Companioning with the Bread of Life

John 6:24-35
Sixth Sunday of Eastertide – May 6, 2018

22-24 The next day the crowd that was left behind realized that there had been only one boat, and that Jesus had not gotten into it with his disciples. They had seen them go off without him. By now boats from Tiberias had pulled up near where they had eaten the bread blessed by the Master. So when the crowd realized he was gone and wasn’t coming back, they piled into the Tiberias boats and headed for Capernaum, looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him back across the sea, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”  26 Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.  27 “Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.”

28 To that they said, “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?”  29 Jesus said, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.”  30-31 They waffled: “Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on? When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert. It says so in the Scriptures: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

32-33 Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.”  34 They jumped at that: “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!”  35-38 Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.           The Message

 One morning several years ago I was at a restaurant ordering breakfast. The waitress asked what kind of bread I wanted.  She listed five varieties and I answered “wheat”….to which she added “The whole wheat is homemade.  Fifty cents extra.”  Being a bit of a cheapskate, I decided on pumpernickel.

We’ve just heard Jesus’ announcement that he is the Bread of Life…..the Real Deal…Bread so nourishing, so fulfilling, that whoever eats this Bread will never go hungry again.  The gospel claims that among all the options this world offers, there is but one homemade, whole wheat Bread of Life…and that Bread costs extra.

Orville was a busy man, committed to his family and job, very active in his church….always on the run.  One Sunday after worship Orville greeted Mrs. Felton, an older member of the congregation whom he’d always looked up to.  She asked how he was doing.  With a smile and a wave he replied, “Busy…so many projects going on…never a dull moment.”  Then in casual fashion he added, “Pray for me, Mrs. Felton.”

It was the sort of remark you make in church, where it’s OK, even part of the program, to ask for prayer.  But Mrs. Felton took his request differently.  As he turned to move on, she reached out and took his wrist, looked him directly in the eye and said, “Oh Orville, I pray for you every single day.”

Inside, Orville stopped in his tracks.  Her sincerity struck a tender, hungry place in him, underneath all the hurry of his life.  Imagine, this wonderful older woman prayed for him.  Without him even asking she gave an honest bit of her attention to his well-being every day, asking God to bless him.

As he pondered this encounter it came to Orville that all the things he did were not simply busy activities churned out by his energy and time.  Rather they were activities helped and supported by Mrs. Felton’s everyday prayers. Who he was and what he did was a matter of concern to her…and by extension, a matter of concern to God.

In a sense Orville had asked for standard white bread, but his friend offered him the real thing, the homemade whole grain stuff of steadfast prayer.  Without knowing it until that moment Orville had been continually blessed with Mrs. Felton’s quiet daily companionship.   (Davide Greenhaw, Lectionary Homiletics, August 2000)

In the gospel passage we’ve heard, the crowds who followed Jesus were, on one level, religious consumers, looking for entertaining miracles and the satisfaction of physical needs.  Jesus had just the day before changed a few loaves and fishes into a full-fledged feast that fed thousands, with baskets of leftovers.  Now they wanted more…another miraculous feeding….to feel the emotional thrill.

Jesus was plainspoken in answering them.  He pointed out how limiting it was to seek food which doesn’t really sustain life.  The Message offers this translation:  “Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.”  To that they said, “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?” Jesus said, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.”

The people didn’t quite understand.  But Jesus’ words, the pictures he drew with words, awakened their yearning to understand: “Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on? When we’ll see what’s up, we’ll… commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert. It says so in the Scriptures: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’

Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.”  They jumped at that: “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!”  Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life…..”

I’ve spoken of cost.  Getting to this deeper understanding of who Jesus is cost the people extra effort, commitment, and open-hearted trust.  “I am the Bread of Life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in and trusts themselves to me will never be thirsty.”

I mentioned earlier how Orville realized that Mrs. Felton had been his quite prayer companion in the thick of his busy life.  The word ‘companion’ comes from the Latin com–meaning “with” and panis meaning “bread”.  With bread.  A companion is someone with whom you break bread regularly, a mess-mate at mealtime, someone who accompanies you and shares the important matters of life.

It wasn’t incidental when in the 90’s the United Methodist Church published a small group resource called “Companions in Christ”, a 28 session covenantal journey with other faith seekers….not unlike “Disciple Bible Study.”  When I served the church in Barrington a group of us enjoyed a rich, fruitful journey as Companions in Christ.

In declaring “I am the Bread of Life” Jesus is inviting people to be his companions—his bread-mates–in sharing the abundance of the very life, energy and purpose he received from his Abba…the Living God.  I have come that you may have life, life in all its abundance.  I am the Bread of life.  Become my companion…partake of what I freely offer.  It will touch your deepest needs.

Jesus is addressing us personally.  He wants to be companion with you and me in our daily rounds.  It seems there’s always room for fresh re-commitment to love Jesus and follow him in service….to partake of the Bread of Life.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit is speaking to you this morning.  Being a Christian is a journey of ongoing growth and renewal.  It’s not like we ever really get it completely.  It’s a relationship…a process of developing a relationship.  Why not let the Lord have at your life in a fresh way this morning?  There’s a Refresh command on our computers. Tap the Refresh command on your life and allow your companionship with Jesus to be renewed.  It will no doubt energize you to partner with God in offering bread, the Bread of Life, to the hungry or harried persons you encounter this coming week.

I love a story a Presbyterian pastor tells about he and his fourteen year old daughter standing in line in Times Square to purchase half price tickets to a Broadway show.  ‘Times Square was as always beyond description, an astonishing collision of opposites.  One side of Broadway was Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’—on the other side a quadruple ‘x-rated’ theater.  Dancers and actors hurried through the crowd with their dance bags.  Tourists consulted guide books.  Peddlers spread their blankets to display dubious Rolex watches and Gucci scarves.

The usual suspects had been rounded up for the afternoon: shill artists with their games of ‘three card monte’ and preachers warning of God’s judgment on the whole enterprise.  If any place could use a good preaching to, it is probably Times Square, though people avoided the eyes of the street preachers and seemed to ignore their rantings.

Standing in line for half price tickets is an investment of an hour, so we had time to see it all.  As we neared the statue of Father Duffy in the square, I saw a character I had not expected…a plump, middle-aged woman feeding the pigeons.  She was saying something as she crumbled up handfuls of hamburger buns—I couldn’t quite make it out.

As the line moved forward we came into earshot.  She was preaching!  She spoke softly of God’s great love for the world.  She told of God’s deep sadness in seeing talented, beautiful young people dying of AIDS….of God’s heartbreak that we cannot seem to love one another the way God has loved us.  She spoke of Jesus as the one who came to show God’s love…of his gracious invitation to all people.  All the while she tossed handfuls of bread to an enormous flock of pigeons.

Given New York City’s reputation, you might have expected that people standing in line would have complained loudly about the incoming flocks of pigeons swirling overhead, but instead people listened patiently.  They dropped their voices as they neared her in order to hear what she was saying….Indeed, they listened as if they had never heard before.

It could have been the calm, soft voice with which the woman spoke of God’s love that commanded their attention, but I cannot help but wonder if it were not the bread.  She scattered bread and told of the love of God.  Only someone who knows how to break bread and spread it on the earth can speak truly of God’s love.  Bread is the sign we are given to know that love among us.”   (Patrick Wilson, Lectionary Homiletics, August 2000)

Jesus is saying it again this morning in our hearing:  “I am the Bread of Life.  Whoever comes to me will not be hunger or thirsty again.”   Can we hear him?

Amen.

 

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