BIBLE READINGS: John 6: 35,41-51 Ephesians 4:25-5:2
One of the greatest Reformed theologians of the 20th century, German Karl Barth, famously said that Preachers should preach with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. What he meant, quite simply is that we, as Christians, need to broaden our focus so that we do not neglect what's going on in the world around us. The saying goes “ to be so heavenly minded that you're no earthly good. On the other hand, its important not to become so immersed in the world around us that we forget what the Bible has to say about our world and our actions within it.
Thomas Jefferson didn't like the Bible as it is, so he simply took a pair of scissors to it, two hundred years ago and simply cut out the entire Old Testament, then went to work on the Letters of St. Paul, and of Gospels. He cut out the virgin birth and all the miracles - including the most important one, the Resurrection - then pasted together what was left and called it The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth. In 1819, in a letter to a friend he wrote, that the "cut-and-paste job" was the work of two or three nights only, at Washington, after getting through the evening task of reading the letters and papers of the day."
And with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other it seems Jefferson couldn't make sense of one without cutting up the other - and instead of revisiting the letters and the newspapers of his day, he simply revised the Bible and basically, for all intents and purposes, set out to make his world make better sense.
It is important that we read the Bible for our own understanding, as well as personally live in relationship with God, in order to get a fuller picture of the God, Creator of the universe and Saviour of the world, whom we serve.
As Christians, we live in two worlds, the Kingdom of God - it's here through Christ but not yet fully - and the kingdom of this world, where we pay taxes, buy groceries and seek shelter. Making the best sense of these two worlds requires that we are well informed in both worlds, not just given one perspective. The kingdom of this world that we live in today is torn into many factions and feels as though it's all in too many pieces to put back together in any sort of way that could possibly bring peace to all. When we read our newspapers, or watch our favourite news programs, it serves us better if we must continually remind ourselves that this news, ALL the news, is kind of like Jefferson's Bible – it’s coming from the perspective of someone or some group of people who are trying to make the best sense of their world, the kingdom of this world, as possible.
These worlds of pick-and-choose-Scripture-texts and biased-news-reporting is no different today that it was when Jesus walked the earth and ministered among the people tossed to and fro between what makes sense and what doesn't. Jesus walked the roads of the same Middle East that exists today, the names of the groups were different, but each group insisted that their way was the right way in just the same way as they are doing today, perhaps as we are doing today. Then Jesus enters the picture and says, "I am THE way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me." And don't you know that everyone who considered themselves well informed in matters of life, culture and religion had their hackles up immediately! They were not going to be told that
A) there was an other-than-their-way
B) that it was the only way.
Before long, new rumours were spreading, new plots were formed, new wars broke out. Nothing new here. Nothing had really changed. So, did Jesus really bring peace on earth as he promised, as the Old Testament has promised that the Messiah world bring?
Where is the end to violence? When will we finally all just get along? So, with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other, we come to our text for today: Jesus is the Bread of Life.
BREAD? In the midst of a hurting world, the people have been waiting for the long-awaited Messiah, the King of Kings who would rescue them from the terrific tensions within which they live. To them Jesus speaks and says - , "I am the bread of life, whoever eats of me will never hunger." What on earth went through their minds on that day? Can you imagine them looking at each other.... Errr, excuse me Jesus, we aren't here to get some pie in the sky, we are here to see results. Moses provided manna for our people for 40 years. We're thankful for this one meal and all, but aren't you supposed to be better than Moses? Aren't you supposed to feed us for a lifetime. Well, here we are! Feed us, we are your sheep and we will follow you wherever you go........ (slyly)... as long as there is food, of course." But Jesus knows that food that perishes will not bring true life. So, to this crowd with this perspective, Jesus tells them, "I am the bread of life."
Jesus - the bread of life. No doubt this must have seemed as terribly unhelpful as it may even sound to us today. Let's admit it. How helpful would this really sound to us if we were hungry and wondering where our next meal was coming from? It was Gandhi who said, "There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread." And Jesus fed them with the bread, first with the bread that perishes then he proceeded to try and feed them where they were hungering the most, where their worries lie, where their hope is tested, where their spirit is fed.
To them, Jesus says, "I am the bread of life," meaning that he is their eternal inspiration, he is forever able to provide them with hope, forever able to provide them with confidence and assurance that they matter in this world, they can live forever, and they can make an everlasting peaceful impact upon the world they live in, through him.
Just as Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead, so too does this Word live on forever and is not only their hope, it is our hope.
