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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the church, as in life, there are many lessons that we are called to teach our children: how to be good to each other and how to do the right thing. But perhaps, no lesson is more difficult to teach than the meaning and importance of Jesus’ words, “I am the bread of life.” Now you may be wondering why this is such a challenge. Simply said, because bread, today, has lost its biblical significance and has simply become a matter of personal preference and taste.
Before I arrived in my last parish, the congregation had decided that the bread for Holy Communion could be any standard yeast version as opposed to the white wafers used in liturgical churches. Apparently, it was more difficult to convince the children in the church that the white paper-like wafers were bread, much less the body of Christ. So every Sunday, a different member in the congregation toted in their favorite bread and wine to be used for communion. This practice was fine, though I have to admit, I kept a reserve in the church freezer. On more than one occasion, a member had forgotten their responsibility, and in a late evening trip to the grocery store had purchased a loaf of cinnamon bread, or worse yet, raisin twist for Holy Communion.
It is difficult for people in our present generation including our children to understand Jesus’ word, “I am the bread of life.” Some are content like the crowds along the Sea of Galilee to chase after the manna in the wilderness. Not all men and women are searching and lasting bread. While others reject Jesus simply because of his teaching. They maintain that they have other choices- rather than to feast on the ordinary. But my friends, I believe that Jesus Christ is the true bread of life. And I believe in his promise that whoever comes to him will never be hungry, and whoever believes in him will never be thirsty.
It may not occur to you today, but bread and humor, like wine and cheese, often go hand in hand. No doubt, you have heard about “the baker who stopped making doughnuts. He got tired of the hole thing.” Or the saying, “Good bakers always will rise to the occasion, it’s the yeast they can do.” There is the well-known literary reference to William Shakespeare “When asked about rumors that he owned a bakery, he replied, ‘It’s much a-dough about muffin.’ “ Even children enjoy a good laugh about bread. What is the Loaf’s favorite ride at the Valleyfair? The roller toaster. There is even bread humor for the celiac among us, “The baker who always puts too much flour in his bread is a gluten for punishment.”
By contrast, the people in the ancient world looked seriously upon bread as something sacred. Today, bread is simply a food to supplement the main course, but in Jesus’ time, bread was the principal food. In the Bible such expressions as “eating bread” or “breaking bread,” truly meant “eating a meal.” In the land of ancient Israel, the people were brought up to think of bread as having a mystic sacred meaning. Everything about bread from the sowing of the seed to the baking of the loaves was done in the name of God. One writer who lived in ancient Israel wrote that, “They never put a knife to bread, holding it to be absolutely wicked to cut it, but always break it into pieces with their fingers.”
Surprisingly, our own technological world is often linked to the decreasing role of bread- or to be more precise- to machine sliced bread. Sliced bread was first invented in 1912, when a man from Iowa named Otto Fredrick Rohwedder came up with a prototype and blueprints for an automated bread slicing machine. Unfortunately, his work was lost in a fire. And people were skeptical. They thought that the bread would grow stale too fast. Undeterred, Rohwedder rebuilt the machine, and added one more touch- an automatic wrapping component. In 1928, he had his machine up and running, and by July of that year, sliced bread was being machine-produced for the masses. The marketing behind the product set the stage for “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.” By 1930, Wonder Bread switched to a sliced bread product, selling machine-sliced bread nationwide for the first time. The baking industry and taste changed forever. And some might add, not always for the better.
While bread can be pretty industrial and generic; it is still fundamentally basic. All you really need for bread is flour, a little salt, yeast, water, and maybe a little sugar or sweetener. Of course, patience and a decent oven often help. All in all, bread is pretty ordinary. Every culture enjoys some form of it. In fact, for more than 6,000 years, people around the world have been baking bread and laughing at its ordinariness.
So Jesus’ own comparison to himself and bread comes as a bit of a surprise- and perhaps a bit of folly. Indeed, the crowds along the Sea of Galilee wondered who he thought he was — this Jesus whose parents they knew so well. They wondered how this rabbi raised among them could dare tie himself to the divine when he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” No doubt they wondered how it was that he could claim something so extraordinary about something so ordinary: professing to be the bread which would satisfy hunger and quench thirst for all of time. He certainly wasn’t the best thing since sliced bread.
St. John’s gospel reminds us that men and women often reject Jesus for various reasons. Some reject Jesus because they choose to judge things by their own values and standards. In the face of Jesus’ upbringing, they state emphatically that he was a carpenter’s son and that they had seen him grow up in Nazareth. “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” They were unable to understand how one who was a common could possibly be a special messenger from God. Their thoughts echo today. “What does an ancient sage and carpenter from Palestine really know of my contemporary life? How can his counsel still be relevant in a “global economy?”
Others reject Jesus because the people who claim him as Lord often argue among themselves. The crowds in Galilee too were so taken up in their own private arguments that it never occurred to them to refer their question to God. “Is this not Jesus? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven?” Christians argue with themselves all the time. What bread should be used at holy communion and who should be welcome? American humorist Will Rogers once wrote, “If they (Christians) are going to argue religion in church, instead of teaching it, no wonder you can see more people at a circus than at a church. Hunt out and talk about the good that is in the other fellow’s church, not the bad, and you will do away with all this religious hatred.” Yes, the crowds along the Sea of Galilee were eager to let everyone know what they thought; but they were not in the least interested to know what God thought.
Some reject Jesus because they resent God’s personal entry into their lives. They desire instead to be in full control and draw themselves to him when they are ready- and on their own terms. The crowds in the Galilee were offended, “Is this not Jesus?” How can he say, “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.” Yes, God alone draws you, but you have the power to resist his drawing you upward.
Frederick Buechner in his book Wishful Thinking, A Theological ABC, wrote, “Man does not live by bread alone, but he does not live long without it. To eat is to acknowledge our dependence- both on food and on each other. It also reminds us of other kinds of emptiness that not even the Blue Plate Special can touch.” There are choices out there. But you and I need to search for the bread the leads us to eternal life
Nearly fifty years ago, in July 1969, two men changed history by walking on the surface of the moon. Of course, we know the words of Neil Armstrong and his famous moon walk, for they have been etched in history, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But there was another noteworthy event taking place inside the Lunar Module involving the other astronaut Buzz Aldrin. On the surface of the moon he celebrated the gift of the bread of life. Aldrin and Armstrong had only been on the moon’s surface for a few minutes when Aldrin made the following public statement, “This is the LM pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He then ended radio communication and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home, he read a verse from the Gospel of John, and he took communion.
In his own account Aldrin wrote, “In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.’ I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute [they] had requested that I not do this. NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madelyn Murray O’Hare, the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly. …I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.”
My friends, Jesus invites you to enjoy that same bread. Yes, he whispers to you even now, “Come and taste that the Lord is good.” No, man does not live by bread alone, but he does not live long without it. In Jesus Christ, you have been invited to share in a bread that does not end with a death, but it is a bread that leads to eternal life. It is a life better by far than your present existence, as wonderful as it may be.
So what is your objection? What is standing in the way? “Is this not Jesus?” you may ask. Yes, it is- the one who promises to sustain you with all you need from day to day. “Is this not Jesus?” Yes, it is- the one who reveals your life’s purpose and meaning. “Is this not Jesus?” Yes, this is the one who sets your weary heart to rest. Is this not just ordinary bread and wine? Yes, it is, but in this ordinary means Jesus offers you the extraordinary gift of life eternal. You see, whatever you objections may be, this is the bread worth waiting for. For whoever comes to him will never be hungry, and whoever believes in him will never be thirsty. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.