In the sermon text, you will hear John quoting Jesus, who tells the people that the work God requires is to believe in Jesus, the one God has sent to us. In a later letter, John elaborates that belief is more than just knowing and feeling -- it is responding through words and actions -- especially actions of love. He writes:
- This is how we’ve come to understand and experience real love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. My children, our love should not be only words and speech. No, our love must be real. We must show our love by the things we do. This is how we know we belong to the way of truth. and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: we obey his commands and do what pleases him. This is what God commands: that we believe in his Son Jesus Christ, and that we love each other as he commanded. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us. (Blend of NIV, MSG, ERV)
Message The Real Bread and Butter John 6:25-35
We lived in one community that had a bread factory. Driving anywhere near it, even with the windows up… the smell was intoxicating -- and I am not even that big a fan of bread to start with. I do confess I like a good cinnamon roll (or a package of them 😊). I remember as a child going to my grandma’s farm in Dafter in preparation for Thanksgiving dinner and the appetizer the day before was hot out of the oven sticky buns – do you remember similar things?
Of course, rolls, be they cinnamon, sticky, or dinner are not the primary holiday food. It's place on the Thanksgiving table is, at least for some, the tool used to sop up every last drop of gravy, cranberry sauce, and other juices left of the plate. If it weren't for bread, we'd have to lick our plates; and for most of us, especially when holiday company is present, isn’t a proper thing to do.
But bread is more than a just a juice “sopper-upper”, or a means of holding other foods more neatly and mannerly by turning meats and spreads into sandwiches. Bread is a basic staple of many meals year-round -- and is often combined with butter.
I’m even less a fan of butter, but we need it to complete the phrase “bread and butter”. Grammarist.com says the phrase can mean something that is ordinary or everyday. In the 1700s it referred to one’s basic needs, and in the next century it came to mean one’s income or livelihood -- or something that sustained one’s lifestyle.
Jesus doesn’t mention the butter when he taught us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." in which he primarily means our basic needs. In today’s text he calls himself the bread which I am going to take as Jesus saying he is ordinary, common, everyday -- in the sense that he is easily accessible to everyone, that he is a basic necessity, and especially in the context of maintaining a Christian lifestyle.
Before we hear the text, the day before Jesus had healed many causing a crowd to follow him. Jesus miraculously fed 5000 plus that afternoon, which inspired the people to plot to force him to be a political king for them. Jesus responded by withdrawing up a mountain. That night, they went across the lake on initially stormy seas. The next day the crowd got in boats that had arrived that morning and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. Now we pick up the text:
When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” 28Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” 30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” 35 Then 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. (NIV)
I know there are disagreements about the value of bread in our diets today, but let’s play along and for this sermon at least, let’s picture bread as representing a good, healthy thing for us, okay? Having bread, then are we thankful and content? More importantly, as Jesus' declares himself as the Bread of our spiritual quest and fulfillment, the question is: "Are we thankful and content to make Jesus be our bread, the foundational staple of our spiritual diet? And how do we digest that? That is, how does that work out into practice in our life, in our daily living? Today's text suggests a couple principles of what not to do, and what to do to be spiritually healthy.
Don’t fill up on other things
Being physically healthy means not eating so much junk food that we have no room for nutritional things. We may feel full, but our bodies are still starving for the nutrients that it really needs.
Jesus tells the crowd that they were looking for him for the wrong thing. We sang earlier today, “We’ve been searching everywhere for answers that only Jesus can provide.” The crowd sought him only because he filled their stomachs the previous day. These “full belly seekers” identified the work of God as meeting only their physical needs – that is all God was for. They, and perhaps, at times, we too, too often seek Jesus and his followers as the means to receive material prosperity, external peace, personal power and control -- things that we think will make us full, but won’t necessarily make us healthy. And it is not that He is not able or does not want to provide these things in proper proportion for each of us as he sees fit, but they are added as a side blessing of spiritual health that comes from seeking him and his kingdom first. (Matthew 6:32-34) It is Jesus and his values that is the staple, the primary foundation from which a spiritually healthy life springs.
