This has been a full first couple weeks in Cincinnati for us. Two weeks ago you welcomed us with crowbars, torches, and hammers in hand and for some strange reason we let many of you tear down several walls inside our nice cozy house we had just purchased. The torch, by the way, was for doing the copper plumbing in our bathroom we were remodeling, so it wasn’t quite as brutal as it may sound. After that first day, as the plaster dust was gently coming to rest on our bed sheets, with boxes full of our possessions stacked high throughout each room, I lay awake in bed and wondered how in the world we were ever going to get this place into a livable condition in the next few days and weeks. When we unloaded the truck after our five hour shopping trip to Lowes and Home Depot the next day we had even more stuff filling our house and yard. In our quest to become like Jesus, we became carpenters for a week, and thanks to a series of late nights of work and some help from several of you, I am glad to report that after that first week we no longer needed to commute half a block over to peace house to use the restroom or to take a shower.This past week I started coming over to peace house on a regular basis for a different reason: to begin work as pastor of CMF. This week I had the chance to meet with worship committee, to experience my first Tuesday community meal, to begin becoming familiar with the files in the church office, to receive several orientation sessions with Jeanne, to enjoy the Find-A-Way summer BBQ, to visit and spend good time with several of you, and to begin praying for this congregation. In the midst of these things, I have begun to work with the material CMF’s worship committee has selected as a theme over the month of August. Becoming Bread. Becoming bread. I’m now a part of a group of people that would like to become bread. What does it mean for this to be a becoming bread congregation? Now, if you’re like me when I first encountered this, you think this is an intriguing idea, a good thought, but aren’t exactly sure what it means. Of course we know what it’s like to eat bread. We know what its like to be hungry and then strengthened by bread. We know what it’s like to offer bread to others. But to become bread? I know what its like to become a parent. I know what its like to become a friend, to become a student. I’m learning what its like to become a pastor. But to become bread. You, me, us, bread? So let’s say that we think we would like to become bread, but we don’t really know what this means. Our gospel readings for these weeks come from John 6. And I would invite you to think of this chapter and of these next few weeks as a process of discovery in what it means to become bread. And there is something here to be discovered. Something that Jesus has always been trying to teach his brothers and sisters. Last week in the children’s story and in the sermon we were introduced to the opening event. A huge crowd, with apparently no food, and out of this crowd, a young child offers his lunch for as many as it can feed. And Jesus took this little lunch of bread and fish, gave thanks to God, and he divided it up amongst the people – and with no further details the story says that everyone ate and was satisfied, with plenty of leftovers. And the people want Jesus to be their leader, their new Moses or new Ceasar, but the scriptures say he withdrew from them and he went off by himself and eventually went away on the other side of the lake.This sounds straightforward enough. People were hungry. With Jesus presiding at their large gathering they all had enough bread to eat, and now they want to make the bread giver their permanent cook so they’ll never be hungry again. We know about this kind of bread. It’s the basic need that so much of the world does not have. It’s the thing that we have so much of today that we often forget that for most of history humanity has spent the majority of their waking hours simply trying to survive. We shouldn’t feel guilty for having so much bread, but we should feel responsible to use our wealth wisely and to share our resources.Now in our text today the people begin searching for Jesus. He had left the scene of the mass bread feeding and the people are looking for him. The place I want to start identifying with these people is that moment when they begin to search. Something has been awakened in them where they know they want more of something. So they begin searching. I want us to identify with this search because it is so key in the process of discovering what Jesus would have us know about bread. The people think they know what they are searching for. After all, they still have the aftertaste of the meal in their mouths and they’re still amazed at the miracle worker. They want more of something, more of this person who has seemed to satisfy them. We find ourselves in this group of people when we recognize that we too are searching. Not always consciously, not always actively, but we are searching for something to fill us. I came across an article this week talking about the growth of some of the very large nondenominational churches in the Cincinnati area and the decline of membership in mainline congregations. This has been going on for the last decade or so and is supposedly going to continue for many years to come. The article was taking this phenomenon seriously and looking at how different marketing techniques were attracting people to these newer, flashier, more relevant churches. I found it a bit humorous and quite a bit disturbing. But I was also trying to find something redeeming in it all. There is, I think, a strong hunger and search going on for something to fill a perceived need in people’s lives. I’m sure there are less noble reasons why some people are going to these mega-churches, but for now lets give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Instead of thinking in terms of “us” and “them,” let’s say there’s just one big “us,” and that we’re all searching for something, and that this search is taking all of us in many different directions.The people in the story today are going in the direction of Jesus, but when they find him the first thing he tells them is that they don’t really know what they are searching for. They may have thought they knew what they wanted, but Jesus is much more interested in giving people what