The bread of life

Good morning, Friends!

I want to start out this morning by asking you a question. Everybody’s going back to school right now, so this is a pop quiz. Don’t worry — there’s no math, and there are no wrong answers.

  1. Where is someplace you feel really happy? Where do you feel most relaxed, and most at ease?
  2. Now, let me ask you something else. What is an activity that makes you feel completely free? What’s something you do that makes you feel real joy?

  3. Now, here’s a tricky question. Who is somebody who makes you feel most like yourself? Who is someone you can talk with, where you feel you can be completely open and let you guard down, all the way?
  4. Last question, for extra credit, and it’s an easy one. What’s your favorite food? What’s something you can eat, and feel like you don’t need anything more to make you feel full and happy?

I’m asking all these questions, because a lot of the time, I think we wind up filling our lives with things we don’t want. We spend our time in places we don’t enjoy, doing things we don’t want to do, talking with people we don’t like or trust. And we try to fill ourselves up with things which don’t really nourish us. And we live like this, way too much of the time.

In today’s Scripture, Jesus speaks to that hunger and emptiness. Let me read to you, from John chapter 6.

Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.

All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.

John 6:35-39

This is one of my very favorite Scriptures. It’s right up there with “The Lord is my shepherd” and “Our Father, who art in heaven. . .” It’s got to be in the same class of favorites as “The Lord is my light, and my salvation” or even “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never go hungry. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. . .”

Over and over, Jesus describes himself in this concrete way. He says, “I am the bread of life,” and then he teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread. . .”

Jesus gave people physical bread – Jesus never sent people away hungry, even if it meant feeding thousands of people at one time. But Jesus also says that he, himself, is like spiritual bread. The one feeds our body, but the other bread feeds our heart, our mind, our soul, our inmost being, the heart of our heart.

My mother’s family came from Ireland – I know I’ve told you that before. And in the Irish language, in Gaelic, there’s a phrase my grandparents used to use. It was so sweet. I still remember it.They called someone they loved, “Macushla machree” [Cuisle mo chroidhe], which means “heart of my own heart”. That’s someone we love best, and it’s also the place in our heart which matters most to us.

Some things we like, but we can do without. Some things we’re used to, but they don’t really feed us. Jesus says that he, himself, is the living bread. He’s the one who feeds our heart, and not just our appetite.

We spend so much of our time, filling ourselves up with spiritual junk food. We do meaningless activities, for hours. We watch stupid shows and wonder why we feel empty afterwards.

There’s a word for what we do. We amuse ourselves. We distract ourselves. A famous book from the 1980’s was called Amusing Ourselves to Death. The author, Neil Postman, was extremely critical of most of what we do today. He was writing this 40 years ago, and he said: “People come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. . .”

This is what’s happening all over the world today. We fill ourselves up with stuff which doesn’t really satisfy our hearts. And then we wonder why we feel so empty.

Another writer, a long time ago, talks about this same problem. His name was Augustine, and he lived just a few years after the time of Jesus. Augustine said, “You have made us, Lord, for yourself; and our hearts are restless, until they rest in you. . .”

It’s as though there’s this special place inside us, which is shaped and created for us to feel God. God made us that way. And when we try to fill that God-shaped place with something else, somehow we know that it’s not right. And we keep trying and trying to fill that place, but the only thing that will really fill it for us, is Jesus. We will never be happy, we will never be full and satisfied, with anything else.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German writer, said that we are always trying to use what he called cheap substitutes for the experience of God. That’s true in society, and it can even be true in church. Even churches can be guilty of trying to hand out things which aren’t really what people are truly hungry and thirsty for.

What we want – what we desperately need – is the bread of life. We may not always know what that is, but we know when we’re left hungry.

There is so much bread imagery in the Bible. Over and over again, the Bible says that God feeds people.

Do you remember that story in Bible, where people were wandering around n the desert? They were lost for 40 years — didn’t even have a GPS! When they were starving out in the desert, God gave them manna – a special bread that appeared fresh every morning.

They woke up, every day, and it was there. Fresh bread, covering the ground, as far as the eye could see. All they had to do was go out and gather it up.

There was plenty for everyone. Nobody had to go short. But there was only enough for that day. If you tried to hoard it, it went bad and smelled terrible. God wanted people to learn to trust that it would be provided.

Fresh, every morning. That’s where that line in the hymn comes from – “Morning by morning new mercies I see. . .” God provides all the bread we need, fresh every day.

I wonder how much of what’s so wrong in the world – the loneliness, the sleeplessness, the anxiety and fear – comes from trying to stuff ourselves with things that aren’t God, and from not trusting that there will be fresh bread for us every day, food for the spirit, something to fill that special, God-shaped place in our heart?

When I was a kid, the grown-ups always used to tell us, “Don’t spoil your dinner! Don’t eat a bunch of stuff now, so that you won’t have room for real food, when we all sit down at the table!” That was good advice then, and it’s still good advice now. The real food is what will help you be healthy and strong, and you won’t be hungry again, 15 minutes later.

Jesus is saying the very same thing.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never go hungry. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. . .”

That’s all I really want to say today. Jesus is the bread of life. He is our daily bread.

Don’t put up with any cheap substitutes. Don’t be distracted or fooled by anything fake. Insist on the real thing, and look for that daily bread. It’s not far away. It’s just waiting to be gathered up. And it really is fresh, every day.

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