Without Jesus, we starve to death. We need the Bread of Life to live and that Bread of Life is “for you.” You can believe it!
10th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) – August 2, 2015 – John 6:24-35
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Starving – Pastor Evan Davis
The people of the crowd have been following Jesus around, the Jesus who looks and acts so much like Moses. That wonderful “sign” Jesus gave last week, of feeding 5,000 men plus as many women and children, only confirms in their minds they’re dealing with Moses part 2, with another man who can get God to rain down manna from heaven. And after that, why wouldn’t they keep following him? Even across the sea. You gotta eat. The people were hungry and Jesus had filled them up right so they followed him. Who can blame them?
Jesus isn’t scolding them, but he says, “there’s more.” He says, in a word, “you don’t even know what you’re really hungry for.” There’s something more, something deeper.
It’s so interesting, though, that Jesus uses the language of their hunger and the bread. After all, whether it’s the food that perishes or the food that endures for eternal life, food doesn’t come from inside of us. I don’t about you, but gnawing on my arm when I’m starving kinda seems to defeat the purpose. Food literally must come from outside of us. And it’s not optional – it’s something we need to live every day.
The people know this and so they ask Jesus for more detailed instructions on how they can work for their daily bread…what must we do to work for this food you’re talking about? Ok, believe in him, well then what sign will you give us so we can believe? Moses gave the manna. Ok, your Father, hmm, strange way you refer to God there, gives true bread from heaven, gives life to the world, sounds good, so… “sir, give us this bread always.” To which Jesus replies:
I AM the bread of life. And their minds are blown. Is yours? We know that Jesus isn’t just talking about the carbohydrates, vitamins, fats, and proteins we need to live. He’s talking about something else we need even more deeply, something else we need to be the vital, living, breathing human beings we were created to be. I AM the bread of life. First, he uses the “I AM” which is the holy name of God that God told to Moses at the burning bush…and then “bread of life.” I AM the one who comes from outside of you whom you need to live. In other words, without Jesus, we starve to death.
Five years ago today I was a student chaplain at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia. Most days what I did was walk up and down the hallways, from room to room in my units, either afraid or angry or both when I walked into each room. Not upset at the people, but at myself. You see, in my “clinical pastoral education” group there were five other fantastically-gifted young seminarians. And I thought I needed to be just like them. Some of them seemed so natural at this, so extroverted, so bubbly, with so much experience working with people from the city! All I could see was how I thought I was unworthy because I wasn’t exactly like them. And so, inside, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was a fraud. That I had no business being there, taking up space and time, that my presence wasn’t worth anything to the people I visited.
The pastor and scholar David Lose shares a story from his own hospital experience: Some years ago I had the opportunity to talk [ … ] with a psychiatrist while serving as the chaplain at a major metropolitan hospital. “The goal of all counseling,” he once said to me, “is for a person to love him or herself. For if you aren’t going to love yourself, who will, and if you don’t start now, then when?” “But doctor,” I asked, “have you yet encountered a single person who has had the ability to love himself without first experiencing love from another person? Have you known even one person like that.” After a moment of silence, “No,” he said quietly, “No, not really.” 1
I was starving for love and I didn’t even know it. I was in seminary. I had just gotten an “A” in Lutheran Confessions! I could write an outstanding essay on justification by grace alone through faith, but I was starving for Jesus. I was spiritually starving in a grocery story of faith, and I didn’t even know it. Sure, I knew I was forgiven, but I felt like I had to become this and this and this in order to really be who God wanted me to be, and then I would be worth something, and then I could be at peace. I was turned in on myself – I was looking inside for the bread that only comes from outside. But God so loved the not perfect, kinda quirky but definitely gifted person God made me to be. And Jesus Christ was standing right there, offering himself to me, and to you, saying I AM the bread of life, “take and eat, this is my body, given for you.”
There’s nothing inside you, either, that will satisfy the deepest hunger you feel for love and acceptance and peace from the one who made you, the one who came down to offer himself to you. There’s no one else in the universe with an opinion about you that matters. Because only this One has in his hands the ability to promise you a future with hope. As a Lutheran theologian, Robert Jenson, puts it:
We all ask the question, “what’s my excuse for taking up space and time?”2 Does my life mean anything? Am I worth anything to God? The only possible answers are “no,” in which case we might as well give up now, “maybe, if you do your part,” which throws us into that endless loop of wondering if we have done our part, whether we say that’s doing enough or believing enough, or “yes, absolutely yes, eternal life, life with the one real God, is yours, starting right now and lasting through all eternity.” If the question we’re asking is whether “it’s worth doing or being anything at all,” then the only real answer is yes – unconditionally.3 And as you “hear” that unconditional promise which comes from outside of you, you do really enjoy human life as God intended.4
Jesus the Bread of Life is the food we need to live. His unconditional love is what sets us free to be human. It’s why Jesus told us to wash people in the water the way John washed him, and call it baptism. It’s why Jesus told us to celebrate the meal the way he did on the night in which he was betrayed, because we need God’s gracious Word of promise in physical form too. We need to be able to bathe in God’s love, and devour Christ’s promise and presence, because it must come from outside of us or it is no promise at all. Augustine called this bread and wine “visible words.” And so they are for you – all you who are God’s perfectly flawed, beautifully gifted, “painfully uncool,”5 incomplete-but-on-the-Way people. All you who are starving for love, starving for the Bread of Life, you are the one Christ promises life, you are the one invited to this table, where Christ is the host and the meal. Come and get it! Amen.
1David Lose, “Pentecost 10B: The Surprise of our Lives,” http://www.davidlose.net/2015/07/pentecost-10-b-the-surprise-of-our-lives/ (accessed July 30, 2015).
2Eric W. Gritsch and Robert W. Jenson, Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and Its Confessional Writings (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 40.
5From the band Switchfoot’s “The Beautiful Letdown,” on The Beautiful Letdown, Columbia Records, 2003.