THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
18th Sunday after Pentecost/Harvest Sunday
Deuteronomy 26: 1-11
Philippians 4: 4-9
John 6: 25-35
“Bread of Life”
How far are we willing to go for a good meal?
How far are we willing to go for a meal, for a feast, that not just satisfied our hunger, but one that sticks to our ribs, one that fills us to the top, one that makes us regret that second piece of pie but still beckons us to have a third?
Well, if we are talking about Thanksgiving: we will travel many miles for such a meal; we will drive hundreds of kilometres, we will fly across the country, we will shop and prepare and cook for many hours, we will clean and fret and host, we will do a great deal of work just to sit down at table with family and eat that good meal.
And yet, even the best Thanksgiving meal does not satisfy forever.
After the meal is over. After the last slice of pumpkin pie is served. After we all retreat to our couches and easy chairs for our post-Thanksgiving naps, the hunger that we thought would be satisfied forever does slowly return.
There are not enough leftovers, not enough cold stuffing, not enough turkey and cranberry sandwiches, not enough pie and cake and cookies in the world to really satisfy us forever. Tomorrow is another day, and we will be hungry yet again.
In the realm of earthly hunger, that is something we simply must accept. We will be hungry tomorrow, we will need to eat tomorrow; no matter how great today’s feast may be, the satisfaction is always temporary.
But what about that hunger that is not of-this-world?
What about that hunger that is not satisfied with food?
What about that hunger of the soul?
The hunger of the Spirit?
The hunger that finds its satisfaction only in Christ?
In the Gospel lesson that we have just heard from John, Chapter 6, we are given a story in which Jesus taught a lesson about the difference between earthly and spiritual hunger, and the greater lesson that He has come to satisfy our true hunger with the bread of life.
As this story begins, there is crowd that has just caught up with Jesus the day after he went away from them.
The previous day, this large crowd formed in order to hear and see Jesus. That day, Jesus amazed this crowd by multiplying just 5 barley loaves and 2 fish into enough food to feed five 5000 people.
After this act and the excitement of the crowd that followed, Jesus withdrew to the mountain to be alone; that evening He walked on water and brought His friends to a place along the sea where they could be at peace together.
After all of this. After these two miracles and all of the work that it took for Jesus and His disciples to get safely away from the frantic crowd, the crowd does finally catch up with Him the next morning:
“Rabbi, when did you come here?”
“Rabbi, we missed you. Rabbi, we thought you were going to go on feeding us this food? Why did you leave us so soon?”
In response to this question, Jesus answers:
“Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is him that God the Father has set his seal.”
“You are looking for me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves”
You people, you who have pursued me and my disciples. You who have travelled to find us where we went to be alone, you have come not because you know me and my miracles but because I have fed you.
In so many words, Jesus tells the crowd: I have made miracles before you. I have made a few fish and a handful of loaves into enough to feed all 5000 of you, I have walked on water, I have shown myself to be the Son of Man, the Messiah, but you do not care, you care only that it is the next day and you are hungry again.
How difficult must it have been for the people to hear that?
How difficult must it have been to be put in their place?
Indeed, it would be embarrassing to the point of humiliating if it wasn’t for the loving instruction that came next:
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is him that God the Father has set his seal
This is Jesus’ instruction not only to the crowds but to us as well:
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life
Such eating and feasting is surely a foretaste of the Kingdom to Come, but do not mistake such earthly bread for the true bread from heaven.
Two years ago, when I was ministering and serving in Calgary, I got the chance to work with The Mustard Seed, a Christian homeless shelter and health outreach.
One day when I was having coffee with the director, he told me a story of something that happened to him recently.
There had been a homeless man, distraught and upset outside of the shelter. This man was having a difficult day; he was erratic, he was yelling, he was standing in the middle of the street. People were very worried about him.
Staff had been talking to him for a while, trying to get him to calm down and tell them what was wrong. Finally, someone came out with a sandwich and put it in his hand.
