February 13, 2022 – Bread Of Life from Heaven
Acknowledging the Territory
As we begin our worship, we acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. Let us live out this acknowledgement by committing ourselves to live with respect, seeking justice and equality for all.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we light our Christ Candle this morning, we remember the one that we call the light of the world and we are reminded to follow his example and spread his light wherever we go.
Call to Worship
Hungering and thirsting,
We gather today in worship.
Longing to be fed by Divine love and healing,
We gather today in worship.
Seeking to be nourished by hope and compassion,
We gather today in worship.
Offering our thanks and praise for the love, healing, nourishment, hope and compassion we have received,
We gather today in worship.
Aching to find new ways to share all we have received, so that we may feed others,
We gather today in worship.
And so as we gather in worship,
We humbly seek the one who can satisfy all our longings.
Opening Prayer (in unison) ~ Written by Bruce Prewer
Feed us now, Child of God, as you fed your first disciples. Feed us with that soul-food which nurtures enough love within us to outstrip the fears and enmity that ties the world up in knots. Feed us with that spiritual bread which strengthens our hands for serving those broken and lost people whom this world deems a waste of space. Feed us, so that we may be fulfilled with some of that joy which the universe cannot contain. For your love’s sake. Amen!
Gift of Music All Who Hunger #460
Scripture Readings John 6:35-59
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”
Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
The Bread of Life
The idea of Jesus as “The Bread of Life” is so ingrained in our theology that we seldom, if ever, really consider what that statement actually means. And yet, once again, the Gospel According to John is the only gospel in which Jesus refers to himself as “The Bread of Life”.
Because this is unique to John, it is important to look at the circumstances in which this portion of scripture takes place. Just before the section of scripture we read this morning, John tells his version of the story of the feeding of the crowd of 5000. After that incident, Jesus tried to escape from the crowd in order spend time alone. But the crowd followed.
When the crowd catches up with him, Jesus basically says to them, “You’re not looking for me because you saw and understood the signs I have given you, but because you filled your bellies with bread!” Jesus warns them not to focus on the physical bread that perishes but to work toward the bread of eternal life. The crowd beg him to provide that bread for them and Jesus responds by saying, “I am the bread of life.” And this is where our scripture passage this morning begins.
It is important to remember that throughout the Gospel According to John, there is a very distinct pattern. John tells about one of Jesus signs or about a conversation that Jesus has with someone, and then he follows that with a long explanation of what the sign or the conversation actually means. The passage we read this morning is John’s explanation of the meaning of the story of the feeding of the 5000.
For John the feeding of the 5000, like all the other signs performed by Jesus, is intended to affirm his divinity. But much like the Samaritan woman at the well who initially misunderstood the meaning of Jesus offer of Living Water, those who were fed on five loaves and two fish, misunderstood Jesus’ promise that “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry”. And so, Jesus attempts to explain.
When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” we know that he is not referring to physical bread. We understand that what Jesus is offering is spiritual nurturing that feeds not the body, but the soul. But, as always, we have the advantage of knowing the rest of the story. Those who first heard Jesus speak, did not.
And the authorities got angry. How dare he say that he was bread from heaven? So, they began to complain. Jesus’ answer to them is to remind them of the bread from heaven, the manna, with which their ancestors had been fed. That manna, even though it came from heaven was physical bread, that might sustain their physical life but could not offer eternal life. They would still be hungry spiritually and the physical hunger that the manna satisfied would return.
It is important to remember that when Jesus says this, he is speaking to people who have been physically fed. I remember when I was in Nicaragua many years ago, talking to a pastor there who told me about the children’s feeding stations that were set up by the churches in the poorest areas of Managua. The children were required to sit through a bible lesson before being fed. He felt that it would be much more effective if they fed the children first. Every teacher knows that if a child’s belly is empty, they will not be able to concentrate on what is being said. If physical needs are not met now can the “spirit” be nurtured.
But in the story that we read from John, the people had already been fed. They had not only filled their bellies, but they had been offered an abundance of left overs for the next day, 12 full baskets. They were not still physically hungry and yet they followed Jesus looking for more.
Perhaps they were simply looking for more bread to store away for the future, or perhaps, like the Israelites in the desert who complained that they were tired of manna and that it was no longer enough to satisfy them, the people who followed Jesus were looking for something different, something they might not even have been able to explain. Perhaps, now that their initial physical need for food had been met, the people were beginning to realize that their hunger went deeper than the physical needs of their bodies.
It is very possible to have everything you physically need and much more, and to still feel empty. The push to accumulate more and more that seems so prevalent in much of our modern world, does not satisfy, at least in the way that Jesus is talking about.
And so, Jesus offered the people more. What Jesus offered them, what he promised that he himself would become for them, was ‘bread from heaven’ that would not simply sustain their physical bodies for this lifetime, but would sustain them for eternal life. He was promising them spiritual sustenance. And he did this by telling them that the bread from heaven that he was offering them was his own flesh.
