25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted.27 Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One[c] will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”
28 They asked, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?”
29 Jesus replied, “This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.”
30 They asked, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
32 Jesus told them, “I assure you, it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread from heaven to you, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 They said, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!”
35 Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I told you that you have seen me and still don’t believe. 37 Everyone whom the Father gives to me will come to me, and I won’t send away anyone who comes to me. 38 I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 This is the will of the one who sent me, that I won’t lose anything he has given me, but I will raise it up at the last day. 40 This is my Father’s will: that all who see the Son and believe in him will have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
41 The Jewish opposition grumbled about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”
42 They asked, “Isn’t this Jesus, Joseph’s son, whose mother and father we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
43 Jesus responded, “Don’t grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless they are drawn to me by the Father who sent me, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, And they will all be taught by God. Everyone who has listened to the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God. He has seen the Father. 47 I assure you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that whoever eats from it will never die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 Then the Jews debated among themselves, asking, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Human One[g] and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. It isn’t like the bread your ancestors ate, and then they died. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum (John 6:25-59, Common English Bible).
There is a restaurant in Houston called The Potato Patch. Of course, there are
many restaurants in Houston so, like some others, The Potato Patch thought they needed
a gimmick. They stole an idea from a three-restaurant chain based in Missouri called
Lambert’s Café. Lambert’s was the first place to make a practice of throwing hot rolls at
their customers. While far from the norm in the restaurant world, Lambert’s and The
Potato Patch are far from the only places that do this.
Back in the mid-1990s, my old friend Hank took Cindy, the boys and me to The
Potato Patch for lunch one day when we were in town. At least as I remember it, they
didn’t really need a gimmick as their food was very good.
The thing that really stuck out to me that day, however, wasn’t so positive, at least
not to me. When they threw the bread they would take it out of a basket with a pair of
tongs and throw it with the tongs. You just are not going to have the throwing accuracy
with a pair of tongs as you would with your hand. As a result, many dinner rolls missed
their mark. I really noticed when I was expecting a roll thrown to me and it flew well above my head. I don’t think had I been standing and eight feet tall I would have had much of a shot at catching that flying roll. That also doesn’t count those people who just can’t catch at all. What stuck out to me that day was the number of rolls that went into the garbage because they weren’t caught and ended up on the floor.
How many people, with little or nothing to eat, could be fed just from the rolls that
hit the floor? Would it be a nutritious meal? No. Would it have filled someone’s stomach?
I understand the intent was to have some fun, and for many people, I am sure it is
fun. For me, at least, it just seemed like a waste of some perfectly good bread. Beyond
that, perhaps I just wanted my bread without having to make any real effort to get it. Just
bring it out on my plate.
I think that might have been the problem for those gathered around Jesus in our
lesson this morning. Our lesson comes from John 6 in the group of lessons sometimes
referred to as “The Bread of Life” lessons. At the beginning of this chapter is Jesus feeding the 5000, sent the disciples across the Sea of Galilee while he stayed behind and prayed. When he finished praying Jesus walked out on the water and encountered the disciples during a storm.
The crowds, realizing neither Jesus nor the disciples were still at the site of the
massive feeding, headed to Capernaum looking for Jesus. But really, they weren’t looking
for Jesus as much as they were searching for another free meal. Jesus says as much
and then tells them not to work for food that doesn’t last but instead to work for the food
that endures for eternal life, food Jesus would give, food God had confirmed in sending
Jesus to earth.
True to his style, John is speaking in pretty cryptic words. Remember how in John 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus how he has to be born again. And, in John 4 Jesus is telling the Woman at the Well about water that would never let her thirst again. Now in chapter 6, Jesus is talking about bread that if they eat it, they will never hunger again.
Exactly like the Woman at the Well who wanted the living water so she would have
no need to come to the well again, those present wanted this “Bread of Life” so they
wouldn’t hunger again. In truth, they saw it much like Moses’ manna in the wilderness.
The big problem was, they didn’t see Moses’ manna in the wilderness or even the feast
they had the day before, not as a miraculous sign, but as an easy way to get a meal, a
meal that cost them no labor.
Also, much like the woman at the well, these folks were pretty confused in what
Jesus was saying. Manna came because the Israelites were traveling and didn’t have a
way to grow a crop or even too much in the way of hunting and gathering, they were, after all, wandering in the wilderness. To keep them alive, that many people alive, God had to provide. The woman at the well was confused because she wanted water that would never let her thirst again. What Jesus was talking about, however, was not water that would keep one from physical thirst but instead what would keep her from having a
spiritual thirst again.
