Do you like bread? Please note, this sermon contains gluten.
I love it, especially slathered with butter – note, not margarine, and Marmite, or jam, or both actually. I like baking bread too, feeling the flour and yeast turn into a silky dough as I use my hands and my arms to work it.
What does Jesus mean when he says that he is the Bread of life?
What is bread? in this context, it is the most basic element of any meal, the one go-to food when there is nothing else. Bread is cheaper than proteins like milk and eggs, and for many cultures it forms the basis of most meals. Pizza started out life as a food invented by peasants, who had bread, and some tomato for flavour, and a bit of meat and cheese for the top if they were lucky. It could just as easily be the rice or pasta or taro of life, and when the Bible is used in countries where other foods are the staple, bread is translated into that food.
Jesus therefore means that he is the basic food, the one that will satisfy every need, and not be beyond the reach of anyone. Note that he didn’t say, I am the roast lamb of life. Or I am the juiciest peach of life. No, just ordinary, humble, everyday bread. So plain that we don’t even think about it, but expect that it will always be there, a loaf in the bread bin, or the freezer.
Have you ever run out of bread at home? Gone to make the kids’ lunches and discovered that there was half a crust left and nothing else? It’s hard to manage without this staple food.
I think Jesus is using the Bread image or it’s everydayness. If bread is a basic need of everyday, humble yet satisfying, that’s what Jesus is too. He’s not fancy or expensive, he’s not beyond the reach of anyone. He doesn’t pretend to be something more fancy or complicated.
Bread can be many things, but I don’t think Jesus is imagining himself as the enriched brioche dough with chocolate that makes such a lovely treat! I think he’s referring to the basic bread, the flat bread of the Middle East, the cheapest $1 loaf at pak’n’save.
What does it mean for you that Jesus is the bread of life? Maybe it means that he is always available, always satisfying, always straightforward, and that you know what to do with him.
Christianity – following Jesus doesn’t need to be complicated, but so many people make it that way. Just follow Jesus, what he said, how he lived, and you will be there.
In the letter of Paul to the Ephesians that we heard earlier, Paul spells out some Jesus-following ways to live. ‘Don’t go to bed angry and give the devil a chance.’
This might seem logical, ‘don’t let the sun go down on your wrath’ is another way to put it. I know that if I’m grumpy at bedtime I tend to stew over the issue, tossing and turning and getting a rubbish sleep, till I ‘m even more grumpy tomorrow. It’s much better to acknowledge it for what it is, apologise if possible, forgive, and let Jesus take away the burden.
Paul’s letter gets more specific about what comes out of our mouth. ‘Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don’t yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude.’
That’s quite a list isn’t it! I think I’d better print it out for home…But it’s good advice if we want to follow Jesus.
These days, there’s such a sense of self-justifying, of entitlement.
‘I was justified in calling him that, because did you hear what he said to me?’
Our society expects and even encourages revenge. It is not thought a bad thing to get even with someone. Instead, repay a mean comment with a worse one, then a curse, then a shout, then a blow… That’s why violence escalates so quickly. I see this tendency in the kids, and on the news.
My friends, that is not the Jesus-way to live. What should we do then when someone is rude to us?
‘Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ.’
But hang on, you may say. How can I forgive someone when they don’t deserve it? In the human way, that would be difficult wouldn’t it. But God forgave us when we didn’t deserve it. He let Jesus give his life to take away our sins. How then can we say someone else doesn’t deserve our forgiveness, when we claim to be forgiven in Jesus’ name?
What comes out of our mouth is connected to what goes in. Jesus is the bread of life. But how can we take Him in? How can we digest Him?
If we are eating bread, we need to bite it, to chew it, to swallow it and digest it, where it is taken apart by our wonderful God-created bodies and used to nourish us.
Sometimes as Christians we can be a bit daunted about knowing we need to read the Bible – it just seems too much, that huge book on the shelf. But, just as the bread is no use if it stays on the bench, the Word of God is much better for us if we actually start to absorb it. Take a bite, nibble! That means, read a little bit. Just a mouthful. and instead of gobbling up a whole chapter and feeling like you can’t move, chew slowly over the words you have read, letting them sink into your mind and your soul, just as the bread you eat is slowly digested, a little bit at a time. That is, unless it is home-made and hot and covered with butter when it may be tempting to gobble it!
When we see Jesus as the bread of life, we can see him as a vital part of our every day. Just as bread is, for many people, the mainstay of lunch, the underpinning of afternoon tea, the substance of supper, so Jesus needs to be absorbed often. ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ we pray. That doesn’t mean, feel guilty once a week and read heaps of Scripture without absorbing it slowly. It’s much better to have a plan for reading a little bit at a time, then you have it to mull over during the day.
The Anglican church uses the daily lectionary, and there are several smallish pieces to read each day. This is one way to get your feed. How about having your Bible alongside your computer, and reading a bit while it boots up?
Often however, the set reading may be too long, and you notice that your attention has drifted off at a certain point. One of our wise priests who has been training clergy for a long time encourages this – he says – notice when you stop listening. That means, go back to the point where your mind went on a tangent, and think about the portion just before that. There may be something there for you today, from God. That may be your bread today. Another person can hear the same Scripture and have a very different takeaway message from it. That’s fine – our daily bread is individualised, given for us by our Creator, if only we will open our eyes, mouth, will, and let it in.
There is an old song – I have decided to Follow Jesus. You know it? I thought you did. A few years ago, one of my kids started singing, I have decided to swallow Jesus. And we laughed, but then I thought, that’s right, isn’t it, we need to swallow Jesus, take him on board, chew over his message, his life, let it infiltrate and nourish us, from the inside out. Only then, when we have filled ourselves with the bread of life, will we be truly following Jesus.