The Bread of Life
A Homily for Lent IV
March 11, 2018
All Saints Anglican Church – Prescott, AZ
Text: Exodus 16:4-15, John 6:27-40
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
We started Lent with thoughtful words on the phrase in Lord’s Prayer “lead us not into temptation” from our dear friend Deacon Joe Mayntz. We were reminded of the importance of this prayer, and the importance of trusting in the Lord, knowing His word, and forsaking the temptation of the devil. Today we’ll return to the Lord’s Prayer yet again. For this petition from Christ is packed with theology and acts to remind us as to how we are to come to the Lord.
It acts to remind us that we are adopted children of the heavenly father. Brought into a relationship with Him through Christ. In this prayer, we are reminded that with St. Paul we can use the profoundly affectionate term “abba-Father,” that should be understood along the lines of daddy-Father when we cry out to him. While we want to be cautious and not make our petitioning to God too informal, we do know from this phrasing that the Lord holds a deep affection for His people.
We are reminded that the Father, the Lord of heavens is Holy, and his holiness flows out throughout the world and not only his holiness but His goodness and glory. We are reminded that the Lord is sovereign, that even though evil still walks this earth, even though sin hasn’t yet been stamped out that, the Lord works things out for good. That although our hearts still break, although wars still rage, one day Christ will come to judge the living and dead and will finally put to rest all sin, that His faithful children may enjoy him forever.
We are reminded that God is the great sustainer, the provider of life, of our daily bread, and not only our physical sustenance, but perhaps more importantly our spiritual sustenance and it is this point that we will spent the vast majority of the morning delving into, and so we will round back to it in a moment.
The Lord’s prayer reminds us that the Lord forgives us our sins, when we call out to him, and it reminds us that as we have been forgiven greatly, so we are to forgive all those who have committed sins against us. Finally, we are reminded that the Lord leads us into good things, and the devil will always be there tempting and trying to drag us off the straight and narrow path that leads to heavenly participation.
And so now we round back to those words – give us this our daily bread. It is a simple line, a simple petition asking for bread, for the basic staple food for everyday life in order that we will have that which we need to make it through the tasks laid before us. It is a prayer of faith that the Lord will give us all that we need. So, this morning we will not be looking at one passage from our reading but both the Old and the New Testament lessons, for we must understand that God is the provider of both our temporal or earthly needs, and the provider of our spiritual needs.
Secondly, we want to understand that Christ and Christian teachers throughout the century see this passage from Exodus as an foreshadowing or an image glimpsed through a glass dimly of the coming Christ. For it was in the desert of deliverance from Egypt that God provided good food for his nation Israel, and likewise in the spiritual desert of sin and death that surrounds us God provides Christ as a spiritual food for his people. God provides Christ as a spiritual food through whom we are made alive.
So, this morning we meet the Israelites in the wilderness, hungry, discouraged and feeling very alone. The verse preceding our reading we hear the Israelites grumble “would that we have died in by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hungry.” How often do we grumble with the Israelites! How often do we compare ourselves with others, and think, if only? If only I had a wife like him. If only my house was as nice as hers. Too often, we grumble the same as the Israelites.
If we step back and look at the whole witness of scripture, we know what the Lord is doing with the Israel. He is bringing them into the promise land, into the land that He describes as flowing with milk and honey. He is bringing them from their slavery, and hardship into their very own land, where the Lord will be their king. Yet, in their hearts they grumble. We do the same thing, the Lord is bringing us into the true land of milk and honey, he is restoring our hearts and minds, that they might be hearts that love him and minds that know him, yet too often in this process of sanctification, in our wandering in the wilderness, we grumble and lose faith, and cry out, “how long o Lord?”
So, the Lord promises sustenance, promises to rain bread down from heaven for their journey, but there’s a caveated because the Lord knows the heart of the human intimately. He says to them “the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.” What this means is – only gather the amount that you need for that day, then on the sixth day, the day before the day of rest gather enough for that day and the Sabbath.
This is quite different from the forward thinking planning of Joseph when the Israelites first go into Egypt, instead, the Lord desires that his people would cast all their care upon him. He knows that if the Israelites were to gather and gather until they had more than they needed, they would cease to trust in Him. Are we not the same? How often are we tempted to put our trust in the gift, and not in the good giver of that gift?
