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Pentecost 11 August 9, 2015 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
Pentecost 11 Proper 14 Year B
1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, August 9, 2015
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell

If we had been children
in first-century Israel
and our parents
had told us Bible stories,
those stories would have been, of course,
from the Hebrew Scriptures,
which were not the “Old Testament”
in those times
but the only Testament.
Stories to capture
a child’s imagination,
like the wonderful
bread-in-the-wilderness stories
that our lectionary has paired with
the “bread of life” readings
          from John’s Gospel . . .
Good stories
for suppertime conversation.
The prophet Elisha
feeding a hundred people
with just a few barley loaves
brought as a first-fruits offering
          to God . . .
and it was more than enough,
for God had said,
‘They shall eat,
          and have some left.”
Moses leading the people of Israel
out of Egypt,
and the flaky manna,
the sent-from-God
“bread from heaven,”
falling down every morning like dew
on the wilderness camp
for the people to gather, and eat.
the prophet Elijah,
on the run in the wilderness . . .

(It was a dangerous time
to be a prophet of the Lord.
For King Ahab and Queen Jezebel
worshipped, not the God of Israel,
but the pagan god Baal . . .
and sought to get rid
of any troublesome prophet
who dared speak against them.)
Alone and despairing,
Elijah took shelter under a solitary broom tree
and fell into exhausted sleep
only to be awakened by an angel . . .
to find a cake of bread
baking on the sun-hot stones,
and a jar of water
for his thirst.
Food and drink that sustained him
for forty days and forty nights.
Bread from God.

From those stories
and others like them in our Scriptures,
we would have learned
that God is
the giver of life,
the source of all we would ever need,
the provider of bread
          in the wilderness.
But what would we have thought
if, in the latter part of the first century,
(assuming we had lived to a ripe old age)
what would we have thought
if we encountered, as adults,
the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel
and John’s understanding of Jesus
as himself the very bread
given by God
for the life of the world.

like most devout Jews,
we’d have found that notion
or absurd,
or even blasphemous.
Our reading of John’s sixth chapter
began two Sundays ago
with the story
of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of 5,000 people
with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish . . .
with more left over
than he had to begin with.
For John,
the miracles of Jesus
are important
not in themselves,
but as signs,
signs pointing to
who Jesus is.

like God,
feeds God’s people
in the wilderness,
bringing out of seeming scarcity
an overwhelming abundance.
For John,
the story serves as the foundation
for Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse
which we’re hearing
over these several Sundays.
John building on that foundation
his theology
of the identity and meaning of Jesus.
The next layer happens
in the synagogue at Capernaum,
Jesus continuing his teaching:
“I am the bread of life.
Whoever comes to me
will never be hungry,
and whoever believes in me
will never be thirsty.”

The first of the seven “I am” statements
in John’s Gospel . . .
Jesus identifying himself
in the same way
God identified God’s self to Moses
at the burning bush . . .
“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’                 [Exodus 3:14]
God said further,
‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites,
“I AM has sent me to you.” ”
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”
To his listeners in the synagogue,
a shocking appropriation
of God’s own Name.
And adding to the offense,
the assertion that,
“I am the bread
that came down from heaven.”
The Jews who began to complain,
(and we might well have been among them)
simply couldn’t see it.

They already knew where Jesus was from –
and it certainly wasn’t heaven.
It was Nazareth,
an inconsequential village
in the Galilean hills.
(Well, actually,
because of the census
          he’d been born in Bethlehem,
but he’d grown up in Nazareth
          and lived there all his life.)
They knew the man
          they thought was his father . . . Joseph . . .
          and they knew his mother, Mary.
So what could Jesus possibly mean
by this bizarre pronouncement
that he had come down
from heaven?
For John,
Jesus is the fulfillment
of those old feeding stories . . .
the new manna,
the new abundance,
the new life
          that changes everything.
“I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness,
          and they died.
This is the bread that comes down from heaven,
          so that one may eat of it and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”
giver of life,
source of all we will ever need,
provider of bread
          in the wilderness,
God has come in Jesus
to live among us,
to be the living bread that sustains us
          in our wanderings
                    through this world,
food imparting the very nature and life of God
          to all who receive it.
This, too, is a sign . . .
for we know that
whatever feeds us must first die.

Bread is made from grain
that lies buried in the earth,
watered by spring rains,
warmed by summer sun,
it rises to new, golden life . . .
only to be cut down in its prime,
ground into flour,
and baked into loaves,
which themselves
must be broken
to be shared.
Jesus, the bread of life,
gives his life to us
through his own
dying and rising,
a sign of how we are to be
with one another and in the world . . .
as Paul tells the Ephesians:
“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children,
and live in love,
as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us
a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

We, too, are to be
          a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Like the bread we bring to the altar
          every time we celebrate the Eucharist,
we, too, are to be
          taken, blessed, broken and shared.
In the eating and the drinking,
we become what we receive,
the very Body and Blood of Christ,
          given for the life of the world.
Jesus’ final words in today’s Gospel
tells us where the bread of life discourse
will take us the next two Sundays:
“. . . the bread that I will give for the life of the world
is my flesh.”
“My flesh.”
A saying that will give offense
not only to the Jews
          in the synagogue at Capernaum,
but even to many of Jesus’ own followers.
What are its implications for us?
To be continued . . .