Don’t try to earn it
Not only did they identify the works of God as tied solely to non-spiritual needs; they felt they needed to earn even those works of God. The healthily fulfilled life, they thought, was earned by executing some sort of prerequisites (pre-requirements).
Author and avid bicycler Stan Purdum tried what at the time was a very popular diet. A few days into it, he set out on a 15-mile bike ride that he'd ridden many times before. From the first push on the pedals, he felt drained. After the first mile, he said he felt the way he normally felt after a 50-mile jaunt. He thought his energy might kick in, so he kept persevering, but after about three miles, he gave up and took a direct path home, not even making it five miles total. He felt as if he were hitting on two cylinders instead eight. He had two similar experiences during that diet. Long rides were out of the question and short ones were depleting. He gave the diet the boot. What may have made it possible to lose weight also took away the essence needed for energetic living.
Likewise, some try to be spiritual without the Bread of life, but such spirituality tends to be limp, unfocused and lacking in the energy that only Jesus can provide. He is the most essential ingredient for a healthy spiritual diet.
To be Christian, we need Jesus. It sounds like a "duh" statement, doesn’t it? But you'd be surprised at how many people would love to be Christians without having to deal with Jesus, who expects to be sought -- not only for His miracles, His blessings, His provisions -- but sought as the way to conquer the evil within us (that we don’t always want to give up), to be sought as a source of godly ethics, to be sought as a guide to good living, to be sought as an example of what it means to become transformed into a new creation and servants in his kingdom. In short, he is a person who expects us to re-prioritize our lives, reshape them according to His Word.
Don’t do it in isolation
Spiritual satisfaction does not come through our own effort, nor through fulfillment of temporary, worldly needs. Now we swing to the opposite end of the pendulum. This one they did not get wrong, (inferred from the use of plurals throughout the text). But some sometimes do today. Instead of wanting a bread absent diet, they wanted a bread only diet, feeling they need nothing but a personal, private, secret, individualized faith. Some songwriters, eager to express their clear personal commitment to Christ, with words like, “even if no one else goes with me, still I will go,” I understand the commitment and sentiment, but inadvertently (at least I hope it is) is sending the potential underlying message that the only thing that matters is me and my relationship with God and it doesn’t matter what anyone else does. And there are some attractive qualities to that -- if it is just me, my actions and belief systems need never be challenged, because it is just me! There is no need to deal with dissenting opinions or who I see as dysfunctional people. A private faith is safe and comfortable.
But is bread enough? As you sit around the Thanksgiving table this year, how many of you would be content and thankful with bread and water? I don’t see any hands. Jesus himself, granted in a different context, quoted Scripture saying, "Man shall not live on bread alone." Whatever happened to Moses’ prayers about the wandering wilderness people, who in essence said, Yes, they are dysfunctional, rebellious, and sinful, but if you don’t forgive and go with them, then I don’t want to go either! We are in this together.
The author of Hebrews told his readers they needed to continue to unite to "motivate one another to love and good deeds". (From Hebrews 10:24-25 (ISV))
Most of what God has done in history is through the flesh and blood of people, and especially the flesh and blood of Christ while he was with us on earth. If Christ was ONLY what we need, when asked what the greatest command in the Law was, Jesus would have said the most important command was to love God with all our heart and soul and strength and mind; and he would not have added, and the second greatest command is like it, that you shall love others as yourself. Trying to be spiritually healthy in habitual isolation from all other believers leads to an inability to exercise our spiritual faith in a practical way. If you are going to love others, you need others to love.
Maybe you heard of the little girl who was crying over some incident in her life, and someone told her she could pray to Jesus. She replied, "But right now, I need someone with flesh on."
