Daily Bread

Published: Monday, 13 August 2018

BreadThis sermon was presented at the Ashburton Baptist Church by Geoff Pound and is part of a series on the theme of bread based on John’s Gospel. The sermon manuscript concludes with some questions for personal reflection and group study.

Scripture Reading: John 6: 35, 41-51

Sometimes when you arrive here at the church early in the morning, if the breeze is blowing in the right direction, you can smell the freshly baked bread, wafting from the High Street bakeries. Aaaaah! The pervasive aroma, the pleasant aroma, the enticing aroma of freshly-baked bread.

According to surveys,[1] freshly baked bread, is one of our favourite smells. It rates even higher than the smell of sizzling bacon, freshly brewed coffee, newly mown grass, clothes that have been washed and dried in the sunshine, fish and chips and a Sunday roast.

Researchers have found that the pleasant smell of freshly-baked bread makes us kinder to strangers.[2] Like Pavlov’s dog, these odour-cued memories catapult us back to those warm, nurturing smells of our childhood. No wonder the drawing power of freshly baked bread is used by supermarkets to encourage us to stay and spend more.

Real estate agents tell us that if you want to sell your home at a good price don’t just call in the stylists. When your place is open for inspection, make sure you have a loaf of bread baking in your oven.

Hold this aroma in your nostrils as you hear Jesus say:

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

  • John 6: 35

There’s something about Jesus that draws us like freshly-baked bread. We don’t know what it is but his life attracts us. His words are winsome. We may not understand it all but his teaching is tantalizing.

I remember sitting on a bus next to a young guy who was recounting his conversion experience. He said, “Now, I don’t do this. I don’t do that and I don’t do the other.”

I said, “You’ve mentioned what you don’t do, what are the new things that you now do?” He struggled to tell me. What a pity when our faith and following of Jesus is defined in negative terms. What a poor advertisement when being part of a church is communicated primarily by what we don’t do. That’s not the church that was envisaged by its founder.

There’s something positive and colourful and creative when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” When he boldly claims to satisfy our deepest hunger.

He kept on speaking positively so much so, that John in his Gospel records seven ‘I AM’ statements of Jesus. Let’s recall them:

I am the bread of life: John 6:35

I am the light of the world: John 8: 12

I am the gate (the door): John 10:9

I am the Good Shepherd: John 10: 11

I am the resurrection and the life: John 11:25

I am the way, the truth and the life: John 14: 6

I am the true vine: John 15: 1

Don’t you love these positive images with which Jesus described his identity and mission?

Jesus is the bread that sustains, the light that gives direction, the gate that gives access and security, the shepherd who loves and cares, the resurrection that turns death into a life-giving doorway, the way the truth and the life (that says it all) and the true vine that make us fruitful.

Then the Jews began to complain…[3]

John 6: 41

When you become a genuine follower of Jesus you’ve got to expect complaints. Whenever you follow your dreams and do something different you’ve got to expect criticism. If you don’t want to be criticised you have to remain invisible. You have to continue to fit in. Most people in their jobs and aspirations seek to fit in. You just be ‘one of the boys’. You go along with the crowd.

The problem with fitting in is that you’re never true to yourself. You never say what you think. You never do what you’re created to do. “The problem with fitting in is that you’re not changing anybody.”[4]

Do you see the focus of their complaints?

 

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

John 6: 41-42

These Jews are having a beef about Christ’s claim to be bread that came down from heaven. Jesus is lifting the lid on the divine part of his identity. They’re pointing to his humanity, “We know his mum and dad.”[5]

When you go to some churches in Europe you can look up towards the altar and often see a sculpture of Mary pictured in the centre. You have to search for Jesus who is somewhere on the sidelines. It makes you wonder, how ideas of immaculate conceptions, virgin birth and the sinlessness of Mary have become so prominent.

John makes no mention of the virgin birth in his Gospel and this teaching also doesn’t appear in the writings of the earliest Christians like Paul or Peter. I like the way that even in their complaints Joseph gets a guernsey: “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?”

By his reference to ‘bread from heaven’, Jesus is also hinting at his pre-existence. He will soon elaborate on that other great claim—when he says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8: 58)[6]

Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 

John 6: 43

His actual call is not to murmur among yourselves. In literature when you learn about onomatopoeia,[7] one of the common examples is Tennyson’s line about ‘the murmuring of innumerable bees’. Can you hear it? This is the danger of murmuring. It’s as contagious as gastro. One or two murmurs builds a momentum like a murmuration of starlings that moan and groan as they flock together.

