The Bread of God

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Sermon Notes Sunday, Lent 4, 2021 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, "This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!" Two Sundays from now we will gather to honor Jesus on Palm Sunday with Hosannahs and palm branches. In doing so, we echo the adoration the crowd bestowed on him as he entered Jerusalem. We may wonder at the excitement of the people and their adulation before it turned into condemnation. Was it Jesus' great charisma that so ignited the crowd, or something else hidden before our eyes. Our friend of St. Brendan's, Rev. Canon Darryl Fenton, opened my eyes this week with his observation based on our text from John. He writes, "Although the miracle of feeding the 5,000 is impressive as an event, the purpose of its inclusion in the text is lost without its reference in the extra-biblical texts of post-exilic Jewish religion. The Mishnah, an aural rabbinic commentary memorized by all rabbis and most religious men, taught that when the provision of manna to the Israelites ceased, one ephah (litre) was preserved in the ark of the covenant, and the other was preserved in heaven. It stated additionally that when the Messiah came he would bring this manna with him. Therefore, the crowd, seeing Jesus create bread for them as God created manna for their ancestors, assumed Jesus was the Messiah. That is why Jesus feared they would try to make him king." For those with eyes to see, there is a direct link from Jesus feeding the 5000 to Jesus as the bread of heaven come to redeem the world. John isn't just giving us a stand alone miracle in support of Jesus' true identity. The sign is not confined to the people gathered on the grass beside the Sea of Tiberius. Then food is not just five loaves and two fishes that miraculously fed 5000 people with 12 baskets left over. And as wonderful as it may seem to be, the lesson that Jesus is the promised Messiah would be wrong on our part just as it was wrong on theirs. The bread that Jesus breaks is his own body, broken for us. The feast we partake of is his body and blood, shed for us. The miracle is that it ever happened at all. Let's follow along a bit further in John's Gospel to find the true meaning of this sign. After feeding the 5000, Jesus withdraws from the crowd o avoid their crushing misconception of him. They would have made him king, a repeat in the public realm of the temptation Satan subjected him to in the desert. The disciples set off across the lake in a boat. A storm comes up, and Jesus walks on the water to comfort them and still the wind and the waves. The next day, the crowd that witnessed the feeding of the 5000, discovers him again on the opposite shore. They descend upon him and Jesus assails them as hungry for more magic and not for what he truly has to offer. He tells them, "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you." Jesus is leading them into the Mishnah of the manna, but toward a different conclusion. The people again nearly challenge Jesus to declare himself Israel's Messiah. "So they asked him, 'What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert, as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" Jesus now opens the vault of understanding. "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." Jn 6:32,33. Jesus himself is the bread of God. Even Manna, the gift bread of God, the finest bread even seen or tasted, lasted only a day before turning to mold. Jesus, the true bread of God, gives eternal life to all those who believe and consume. We reenact the mishnah of the bread of heaven in our celebration of the Eucharist. The bread of heaven, preserved in heaven, is given to the people of earth at the return of the Messiah. As we step forward to partake, we should stop and consider the miracle of what we are about to do. We should begin with our unworthiness. We should not be here, stepping forward to receive. Nothing we have done makes us deserving of this miracle. Our heritage is one of denial and desertion. Our experience is one of shame and regret. We echo what Paul said of himself in our reading from Romans last week: "Wretched man that I am. Who will rescue me from this body of death?" And yet we are invited by the host. We are guests, honorable guests. The feast is given for us. We don't deserve to come forward, but our knowledge of our undeserving is the first step toward understanding why we are the invited guests. Many today do not even get to this first step. We are consumed by our own importance. The selfie is the image of our age. When, outside of a Sunday during confession, do we confront our wretchedness? If we persist in our magnificence, the Holy Eucharist has nothing for us. It's only when we acknowledge we are more to be pitied than praised that we can take that first step forward. Jesus spent much of his preaching trying to convince his followers of their worth. "Yours is the kingdom of heaven," he said. "I go to prepare a place for you. That where I am you may be there also." But nothing he preached could compare with what he does by inviting them to his table. At the last supper, Jesus breaks bread and offers it to his disciples with these words. "This is my body which is broken for you." He offers the cup of wine with these words, "This is my blood which is shed for you and for many." One of them was already in progress betraying him. Soon the rest would all desert him. Yet here he was saying to them take my body and my blood into yourself. Bear me forward. I have such faith in you that I trust you to be my bearer after I am gone. If you do that, I will live in you and you in me. Here is the mishnah on display. The bread of God come down from heaven giving eternal life to all who believe. How amazing. That my very real unworthiness fits me to bear the body and blood of my Lord in this world. That he sees a value in me that I cannot see. That in choosing me he transforms me, ever so slowly but ever so surely, into his own likeness. Not for my glory. But for his. If you come to Jesus looking for a miracle outside yourself, you may find one or you may not. Five loaves and two fishes do sometimes feed 5000 people. But if you come to him looking for the bread of life you will find that miracle within you. He in you and you in him, feeding the world. In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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