The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r131.htm
s131g97 Somerton Park 10/8/97 Sunday 19 Pentecost 12
Some meditations on the words of Jesus: "I am the bread of life" Jn 6.48
The opposition to Jesus often mistook his words - assuming Jesus was trying to making himself out to be someone great, someone who had power over the lives of other people. The particular opposition in the reading for today focussed on the statement that Jesus had "come down from heaven". Good things come from God, and Jesus as much as anything else was simply stating that they were not appreciating what God was doing for them in giving Jesus.
The living bread which Jesus was talking about was not a commodity, like we would buy a loaf at the local bakery, or like we sometimes perceive of God's blessings when we say: "Give us this day our daily bread." Jesus is not the heavenly baker, in whom is delegated the power to give or withhold material or spiritual blessings. That indeed would be to make Jesus into someone great - powerful. Someone to whom we might have to get "on side" to get our way.
Jesus however is the bread, and bread is simply for the eating. Bread has no preferences for whom does take and eat. The bread has no power to say who will and who will not benefit from the eating - all will benefit. Bread is just there to be eaten or no, and it is up to us to eat or not.
Jesus doesn't describe himself as the caviar of life either - though I have no idea if caviar was known in the Holy Land in those days. But you get the picture - bread is the basic staple food for all, not the delightful tasty morsel of the rich. Bread is not a particularly precious commodity.
Further, bread is made generally from wheat. But from whatever grain the bread it is made, all have been grown through the sowing of individual grains in the soil - a "death" and subsequent "resurrection", the rebirth of the plant. So too Jesus underwent the Cross and resurrection to be the bread of life. It is not given with no cost to the giver, indeed the cost to the giver is the ultimate cost that anyone could pay - death itself. To say that Jesus was trying to make himself out to be someone great might be excusable before his death on the cross, but afterwards it is clear that prestige and power is something Jesus is not really into.
What is offered then is something basic to all life, available to all, free of charge.
In fact when one looks closely at the great "I am" sayings in the gospel of John, looking at them in the light of the prestige or power we might associate with them, we find little prestige or power at all. None of them denote things which have the power to include or exclude, none of them are threatening. All have the character of simply of invitation.
I have dealt with the saying: "I am the bread of life ..." Bread is hardly glamorous or powerful.
Then there is: "I am the light of the world ..." Light is dependent on someone else to ignite it. Light enable us to see; and hopefully see the good in others - as Jesus saw the good in others.
"I am the gate ..." - I open when simply when I am pushed by whoever might do so, without resistance or complaining. Not the heavenly doorman, with power to include or exclude.
"I am the good shepherd ... I lay down my life for the sheep ..." - because they are more important then me (?). I don't exclude anyone from my flock.
"I am the resurrection and the life ..." - through my death, never to the opposite - to death and damnation, as so often is portrayed.
"I am the way ..." - people tread on me to get to the Father. I have no say in who chooses to walk over me.
"I am the truth ..." - I am simply there for the acceptance of anyone who chooses to accept or not.
"I am the life ..." - Everyone shares in me from the moment of their conception until the end of their days.
"I am the vine ..." - I simply enable the fruit to prosper on the branches - in others. I am merely the conduit of God's nourishment.
"Before Abraham was I am" - this is the essence of life from the beginning - indeed I am the essence of life, I am nothing "new".
I suspect we do Jesus a disservice if we (to use and old phrase) "magnify the Lord" - we are taking Jesus along precisely the opposite path to which he trod. Let me be quite clear that I consider Jesus to be worthy of all might, majesty, authority and power, but that is because I have tasted of the bread, I know something of the cross ...
Often the trouble with sermons is that the words can be so couched in biblical and theological terms, while the import of them is clear to me who writes and speaks them, without some practical application, they are lost on others.
So we start to hear ourselves using the words: "So and so should do ..." or "So and so must ..." we might start to ask ourselves first - Jesus is the bread of life, not the retailer who offers the bread to one but not the other.
Those who opposed Jesus message opposed because Jesus challenged their positions of power over others. By relinquishing any position of power to include some but exclude others, Jesus made it plain that all were included and any exclusion of others on religious or moral grounds was counter to God's plan. So "So and so should or must do ..." simply has not part in the gospel message, for that is to suggest that God or Jesus has an interest in excluding someone for not complying.
Jesus has given away the keys of the kingdom of heaven. I sometimes wonder if Jesus was mistaken (or even deranged) to do so, for why on earth would the source of all compassion give the keys of the kingdom to - of all people - the Church! But in giving the keys of the kingdom of heaven to St Peter, Jesus has given authority to us.
Again and again and again - this tells us that our relationship with others is vital. We look to God for compassion and acceptance as if we were more compassionate and accepting than God! We as good Anglicans repeat again and again "Lord have mercy" as if God needs reminding! It is we who need reminding - to have mercy on others!
Few of us are in the position to know large numbers of people who feel excluded, people on the margins of what we consider to be "normal" society and it is sad that this is so. It is much easier to look askance at gay people (for instance) until one actually meets one and finds that they consider themselves as "normal" as you or I. My experience on the Internet has made me much more aware of some. We do not begin to appreciate the depth of the opposition to Jesus until we realise it was these sorts of people Jesus sought out and who sought him out.
The keys of the kingdom of heaven - the source of any power over others, Jesus has given away - because the cross and resurrection opens the kingdom of heaven to one and to all. We are bidden to enjoy the bread of life and allow Jesus, the bread of life, to be eaten by others and be similarly blessed.
We so quickly think of the words of St Paul who speaks of our "former way of life ... corrupt and deluded by lusts" as refering to sexuality. He is much more likely to be refering to positions of power and authority, when we take notice of those other lovely words he finishes the passage with - "forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you" ... and to "live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us." Eph 4.32,5.2
I finished one of my retreat meditations with the words: "Christ in the sacrament - the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation - is Jesus genuflecting to us and to all."
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