it, Queen Anne says, “It is awful, it is amusing, and it is artificial.” How would you feel if after 35 years, the Queen called your hard work awful, amusing, and artificial? And yet, as the story goes, Christopher Wrenn bowed down with a huge sigh of relief and thanked her. Why? Because back then awful meant awe-inspiring, amusing meant amazing. Artificial meant artful. Do you see how words can wear out? And their meaning changes over time. And it is in the meaning of the words that the difference is made.
For example, in our text, Jesus talks about eternal life. When you hear the phrase eternal life, what do you think of? Heaven, right? You believe in Jesus and you get eternal life. You think of the gift you receive after you’ve died. You think of the time you will spend with family and loved ones in that mysterious place called heaven. This is where most of us go…and, you know, I hesitate to say this…but I think that is when the bread just starts to taste stale. Because it is just like everything else in our culture – it is a works and rewards system – run fast enough, jump high enough and you will get the gold. If you study hard enough, you get the good grades and the good college. If you believe in Jesus, you will be rewarded with heaven. And so Jesus and heaven…just starts to sound the same as everything else.
But there is just one problem. In the Gospel of John, when Jesus speaks about eternal life, he is not speaking about heaven or an afterlife. He is talking about new life now. Jesus has come down from heaven to bring new life now. This concern is for this life now, not the next. Why? Why be concerned about this life? Because it is in this life that 1 billion people are living in poverty, living on $1 a day. That’s 1 in every 7 people. It is in this life where young people are being sold into modern day slavery at our own Mall of America. It is this life where religious intolerance leads to Wisconsin Sikhs being killed in their very own place of worship.
When Jesus is talking about eternal life in the gospel of John, he is talking about new life now. And sometimes it feels like we need new life now, doesn’t’ it? A friend of mine, who is a pastor, always asks the couples he is about to marry this question: “Why do you want to get married?” Never, he says, have any of them said, “So that they will take care of me when I am old.” None of them ever say that. Instead they say, “Because life is better with them, then without them. Because colors shine brighter and deeper when they are around. Because this world is sweeter when this person is in my life.” The same is true of Jesus. We follow Jesus so that he will take care of us when we are old and dying. We trust that he will, but that isn’t why we follow him. We follow him because life is better when Jesus is apart of my life. Life is brighter and sweeter. And even when it is a painful and hard life at times, it is still life that is deeper. Jesus doesn’t want eternal life to wait. He wants it to start right now. So Jesus says feed on me. Take me into your body. Let me be the very beating of your heart; the spirit of your soul.
So, is Jesus the bread of your life? Does Jesus impact your life now? How? And when Jesus impacts your life, does Jesus ever offend you? Sometimes, in order for there to be new life, for us to change our lives, we have to be offended first with the difficult truth about our lives. And in the very next line of our text, we learn something about Jesus that confronts and offends our way of life.
In the very next line, we learn that the crowd who was with Jesus…were the Jews. Now this isn’t the offensive part. Jesus was a Jew. But in the gospel of John, they were Jesus’ primary opponents. They were the people who didn’t even believe in him. Now, even this isn’t all that offensive. What is offensive is when we remember what Jesus did with this crowd of opponents just about 20 verses earlier. He fed them. Jesus fed his opponents. And we are disciples of Jesus. Do we feed our opponents? People say all the time that we are a Christian nation…so when we come across opponents to our country, do we rain down bread from the heavens upon them? Do we drop boxes of bread down on Al Qaeda? No, we rain down bombs from heaven on them. I know it sounds crazy, but what if we did rain down bread from the heavens? How would the war on terror be different if we had planes carrying crates of food instead of crates of missiles?
Now if you are not offended yet, hang on. Jesus has one more thing to say in our text. Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.” What Jesus is saying is that you are not in charge of your own faith. God is. And again, in a culture like ours, where you get what you work for and where you are expected to make a successful life for yourself by constant self improvement. In a culture where nothing is for free, it must be earned…Jesus says you don’t get to come to him on your own. You don’t work for your faith. It is just pure gift given from God. No one comes to Jesus on their own free will. You don’t choose God; God chooses you. And that should offend us. Because people will come to Jesus by the grace of God who do not deserve to come to Jesus. Not by our standards anyways. They might not behave as we think they should. They might not attend worship as often as we think they should. And they just might be a down-right rotten person. And what about those who don’t believe in Jesus? I hear the fear in the voices of parents and grandparents when they tell me about their child who doesn’t believe in God anymore. Well, according to Jesus, it isn’t really up to them anyways. And maybe we just need to be more patient, because in the very next line, Jesus says, “All shall be taught by God and everyone who has learned from God comes to me.” Which means God welcomes everyone to God’s own self. And that is radically inclusive.
Jesus says he is the bread of life and that by eating of this bread, we will have eternal life, meaning new life now. And this bread, Jesus offered to his own opponents. And that should frighten us. It should offend us. And it should confront us. Because when Jesus says all he really does mean all. No exceptions… no outcasts… no one left out. Which means God welcomes everyone to God’s own self. Which means the people of God is a very, very large group. And in that group are people we do not want to see there. People we don’t think belong there. God offers the bread of life to all. Even the people we think don’t deserve it. And actually God offers it even us – who don’t deserve it. This is the bread of life. And suddenly, it doesn’t seem so stale anymore. AMEN
 A story told often by Alan Storey.