Giving Up – Sermon #1 I Am the Bread of Life
a2vc.org • March 1, 2020 • Marissa Jadrich Ortiz
We all have things in our life God might be inviting us to let go of so we can receive what God has for us this year. The secret to giving up something (a habit, a relationship, a food) is to replace that thing with something positive. Something that moves you toward that best life you had in mind when you first decided it was time to be free. John’s gospel is sprinkled with these beautiful “I Am” metaphors that highlight one aspect of who Jesus is and in particular one thing Jesus wants to give us because of who he is. This is our chance to give up those things we already want to be free from, and receive in its place what Jesus wants to give us.
Today Jesus tells us “I Am the bread of life.” He invites us to give up scarcity and join a real feast. The appropriate response to God’s generosity is “how close can I get to God? What else might God have for me? I can give up on worry and especially on scarcity right now, because clearly that has been rendered irrelevant.”
Jesus’ Terrible Sermon
To totally spoil the ending to this story for you, Jesus’ Bread of Life sermon is in his top five least popular teachings. Jesus’ throngs of followers tell him “this teaching is just too hard.” They all leave, until it’s just his twelve disciples. And even they aren’t sure what to do with Jesus. Jesus asks them point blank, “are you leaving too?” And Simon Peter, the unofficial spokesman for the group, says, instead of a rousing “no way Jesus,” a sort of “honestly we don’t have other options at this point.”
It was just yesterday that Jesus fed five thousand men, and presumably women and children as well. Jesus borrowed five barley loaves and two fish from Andrew, who borrowed them from a kid somewhere in the crowd. He gave thanks and passed it out to all five thousand, and when everyone had as much as they wanted, he told his disciples to gather up the leftovers. 12 baskets.
This is a great story. Miraculous, extraordinary. It’s also, to borrow language from film, a remake of a classic story from the Old Testament. I say this because it affects how the crowd understands what just happened. And it also influences how John tells the story that the crowd is in.
So here’s the backstory: In the old testament, at the exodus, when God sent the people of Israel into the wilderness on their way out of Egypt, God sent them manna, this mysterious bread from heaven that became their food for years. The manna was God’s way of saying I absolutely know what you need and I can absolutely provide for your today, one day at a time.
So when Jesus fed all these people, it was like a clue. Like a really obvious movie reference. Like if he said “the force be with you” or “I see dead people” or “we’re not in Kansas anymore,” something so clear that everyone knows what story we’re in. The no-longer-hungry crowd saw this and they got it. They understood this was a sign that Jesus was chosen and sent from God. Ready to step into the role of provider that they need from God.
Everyone understands at once, that Jesus was sent from God to be their powerful new leader. They are ready to make him their King, right here right now. But this is a problem for Jesus. They’re getting his reference…but they’re taking it the wrong way! Plan B! Jesus runs away.
He disappears into the mountains. Sends disciples packing. Waits til dark. Strolls across the lake. Scares the hell out of his disciples in their boat. And finally hides out in his hometown Capernaum. This seems like an ideal location to put the kibosh on any forcible attempts to make him the king, because nobody thinks you’re special in your hometown.
In the morning, the fish-and-bread diners realize Jesus has escaped. They commandeer some boats and track him down in Capernaum. And this is where the bread hits the fan.
I wonder if Jesus has spent the long night and the long walk across the sea of galilee wrestling with how to follow up on this backfired bread miracle. How can he reclaim this story to tell them what he really wants them to see about who he is? When the boats arrive and they find Jesus, he says to them, “you’re not here because you saw a miracle, but because you ate all the food you wanted.”
Now if I were one of Jesus’ followers, I think I’d be scratching my head. Eating all the food I wanted, IS the miracle! Both and! Of course that’s why I’m here!
Jesus says, “Don’t work for food that doesn’t last, but for food that endures for eternal life.”
Now we need to talk about eternal life for a second. Eternal life gets a bad rap these days. It’s become sort of a synonym for the afterlife, a thing you want to have on the other side of death. But the way John talks about eternal life is a forever that starts now. It’s a quality of life you can enjoy in the present and continue to enjoy after death. So if anyone is selling you a version of eternal life that’s like a retirement account, put into it now and you’ll get a lot out of it later, that’s a scam! The real forever starts now.