When Jesus starts talking about the Bread of Life, it isn’t a loaf of physical bread
that would keep one’s belly full for eternity. No, what Jesus was talking about was feasting on him to keep one’s spiritual hunger at bay for all eternity.
As for their part, those gathered around Jesus in our lesson were way to busy
being grossed out to really get the meaning of his message. In their defense, Jesus’ talk
about eating his body and drinking his blood, to one outside the Church, outside the faith, which these folks were, would sound pretty gross. Remember, for those of us who have spent much time at all in the church, we know, when we talk about the bread and the wine and the body and the blood we speak of gathering at Christ’s Holy Table for Holy Communion and not some ancient cannibalistic rite. This morning we are beginning a new sermon series I have titled, “Bread, Bath and Beyond.” Today we start with bread. Next week we will move on to “Bath” and then we will finish with “Beyond,” living as a sacramental Christian.
Holy Communion is one of the two rites we, as United Methodists, celebrate as sacraments. The other is Baptism. Sacraments are sacred moments instituted by Jesus
where we celebrate his life in ways unique to the Church. As United Methodists, we believe these sacraments, these sacred moments in time are means of grace. Through the
celebration of Jesus’ body and blood, the celebration of his Baptism, and in general the
celebration of His life, you and I find the grace of God.
I talked before about being worthy to come before God. Grace is the thing that makes us worthy. Without the grace of God, grace that continues to feed us through the sacraments, we are not even worthy to breathe the air God created. With God’s grace through Jesus Christ, we are made worthy, not by anything we do but by what God does. Then as faithful Christians, we move beyond the sacraments to reach out and touch the world with that same grace that is in us. Really, we are made worthy, not because of our own actions but because of what God does through us. It isn’t us at work but God working through us.
In a few minutes, we are going to come to the table. When we come, we will receive
a small piece of bread and a small cup of juice. To be brutally honest, it really just that,
bread and juice. There isn’t anything special about it, at least not in a physical way. As
United Methodists we are consubstantiationists. There he goes with the five dollar
seminary words. It really is pretty simple. There are two schools of thought on what
happens with Holy Communion. One thought is transubstantiation. This school of thought is primarily in the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox tradition. They believe that in the consecration of the bread and wine, and in both cases it is actually wine they drink, the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Jesus.
Consubstantiation says the opposite. The bread and wine, or in our case juice, physically
remain the same, they are still bread and juice. But, in a spiritual way, they do take on
new qualities. Spiritually they are the body and blood of Christ and we nourish on him by faith. Because we do believe something special does happen in a spiritual way, what we do here and what we use here become sacred when consecrated.
If you have ever noticed, following communion, the leftover bread and wine are never just thrown in the garbage or poured down the drain. They are either consumed,
sometimes you might see some of the kids eating the leftovers and that may bother some
of you but it is one of the acceptable ways of disposing of the elements or it is returned to
the earth. The bread is thrown out on the lawn and the squirrels or birds eat it. The wine
is poured out on the ground and absorbed back into the earth.
Sometimes you may notice bread crumbs on the floor up here where pieces of
bread have fallen and been lost. This is among the chief reasons why transubstantiation
churches use wafers instead of a loaf. Because the bread becomes the real Body of
Christ, these traditions believe these crumbs are part of the body and when we walk on
the crumbs we trample on them. For much the same reason, for centuries, the laity was
not allowed to receive the wine out of fear that they might spill the precious blood of Jesus.
As consubstantiantists we don’t believe such to be the case. I would submit to you,
however, that there is a good visual significance for us in the crumbs on the floor. You
see, though not the real body, when we sin we do walk on Jesus and what Jesus did for
us at the cross. Seeing ourselves and one another walk on these crumbs can be used to
remind us of what Jesus did for us on the cross and of the ways we regularly fail Him
through the sin that is part of all our lives.
There was nothing significant about the bread that day I watched dinner rolls hit the floor at The Potato Patch. And, as we come to the table there is nothing physically
significant with the bread or juice we receive, and we do receive the meal. We come to
the table hands open to receive that which God has given to us.
But, for we who believe, while nothing has physically changed, something happens, God does something that changes everything in our spiritual lives. We receive the Body and Blood of our Savior. We feed on Him by faith. With what we receive our bellies may not be filled but something does happen to us. God is at work pouring out grace on God’s gathered children. The bread is the same, the juice is the same but God is here and that my friends changes everything.