Jesus is OUR bread of life, still today, not only in our own worlds where we don't know how we'll pay the gas and the electric bill, or where we worry about the health of our loved ones and the welfare of our families, but in our big world as well. Jesus is THE bread of LIFE. When we eat of him, we will then be strengthened and empowered to live as Christ, doing the will of Christ by acting in the world as Christ would have us: acting in compassion, with love toward our neighbour and our enemies. But how can the love change the world?
Jesus' entire life embodied that truth. His vision was justice. His actions compassion. His voice, love. He is the bread of Life. And when we eat of him, of his Bread of Life, we are strengthened to participate in this Kingdom of God, now our Kingdom, bringing it ever more alive on earth, and an ever more strengthened presence in the lives of our neighbours and our enemies. We become "partners with him in the gospel, bringing all things under the loving and compassionate reign of God. We do that not only in our church roles, but in every part of the world that we occupy, even when doing the most ordinary of jobs. Hear Henry Drummond from 'The City Without A Church',
“When Christianity shall take upon itself in full responsibility the burden and care of cities - the Kingdom of God will openly come on earth. People do not dispute that religion is in the church. What is now wanted is to let them see it in the city.
In every city throughout the world today, there is a city descending out of heaven from God. Each one of us daily building up this city - or helping to keep it back. Now what better purpose could we want for our lives than that? And it's open to people of all backgrounds.”
Take this story that Brian McLaren tells in his recent book 'The Secret Message Of Jesus' about a man named Carter, a seventy-five-year old African-American taxi driver in Washington, DC:
Back in 1994, Carter served as taxi driver for a man from Malawi, Africa. Because Carter wasn't "just a taxi driver" but instead was "a taxi driver in the kingdom of God", he treated his guest with special respect as only a taxi driver in the kingdom of God can. The guest introduced Carter to some other Malawian friends, and soon Carter the taxi driver was invited to visit Malawi, which he did, in 1998.
There, Carter saw poverty he had never before imagined. He prayed, "Lord, help me bring some joy to this village." And God answered his prayer. First, Carter realised that there was no road in the village - just a narrow path, rutted and muddy. ... With a proper road, people could get around better, and elderly and sick people could be transported to the hospital. He had brought some money, so he offered to pay for gas and oil and drivers if the people of the village would do the work. Soon Carter's generous spirit - the spirit of the kingdom of God - became contagious, and someone provided a grader and then more and more people volunteered to help. Three days later, they had built a proper road a mile and a quarter long.
A year or so later, he returned to the village. A young man had been falsely accused of stealing and was stuck in jail. Since Carter seeks the kingdom and justice of God wherever he goes, he got involved, and soon the young man was set free. On this same visit, Carter met a boy who needed medical care that was available only in a distant city. Carter made it possible for the boy to get treatment on a regular basis by finding and convincing - who else? - a driver to take him.
The next year, he went back again and this time helped some young men improve their farming. (Carter is not an agriculturalist, but he used money he had saved from his job as a taxi driver for the kingdom of God to buy them some additional seeds.) He made connections and got twenty-six soccer balls donated to the children of the village, because in the kingdom of God, fun and play are important things. Carter knew this. He even helped them get uniforms, because in the kingdom of God dignity and pride are also important things.
On another trip, Carter the taxi driver's generosity inspired a shopkeeper in the village to donate money to help some sick children get treatment for ringworm. Soon a Bible school was launched, and it grew from seventeen to eighty-five students quickly. No wonder - when you see signs of the kingdom of God coming to your village, you want to learn all about it!
Roads, rides, seeds, ringworm medicine, soccer balls and uniforms, a Bible school - these are all signs of the kingdom of God in that little village. Carter told me, "I don't do any of this myself. God is doing it through me."[Brian McLaren, The Secret Message Of Jesus, pp 87-89.]
Carter. Just a humble taxi driver in the world's eyes. Which do you suppose he is eating - food that spoils or food that satisfies and that brings eternal life and bears eternal consequences?
If we are regularly eating of the Bread of Life, if we are regularly in relationship with God and regularly feasting on God's Word for ourselves, then we are empowered to live this life that Christ calls us to. But it requires that we seek first the kingdom of God, hungering less after the bread that perishes and more after the Bread of Life. Jesus is the Bread of Life, and Jesus is here available to us, even now for the taking. Let us receive Him anew that, after being renewed and strengthened by him, with Him we will be inspired and enabled to read between the lines of our cultural biases and bring ever fresh the Kingdom of God into our cities, and into our worlds, from the corners of our own homes into the very earth itself. What a faithful witness of Christ we will then be, till he comes again to establish his full reign on earth in the full Kingdom of God.