Lectionary Year B
August 6, 2000
John 6:24-35

Step VI: Contemporary Address




[Opening illustration] - Broodmare and foal asleep flat-out on the ground at the crack of dawn; when gate to corral opened for feeding they get up and mare nurses foal before coming in for her own feed. She then walks calmly into the corral/stall with the foal at her side, he having learned that his mother will take care of him no matter what and before she tends to her own needs. This mare, by the way, has only one eye and is especially fractious, not fond of containment areas. This morning was a breakthrough. Nourishment is more than food; among people as well as horses we get more with our mother's milk than just nutrients. By the way, this foal - only fourteen days old - had very recently had an operation to correct the lower eyelids so that the lashes would not scratch the surface of his eyes, having spent most of his first two weeks of life with his eyes closed. Now they are open and experiences like this morning were "eye-opening" for him in more than one sense].

"Bread" tastes; bread is also a symbol. When we say "bread" we can mean sustenance, like when we say "put bread on the table," and have in mind thereby food in general; "bread" in popular speech can also mean "money," as in "bread-winner," or "bring home the bread." So too here in this text Jesus raises the horizon of his listeners and of you and me too as regards to "bread." The interlocutors are told that they got fed when they were physically hungry earlier, but that they continue to see "me" out because "you" are still hungry; it is a "sign," if you can see it. It was then and remains for all sensitive listeners a profound moment: something so basic as the meeting of a basic human (equine?) need becomes a "sign," a window for grasping something that is fundamentally true about us and our existence! Something like: we remain restless, unsatisfied, when we never journey to the spiritual table - or as John 6 puts it - never eat the bread that "comes down from heaven."

I. It seemed like such a complicated thing then; for many people it still seems that way today. It sounded like an invitation to a deep philosophical discussion, so Jesus' audience that day appealed to tradition, to the ancestors of old and their wisdom, to Moses as leader, founder of their way of thinking. Philo of Alexandria could have joined the conversation since he wrote about Moses as supreme lawgiver, as smart as Solon among the Greeks, as wise as any formulator of proverbial wisdom in any culture. It was though they understood "bread" to mean the food of the mind, profound thinking, intellectual stimulation; the appeal to knowledge and the rational support for the laws that govern social existence together in towns, in nations, in households. Bread for the mind - education - is good, but it is not the "bread of life" as Jesus understands it. Bread to make you smart, to make you superior, to give you the edge, the advantage over others in a competitive world, to make you rich and famous is - contrary to popular opinion - still not life! The bread offered by institutions of higher learning claims more than it can deliver when it comes to life. You can never know enough to give you peace, deliverance from a restless hunger for connectedness to the work of God in the world.

II. The people in this story had the good sense to ask Jesus about how they might connect with this work of God in the world, how they might find and eat of the bread of God's providing. I like their style: they are good listeners, good questioners, they don't run from the dialogue even when the going seems to be getting tougher. What they discover is that their previous understanding of the matter was in need not so much of being changed or replaced, but in need of moving to the next level. The rewards of staying with the problem are great! You see, this was one of those questions worth pondering a lifetime; like so many of those really big questions the breakthrough is often far less complicated than you originally thought.

[illustration: Darnel McDonald, a highly recruited high school athlete from Colorado, is a man standing at a crossroad. Should he accept ca. one million dollars to play baseball for the Baltimore Orioles or should he forego the cash and play football and baseball for the University of Texas and get a college education like other mortals his age? We won't know what he decides for another couple of weeks, but he now struggles. Everyone here today has stood or is standing at a crossroad: what to do, what to say, where to go? We agonize at the crossroad, but then you meet someone who has already journeyed down one or both of the paths; you sit down and listen and reason, making comparisons, and then the necessary path becomes clear to you. Danny DeVito, in the film "The Renaissance Man," teaches a group of army recruits about "Hamlet" and helps them to see its possible shaping influence upon their future choices. He walked down an already (for him) familiar path with them. Jesus counseled people that day who were at the crossroad.]

The simple counsel they receive from Jesus is this: God is sovereign; God has been the One providing for them all along; SO, believe in the One whom God has sent to be the bread of life! Jesus says, "I am the bread of life; believe in me!" Perhaps even this counsel seemed complicated and even alienating at first: "ah yes, belief, faith, doctrine, religious instruction; these are complicated matters and certainly controversial...so many different views." But Jesus' way is so disarming, "believing is coming to me, believing in trusting me!" It is not a matter of getting smart, it is not a question of IQ. "I have already been at all your crossroads. I am here with you at your Waterloo. I can give you counsel. I have been with you as you journeyed down all those paths that brought you to this point...even the ones that were not good for you and your well-being."

III. "Bread," finally, is about the Lord's Table. This Table becomes for all of us so many different things. It can become a starting point where you say to your Lord - as the people at the end of the story - "give me this bread always, from this day forth...I come, I believe." Or it may become a moment of renewal: "I have believed, but have journeyed afar and seek renewed dedication here in this hour, give me the bread of refreshment and rededication." For others perhaps a much more uncertain moment of truth presents itself: "I'm not sure at all about faith, but I do need the bread of life and I ask that you not give up on me, Lord, I need your counsel; I'll linger and remain in my heart of hearts, if you'll just abide with me." Whatever the need, come to the Table and eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine which God provides in order that we should never hunger and thirst again. Amen.

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