“The Bread of Life”
“I Am THE BREAD of Life”
Do you like to eat? I know I do. And as I continue to go past 40, 50, and am now closer to 60, I know the truth, every day, of how I like to eat. Now I restrain myself these days. I try not to eat more than 1800 calories a day. But ten years ago when I weighed 220 pounds, I ate a lot. (Jim’s joke.) Pizza? I’m there. Cheeseburgers? You got it. Potato chips, cheesy poofs, and french fries? Couldn’t eat just one. And I haven’t even started yet on chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon rolls or donuts. Am I making you hungry? I’m making me hungry.
Our text today invites us to a meal. We like getting invited to meals, right? You are invited to one here at the church today. Our Introit reminds us, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.” In the Old Testament lesson, Wisdom (Jesus) invites us to a meal that gives understanding and life. And in the Gospel lesson today, we are invited to join in a meal where Jesus is not only the host, but He is the main course. Today we are reminded how important it is that we dine on the Bread of Life sent from Heaven. Today, in our sermon from John Six, Jesus tells us “I Am THE BREAD of Life.”
You know as Americans, as people, we have this self-reliance streak. We all operate under the notion from time to time that we are the center of the universe; that we are a rock, an island. A lot of times we can only see as far as our own noses. We do the same thing spiritually. Our sinful nature likes us to look inward and reject the many external and outward ways God deals with us and helps us. You know, that we do not need God to get to heaven. We’re already good. But I am here to tell you we need what God gives.
In the church, we have these things called “The Means of Grace.” They are the means, the ways, the things God uses to bring us His good stuff. The means of Grace are God’s Word and the Sacraments.
Now if you do not remember your catechism, a sacrament is: “A sacred act, instituted by Jesus, where Jesus joins His Word with a physical element, to give us the forgiveness of sins.” We have two sacraments in this church: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The physical element in baptism is water. The physical elements in communion are bread and wine. In Baptism, the water is joined with God’s Word and delivers faith, forgiveness, and eternal life. In communion, God’s Word is joined with the bread and wine, and the body and blood of Jesus delivers the strengthening of faith, forgiveness and eternal life. OK?
God does deal with us using external means. Our souls do not channel God’s gifts through some mystic mumbo-jumbo. God uses the Holy Spirit and things that are outside of us to get His gifts inside of us.
This is what we teach in the Lutheran Church. It is what we have taught for 500 years. While we believe this is what the Bible says, there are lots of denominations out there that believe the Bible says something else. I told you in a sermon a couple of months back when Luther had a big argument with a guy named Zwingli. Zwingli felt his human logic and intuition led him to the realization that Jesus’ body and blood could not be here. That this was just a remembrance. A memorial. But Luther believed otherwise. Because the Bible says otherwise.
Communion, the Lord’s Supper, is where His body and blood is “in, with, and under” the bread and wine. We believe this because on the night He was betrayed, Jesus took bread, broke it and said, “This is my body.” He took wine and said, “This is my blood.” To become a pastor in this denomination, I had to learn Biblical Greek and Hebrew. And I can tell you that the Greeks had a word for “symbolize.” They had a word for “represents.” But that’s not what it says in the Greek New Testament. There Jesus said, “This IS my body.” “This IS my blood.”
We believe, teach and confess in this church that the body and blood of Jesus are in, with, and under that bread and wine. This is bread and wine. And Jesus says His body and blood is here, too. And part of Luther’s genius is that he never tried to figure out HOW. Jesus said it, so we believe it. I cannot tell you exactly how this works. I cannot tell you how God is Triune (Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but one God). God is bigger than we are. He created the universe and invented physics. It stands to reason, then, that there are things about Him and things He does that are hard or impossible for us to understand. Therefore, I am here to tell you that in our church we use Scripture to interpret Scripture, and not logic and the Bible says this is bread, wine and when this is joined with the Word, it is also the “body and blood.” The Bible says we receive here the strengthening of our faith, forgiveness of our sins, and eternal life.
And Jesus backs this up in the Gospel reading today. In all this talk of flesh and blood, we believe that Jesus is referencing communion. Here’s the thing. In this Gospel lesson, there are a lot of differing interpretations of what Jesus means. For us as Lutherans, we think it is pretty clear. Jesus is talking about communion. He is talking about the sacrament He had not yet instituted when He said our text. As Peter said, “Lord, …you have the Words of eternal life.”
That is who and what we believe in. Faith needs to be “in” something. Faith needs to grab hold of something. And our faith clings to Jesus. Jesus is not a philosophy or an idea, He is a real person and true God to boot! Jesus is the True Bread that came down from heaven. That’s what He said. When Jesus uses that phrase, He is reminding His listeners of when God sent bread (manna) from heaven to feed the children of Israel in the desert after they left Egypt. While we often do not think of Bethlehem and Christmas in terms of Bread from Heaven (Bethlehem means “House of Bread), we do confess it here in the creed, “…who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.” Jesus is God, and flesh and blood. He is real. He can be touched, grabbed and known. December 25th is not a big deal to us so that we can exchange presents and get some time off. It is a big deal because God came here as one of us so that we could know Him and His plan to rescue us from our sins.
Jesus died for us, rose for us, gives us His life and He does it in a meal. A great meal. Jesus gives us life forever in Holy Communion. We look forward to a real, bodily resurrection on the last day because of our real, bodily receiving of Jesus’ flesh and blood at communion.
Coming up here and receiving communion, receiving Jesus physically, causes us to abide in Him and He in us so that we share in the eternal life God offers. This food here does not fill our tummies and give us a good burp (like we would get in going to The Garage or On the Border or IHOB), but this food here gives eternal life. That is why the earliest Christians often referred to Holy Communion as “the medicine of immortality.”
We finish with this: I do not know if this has ever happened to you, but I have taken my family out to eat and sat down with the menu having to pick something out of a lot of things I would like to eat, only to hear my kids say, “There’s nothing here I want to eat.” That ever happen to you? When Christopher and I were in Germany, when we were in Berlin, we asked for a recommended restaurant and got one. The Brasserie on the Gendarmenmarkt. We went there, and my son said, “There is nothing here I’ll eat.” Which meant there were no noodles or pretzels on the menu. It was basically a steak place. Now my son will eat a hamburger (dry, no bun), so I told him steak is sort of like a hamburger, only better. We ordered him one, he took a bite, and when asked if it was good (and I had what he had, and it was good) he said it was all right. That if he covered it in salt he could eat it.
I do not know where you are going for lunch today or what you are going to eat. I don’t know if you are staying here or leaving to go to Jimmy’s Egg. But for all of us who come here (to the communion rail), we will get Jesus, we will get the Bread of Life, and we will get a great meal. Here, we will get our faith strengthened, our sins forgiven, and eternal life. In this meal, we will be blessed. And we will like it.
In Jesus’ Name.