Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Bread of Life

 The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
13,  August 2015

Proper XIV+B                   
1 Kings 19: 4-8               
 Psalm 34: 1-8                                                                                                                  
Ephesians 4: 25- 5:2                                                                      
John 6: 35, 41-51
I read this in the latest edition of the Spirit Newspaper.

A man was being tailgated by a stressed-out woman on a busy boulevard. Suddenly, the light turned yellow, just in front of him. He did the right thing, stopping at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection. The tailgating woman immediately hit her horn, screaming in frustration as she missed her chance to get through the intersection with him.

As she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up. He took her to the police station where she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a cell.
After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects.
He said, "I’m very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, waving your fist at the guy off in front of you, and swearing at him. I noticed the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘What Would Jesus Do” bumper sticker, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday School’ bumper sticker and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car.”

The Apostle Paul wrote in the letter that we read from this morning, Atherefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children and live in love, as Christ loved you and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.@  Long ago, Thomas a Kempis wrote a book that some of you may be familiar with, it was called Athe Imitation of Christ@ in which he set forth how every task we do can be consecrated, set apart and therefore be given and give, glory to God.  Paul=s whole letter to the Ephesian Church this morning is about just that, doing what Christ did.  Another fiction book from which we get the question: "What would Jesus do:" is Called "In His Steps" by Charles Sheldon.  In this account, several powerful business men decide to make no significant decisions for one year without first asking: "What would Jesus do?" "What would JESUS do?" "What WOULD Jesus do?"

If we read down the pastoral commandments Paul gives  here we see a paradigm, a life plan to strive for, goals to seek, not as Aoptions@ if we feel like it, but what we should be working for if we dare to call ourselves Christians or Athe children of God.@ But how do we get to this place?  How do we get the graces to see all of these things passing from our lives?  We get them  from Jesus.

First consider "bread".Bread is the staple of civilization. It is used symbolically for food-nourishment-body fuel.   Bread gives human beings LIFE!Is it any wonder that Jesus used 'bread' to signify his place in the Divine Plan for humanity? Imagine a bread that would not only fill your hunger but would cause you never to hunger again. We're  not speaking here about health food that helps the digestive processes, or holds out the promise of long life, or simply "is good for you".  We're  speaking about a bread that promises eternal life. Eat this bread and will live forever.  That Bread is Christ Himself.

Just think of  the lines of people that would form just to get  this bread. Think of how everyone would be rushing off to tell all their friends and family and neighbors. Then again, ...maybe not.  When I arrived here at the church this morning, I didn't have to fight my way through a crowd of cameras. No lines of people eagerly encamped on the front lawn making sure there would be a place for them.. Yet amazingly, here in this church, such a Bread of Life is being given out.  Here Jesus  fills the hungry with good things: the Bread of Life that is Himself, This is Bread greater than the bread of heaven that God rained down on Israel for forty years, greater than the angel's bread that took Elijah across the desert wilderness for forty days and nights.

Has it ever bothered you, sort of embarrassed you the way God chose to save us? Jesus comes to us in the scandalously plain and ordinary way of bread as he came in the scandalously ordinary birth of a baby.. Can you imagine??? Bread is what the waiter tosses on the table to keep you busy while you study the menu. Bread is the excuse to eat more  butter than we should have.  Bread is what you use to soak up the last of the pasta sauce and salad dressing. In Jesus' culture, where everyone ate with their hands, bread was even your knife, fork, spoon and possibly napkin! When people go on a diet these days, they tend to leave out the bread. Similarly when life gets hectic, many Christians choose to leave the Bread of Life out of their diet. "We've been so busy lately, and Sunday is our only time to relax."

The Jews didn't=t like what Jesus' said  about bread. Frankly, some Christians don=t!  Everything was fine until Jesus said it with the full blast, the I AM of God's name. I AM the bread of life which came down from heaven. How can he speak as if He were God? How can this Jesus call himself bread come down from heaven? They were scandalized.  Listen carefully for unbelief is our inherited eating disorder, a refusal to eat food of life and our preference for the delicacies of death. We read in the scriptures that Adam and Eve were given to eat of any tree in the Garden, including the tree in the middle of the Garden, the Tree of Life.   To eat of that tree meant to eat of life and live forever. Well, not exactly. They were given to eat of the other trees in the middle of the Garden, with just one itty bitty exception, the tree of knowing good and evil. You know now how like a child is told not to touch the object and the child does all they can to get away with touching it?  Satan lied.

To eat of the tree of knowing good and evil was to partake of death and to die forever. Imagine, eating death! So of course, they ate that which was forbidden and  God shut them, and us, away from the tree of life.  Later,  there would be another food, a food that man might eat and live forever,  living Bread.  Jesus Christ is the food that undoes our eating disorder, a Bread that takes our death and through His death works life. Don=t you  feel the hunger pangs of our death, that gnawing emptiness that  cannot be filled by the various breads of this life, that no drug, can numb. The diseases that wear down and eventually destroy our bodies. The brokenness  that destroys  our families; Death  all around us that robs us of loved ones and  our own death that inevitably looms  over us; 

All the things St. Paul told us to Astop doing@ and to "do" this morning. Guilt over the things we have said and done, and the things we have left unsaid and undone. Harm we have caused others, and the harm others have caused us. Sin ‑‑ the thoughts, words, and actions that betray who we really are  as sinners. This empty, nagging hunger that nothing in this world can fill.  

Paul writes: Speak truth to one another, b) don't sin when you are angry, c) don't steal, d) share with the needy, e) don't gossip and slander others, f) don't grieve God with our actions  g)  don't be bitter and malicious, but forgive others and Christ forgave you, and lastly  h) imitate God in Christ However, as empty vessels, so often try to fill it with something else, something easier, or so we think. We fill it with work, hoping achievement and success will take away the hunger . But the harder we work, the hungrier we get. We fill it with play, seeking fulfillment in fun and hobbies, travel  recreation and sports. We try relationships, hoping to find in the other what we are missing in ourselves.  We try religion, in the hopes that if we struggle and strain and strive hard enough to achieve some type of "spirituality" the hunger pangs will go away. But nothing seems to work.

Our hunger is not for anything we can touch, but God has not left us to starve in the wilderness of sin. He has sent living Bread from heaven in the form His Son: Jesus.  The tragedy is that too often we wait until we are desperate, weak, and exhausted to receive  this food, as if Christ were the "Bread of Despair" with a sign stamped on him that says, "for emergency use only." One of my great mentors Brennan Manning wrote: "God is enough. That is the root of peace. When we start seeking something besides Him, we lose it."

The Bread of Life comes with an unconditional guarantee and promise to the eater: "I will raise him up on the Last Day.". Four times he promises what no other Bread in this world can deliver ‑‑ resurrection from the dead. Every other food we eat goes with us to the grave and dies. This food goes with us to the grave and raises us to life.  He promises no quick and easy solutions to the pains and problems attendant to this life. This is no magic Wonder Bread but God's living Bread that will see you through life and death to the Resurrection of the Last Day. This Bread will give you strength to live your life boldly and confidently, even when you are hard pressed on every side and things seem to be closing in. And it may very well take until the Last Day for us to realize how well fed we have been all along.

Don't come to church to be entertained or emotionally manipulated. Come with the expectation of bigger and greater things than that drivel from the Bread of Life. Expect the forgiveness of your sins. Expect the gift of eternal life. Expect to be raised up to life on the Last Day.  The best is yet to come!  You have His Word on that and that is one word that can be trusted.

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