19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Proper 14 – August 9, 2015

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-11     Ephesians 4:25-5:2     John 6:35, 41-51

More about the bread. And there is still more next week. Why so much about bread? This entire chapter of John is fueled by carbs with a short interlude of Jesus walking on water. We may have to harken back to Exodus to really get the gist of what’s going on. Jesus makes the connection explicit in verse 49 with a compare-and-contrast scenario. Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness. It sustained them that time but they eventually died. This bread from heaven gives eternal life. The other connections to the Exodus story are more subtle. There is complaining. There is confusion. In Exodus they don’t know what the manna is. In John it is Jesus’ identity that is in question. Nonetheless, no one is completely clear on what’s happening and that which is to be celebrated is instead treated with suspicion.

Bread, bread and more bread. What’s going on here? In both Exodus and John, God’s desire and power to sustain us is the essential tenet we are called to lift up. The central actor and agent is God. Rescue – first from the Egyptian oppressors and secondly from sin and death – is the theme. The metaphor is bread. What it represents is life, given and sustained by God.

Jesus points his hearers back to Exodus and in how-much-more-fashion points forward to life eternal both present and yet to come. This could be read as a “You have heard it said” text. You have heard about the manna in the wilderness, but I tell you about the bread from heaven. You have heard about the rescue from Pharaoh, but I tell you about rescue from death.

In other words: “You think the miracle of the manna was something? Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

One of the challenges for us preaching this text is, however, the reality that most of our listeners aren’t lacking in bread. In fact, many are trying to avoid it due to gluten, carbs or calories. Our constituency is just as likely, if not more likely, to skip the bread as to take a slice. But maybe that will preach, too. In fact, such refusal is right there in the text.

“What do you mean you are the bread come down from heaven? What a bunch of hooey! This is Jesus son of Joseph and Mary. We know this kid and he’s not from heaven. He’s from Nazareth.”

Would you like some bread? No, thanks, I am on a diet. Life, eternal and abundant? It is right here warm in the basket it front of you. Um… you know, I will pass. It wasn’t what I was expecting so I am going to say no. I’m not sure the source. Did the baker wash his hands? Are the ingredients organic? Was the kitchen inspected? Given all those questions, I’d rather play it safe and not eat it.

We can’t imagine we’d make that choice if Jesus was standing right in front of us. And yet, honestly, we often do reject the bread of life. That’s where the other two texts for today come crashing into the sermon. 2 Samuel is all about death and destruction and betrayal and vengeance. It is a tragic narrative of what happens when we choose all that is antithetical to God’s character and hope for us. Bread of life? No, I will eat the poisoned apple. Read the front page of the paper and see how often we make that choice. Honestly examine your thoughts for a few days and see how often we make that choice. Certainly, David’s family dysfunction was spectacular, but our relationships bear marks of picking poison over that which nourishes, too.

Read Ephesians 4:25-5:2 again. Those things on the list wouldn’t be there if they weren’t in full swing. We don’t say to our children, “Don’t hit your brother,” unless they are hitting their brother, right?

Put away falsehood. Give up stealing. Stop that evil talk. Put away bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander and malice. In other words: Stop picking the poisonous over that which nourishes. Stop refusing the bread of life Christ is and gives.

We, like the complainers in this text and the ones in Exodus and the ones to come next week, refuse the bread that gives life, abundant, present and future. Why? Is it because we assume we know Jesus? One who has come from heaven doesn’t eat with those people. Surely, One from heaven doesn’t condone that behavior.

Maybe it is because it seems too good to be true, this abundant, present and eternal life. We all know that when something is too good to be true… well, it is too good to be true. You are about to get scammed or duped, right? Better to settle for the mundane you know than be disappointed if this Jesus doesn’t pan out.

Perhaps it is because we want to be in control even if we make an utter mess of things when we are. Teenagers often say (or at least mine do) with confident bravado, “I got this!” Only to discover an unfortunate series of events later that, in fact, they did not have it at all and now unraveling the consequences is far more difficult than it would have been at the onset.

“Here I have this bread, an entire meal, actually, all ready for you. It is good for you, tasty, too. There is plenty you can have as much as you want, please, help yourself.”

“No. I got this. I will buy groceries with a credit card and use every dish in the kitchen and make a royal mess and perhaps burn the place down while I am at it because I want do it myself!!”

In countless ways we refuse the bread of life Jesus is and gives and the preaching challenge is to be honest about this reality but not stop there.

Remember, the central tenet of this text is God’s desire and power to save us. God is the agent and primary actor. Take note of verses 44-45. We are drawn to Jesus by the Father. The verb also can mean “attracted.” I lean toward “dragged.” God is dragging us to Jesus; that’s how badly the father wants to be in relationship with us. We have some free will – hence the list of behaviors listed in Ephesians – but assure your hearers of this: God is always working on us, drawing us, dragging toward Christ.

We are also “taught by God.” We aren’t left to our own devices to figure out what is God-like, right and life-giving. God is teaching us through Christ and by the Holy Spirit, that divine tutor that never leaves our side. Check out these other passages: Isaiah 54:13; Jeremiah 31:33; 1 Thessalonians 4:9 and 1 John 2:27. Even when we grieve the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is present and at work, pulling us away from bitterness and toward kindness. The bread of life is hard to resist and once we’ve had a taste of it we want more.

A rhythm of a sermon on this text might imitate Ephesians 4:25-5:2. So, stop refusing the bread of life that Christ is and gives. It smells so good. It is warm in your hands. Don’t you want to taste it? Then put away falsehood. That’s poisonous. Speak the truth that nourishes. Bitter, wrath, wrangling, slander? None of that is life giving. Kindness, being tenderhearted, forgiving, these things demonstrate the new life of Christ. They nourish us now and are a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to come. Take and eat.

This week:

  1. Consider times when you have celebrated the Lord’s Supper. When has this celebration been particularly meaningful for you and why?
  2. In some Christian traditions the celebration of communion is a part of the funeral liturgy. Have you ever experienced this? How might this lift up the truth of this text from John? Take a look at several communion liturgies and consider the connotations of that liturgy in a funeral setting.
  3. What do you make of this language in John about election: No one comes to Jesus except those drawn by the Father? Consider the mystery of the relationship between election and free will. How would you examine this in a sermon or class?
  4. Think about what it means to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” Take a look at the list in Ephesians. Are there things that stand out to you either personally or corporately?
  5. What does it mean to be “taught by God”? Look up the passages listed above. What is the primary lesson God teaches us?
  6. Use John 6:35 as a breath prayer daily this week.

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