"All this Talk about Bread is Making Me Hungry - #4"

Date Sunday August 19, 2018
Service 13th Sunday after Pentecost
Text Text: John 6:51-58
Author Pastor Jean M. Hansen
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     All this talk about bread is making me __________ (hungry)! Here we are, week #4 of the 5-week focus on John 6, which begins with Jesus feeding a huge crowd, with food left over, after blessing two fish and five loaves. In last week’s reading, that crowd became perturbed with Jesus because instead of giving them free breakfast, lunch and supper, or, failing that, the imperishable food that sounds so attractive, he identifies himself as “the bread of life that came down from heaven.” What is that supposed to mean; he’s the son of Mary and Joseph of Nazareth?

     The crowd wants what they want, which reminds me of one of the cartoons on display in the Welcome Center. In it, someone who participated in the massive food distribution comes to Jesus with a request; while they appreciate the fish and bread, they were wondering if he’d do the same thing with a piece of cheese cake? (I personally would choose ice cream, but that would be messy.) In any case, the crowd wants what it wants, and it’s not what Jesus is offering, or so they think.

     Their confusion is understandable; what Jesus is saying is not comprehendible for those who first heard it. First Jesus says, “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven; whoever eats of this bread will live forever. …the bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” And then, when they ask the question of the day, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”, Jesus makes an even more upsetting statement, “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you….”

     Those words make us cringe, and most of us have some idea what Jesus means. But, to his first listeners, the very idea of eating flesh and drinking blood was an abomination according to the Jewish law and the prophets. Why would Jesus say such a thing, they asked, and what does he mean?

     That’s a good question; it’s at the heart of the Gospel of John’s understanding of the Christian faith. It’s important to remember that in the first chapter of John, a passage we usually hear at Christmas, we read, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Because the Word, which was God, and was in the beginning with God, became flesh, that is, came among us as Jesus, a blessed life now and eternal life in the future are possible. The theme of eating throughout John 6 is a metaphor for belief in Jesus – to eat and drink Jesus in the context of John 6 is to have faith in him (to take him in, to gain sustenance from him, to be alive because of him). Just as our physical lives require food, our spiritual lives require Jesus; he is the food for our journey of faith and the source of eternal life.

     There is a second level of meaning in this text, though. Because Jesus himself told us to eat bread and drink wine as a reminder that his body was broken, and his blood shed, in the crucifixion, over time Christians connected John 6 to Holy Communion. The sacrament of the altar, as we Lutherans call it, is the tangible means by which we honor our Lord’s sacrifice and receive his life-giving presence and the forgiveness and strength he offers us.

     You know, I can really sympathize with those confused people in the Gospel lesson, since we still struggle to grasp concepts that are basic to our faith. What Jesus is offering us, writes Scott Hoezee, is an access to the life of the Triune God. I’ll quote him, “Think of that! Jesus is saying that union with him (in Holy Communion) allows us to enter into the rhythms of Father, Son and Holy Spirit…. What Jesus is offering is a slice of Life Eternal, of the very Life that pulses as the heartbeat of everything that exists, that ever existed, that ever will exist.” (1)

     So, he says our thoughts when we come for Holy Communion are too small; we need to be dismayed by the awesome nature of God’s grace. To paint an image of what he means, Pastor Hoezee describes the ending of the movie “Places in the Heart” which came out in 1984, starring Sally Field and Danny Glover.

     To set the scene, I’ll attempt to share a bit of the story-line. The movie is set in the 1930’s and begins with a woman named Edna being widowed when a drunk young black boy named Wylie accidently shoots her husband, who was the town sheriff). Wylie is then lynched by the white town folk, who firmly believe in an eye for an eye … only worse. Their revenge does not relieve Edna from the debt under which she struggles or the burden of raising two small children. So, when Edna meets Moze, a black migrant farmer who knows how to raise cotton, she hires him. They make enough money to save her farm from foreclosure at the hand of the local, heartless bank.

     But, the white folks hate Moze and do not want him around, so they come to the farm disguised by Ku Klux Klan outfits and beat Moze, who then flees. Edna watches him leave, her own future now unsure.

     It seems like that’s the end of the movie, but there’s a last scene which takes place in church. The Pastor delivers a sermon on love from 1 Corinthians 13, then they serve communion. Now I’ll quote Pastor Hoezee.

     “And that’s where the film becomes surreal and deeply, deeply theological. First you notice that the church – that had been at best half-full in earlier shots of the congregation – is now quite full. But then, to the startlement of us viewers, suddenly we see bread and wine being taken by a woman who had died in a tornado earlier in the film. The town prostitute is there too, sitting next to the banker who had been so unfeeling in the face of Edna’s fear of foreclosure. Then we see members of the KKK taking the Lord’s Supper, and what’s more, they pass the trays of bread and wine to no less than the black man, Moze, who is suddenly sitting in the church with Edna and her family.

     “Finally, Edna takes the bread and wine and passes it to her husband who is suddenly next to her again and, next to him, Wylie, the young black boy who had killed him and been killed himself as a result. As the sheriff and Wylie eat the bread and drink the wine, they look at each other and say, “The peace of God.”

     Pastor Hoezee notes that when these people share in the Lord’s Supper, they begin to experience something of the eternal life Jesus promises to those who eat this flesh and drink his blood, if we have the spiritual eyes to see it. (2) So it is for all who come to the Table. As I began this sermon I said that the people who encountered Jesus in today’s reading want what they want, and it isn’t what Jesus is offering, or so they think. How wrong they were … and how fortunate we are to receive him. AMEN

(1)   “John 6:51-58, Proper 15B” by Scott Hoezee, August 13, 2018, Center for Excellence in Preaching, www.calvinseminary.edu

(2)   Same as #1