Sermon: Bread of Heaven

Bread of Heaven
John 6:35; 41-51
2 August 2015

In the book God’s Psychiatry, author Charles Allen wrote that as World War II drew to a close, the allied armies of France, England and the United States had gathered up thousands of homeless orphans and what they did was place them in special camps where they were fed, clothed and well cared for.  Despite the excellent care, these children slept poorly.  They were nervous and fearful of not having enough to eat.  A psychologist was called in and he identified the problem as fear of abandonment and came up with a novel solution.  Each child was to be given a piece of bread to hold after they were put to bed.  It was not to be eaten, but to be held.  As each child went to bed, they instinctively knew there would be enough food to eat the next day.  That guarantee gave them a restful and contented sleep.

When Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” it was an unusual way to refer to himself.  But when we look at this spiritual bread, it is a source of life and when we maintain a relationship with the Lord, we experience eternal life.

John 6:35; 41-51.

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.

41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 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. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 

This is the Word of God.  Thanks be to God.

When people eat today, meat, fish or rice is usually the main portion of their big meal.  But in Jesus’ day, the meat or fish was simply a side dish, because the bread was the main ingredient.  So when Jesus said “I am the bread of life”, it was an eye opening statement and what he meant by it, was that He was to be the most important part of our lives.  In other words, He is the main course and everything else should revolve around it.

In Biblical times, when a group or a family gathered to eat, it was the head of the household or the master of the community who broke the bread and gave a portion to everyone present.  If other types of food were to be served, it was to be handed out with a folded piece of bread, used like a spoon.  I guess certain things never change.  For one of my birthdays, we went to a Moroccan restaurant.  The entire experience was a surprise in dining to include the fact that we ate with a folded piece of pita bread.

Now I will admit I have a weakness for bread and I eat probably more than I should.  But I do remember as a Cub Scout, that we took a tour of the old aircraft carrier, the USS Wasp, when it was docked in Boston.  As we toured the ship, I vividly remember the aroma of freshly baked bread from the gallery as it permeated the air.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sample any of it.  Because of the delicious smell, I lost interest in seeing the ship, but wanted something to eat.

A couple of days ago, I was at Panera bread and I saw many varieties of Bagels and different types of bread.  And when you see something like this that is pleasing to the eye, you want to eat.  It is no fun to admire it and so I bought this Sesame Semolina.  I did eat a corner.  After all, bread is not to be admired but to be eaten.

Listen to Jesus’ words in verse 51.  “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.   

That’s powerful.  For Jesus to call himself the Bread of Life or the Living Bread meant that he is the source of eternal life to those who believe.  We cannot go up to heaven to eat this Bread.  But he comes down to meet us where we are.  Even though we eat this Bread of Life, it does not spare us the troubles we face.  But it will see us through all of our lives, our death and to the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day.

Like I mentioned to you before, bread is meant to be eaten.  It does not do us any good to admire or smell it.  We have to eat and digest it.  Only then can it nourish and strengthen us.  In a spiritual sense, we need to go beyond, just knowing that Jesus is the Living Bread.  We can’t have the gospel in front of us and say how good it looks and how sweet it smells to our spiritual sight and taste.  We must eat.  We must accept Christ into our hearts.  We must take him in as the very food for our souls.  And without giving him our lives, this bread will not help or satisfy.

We feast on the bread of life when we read the word of God.  It is when we worship both privately and publically.  We also get nourishment when we help others and serve in the name of Christ.

Jesus alluded to this spiritual nourishment in another place when he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well when he said in John 4:13-14 Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. 

St. Augustine wrote that every person has a God shaped vacuum in our souls.  We can fill that void with many things, but nothing really satisfies the hunger except for a relationship with Jesus.  I know this may be the furthest thing from your minds, but Christmas is a little less than five months away, and it is a season that can leave you a little empty, if you focus on the trees, lights, presents, gifts, but omit the spiritual.

I don’t remember exactly when it was, but I watched on PBS, the Chicago Symphony perform Handel’s Messiah and what was different about this performance, was this.  The entire audience was given song sheets and they sang the entire 90 minute program.  But what really caught my attention, was afterwards when some the audience were interviewed and what they had to say was their active participation in Handel’s Messiah was the highlight of their Christmas experience.

The key word is participate.  What these people did for 90 minutes was feed their souls as they sang the words from the Bible and of Christ and that is what made the difference.  It is the same thing that happens with church choirs.  Those who go to practice and sing at church feed their souls with the words of God.  In a sense it is one way to eat the bread of life.

Let me bring this a step further.  There is no human food that fills, or money, or house, or car, or career, or vacation, or human relationship, or sports team, or political office that completely satisfies the hunger for something more.  Most people do not realize this, but the Bread of heaven is the missing piece in our spiritual diet.  We experience the bread of heaven in the waters of baptism, confirmation, Holy Communion, the preaching of his word, private and public worship and service to others.  When we do these things, we feed on the bread of heaven.

Let me ask how you would describe your daily spiritual diet?  Would it be Junk food?  Frozen food?  Baby Food?  TV microwave?  Left overs?  Restaurant?  Or pure bread and wine?

We eat bread to sustain physical life and it is the same with the spiritual.

In the beginning, I told you about those WWII orphans and how they held onto their bread for security.  Well, Jesus is our security.  When we go through our highs and lows, our Lord will see us through.  But we need to cling to the Lord like the children clung to their bread.  When we worship and serve that is our daily nourishment.