I am continuing our series today that focuses on being fed to feed using these bread of life discourses throughout John 6. I’ve been calling it “carb loading” since Jesus seems to be talking a lot about bread. No worries, this will continue for a few more weeks. As an extension of what we’ve been talking about I am going to focus a bit more on relationships today. My friend Steffen and I have been friends since we were in 7th grade, so 12 or 13 or so. We have been through a lot together. He was in our wedding. He was one of the first people I told I was going to seminary. We share a wonderful sense of humor and both value not only this friendship, but friendships in general. He also likes to torture me by sending me screen shots of my sermon from Facebook with me making weird looking faces almost every single Sunday. And I do believe that God brings people in our lives for a moment, a season, or a lifetime. Steffen and I are lifetime friends.
I hope you all have lifetime friends in your life. These are the folks you know you can count on no matter what. These are the people who have seen you at your best and at your worst. These are people who (as I jokingly tell Steffen) aren’t getting rid of you now because they know too much. We cover a variety of topics in church but one thing we may not talk about a lot is relationships. We talk about the bible, communion, baptisms, even bathrooms (at least around here) but we don’t talk a lot about relationships. I think this comes from the relationships we have being easy and not that we don’t have any relationships. In fact, maybe you don’t even think of the relationships you have at church as relationships and perhaps that’s because there are so many of you that are related. We’ve got the Petersen’s, the Petersen’s, and the Petersen’s, unless, that is, you’re a Peterson. Don’t ask me “Howe” they’re all related, Mommsen’s the word.
But,I think because we have so many families in the congregation, that is what makes our congregation so unique. The friendships made are real, and people are friends because of biological connections and maybe in spite of biological connections. People have often referred to these relationships as church family. If you have a wonderful, life-giving, biological family, seeing church as a family can be comforting. If your biological family or family of origin wasn’t that great, church as a family can be troubling. One of the biggest components of being a Christian and being a disciple is being willing to be in relationship with one another. We are fed by our relationships that are grounded in Christ and then, in joy, we feed others (and are fed by others) so that our relationships grow and the kingdom of God grows.
Three times in this text, Jesus refers to himself as bread. He says “I am the bread of life” twice (6:35, 48) and the “living bread that came down from heaven” (6:51). The people that would have heard Jesus speaking of himself like this at this time would have had a bit of historical context. When Jesus spoke of himself as manna, that should have set off little light bulbs for those gathered. Manna isn’t just a meal. Manna wasn’t a snack that got the Israelites through a tough time in the desert. Manna was literally a life saving meal. Had the Israelites not gotten manna in the form of food or drink directly from God, they would have died. But, God offered the Israelites manna in the wilderness despite the fact that the Israelites did not trust God to provide for them. God provided anyway. In the same way, Jesus provided for 5000 people with plenty to eat with leftovers. And why? Because God so loved the world (see John 3:16-17).
Both the Israelites who received manna from heaven and the Jews who received bread and fish for days were saved by God, literal salvation from God, but neither group has learned to trust in God. Well thank goodness we’re not like the Israelites or the Jews! Oh wait…. When Jesus says that those who believe will have eternal life what he could be saying (or what it could be translated as) is those who trust will have eternal life. God, through the actions, words, and movements of Jesus Christ keeps showing us over and over and over again that we should trust that God is who God says and that Jesus is who he says he is. In short, God desires a relationship with us. And the kind of relationship desires with us is a lifetime one, not a relationship for a moment or a season. Jesus is the living bread. Those that believe in Jesus are promised an eternal life. Again, in short, those who believe are promised a relationship.
If we are going to take seriously what Jesus says (and we should) then we believe that he really is the bread of life that is sent from God. Because God so loved the world. God didn’t send us Jesus, the bread of life, the living bread, so that we simply can get by and be okay. God sent us Jesus so that we may thrive and truly live. Because “God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God loved Jesus and sent us Jesus. And then Jesus loved us, all the way to the cross and beyond. This means that God loves us as well. This is a relationship.
Unlike our human relationships, the one that God has with us never ends. It may have its moments where it is reciprocal. But often, it is God that has a hold of us and not the other way around. Many Christian denominations will encourage (almost borderline demand) that you have a personal relationship with Jesus or with God. Here’s the problem with that: many times it sounds like we are doing all the work. “I’m reading my bible to get closer to God” or “praying makes me feel like I’m one with Jesus” even “serving others makes my faith grow and my relationship with God becomes stronger.” While all of these are fine in theory, the relationship is mainly on us when we use that kind of language. Then, when life goes wrong, as it can, will, and does, we blame ourselves and our lack of faith. God does not look for opportunities to punish us. For God so loved the world includes us.
Rather, the relationship God has with us is all about God. God will always be holding us, reaching out to us, comforting us, loving us, providing for us, no matter what we do. This bread of life, this bread that came down from heaven is for us, and it is given to us, and the only thing we have to do is believe. And if we struggle with belief, God will find another way to help us understand. Why in the world do you think we’re spending 5 weeks hearing all the different ways that Jesus talked about himself being bread. He was going to keep doing it until the disciples, the Jews, and all gathered believed it. Jesus is going to keep telling and showing us who he is until we believe it. It is a relationship of a lifetime that feeding us so that we can feed other people. This bread of life stuff isn’t just literal life saving bread and drink in the middle of a desert journey. It isn’t just wheat, water, and a little of this and that to get us through the day.
Jesus, the true bread of life sustains our souls. It is the thing that reminds us at the end of the day that we still belong to someone even if we think we have no one. When Jesus declares that he is the bread of life he is speaking of more than food that feeds our bellies, he is speaking of more than food that feeds our souls, he is also speaking about food that feeds our hearts with the gift of relationship. And this relationship of God to Jesus and then Jesus to us has the ability to keep us fed for life so that we can feed others. Because again, God so loved the world. We are in relationship with the Triune God and we are in relationship with one another; bread for the world and bread for one another.