If you’ve ever been on a cruise, a bus tour or a group walk there’s always one or two who will complain. In any class or group or congregation there’s one or two who’s default position is to grumble. You can hear them. They sound like a whine in the differential. They forget that we always take the weather with us.

A murmuring of starlings can very quickly become like those corellas in our suburbs that not only squawk and screech but they become violent, stripping bark off trees and ripping your garden and your crops to shreds.

Jesus’ use of the word ‘complain’ is the same word as the ‘murmuring of the Israelites’ in Exodus 14 so, this wouldn’t be lost on these Jewish grumblers.

Immediately they’d recall their ancestors in the wilderness, encountering a new chapter in their life together but instead of trusting they murmured about the hardship (Numbers 11:1), they murmured about the food (Numbers 11: 5-6), they murmured about the lack of water, they murmured about their leaders (Numbers 14: 2) and it was contagious.

They forgot about God’s remarkable deliverance. They had a brain fade about their exodus from slavery, so much so that they wanted to go back.

So, we are either those who complain and hanker to go back or we are those who keep coming to God, grateful for the divine provision and trusting day by day in God’s promise.

See the way Jesus calls them and calls us to come to him.

No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.

John 6: 44-45

This movement of coming to him is not about self-help. Behind our questing and questioning is the drawing power of God. Be attentive to the divine magnet who is attracting us as we hear, as we learn and as we come on this journey with Christ.

Where and how are we experiencing at the moment this divine drawing power?

Sometimes it happens in worship. Maybe when we sing we sense that lump in the throat, that tear in the eye as a certain line seems just written for our situation. It’s the drawing power of God.

Or a truth dawns as we see something, as if for the first time. That insight might cause a great wall of resistance to collapse. Sometimes amidst horrendous loss and turmoil we have the wonderful sense of being upheld. It’s the divine drawing power.

J B Phillips, who translated the New Testament into lively English, shared something of his experience of translating the Bible. He said that again and again he felt like an electrician re-wiring an old house while the electricity had been left on. Time and time again he encountered the divine power in those words.

Sometimes we experience this reality together. We decide to move in a certain direction but then some circumstance surprisingly turns that decision upside down. A new pathway emerges that we hadn’t anticipated before. A person who formerly had plans that were settled now senses a new role, a new rightness. It’s the drawing power of God.

The story is told of a blind boy who’d spend hours flying his kite.[8] Out in the countryside or the beach where the wind was brisk he’d crouch, holding the tugging string. He moved his hands to and fro, clasping the twine firmly, sometimes pressing them to his chest and sometimes holding them out at arm's length. His face shone with enjoyment and ecstasy. Someone who knew him well said to him, “What's the good of you having a kite? You can't even see it!” The boy said, “That’s right but I love to feel it’s pull!”

We are affected more than we know by forces that we cannot see, but of which we feel the pull. It’s by the drawing power and the pull of things that our destinies are shaped.

Continuing the theme of the unseen God drawing and pulling, Jesus says:

Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 

John 6: 46

Then Jesus introduces a thought with the words, ‘Amen, Amen’. The early translations had Jesus saying, ‘Verily, verily’. Whenever Jesus says these words he’s getting us ready for something profound. He’s about to express absolute certainty and truth.

Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 

John 6: 47

To believe is not giving a nod of the head or rattling off a creed. Believing is radical trust. Believing is a reorientation of our whole life around following Jesus.

Our passage began with Jesus saying “I am the bread of life who satisfies our every hunger.” Our passage finishes with Jesus restating his claim to be bread but emphasizing that he is the bread that gives life.

Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

John 6: 47-51

See his lively emphasis? Bread of life. Eternal life. Living bread. Live forever. Life for the world.

Jesus not only satisfies our deepest hunger. He grants us eternal life. We often think this means ‘without end’, life going on forever. Here he says, “Whoever believes has eternal life. This is a present experience. A rich quality of life right here, right now.

Do you hear echoes in this statement of what Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4 about the water of life?

In that conversation the woman asked if Jesus was greater than Jacob (because they were at Jacob’s well). Here the question is whether Jesus is greater than Moses, through whom God provided the manna in the wilderness.

