TEXTS: Psalm 130 Ephesians 4:17-5:2 John 6:35, 41-51
John 6 – Jesus, the Bread of Life
We continue on The Way with Jesus who is the Bread of Life that sustains us on the journey. We just echoed the Psalmist’s cry to God from the depths of life awaiting God in hope.
Our call to worship echoed our hopeful commitment to join God’s ministry of reconciliation. For the past few Sundays and the next few Sundays Jesus takes us on a journey with bread.
Jesus takes bread and identifies himself with it and offers it to his disciples as the Bread of Life.
Hear the Gospel be nourished by the Bread of Life.
Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Then the Judeans began to complain about Jesus because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by Abba God who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from God’s word comes to me. Not that anyone has seen Abba God except the one who is from God has seen Abba God. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ John 6: 35, 41-51.
The gospel of Jesus Christ according to John.
Jesus and Bread
We are hungry and thirsty people. We cannot live long without food and drink. A great question in life is where we turn to satisfy our hunger and thirst. Jesus offers the food and drink that fulfills our deepest hunger and thirst. Jesus is the bread of life and the cup of salvation that nourishes and sustains us.
In a classic Christian writing Augustine begins his Confessions speaking for all humans to God: “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
All our hunger and thirst is at the deepest place our hunger and thirst for God. Most of us most of the time seek to satisfy our hungers with “food” that cannot satisfy. It is called addiction.
We are addictive people. This is an addictive society and world. We are keenly painfully aware of our most blatant addictions. We live in a world addicted to violence in general and weapons in particular. Our American culture is addicted to guns. Witness the tragic shootings recently in Colorado and Wisconsin. John Paul Lederach names our addiction to violence in a recent monograph. He asks it as a hard question not unlike the hard questions Jesus asks: “The singular challenge of this young century, is how will we transcend our global addiction to violence?”
(The Poetic Unfolding of the Human Spirit, p. 6).
In the peace lecture I offered at the American Benedictine Academy last week in Duluth, I named our addiction to violence and the antidote Jesus is and offers in nonviolent love. Jesus offers us The Way to transcend — transform — our addiction to violence. The Way Jesus offers in John’s gospel is the bread and wine of our communion with Christ. John’s gospel reveals a deep irony at the heart of the human spirit. Many people seek Jesus and claim Jesus yet refuse to follow Jesus and be nourished by Jesus. We are hungry yet reject the bread of life. We hear much about the food we eat in an overweight undernourished society. We hear much about being spiritual seekers, seeking people in our spiritually hungry society. But do we really see Jesus as the bread of life or are we scandalized by Jesus as they were? His hearers said, Wait a minute we know where Jesus comes from, we know his mom and dad. Who does he think he is claiming to be from God, bread come down from heaven? A parallel version of this scandal had just happened with the Samaritan woman at the well (ch 4). There Jesus is Living Water quenching thirst. Here he is Living Bread satisfying hunger. In the wilderness of Exodus God provided bread from heaven (manna) and water from the rock. Communion is our communal sacred feast where we are nourished into the scandal of Jesus. As unusual as it is to celebrate communion in summer we will do so next Sunday in this series.
Ephesians as a Christian manifesto for peace
Paul’s elaborates on Jesus fulfilling our hunger and thirst in his Letter to the Ephesians. Two Mennonites offer an excellent entry into Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. We can only get a summary glimpse of their great wisdom, but it is worthy insight.
Ched Myers calls Ephesians the “Manifesto of Christian Peacemaking” (Webinar, July 19, 2012) The first half of Ephesians is on see Jesus the Bread of Life being the Christ of peace. The second half clothes us in the armor of God rather than the world: Jesus’ Way of nonviolence. The Letter to the Ephesians has been formative for a Mennonite way of discipleship. Paul writes from prison. Why prison? He dares to live Pax Christi the peace of Jesus Christ in explicit contrast and conflict with Pax Romana, the “peace” of Roman Empire. Paul is clear that the choice we face was the same choice he faced and the cost is the same. This letter was not just to Ephesus; it is a “circle letter” written to Christians far and wide. Ephesus was approximately midway between Rome and Jerusalem. As a half-way point between Rome and Jerusalem it represented a place not beholden to or blinded by either the imperial state (Rome) or imperial/institutional religion (Jerusalem).
