The Bread of Life (A Sermon for Proper 14B, 2021)
The Rev. Alan D. Bentrup
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church (Keller, Texas)
John 6:35, 41-51
August 8, 2021
Like many folks, my wife took up the hobby of bread baking during the pandemic. Loaves, doughs, bagels, crackers. Man, you’ve got to try these crackers…
Bread baking, I’ve learned, isn’t just a small hobby. There are costs involved. We’ve bought new appliances, new spoon things, new scraper things, and flour. Lord, has she bought flour…
It got to the point where it was just easier for her to buy it in bulk. So, for much of the pandemic, we had a new houseguest…this 50 pound bag of flour that took up permanent residence on one of our kitchen chairs.
I can tell you…not by experience but by watching Elizabeth…that teaching yourself to make bread is not for the faint of heart. There’s this starter thing, that has to be fed. It’s like we had a newborn in the house again. There is the kneading of the dough, the rising, and the temperature and humidity that support the expansion of the dough. There is the forming of loaves, the baking of loaves, the cooling of loaves and the slicing of loaves.
And then there is the eating of the loaves…that’s the part I’m good at…
We live as hungry people in a hungry world. Everyone is looking for something that will sustain and nourish life, something that will feed and energize, something that will fill and satisfy.
Everyone is looking for bread.
The problem is not that we are hungry. The problem is the kind of bread we eat.
Too often we eat the bread of violence and war.
We eat the bread of negativity, hostility, and name-calling.
We eat the bread of having to be right and get our way.
We eat the bread of hurt feelings and resentment.
We eat the bread of loneliness, fear, and isolation.
We eat the bread of sorrow or guilt.
We eat the bread of power and control.
We eat all kinds of bread.
But not all bread sustains and grows life. Not all bread is nutritious.
Too often we eat the bread that fills us up temporarily but leaves us hungry.
That’s what Jesus is getting at in today’s gospel. The people have shown up hungry. Just yesterday Jesus fed thousands of them with five loaves and two fish. And today they show up and their first question is, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”
They don’t marvel at yesterday’s miracle, give thanks for God’s generosity, or even wonder who this rabbi is.
All they do is worry that they might miss the next meal.
They saw no sign, no miracle, in yesterday’s feeding. They saw nothing more than fish and bread. They are interested only in their own appetites, and Jesus knows it.
“Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves,” Jesus says to them.
The people are concerned for their bellies. Jesus is concerned for their lives.
“Do not work for the food that perishes,” he tells them, “but for the food that endures for eternal life.”
The food that endures is Jesus himself. He is the bread that is broken and given for the life of the world.
When we feast on Jesus, we live differently. When we believe in Jesus, we live differently. When we trust in Jesus, we live differently. When we pattern our lives in the way of Jesus, we live differently.
We seek love, rather than hate.
We seek forgiveness, rather than retribution.
We seek peace, rather than conflict.
We seek hope, rather than despair.
We seek life, rather than death.
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus tells us. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Jesus offers us himself.
Jesus offers himself to us in every one of our relationships: family, friends, strangers, enemies…those who agree with us, and those who disagree.
In every situation, every day of our lives, we choose the bread we will eat. Will we eat the bread that perishes, that fills us up but leaves us hungry?
Or will we eat the bread…will we live the life…that Jesus offers?