Jesus is the bread who nurtures us. Jesus is the bread that sustains our community. Bread is so universal, Christ’s invitation to feed on Him is not for a select few. His bread is extended to all. The promise is to ‘whoever believes’. Everyone can be drawn by Christ’s loving presence.

We are all invited but we have to RSVP. Like the Israelites, we have to collect the manna each day, so there’s the need to feed continually on Christ, to reconnect and be fed again and again.

So, have a slice. A slice of heaven. Jesus is the bread. It’s our job to do the eating.

Response

In the way of a response this morning, we thought we might break bread and share bread. We didn’t want you to be tantalised by the sight of bread and the smell of bread and then not give you a chance to taste it.

So, a few people are going to break up the loaves of bread before us and we invite you to come to the table, take a good chunk of bread. Then go back to your seat and as you eat, reflect on the words of Jesus: “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”

Questions for Personal Reflection and Group Study

 

Scripture Reading: John 6: 35, 41-51

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

 

For Starters

What’s your favourite smell and how does the smell of freshly-baked bread rate in your aroma hierarchy?

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Brainstorm this ‘I am’ statement of Jesus: “I am the bread of life.”

What does this mean to you?

What draws you to Jesus like freshly-baked bread?

“What a pity when our faith and following of Jesus is defined in negative terms. What a poor advertisement when being part of a church is communicated primarily by what we don’t do. That’s not the church that was envisaged by its founder.”

Discuss this thought.

Is our faith and following framed largely in negative terms?

Is our church perceived more by what we’re against than what we are for?

Watch this video clip in which a pastor is asked, “What do you do?” and then seeks to be creative about his work and what the church does.

How can we talk more creatively and positively about our church?

Then the Jews began to complain…

John 6: 41

How do you respond to criticism and in what ways do you seek to fly under the radar or fit in, rather than fly your flag and be what you’re created to be?

What is it about your faith for which you are being criticised?

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

John 6: 41-42

How do you understand the complaints of these Jews?

How does Jesus address their complaints?

Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 

John 6: 43

Where have you seen the danger of ‘murmuring’ and the dynamics of murmuring by a few on the many?

How can we best respond to murmurs so we don’t get caught up in its contagion?

Any pertinent lessons from the murmuring of the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 14, Numbers 11, 14 etc.)?

Complaining and Hankering for the Past or Coming to God in Trust?

No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.

John 6: 44-45

Unless drawn by the Father…” Where and how are we experiencing at the moment this divine drawing power?

Any examples of how we have sensed the drawing power of God together?

“We are affected more than we know by forces that we cannot see, but of which we feel the pull. It’s by the drawing power and the pull of things that our destinies are shaped.”

Discuss.

46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 

What does it mean to believe?

Discuss your growing understanding of ‘eternal life’.

How are we experiencing ‘eternal life’ and what more can we expect of ‘eternal life’ in the future?

Any further insights you wish to draw from this passage?

Turn this Scripture into Prayer

Prayer to say together:

Jesus said, ‘I am the bread of life.’ May we go forth nourished and enlivened by the bread of life within us. Amen.

 

[1] A Slice of Heaven: Why Freshly Baked Bread is Our Favourite Smell, Express, 25 May 2015.

[2] Kevin Rawlinson, ‘How the Smell of Freshly-Baked Bread Makes us Kinder to Strangers’, Independent, 1 November 2012.

[3] There have been charges of anti-Semitism by the church because of statements like this which signal the beginning in John’s Gospel and his constant identification of the naysayers as ‘the Jews’.

[4] Fitting in and standing out are major themes in the writing of Seth Godin. For instance, see, ‘Fitting in all the way’, Seth’s Blog, 16 September 2017.

[5] Literally, ‘we have known his father and his mother’. This perfect tense may indicate that Joseph is dead by now.

[6] The question of Christ’s origins has been front and centre in John’s Gospel and right from the first line: “In the beginning was the Word.” In John, Jesus’ origins are not traced back to Adam as in Luke, or Abraham as in Matthew but to God, God’s very self, to before the world was created.

[7] The words like ‘buzz’ whose pronunciation sounds like the thing it describes.

[8] F W Boreham, ‘The Pull of Things,’ The Three Half-Moons (London: The Epworth Press, 1929), 216-217.