Now you can imagine how well that went over! The Jewish laws strictly forbade the drinking of blood of any sort, so the idea of eating human flesh and drinking human blood was not only offensive beyond belief to the people, it was also offensive to the laws of Yahweh. If you think the officials had been upset when Jesus healed on the Sabbath, imagine how upset they would have been by Jesus telling people they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood.
Today, most of us automatically think, “well Jesus was just talking about communion”. We gloss over this passage, even if we still tend to squirm a little bit when we read it. But I think we need to go beyond that discomfort and try to understand why Jesus would say this and what the deeper meaning might be.
For John, there is little doubt that this is a reference to the crucifixion. But for John, the ultimate message of the crucifixion is Love. As John states so clearly in John 3, the reason for Jesus coming into the world was not to condemn the world but because God loved the world so much, that God was willing to do anything in order to enable people to understand that love, anything, even death on a cross. For John, this is the entire message of his gospel. That the Divine became human in order that we, as humans, could begin to understand and experience that Divine Love.
When Jesus tells the people that unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you he is not referring to the physical act of eating, but rather to the taking in, or absorption of his very essence, which is essence of the Divine. And Jesus goes on to say, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
The idea of abiding in Christ, abiding in the Divine, is the promise of life beyond the human existence. It is the very concept of eternal life that Jesus talks about. To abide in God is to be in relationship with God and the living God requires a living relationship. For John, the only way that human beings could truly understand and develop this living relationship with God was for God became one of us. And so, Jesus came into our world.
But the people did not understand. They either failed to listen or they could not accept what Jesus taught and so ultimately, that love that was born in Jesus was willing to die on the cross rather than abandon or give up on the people. If the death of Jesus was the only way that the people could come to recognize and fully know God’s love, then that was what had to happen.
The idea of life coming through death, the idea of sacrificing everything for the sake of another, the idea of self-giving love, is at the very heart of John’s gospel. It is that same life-giving love that is expressed in Jesus promise to be the ‘Bread of Life’.
We cannot fully absorb the depth of Divine love for us unless we take that love into our very being. Unless that love becomes part of us, we can never fully experience what it means to be loved by God. One of the ways that we can experience that love, for John the only way, is thorough fully accepting Jesus as the Christ. By taking into our own heats and souls the very essence of Christ, his love, his message, his example, or in John’s words, his flesh and his blood, we too can experience that Divine connection, that Divine Love that is God. Amen
Gift of Music You Satisfy the Hungry Heart #478
We Offer Our Gifts
Let us take a moment now to think about what our relationship with God means to us. Let’s think about all the blessing and gifts we have received. And let us think also about the gifts we have to offer others. And so, as we gather here, let us take a moment to ask God’s blessing on whatever gifts we bring.
Let us pray;
Loving God, as we think about all the many gifts and blessings that we have received from you, we ask that your spirit will continue to bless us and that, through the gifts we give today, your spirit may reach out to touch and bless others. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
Let us take a moment of silence now, to offer our own personal prayers for all the people and the situations that are in our hearts and on our minds this morning.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Divine Love, we do not always appreciate the cost of your love for us. We do not always recognize how deeply that love effects us or how our lives are nurtured and enriched by accepting and fully embracing that love. Instead, we often seem to seek after more and more of the worldly possessions and advantages that society tells us will make us feel happy and fulfilled. Deep inside we know that these things will never satisfy our hunger for meaning and purpose. Guide us as we struggle to find what we truly need, the nourishment and wholeness of living in right relationship with you.
But even as we look for our own fulfillment, we think of those who struggles for life itself. We think of those whose need for daily bread and clean water will not be met today. We think of those whose lives will end as well as those whose lives will be forever damaged by malnutrition. We think of those who will worry every day if this will be the day, they go hungry. We think of those for whom food has become a substitute for love and fulfillment, those who eat to hide their deeper hunger.
We think of those who are ill or in pain, physical or mental, those living in fear, whose lives are broken by violence and crime, those caught in the midst of war, terrorism and constant conflict, and all those whose pain or fear absorbs all their energy making it difficult to even recognize the possibility of more.
We think of those who recognize the deep hunger in their own lives but have no idea where to look to find what they seek.
You know, Divine Love that there are times each one of us struggles to feel your love nurturing and sustaining us. Guide us in our times of uncertainty and in the times when your love surrounds and fills us, remind us to reach out to others offering them your love. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen
Closing Hymn Bread of Life, Feed My Soul MV#194
In our gathering for worship each week, we open ourselves to be fed and nurtured by God’s love and by the love of those who gather with us. As we prepare to leave our worship this morning, remind us that as we go out from here, we take that love with us to share it with others. And so, we go knowing that God’s love is with us, that Christ offers us an ongoing example of that love lived out, and that the Spirit nurtures, feeds and accompanies us each step of the way. Go with God.