12.08.18, Trinity 11, 09:30 service
1 Kings 19:4-8
John 6:35, 41-51
May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“I am the bread of life;” “I am the living bread.” Those words begin and end our gospel reading this morning. And so we move to the next instalment of our journey through chapter 6 of John’s gospel, what people have termed the ‘Bread of Life Discourse’ if you like grand language. A couple of weeks ago we began with the Feeding of the Five Thousand, an event which we can think of as laying the ground to remind us of Jesus as Giver in his wonderful generosity and fullness.
Then last week, in part 2, Kenneth spoke around how we might feed on Jesus, both with our hearts, but also physically in the joyful shared meal of Communion. That’s to say we see Jesus here not only as Giver, the one doing the giving of the bread – but as the bread itself, too: he is the Gift. Jesus as Giver and Gift.
And this week we reach a kind of climax with the first of those wonderful “I am” sayings. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” and what I want to focus on this morning is the second part of that expression – life.
Because John’s gospel is peppered with references to life. Do you remember right at the start in verse 4 of chapter 1: in the ‘Word,’ “was life, and the life was the light of all people.” Or later in John 10:10, Jesus says, “I have come that you may have life, and have life to the full.” Then there’s a joyful, generous God with abundant wine in the wedding at Cana, or right at the end with the breakfast on the beach scene with an overflowing catch of fish – these are all pictures of life and vitality.
And I want to look at three different aspects of that life, as exemplified by each of our readings. When we follow the Lectionary – that’s to say the Sunday-by-Sunday calendar of readings – usually the OT and Gospel will relate to each other. But it’s sometimes less obvious with the Epistle or NT reading, though not, I don’t think, today!
1. Firstly, I want us to think about ‘why’? Why might this whole thing of ‘life’ be so important? It’s maybe a bit of a funny question, I know. We’re all alive, we’re living beings, and in that sense we have life. But does Jesus want to remind us perhaps of a sense of purpose?
I think we get a bit of a clue in the passage from 1 Kings. If you remember, this was a troubled period of time where the people of Israel had forgotten God and reverted to worshipping Baal. It was Elijah who came along and put them back onto the right path. But for Elijah this comes at a cost. Having ordered all those who encourage worship of foreign gods to be killed, Elijah is himself a target. It’s risky being the one who speaks out – and he’s afraid. So we meet Elijah fearing for his life, in the depths of despair which brings him to the point, tragically, of asking the Lord to “take away [his] life.” And so that cake which he’s given is quite literally ‘bread of life’. On the one hand, an intervention from God to restore his wellbeing from a situation of real anguish, but on the other, real tangible sustenance, too, for everything that lies ahead. A boost of energy, like a sports drink, or glucose gels you see cyclists take. But why? Because the task wasn’t over: God had more plans in store for him. This life-giving nourishment was to keep him going for 40 days and nights in the wilderness, and ultimately to go out and anoint kings and prophets – that’s to say there was a purpose.
“I am the bread of life.” This is life with a purpose. Jesus doesn’t simply offer us life, and that’s it. Rather, just as Elijah’s journey continued, so does ours. Now, we might not be called to go out and anoint kings and prophets – I reckon that’s pretty unlikely. But God longs for our flourishing. Life in order that we might use our gifts and talents to the best advantage; to delight in one another just as we are. Life in all its abundance to be the most complete versions of the people God created and intended us to be.
2. So we’ve had the ‘why’; the second question is how do we live that life? Here our reading from Ephesians is so helpful. In many of his letters, Paul was writing to a group of people to address an issue – perhaps a heresy, or behaviour that was concerning him. But there’s none of that here. Paul wrote to the Ephesians more to expand their horizons. He’s giving immensely practical examples of how to live a Christian life.
“Speak truth;” “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” I love this phrase. It’s one that came up when Anke and I were doing marriage prep, and I find it always springing to mind if we’ve had a bit of an argument or disagreement or whatever, reminding me that I need to say sorry before going to sleep. And then in the spirit of community living, Paul reminds us that the bread of life that Jesus gives us is for everyone, and so there are further directions for living together: we work for one another so that we might share with those in need; Paul asks us not to gossip, rather encourage and build each other up. And he says that shared life together requires compassion and forgiveness.
“I am the bread of life.” This second aspect of life is real life. It’s the reality of disagreement and gentle rebuke; of tough times as well as the good. But it’s the reality and vision, too, of love, fellowship, shared generosity, looking out for one another, and God’s grace. A pretty good vision for a church community such as ours, I’d say – wouldn’t you?
3. Thirdly, life is a gift. And like any gift, we are to be thankful for it. In v51 of chapter 6 John writes, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Jesus looks forward here to the Last Supper and his sacrifice on the cross, his ultimate life-giving gift for us, and as he does so our minds shift from bread as earthly need (as it was for Elijah, for instance) to something as spiritual necessity. And so the language starts to speak more of the Eucharist, that great outpouring of thanks, the great celebration of which we share this morning. Maybe listen out for those words of thanks when John prays them today. I don’t know if you’re used to saying thank you to God before a meal at home – but be aware of the sense of thanksgiving in which we celebrate Communion this morning.
“I am the bread of life.” Jesus offers us life freely given, and freely available to all – we simply need to hold out our hands and receive with thankful hearts.
Life with purpose; real life; thankful life. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” My prayer today is that we may all taste it.