Jesus says, “the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven to give life to the world!”
And his followers say “yes I’m in let’s do it!”
And Jesus says “It’s me! I’m the bread! Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty!”
ooooh. that didn’t go over well at all. Firstly, because in what way did Jesus come down from heaven, Jesus is a person just like us. And secondly because he’s changing the subject from more free meals. This is exactly where Jesus lost the crowd the night before. And it’s exactly what happened to the Israelites in the original classic “Manna in the Wilderness”. Remember this is a remake? Jesus is saying, if somebody miraculously feeds thousands of people, and your main question is “how do I get my next free meal?” you’re missing something big. A better question is something like, “what’s going on with this person who can multiply food? What does it mean that God can provide for us so abundantly and so freely?”
In the story of Israel, as soon as God’s people figured out they had enough to eat, they found something else to complain about. And they didn’t start out saying “God we need something and we know you can take care of it.” They were always one problem away from “we had it better back in Egypt, God just brought us out here to die.”
This is the same problem Jesus has in his remake version. But he perseveres. In fact, Jesus just steers right into that skid. I’m the bread of life, he says. You can live forever if you eat my flesh.
Everyone’s getting a little grossed out.
I’m serious, he goes on. You have to eat it. Munch it. Chew it up. My body is real food and my blood is real drink and you have to eat it.
And that’s how we get to that scene at the beginning where the crowd of people says “Jesus you actually crossed a line, this is too hard” and they leave except for the 12 who just sit there looking embarrassed.
It’s over but it’s not over. Because like the disciples, we’re kind of stuck with Jesus. “we know you’re the holy one from God,” they say. “we know your words show us the way to the forever life that starts now.” How do we receive this gift from God? Who really wants to chew Jesus? Gross.
We have a little more of the story though, than the disciples had at the time. And I think we can learn a lot from what really happens to Jesus’ body. This bread that he offers us as a promise of life.
In his body, Jesus walks in the power to heal and to provide. Jesus touches people and prays for them and even the dead return to life. Jesus never seems to worry about if the storm is too rough. He doesn’t worry about if he forgot to pack a lunch. There’s a great story when Jesus says something his disciples don’t understand and they start wondering if it’s because he’s stressed that they didn’t bring food on their journey. And Jesus is like “did you guys not see me feed thousands of people multiple times, and you really think I’m concerned about packing snacks?” Jesus lives in an assurance of power and provision because of the intimate connection he has with his Father. And he’s offering that to us. “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me.” That sounds like good news to me. That sounds like the kind of power and security that I want to fill up with when I give up on scarcity and anxiety.
But there’s more to Jesus’ body. Jesus doesn’t have a home. Jesus doesn’t get much sleep. Jesus is constantly interrupted by people’s needs, to which he responds with compassion. Jesus trusts people who let him down. And Jesus’ body gets broken, tortured, pierced, crushed. I’ll just say this about Jesus’ death: Jesus was already living that forever life that starts now. Jesus’ ministry announcing the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, this was an invitation for everyone to give up on violence and power, bow their knee before God our maker, and enjoy living like God is the one in charge. But that did not protect him from death, violence or pain. In a way, it made him more vulnerable because saying Yes to God’s abundance means saying No to violence, oppression, manipulation, fear and other ways we provide for ourselves. If you eat the bread of life that doesn’t mean you won’t get beat up! If you eat the bread of life it doesn’t mean you won’t get dumped by your friends! If you eat the bread of life it doesn’t mean you can’t get hurt. It doesn’t mean you won’t get sick or get old or die. And it definitely doesn’t mean you get to call the shots. We know this because that’s exactly what happened to Jesus.
That’s what the disappointed crowd was so disappointed about. They thought they’d found a leader who had the power to provide and protect, and instead Jesus kept walking toward a cross. He wasn’t going to give them power, victory, revenge, even though he could.