A good job, a warm house, a comforting prayer book, friends that love us, these are very good things, but they come and they go. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, and this is a hard truth, but the promise of the Lord isn’t that we would always have everything that we want, but that even in the silence, he is with us. So, we are reminded to throw all our cares on the Lord, and to ask “give us this our daily bread.” Nothing more, nothing less.
So we leave our Israelite friends, and we see that the Lord was faithful to them. In the evening they were given quail for meat, and in the morning they were given mana, heavenly bread to eat. In this way he sustains his people and in the same way he sustains us on our spiritual journey, as he draws us deeper and deeper into a loving relationship with Him. This is driven home in the New Testament lesson this morning from the Gospel of St. John.
We see Jesus warning those in the crowd who might follow him to not labor for food that parishes, but for the food that endures for eternity. This is another time when Jesus doesn’t answer the immediate question that is answered, but perceiving the hearts of those around him, cuts straight to the matter at hand. For many came to him who wanted something, who wanted an earthly reward – wanted healing, wanted bread to eat, wanted to participate in his grand overthrowing of the Roman empire. But Christ wasn’t there to establish a new earthly kingdom, but to become the one who would sit on the throne of David forever, He came to establish a heavenly kingdom.
So, his response seems esoteric, but it isn’t, it redirect the men whose hearts so often wander to the trivial back to a greater thing. Not to an earthly reward, but to an eternal truth, to the eternal food that does not parish, which is Christ himself. Christ, the Word of God is the food which sustains us until heaven comes. Now we will discuss this in more detail in a moment, but first we must understand the answer to the question: “what shall we do, that we might work the works of God?”
Surely, there is a check list that every good Christian must follow, a list of things that make you a good and faithful servant. For, the Pharisees were good at coming up with lists, and we are too, but Christ’s answer is uncomfortably and profoundly simple. Can we proceed into it with the humility and simplicity that the answer demands?
This answer is this: “this is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent!” We are called to believe in Christ, it is in believing in Him that the Holy Spirit is given to us, it is through the Holy Spirit that the Law is written on our heart, that God teaches us His law, and we grow ever closer to Him. It is in the simple act of saying “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief,” that we come to know Christ, that we come to be given His spirit and that we grow in His goodness.
Yet, the crowd is baffled by this response, despite being warned against signs, despite, being told “my friends, believe!” They ask for a sign! There are two things to be learned here, first, how often do we demand a sign in our life? Do we say “Lord, I know you’re good, but prove it to me.” No, the Lord wants us to believe and follow him without signs, simply trusting that He is the heavenly father, and he will give us good things.
The other part of this is a pragmatic challenge as to how we look at the scriptures. We are often tempted to think them to be dusty boring books, yet here we see people who want to know Christ, who want to follow him being ridiculous. Moments earlier he chided them for wanting a sign, and here they are ask for a sign! As we read scriptures we see how it shows vibrant life, vitality, the humor of life, but not only the humor, but our own frailty, our own forgetfulness of God’s goodness is pointed out. Scripture is very much alive and we see that in our sinfulness we often forget about how good God is. So scripture reminds us of our broken human nature and how goofy our own sin can make us look. Scripture draws us to God, and humbles us.
Christ then reminds the people that as the Lord gave Moses manna in the desert – that he will give those who believe the true bread. This true bread will bring true life and this stirs the people and they say “”Lord, evermore give us this bread!” And we say likewise: “Lord, evermore, give us this bread!”
To which Christ responds: “I am the bread of life.”
There are two parts of this statement that need to be examined – first – this is one of Jesus’ scandalous “I am” statements found in St. John’s gospel. Christ had just taught of Moses, who meets God in the wilderness, it is when Moses meets the Lord that he refers to himself as the “I am.” This statement of “I am” would not have been lost on the people. For he Christ identifies himself, says, as his father once did to Moses, by saying: “I am.” This statement of “I am” is one of the many reasons that the Pharisees thought Christ blasphemed for he was saying I am the Lord. It is in verses like these that we start to understand that Christ is the second person of the Trinity.