Mennonite biblical scholar Tom Yoder Neufeld has written a commentary on Ephesians. Tom unpacks Paul’s revelation of The Way of Jesus as “the old human” and “the new human.” These two ways of being human are also two ways of walking with Jesus, the Risen Christ. Early Anabaptist-Mennonites called it “walking in the resurrection.” Paul tells us to “walk in love as Christ” and to “walk in a way worthy of God’s calling.” (Believers Church Bible Commentary, Herald Press, 2002, pp. 199ff). Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us (5:1-2a). This is personal to be sure but it is personal as part of the body the community the whole. The Church is the body of Christ, the manifestation of God’s nonviolent love in Christ. The Letter to the Ephesians is a strong clear “Christian Manifesto for Peace.” For Christ is our peace and this is Pax Christi – the peace of Christ. Pax Christi is not Pax Romana of the first century or Pax Americana of the 21st century. It is a choice as real and relevant for us today as for the Ephesian Christians of Paul’s day.
Personally and communally we are always choosing one or the other (cf. Wes H-B, COMP).
Choosing Pax Christi or Pax Americano today
We see that choice played out every day – Pax Americana or Pax Christi. The choice for Pax Americana is tragically evident and stands in line with Pax Romana.
The recent shooting rampage in a movie theater is the tragic logic and extension of this choice. Just a week ago it was the tragic shooting of people at worship. It is a never-ending choice.
Both are personal acts yet acts woven into the fabric of a culture addicted to weapons and war. These are notable not because they are exceptional but because they are indicative of addiction.
The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 67 years ago this week, on August 6 and 9, is an ultimate expression of this logic that incinerated a whole city and thousands of people.
Killing people in worship at home or bombing people on the other side of the world are linked. Our addiction lets us see people as “wholly other.” The “wholly other” is not US and to be feared justifying killing them. (ABA Sister’s apology) The Holy Other, God who creates all people in God’s image, calls us to engage “the other.” In Christ we encounter the Holy Other (God) in the other (people of other race or religion). God in Jesus Christ offers us a choice, the choice of Pax Christi rather than Pax Romana.
Clear and powerful evidence is manifested this week as always by our sisters. Last week about a thousand Catholic sisters representing many Orders met in St Louis. It was a defining discerning gathering of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The LCWR is being “disciplined” by a male church hierarchy to encourage re-evaluation and renewal – a euphemism for getting the women back under control. Who in the world offers the Church and the world a more powerful effective faithful prophetic witness and model for the choice that God sets before us in Jesus and Paul than our sisters? A week ago I was with 100 Benedictine sisters committed to “Seek Peace and Pursue It” (Ps. 34). I had numerous conversations about the discipline Women Religious are undergoing. What I see is that the discipline imposed on them, however distressing, is far outweighed by their discipline of spiritual discernment and leadership. I said on a Benedictine blog last April and to Benedictine women last week that wherever I go in the world I want to know who are the Catholic sisters and what are they up to? Why? They are the clearest sign I know of God’s reign already breaking into our troubled world. It is not only the Catholic Church that will suffer if our sisters’ mission is undermined. The whole church and the whole world will suffer. I thank God for our Sister’s discipline of discerning vision and leadership that inspires and grounds their fearless witness. They are a strong sign of the Living Bread and Water of Jesus.
We at SMC continue to live into our season of spiritual discernment and leadership. We would do well to learn from our sisters. We hunger for Christ…peace…healing…spiritual discernment.
May our personal and communal hunger be nourished with the Bread of Life that is Jesus Christ. Last Sunday Pat Shaver ended her sermon with questions that call us to attend to our hunger. She asked: What needs ‘emptying’ in order to allow God to feed us? Jesus knows that we are hungry people and thirsty people. The question is whether we turn to false addictive ways to satisfy our hungers or to Jesus. Our song of response tells us where we are feed: I am the Bread of Life (Hymnal 472).