Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, January 24, 2022
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The Bread of Life

John 6:47-59

Have you ever got a free lunch? I know, I know, as my father used to say, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Sometimes “free lunches” have strings attached. But I think probably most of us at some time or another have received an actual free lunch, no strings attached. If that’s you, did the free lunch endear you to the person who gave it? I’m willing to bet the answer is yes.

John chapter 6 tells the story of Jesus giving 5000 men, plus women and children, a free lunch. And there were no strings attached.

Now some of you have heard me talk about the idea of “Messy Church” lately. Messy Church is a model for creating a church that is easily accessible to all, especially those who are not familiar with how churches typically operate. And the creators of Messy Church use this story as an inspiration for what Messy Church looks like.

People were curious about this Jesus fellow. They wanted to know more about him; they wanted to see if he really did miracles. Some of them wanted to follow him; others were just curious. So they follow him out to this lonely place near the Sea of Galilee, by the village of Bethsaida.

Jesus welcomed them and he did not make any demands of them. Instead, he made a demand of his own disciples. He demanded they feed the people. Jesus did receive the gift that one of the people offered, a gift of five loaves and two fishes. It is important to receive gifts from others; not just to give gifts. Both are ways of blessing others. We bless when we give, and we bless when we receive. To receive is to value the gift and honor the giver.

Jesus fed the crowd all they wanted. But after he did, things took a turn for the worse. Some in the crowd wanted to take Jesus by force and make him their king. And that created all kinds of complications to his earthly mission, so Jesus got out of there. He went up into the hills to pray.

Later that night, the disciples took the boat back across the lake. Jesus left his place up in the hills and took a little stroll out on the water to meet them. And the next morning finds them all back in his home base of Capernaum.

Some of the crowd go looking for him and catch up with him there, in the synagogue. Before they were out in the fields, and Jesus did not make any demands of

them. But now they’re in the religious institution, the place of seeking God, the “church,” if you will. And here Jesus does make demands of them.

That story is the inspiration for the model of Messy Church. Messy Church is about welcoming people who are curious about Jesus. You feed them. You celebrate with them. You accept what gifts they have to bring. And you offer them Jesus. Then you give them the chance to take the next step of discipleship. If they respond, then you challenge them with things that are more demanding.

Jesus says to the crowd, “You’re only looking for me because I fed you, and now you want more.” Jesus is not convinced that these folks are genuinely seeking God. Maybe they just want a free breakfast to go with the free lunch. And Jesus is not going to be reduced to an all-you-can-eat buffet.

“Don’t work for food that spoils but food that endures to eternal life.”

“Okay, Jesus, you got our attention. What must we do?”

“Believe in the one God sent.”

“Well, we’d really like to believe in you, Jesus. But first, what sign can you give us to prove we should believe in you? ‘Cause you know Moses, he gave people bread from heaven.” So far, Jesus has only managed to multiply earthly bread, and apparently that was a solid step down the ladder from giving bread from heaven!

And Jesus said, “I am the bread of life that has come down from heaven. I can take away your hunger and thirst.”

Well, at this point, the doubts start to rise up. “Now wait just a minute here! Isn’t this guy, Jesus, the son of Joseph. We know his mother. How can he say he came down from heaven? That’s a pretty bold claim there, Jesus!”

So Jesus goes on, “The one who believes in me has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate that manna that ‘Moses’ gave to them, and they still died. It didn’t give eternal life. It only satisfied for a day (well, two on the day before the Sabbath!). I am the bread of life. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and this bread is my flesh, offered so the world may live.”

“Um, pardon there, Jesus. Did you just say the bread is your flesh? ‘Cause that’s a little weird.”

Jesus doesn’t back down: “Unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, you have no life in you. My flesh is real food. My blood is real drink.”

Cannibalism is not very appealing to most people, and they are not thrilled. They’re pretty put off.

What does Jesus mean by all this?

Well, let’s start with the obvious question, “Why do we eat?” To sustain life, obviously. We know that food sustains life. We eat things that we know are good and nourishing. We don’t eat things that we know are bad for us. Well, not too bad, at least. I mean we’ll eat a box of donuts, even though we know that’s not really the best thing to eat, but we won’t eat shoes, or nails, or old t-shirts.

Do we think Jesus is good for us? Do we think that he will sustain us? If so, then we should partake of Jesus.

When we eat something, we receive it, and incorporate it into ourselves. As the old saying goes, “You are what you eat.” For some of you, that might mean you are fast, cheap, and easy. But we are literally what we eat. Pretty much every part of your body today is different than it was a year ago. Your cells die and are replaced by new cells, and those new cells are made of the things you have eaten.

Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” Do you want to make Jesus part of you? Do you want to receive him so that you can become like him? Do you want Jesus to be all throughout your being? If so, then you should receive him.

Jesus goes on, “The Father sent me. I live because of the Father. And so the one who partakes of me will live.”

This might be the best text in the New Testament to explain what we are doing in the Lord’s Supper. We receive the Lord’s Supper because we want to be nourished and sustained by the bread of life. Just as we need our “daily bread,” our regular food, to sustain our daily life, so we need Jesus to sustain our spirits. If we want to live, then we must partake of the Bread of Life.

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