We must also understand what it means that Christ is the bread of life. It would be easy, and many do reduce this to be simply about Holy Communion. This, however is not what is going here. Certainly, in part, this is echoed when we celebrate the communion rite, and certainly we mystically experience the presence of Christ when we partake of the bread and drink the cup. However, this is deeper, it is more than just an allusion to our participation at the heavenly table. St. John starts his gospel by introducing Jesus as the Word of God – the word of God which Christ teaches in St. Matthew that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
It is from the Word that we get our daily sustenance. This is why we put such a heavy emphasis on the studying, the private reading of, and the fervently preaching of the Word of God here at All Saints. For it is from the Word of God that we are made alive. It is through knowing His word that we are sustained.
Now, this isn’t to say that the Communion table is unimportant. It is very important! So let us not make the mistake of going to the extreme that some of our lower church brothers and sisters have made, and reducing communion to a remembrance made quarterly or even just once or twice a year. No, just as we need to be thoroughly steeped in His word found in scripture, we need to be regularly breaking bread, and sharing the cup that we would experience the mystical presence of Christ for our spiritual sustenance. Both are important in our coming alive in Him, let us not make the mistake of divorce one from the other.
Now, this is the great promise – “he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” We come to Christ in our spiritual hunger, and he is the bread and cup that sustains us. Certainly, we have all struggled, have all seen dark times that we feel as though our spiritual or earthly needs may not be met, and grumbled with the Israelites, we would have been better off in Egypt! Yet, after the Lord has delivered us through that valley, do we not see his goodness? Do we not look back and say “did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road?”
Surely, even in our darkest of hours the Lord is with us, and here we are called to have faith that he will never leave us.
The passage from St. John leaves with a final hope – that “this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
We are promised not only that the Lord will never leave us, even in the darkest of valley, even when our hearts or minds wander to the next shiny distraction, but that he will always be with us and when we do wander he will track us down and bring us back. This is a mighty promise which we can rest in. But there is more, there is the promise of sharing in Christ’s resurrection. It is that hope that we look forward to. That on the great last day we will join with all the saints in singing praises to the Lord. On that great last day – all things will be restored to how they were supposed to be, and we will be freed from the sin which has haunted us throughout this life time.
Is that not a great promise? Our Lord is the good shepherd who will never leave us, and when all time has passed by, we will join with him in heaven. When all death has been put to death, when all sin has been judged, and mercy has been given, we will join with all the saints that come before us, all the saints that sing out today in churches around the world, and all saints that will come after us in singing with the heavenly chorus, Holy! Holy! Holy! Is the Lord God almighty!
So take heart, for we have a good father, who gives us good spiritual bread which is Christ our Lord, our sustenance throughout all days.
But now, I want to take a moment, for, it would be easy to separate the secular from the sacred. It would be easy to say “this is all great, but what has this to do with all that I must accomplish today? What has this to do with my job? My responsibilities, my obligations and my duties?”
Let us not separate the two, for just as the Lord gives us a good spiritual meat to sustain us, he gives us all the earthly gifts which we enjoy. So, we are called to give thanks and give back to the Lord that which he has given us. We are called to give thanks for the gifts that we have been given and know that he gives and he takes.
Our attitude as Christians is the cultivate a mindset of worship in all we do whether we are washing the dishes, cleaning a toilet, driving to work, baby sitting our grandchildren, having coffee with a friend, sitting in a class, writing a sermon, or participating an actual time of worship. We are to give all our tasks to the Lord in praise and adoration of him, not only that but we give thanks in all things, we rejoice whether the Lord brings rain or sun.
This is a hard thing to cultivate, but it is good, for it is in that attitude we start to see how God the Lord really is, for we see that he is working out all things for our salvation. We see that the Lord is sovereign and uses even our most difficult of days to draw us closer to Him, closer to His mercy and Love.
So we take heart, and we pray day in and day out: give us this our daily bread, the bread which we eat to sustain us through the day, and the spiritual bread of Christ that gives us true life. Let us therefore do the simple work of believing on Christ, the good sustainer and shepherd of our souls.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.