These are unsatisfying
And so the pendulum swings -- on the one hand it is no Jesus, just his benefits; and on the other is Jesus only, not his people. Both are tempting in their own way.
In Greek mythology, King Tantalus was punished in the underworld by being chained in a lake. The water level would rise to his chin, but when he lowered his head to quench his thirst, the water immediately lowered out of reach. Over his head were low hanging branches with fruit, but when he reached up to eat, they immediately withdrew so he could not satisfy his hunger. He became the symbol of utter frustration, and his name is immortalized in the English word "tantalize." Both extremes of the pendulum, Jesus and me, or me and just his benefits -- they have their tantalizing traits, but ultimately, both are unsatisfying and frustrating.
Therefore, believe and receive
Jesus corrects the distortions. To those who think they can earn their way to God and his benefits, Jesus says, in essence: Trying to be spiritually healthy without me, or with only my benefits leads to spiritual malnutrition and weakness. The work is to believe in Jesus.
They pressed for proof by offering a sign like Moses who gave manna, (as if the miracles of healing and feeding the 5,000 and calming the sea the night before wasn’t enough). Jesus said it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread, but God; and God is the one that gives the heavenly bread that is the life of the world. And when they requested this life-giving bread, he replies “I am the bread of life.” I am the basic essential, satisfying, healthy, foundation -- for spiritual life, and all you need to do is believe and receive the gift of God and, unlike King Tantalus, you will never be hungry or thirsty, but always satisfied (in spite of circumstances)…
Understand that Jesus is talking about more than a mental assent to the history of his life and death and resurrection.
Let’s put it this way. If you were a stock person, and you heard and believed with all of your heart that ABC Stock was going to skyrocket, it would quintuple (-tupple) (or quintuple(-toople) – the internet has it pronounced both ways) make it 5 times bigger in the next three weeks and it would make you rich. Knowing about it won't make you one penny richer. If you say you believe it, but don’t invest in it, do you really believe? But readjusting your life and investing your resources and energy because you know it is so -- that, will make you satisfyingly rich -- and the more you invest in it, the richer you will become.
That’s kind of the way it is with your belief in Christ. Knowing him as the Bread of life adds not one lick to your spiritual nutrition any more than staring at a loaf of bread on your Thanksgiving Dinner table – it is not going to add anything to your life if you don’t actually ingest it. In spite of the popular joke that even glancing at a cinnamon roll will add 2 pounds to your hips. It doesn’t really work that way. It is only as your belief leads you to reorganize your life, reinvest your resources, your energies, your time in the Bread of Life; “the finest bread that God provides”… And we invest our lives in the bread as John described it the pre-sermon reading -- that belief in Christ leads not just to words and claims, but to actively and sincerely loving others, always allowing the Spirit to abide in us as we abide in Christ -- and that leads to becoming spiritually nourished, healthy, and satisfied. So, what/who is your bread of life – what is at the foundational core of your life? And how are you ingesting – investing your lives around and in him?
Closing Prayer Let’s pray. Lord, as we sit down to dine, remind us to let any bread, or other food on the table, fill us with gratitude for your provision, and especially for the Bread of life, Jesus; upon whom we can build our lives until you calls us home. When we face the fiercest storms, it is tempting to be frightened and strive in our own strength to control what we cannot control; and to be overwhelmed by what is in front of us rather than be reshaped by you who we cannot see – with our physical eyes. When our bodies ache in pangs of spiritual thirst or hunger, help us to not seek lesser solutions, but to find our hope and direction and strength in you, the God of all comfort and love and grace. Strengthen our belief in you, that we may not work for temporary things, but for eternal life which is freely offered to those who will do the work of believing in your Son. And it is in his name that we pray. Amen.
Closing Music In Christ Alone (My Hope is Built)
Closing Blessing And now, wherever you go and whatever you do -- do everything to the best of your ability, as if you were doing it for the Lord -- because you are. Bring him glory, praise, and honor by what you say, what you do, by how you live… Amen.