Eating for Eternal Life
Message Delivered on August 9, 2015
John 6:35, 41-51 “Eating for Eternal Life”
The current suggested lectionary readings for five weeks in a row all have to do with Jesus as the Bread of Life with the eating of the bread of his flesh. How palatable… Bread is the universal stuff of life. Anywhere I have traveled around the world the waiter first brings bread, sometimes butter or oil infused with spices–or not. In America there are 19,000 bakeries employing over 350,000 people, and each year they mix 11 billion pounds of flour, 163 million pounds of dried milk, and 616 million pounds of shortening. The average American eats about 70 pounds of bread annually. That is over one loaf of bread per week! The top food sold in supermarkets is bread, with 96.8% of shoppers choosing from over 70 varieties.
Spiritual bread is more important and the church’s most vital task is to distribute living bread to every person in the world. This bread is so vital that Jesus identified himself as “the bread of life.” It was no accident that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Hebrew meaning “House of Bread.” Bethlehem was situated in a good, fertile area which abounded in grain. After Jesus’ baptism, Satan asked him to turn stones into bread. In Jesus’ model prayer, we petition for “daily bread.” Jesus provided bread for thousands all from five small loaves. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he took bread, blessed and gave thanks for it, and said, “Take, eat. This is my body.” There must be something terribly important about bread in order for it to get so much attention from Jesus and to form the basis for Chapter 6 in the Book of John.
What if Jesus said, “I am the peach of life, from Xi Wang-mu’s (Shee Wong moo) garden. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Holy Communion services around the world would be forever changed. Instead of pieces of bread, we would be eating slices of peaches. Kind of a messy thought.
Peaches have a connection to eternal life in China because peaches grown in the garden of the goddess Xi Wang mu are an example of godly gastronomy. Chinese mythology teaches that the gods are nourished by a steady diet of special peaches that take thousands of years to ripen, the peaches of immortality” from Xi Wang mu’s garden give long life to anyone who eats them–3000 years from a single peach! One time, the trickster god, Monkey, devoured an entire crop in one year. To punish him, he was expelled from heaven and sentenced to a lifetime of stone fruit.
Jesus does not say that he is the peach of life—no, bread of life. The person who eats this bread is promised endless satisfaction–freedom from hunger and thirst and life everlasting.
Today there are many popular diets. Pick up any magazine or watch television and see commercials for Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutri-
System, South Beach, Pro-biotic and a whole lot of others that encourage
healthy eating for a longer life–but which diet advocates eating for eternal life?
The Jews complained about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” How could he say that when they knew him as the son of Joseph and Mary, Galileans from Nazareth? If your neighbor told you that he/she had come from heaven, you might recommend a visit to a mental health professional. The Jews were not exactly opponents of Jesus, they were confused and concerned.
Jesus insisted, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life” (v.47). This is a clue to understanding that belief is the key to receiving
the benefits of the bread of life. Eternal life comes from putting faith in Jesus Christ.
Augustine preached about the connection between faith and the bread of life. He said in a sermon about Holy Communion, “What you see is the Bread and the Chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the Bread is the body of Christ and the Chalice is the blood of Christ.” With your eyes you see bread, of course. With your faith you receive the body of Christ. Jesus invites us to believe in him and to receive the eternal life that he offers us. The ancient Israelites ate the bread (manna) in the wilderness and they died. But it was physical bread–the kind that you can see with your eyes and taste in your mouth. Jesus offers himself as living bread.
Second clue: Jesus offers living bread that is not bread at all but a living person. Belief is key. If you want to see living bread, look to Jesus. “Whoever eats of the bread he offers will live forever, and the bread that he gives for the life of the world is his flesh” (v. 51). Jesus wants us to believe in him and to take him into ourselves; much as we would eat a piece of bread, digest it and incorporate it into our bodies. Jesus invites us to trust that he is the living bread that has come down from heaven, bread that is broken in communion, just as Christ’s body is broken on the cross. “The Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14) and “God so loved the
world that he gave his only Son” (3:14). Bread. Flesh. Life of the world. Love for the world. The bread that Jesus gives for the life of the world is nothing less than his own flesh.
Jesus is all about giving, not taking. This is the third clue. The body of Christ. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. We can trust Jesus to be at work inside us. Because he forgives us, we can forgive others. Because he loves us, we can love others. Because he fills us with his Spirit, we can inspire others. After receiving the body of Christ in worship, we can go out to be the body of Christ in the world.
It all begins with belief and understanding that Jesus gives, offering himself to tax collectors, healing lepers, and blessing the children. He forgives sinners and challenges his disciples to do likewise by showing hospitality to the strangers at our doors, supporting medical missionaries to underserved communities, helping children to feel welcome in worship, offering forgiveness to those who hurt us and feeding the hungry families who are living all around us.
Believe. Look to Jesus. Give. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.
Now, that is a menu for eternal life!