So what’s even the point of being part of this forever life that starts now? If being the bread of life turned out so badly for Jesus, why should we be clamoring to join in?
I’m going to share a pessimistic sounding argument here and maybe it will get brighter as we get through it.
In the words of Peter, “where else are we going to go?”
There are plenty of other ways to try to live forever. There are plenty of better sounding ways to protect yourself from pain and cope with scarcity. There are options for security and success that seem more promising. But let’s be real honest with ourselves right now: How is that going for you?
Are you noticing that you can never guarantee the protection of those you love?
Are you finding that it’s difficult to love and be loved when you work so hard to make sure no one is close enough to hurt you?
Do you now and then worry or fear the inevitability of death?
When violence or manipulation gets you what you need, has it come with a wide range of unintended consequences?
If I’m honest, I want a version of Jesus that will just give me what I want. I want to follow a God that models invulnerability so that I too can achieve that desired protection. But that’s not the Jesus we’ve got.
The irony Jesus notices, in the Original Classic story of manna in the desert and in the remake at Capernaum, is this: when God gives God’s people food, they get fixed on how do we get God to give us more food. But Jesus has a different relationship with God. Jesus lives in comfortable security that God will take care of him. Even when Jesus is in pain or feeling sad, he holds those in the presence of a God who deeply loves him and who always has enough.
Let’s imagine that I always prayed for God to help me when I am looking for parking in downtown Ann Arbor. You don’t even have to imagine that one, it’s real. I’m not sure exactly where I’m going and which streets are one way and where there’s street parking. So I start praying “Jesus please let there be a spot open right by where I’m going! And not too terrifying to parallel park into! But let’s imagine that God actually answered my prayers every time. What if every time I asked, God gave me that perfect parking spot? I thought about this. And the first thing that would happen is I would ask for this all the time. And after a while maybe I’d start to wonder, what else can God do? Can I get a super quick trip through the secretary of state office to renew my license? At some point though I know the Holy Spirit would have some Real Talk with me and it would go something like this: That’s not even close to everything I want to give you! Do you really think I’m the parking space fairy and not God of the Universe? The reason God notices these small and material needs is not because that’s all God can do. It’s to show us that nothing is too small or too difficult to merit God’s care and abundance.
You might have your own small prayers: maybe it’s green lights when you’re late for work, or that your in-laws will be in a good mood for the family visit. But I bet you have some not so small prayers too. You might be praying for food to put on the table for your family. For a serious health concern in your body or someone you love. For a spouse you want, for a spouse you have, for your kids to get through adolescence without doing something actually terminally stupid. Whatever your prayer is, can you hear God’s spirit telling us today: that isn’t even close to all I want to give you! What God has for us is so much more than what we’re asking for!
Jesus lived in that joy of always wanting more of God without fear of what God would withhold from him or ways God might fail him. Can we join Jesus in believing that there is enough for us, so we can come to God for a relationship instead of negotiation?
There’s another reference going on in this story. This is sort of a hint at a later story about the passover meal. Jesus tells his disciples, this bread is my body, it’s broken for you. And he gives it to them to eat. I think of this sometimes when I come to take communion and we remember the food and drink Jesus shared with his followers. I believe in a way that you are what you eat, that the food I consume is transformed by my body in ways I don’t understand to become part of my body itself. And I think, Jesus is giving me a piece of his body that I chew and swallow and digest until it has become a part of my body as well. That’s a gift that has no taking back. No matter where I go or what I do, Jesus is with me, in my body. And there’s two sides to that street. Sometimes when I take communion I think about the ways Jesus suffered in his body. I think, no thank you Jesus I’m not sure I want that. And Jesus says, you belong to me. My broken body is a part of you and I’m here making you strong enough for the suffering this week will cost you. When I’m that close to Jesus I know there’s something better than getting everything I want out of life. There’s something stronger than a God who works like a vending machine. There’s something more true than scarcity, even when I hunger. And that something better is that forever-starting-now life that Jesus is giving us when we choose to eat the Bread of Life.
Scriptures to Pray Over
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.