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We’re considering the question of who Jesus is these weeks as we look at these “I am” statements in the Gospel of John. “I am the bread of life” is actually the first one, though we didn’t start with it. I wanted us to be looking at this story on a Sunday when we would be gathering around the communion table and sharing the bread and the cup. “I am the bread of life,” says Jesus, and this truth is important enough for him to say it three times “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (35)… I am the bread of life (48)… I am the living bread that came down from heaven (51)…”
- The staff of life. The thing that is necessary for life. We get this even in these low carb/no carb/keto days, don’t we?
We’re asking the question, “Who is Jesus?” throughout these remaining weeks of the summer. It’s a good question, and we pray that God speaks to us in such a way through these weeks that we are drawn into a deeper resting with our shepherd, a deeper abiding in the vine. At the same time, God’s word asks questions of us. The question that I’d like each of us to consider this morning is posed by Jesus at the beginning of the Gospel of John when Jesus is walking alongside the lake, and two disciples/students of John the Baptist begin to follow him. Jesus asks the question, “What are you looking for?” The question is posed by Jesus when Mary Magdalene is weeping at his tomb and wondering where his body has gone. “Whom are you looking for?”
So, what are we looking for? Whom are we looking for?
Or, to put it another way, what is the deepest desire of our heart? Don’t feel badly about it if you think it’s something unworthy of holding such status or something that you would be embarrassed to share. There’s grace here. Remember who’s asking the question. Remember that he is the one who holds out an open invitation, and the invitation is to come to him.
It’s good to stop and consider these things. I’m glad we’ve sought this opportunity out. Someone has said that knowing what you want out of life is half the battle. I would say the other half is wanting the right things – or more specifically, the right person. The living bread. We may go through life without a sense of knowing what we want out of life. It’s not something we’ve ever thought about. I remember when I was growing up I would often go to our kitchen and open up the fridge door, knowing that I wanted something but not sure what it was. I had a hunger for something, though and would stand there studying the inside of the fridge. I would do this long enough for my dear mother to remark on how long I was standing at the fridge and to ask how much longer I planned to stand there. When I told her I was hungry, she would say, “Well, have some bread and water then!” In light of the whole streams of living water and living bread talk in the Gospel of John, it seems there was something deeply theological in what my mom was telling me. We may spend a lot of time striving after things that don’t ultimately satisfy. If we only achieved this or had that, we would be happy, we think. When I finish school/find a spouse/see the kids off/retire then, I will finally feel satisfied. How does that go for us? What is the thing or who is the person that, when our time on earth is done, will have given our life meaning?
Into the middle of this situation strides Jesus. Well, first he sits – on a mountain by the Sea of Galilee. You know the story, maybe. A young boy has five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus feeds 5,000 plus. Food in the wilderness. Provision in the wilderness and this should be reminding us of something else. After that, Jesus’ disciples set off in a boat to return to Capernaum. Rough seas. Wind blowing. They see Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they are terrified. Jesus says, “It is I, do not be afraid.” Originally “I am, do not be afraid.” It’s me. This man who is God. The God who delivers. The God who saves. The God who gives life. The God in whom we have life and light. I want us to pay attention to what’s going on in our story here as we sit with the table prepared. God’s provision. God’s mysterious presence – with 12 men in a boat in the middle of nowhere. With 20-something people gathered in a room in the back of a church in Toronto in the dog days of summer.
“It’s me,” Jesus says. “It’s me,” Jesus is saying. Don’t be afraid.
Speaking of a group of 20-something people gathered in a room in the back of a church in the dog days of summer – think about what has happened in our lives to bring us to this place today. Think of the confluence of events in each of our lives that has resulted in us hearing these words – events right up to whatever happened this morning. stuff about how we all got to church today from so many paths. This group of people who are listening to Jesus were on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. They see that Jesus and the disciples are gone. Then this: “Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.” Sometimes the key thing is something as simple as a ride to church when we’re looking for Jesus, or an invitation, or someone to bring us. We find Jesus.
The crowd finds Jesus and asks him an innocuous question, but it’s a start. “Rabbi, when did you come here.” Jesus starts by bringing up why the crowd (and by extension us) is there at all. “I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” We get this. Operating out of self-interest. “What can Jesus do for me?” we ask. The question we must be asking ourselves is, “Are we worshiping because of what we want Jesus to do for us, what we think Jesus can (or can’t) do for us or because of who Jesus is?” It is only when we begin to understand who Jesus is that we begin to understand what it is he can do for us, or what God wants to do for us. Jesus is the one on whom God has set his seal, like an artisan with their stamp. Not just an object of belief but the very source of life itself. Like bread.
The question becomes more meaningful. “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answers, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Trust him. Someone has said, “It is our privilege to entrust ourselves to this One who so graciously entrusts himself to us.” We enter into a right relationship with God, we worship God, and we do the will of God by trusting in the Son. It’s not primarily about what work we have to do, though God has good things for us to do which have been prepared for us. It begins with simply trusting, though there’s nothing simple about it, and none of us have come to an end to understanding it. Simone Weil had this to say about what we’re talking about (though in a different context) – “Don’t just do something, stand there!” Trust. The work of God is the work of God; even our belief and trust is a gift. The good and fitting, and proper response is to return this trust to God with thanks. We don’t call this Eucharist meal the Eucharist meal for nothing. The Thanksgiving meal. We’re not called to work when we’re invited to a meal (at least I hope we’re not). We’re called to trust in the goodness of our host. Don’t just do something; stand there. Or sit there in our case. Eat and drink and receive the gift of grace, the gift of life. Someone has described verse 29 like this: “The one great challenge of the whole Gospel of John focused marvellously in our present verse, is this — simply and continually — to trust God’s gift of a good relation with himself that he has perfectly worked out by himself through the…Death and…Resurrection of his Son for us and that he perfectly and continually works in us by the gift of his Holy Spirit to us through his gospel Church, Word, and sacrament.” This same writer compares us resting in trust to their cat who rests on his shoulder when he comes home, purring next to his face. “God wants his creatures to purr in his loving presence as he carries us about in life.” This is the work of God.
Jesus speaks of how the bread in the wilderness was from God and pointed forward to the one bread of God, which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. The crowd responds with words that make a worthy prayer – “Sir, give us this bread always.”
May that be our prayer. Lord, give us this bread always.
And then this – “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.’” Trust. Come. This is the invitation which is before us. This is the invitation which is ever before us to accept. Just… come. Simply…come. Jesus does not set a bar here. It’s not “Come wholeheartedly” or “Come utterly” or “Come completely.” Just… come. Not based on any greatness of our own but on the greatness and grandeur of God. Not based on any faithfulness of our own but based on the faithfulness of God. Simply… come. You may be wondering, “How do I come?” These are questions people have. Someone asked a question on the church’s IG page last week, “How do we hear Jesus?” How do we come? The shortest heartfelt prayer comes. Simply being present in church where God’s people, Word, and sacraments are, comes. Personal times of prayer, family times of prayer, small groups being together in his name. All ways we come. Feeling the gentle prodding (or not so gentle) of the Holy Spirit and obeying that prodding in personal situations as we go through our days is coming. Gathering around his table with this prayer to the Bread of Life on our lips – “Lord, give us this bread always.” This is how we come. No more standing in front of the spiritual fridge wondering what we need to satisfy our hunger for life. The Bread of Life is here. God grant that we would all take up his invitation.