The man looked at the sandwich and started to cry bitterly.
He said: “I don’t want a sandwich! I just want someone to tell me about Jesus.”
As important as food is.
As important as the bread of this world is.
As important as the work that organizations like The Mustard Seed and our own Saskatoon Native Circle Ministry do is, there is “bread from heaven” that is worth more than all the bread of this world put together.
That is why these organizations share not only bread in Christ’s name, not only food, but also prayer and worship and community.
Going back to the text; before there was a Saskatoon Native Circle Ministry, before there was a church, even before Christ went to the cross to prove His love for us, there was a crowd and there was a man trying to teach them about this “bread from heaven”.
On that day Jesus had a difficult task ahead of him.
Faced with 5000 people who were hungry for the bread of this world.
Faced with 5000 people who had already received one miraculous meal and wanted another one.
Jesus had the difficult task of teaching them:
Not only that they didn’t really want this earthly bread
Not only that there was heavenly bread that was better
But also that He Himself was this heavenly bread, come to save them.
How could the crowds understand such a teaching?
How could they wrap their minds around something which is too good to be true—that Jesus has come to fill not their stomachs but their very souls?
Indeed, how can any of us believe this?
When we read this text, do we see ourselves as a member of this crowd? As ones concerned only with the bread of this world, even while we are being offered the true bread from heaven?
Do we see ourselves and believe that Christ wants more for us than we even want for ourselves?
That Christ wants more for us than we want for ourselves?
There are times in each of our lives when we have approached Jesus like a member of the crowd at the sea. There are times when we have come to Jesus’ feet in prayer and asked for what we wanted:
“Lord, give me bread”
“Lord, give me healing”
“Lord, would you please give me what it is I have asked”
In these moments, do we believe that Christ wants more for us than we want for ourselves?
Have you had the experience of praying “Lord, give me bread” and heard the loving reply “I will not give you bread, but I will give you myself, the true bread of life”?
One of the big challenges of Jesus’ message about earthly and heavenly bread is that it is always “easier” for us to deal in earthly bread.
Whether we are on the giving or the receiving end, dealing in earthly bread does not seem to demand as much of us as heavenly bread does.
If we give bread to our neighbour it does not cost us much. It is easy, it takes very little time, and we can give out of our own (personal) abundance.
If we are receiving bread, it may be more challenging, it may require some humbling and setting aside of pride. It may require us to trust in others and to have the courage to ask for help, but it is still often easier to receive this bread than the bread from heaven.
The receiving of Heavenly Bread is something else. Receiving our heavenly bread from God the Father means opening ourselves up not only to help, not only to kindness but rather opening ourselves up to a new understanding of our very selves: to move from seeing ourselves as “basically” in control, as people who are responsible for what we have or don’t have, to seeing ourselves as we truly are; as God’s beloved children.
The evidence that we truly are God’s beloved children is the Truth that this God sent his only Son to teach us, to guide us, to save us, and to feed us. Not only with the bread of this world, but with the bread of heaven that will fill us well beyond our earthly hunger.
Friends, today is Thanksgiving.
We will each mark this day in different ways.
Some of us will celebrate with friends and family and an abundance of food.
Some of us will receive our meal and our community from the kindness of caregivers or strangers.
And some of us will pass this day alone and separated, through time, distance, strife, or death, from the ones we love.
No matter who we are or where we are, this day requests that we take a moment to take stock of what we are “thankful” for.
So what are we thankful for?
No matter who we are, it is easier to be thankful for the things we can see: for our food, for our things, for our relationships.
But can we also take a moment to be thankful for that which is unseen; that which we know by faith:
For Christ’s love for us
For the heavenly bread that He has brought us.
For the mercy we have been shown by God in sending His Son into the world
For our call to share this good news and this heavenly bread with others.
And that when the feast is over. When dinner is finished and the hunger that we thought could never possibly return starts to slowly come back, may we each remember the Good News of the one who came to fill not just our bodies but our souls:
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”