they need than what they want. There are a number of misunderstandings of what they need that are driving this people toward Jesus, and these come out in the course of the conversation. And these are misunderstandings that we all, to some degree carry around with us. One of these is what we can call sign-based religion. The kind of religion that is constantly looking for signs from God to build one’s faith. This has always been popular and will continue to be because it is one of the lesser demanding forms of religion. Many times it involves something close to the formula of “God, if you will do this for me, I will do this for you.” Or, “God, if you will show yourself in this way, I will believe.” The people’s mindset here is something like “Jesus, if you continue to show us signs from heaven then we will believe and follow you.” Sign-based religion can be an important part of our spiritual growth. We all need to see some kind of sign of God’s presence and guidance in our lives. But it is not the only way we relate to God and it is a way that Jesus is pointing us beyond. It’s surely not going to get us very far down the road toward becoming bread.Another of the peoples’ misunderstandings of what they really need is the thought that constantly full bellies will end their problems. If only we had all of our material needs fulfilled we would be saved from worry, saved from fear, and saved from evil. Living in our society, we know better than many that this is not true. You can’t reduce the human person merely to the physical or financial. Every human being should have enough food to be healthy, and it is a sin that this is not the case, but if and when we ever work out some kind of just food system, there will remain deeper problems of the human spirit. Jesus tells his audience not to work for food that perishes, but food that is full of unending life which he is ready to give them. There is another misunderstanding in the people’s search when they come to Jesus. They said to Jesus, “what work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness.” This is the story that was read for us this morning of Moses and Israelites. The misunderstanding here is the search for a recreation of the past. Or a mimicking of history. The people had some notion of how things used to be and were wanting that to be recreated in their time. If only things could be like they used to be. As Mennonites we have a great tradition of faithfulness to God we draw from. Our challenge, especially in urban 21st century America, is not to try and recreate the past, because we can’t do it, but to take the best of our tradition – our peace witness, our emphasis on community, on serving one another, on doing justice in the world – and create something new in our time and place. Jesus points the people and us away from our misunderstandings of what we think we need, and our search, for now, brings us to this statement: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” The search for something, for an “it” to satisfy our hunger, brings us face to face with someone an “I” who says “I am the bread of life.” The people have drawn near to Jesus without really knowing what they were searching for. They would like a sign, they would like more food, they would like for something great from the past to be repeated. Instead, they are confronted with an “I.” What you have really been searching for is the true bread from heaven, and “I”, in your midst, have come to be that bread.
One of my favorite prayers, a very short prayer, begins this way. “Glory to you, Source of all being, eternal word, and Holy Spirit.” Here we have been drawn back to the Source of all being. The place of origin from which all things flow. God is the source of life, the source of bread. We don’t have to settle for things second and third hand from where they begin. Jesus extends an invitation to return to the same place that he returned. An invitation to go back to the source. Back to an “I,” not an “it”. The “I” is the personal, loving, welcoming, offering God that we see so clearly in Jesus. This bread of life looks something like the daily bread given in the wilderness to the Israelites, given from the same God. It is the manna of God’s self offered to us for our bread.
God does not come to us abstractly, as we would suppose. The people in Jesus time, those mega-church shoppers, and ourselves share something deeply in common. We search for something to give us life. And what we begin to discover, is that what we are searching for has been present with us all along. When we draw near to God, we will find a God who is already near us. Saying gently, “I am the bread of life.” Take your sustenance from my life. Be daily renewed by my being. Be restored by my strength. Be nurtured in my care.
At this point we’re not asked to do anything. We are simply asked to believe. Believe that there is an “I” among us who is the bread of life. This “I am” asks nothing of you except that you believe that this bread is daily present for you. It is offered out to you for your life. It is the true bread that gives true life.
This is a conversation that isn’t over yet. We’ve merely been redirected in our search. We’re on the path toward ourselves becoming bread, but before this can happen, we must hear the voice that says, “I am the bread of life.” Before we can become bread, we must draw near to the God who becomes daily bread for us, the source of all our being. To eat this bread is to take it into one’s innermost self. Taking the undying being of God into our own being. Its what Jesus did and what he invites us to do when he says “I am the bread of life.”
I’d like to draw to a close with a few questions to help us focus our thoughts and listen to what God may be saying to us now. After each question I’ll allow for a brief silence for you to medidate on what the voice may be speaking to you.
In what ways has my search for daily bread taken a wrong turn, filling myself with what doesn’t really satisfy? In what ways have I best been able to draw near to God, the source of bread? Silence? Journalling, relationships? Service to others? Reading and study? Other ways? How can I learn to receive the bread of life on a daily basis, better enabling me to become bread for others?
Glory to you Source of all Being, Eternal Word, and Holy Spirit. Give us each day our daily bread.