Sermon for August 8, 2020

“Finding Bread”

John 6:35 41-51

 

A number of years ago, Mrs. Maria Rubio of Lake Arthur, New Mexico, was rolling out tortillas for lunch when she saw something that took her breath away. Looking back at her from a flat tortilla was the face of Jesus! The skillet had burned a perfect impression of a slender, bearded face onto the surface of the bread. She convinced a reluctant priest to bless the piece of bread, then she built a shrine around it. Mrs. Rubio quit her job so she could devote all her time to tending the tortilla shrine. Friends, neighbors, even strangers stopped by to look at it, or to pray in front of it. Mrs. Rubio, who also prayed nightly in front of the tortilla, has said, “I do not know why this has happened to me, but God has come into my life through this tortilla.” (Bob Greene, AMERICAN BEAT (New York: Atheneum: 1983), pp. 34-36.) Of course, the rest of the story goes that in 2005 they took the tortilla to school for show and tell, and someone dropped it and it broke into pieces. The shrine was then closed following the tortilla’s demise.

    I know that that story may make you smile a bit, but we also know that Mrs. Rubio’s story is not an uncommon story. I once met a man who ran a local car wash and he showed me a picture that had been taken during a thunderstorm, and sure enough up there in the clouds was the shape of a robed person with his hand outstretched over the storm. It looked like Jesus.

The human mind tends to recognize faces and searches for images that are familiar, and so we see these things in a cloud, a mountainside, or a picture of Mars. Usually seeing a pig in the clouds is cute and funny, but when people see Jesus, it can be life altering.

     I once read an article of medical test that examined the effect of religious activity or memories upon the brain. They were surprised to find that religious behaviors caused the brain to become very active in certain ways. The article suggested that human beings were in a sense hardwired to be religious in nature. Perhaps it can be argued that we were so created that we should naturally be in search of God. The act of worship and seeking for ultimate meaning in life is a part of being human. Perhaps this reality more than any other explains why the apparent image of Jesus found among the random occurrences of life becomes significant to us.

    The truth is that we want to see Jesus. We want to find God. It is normal for humans to seek for a connection to the divine. But sometimes we do not know where to look, and thus we grasp at even the random realities of life. We look for Jesus even in tortillas and clouds. I wonder how much of human searching for inner fulfillment, love, intimacy in life, or a sense that life counts for something is really nothing more than a search for God.

    The question for us then is where and how are we to really find God? If by divine design religion is a part of being human, and seeking out God is hardwired into our being, where are we to look? Is there a direction that God has called us toward?

One year on vacation my family went back to Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio. It is a great place to hike around. At one location, the Cantwell Cliffs, I said to my son, “You remember this place don’t you. The last time we were here we got lost.” We wander off to an edge where the trail just sort of quit, and we had to retrace our steps. He replied, “Yeah I remember, that’s the time you fell down.” (It must have been a rather epic misstep on my part) I remember that I was a bit bedraggled by the time we got back. My wife was waiting at the top of the hill, getting ready to call 911. All because I missed a turn in the trail. That second visit wasn’t a problem because I found that they had put up better signs.

I must conclude that maps and directions are good things to have, and the fact is that God has given us solid directions when it comes to finding him. We simply need to look toward the person of Christ that God sent into the world. In him is a clearer picture and better information than what can be found in any tortilla or cloud. We don’t have to wonder off into the lost corners of the universe in our search for God.

    The people of Jesus day ate of the loaves of bread, and then they searched of Jesus because they wanted more bread. Perhaps they believed that God was in having full stomachs. Their minds were on never having to be hungry again. Jesus offered them not more food for the body, but he offered them his body as food. He told them; “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” By this point, the people should have realized that Jesus was not talking about ordinary bread, but he was identifying himself as the one God had sent into the world. He was saying that he was the messiah. He was the real presence of God with them.

    The truth for us today is that Jesus still is the one through whom God’s truth and presence comes. We have a definite direction that leads us to God and brings us into that connection with God that every human soul really is seeking for.

 

Jesus said I am the bread of life.

 

    At the burning bush (in the story of Moses in Exodus 3) Moses asks God his name, and God replies, “I Am who I Am,” and the implication in Exodus 3:14 is that it is this one, Yahweh, the “I Am” who speaks the word “May you be.”

     In seven places in John’s gospel Jesus repeated the I am statement,     

{“I Am the bread of life” that YOU MAY BE a Bethlehem (literally “House of Bread”) that brings the message of a Savior for a hungry and thirsty world.

    “I Am the light of the world” that YOU MAY BE a beacon to the world’s benighted and all who are stumbling in the dark.

    “I Am the gate” that YOU MAY BE gates through which the hurting and hungry find pasture.

    “I Am the good shepherd that YOU MAY BE caretakers and compassion-givers of those who have gone astray.

    “I Am the resurrection and the life” that YOU MAY BE brought back to life and alive with energy.

    “I Am the true vine” that YOU MAY BE filled with new wine, that you may turn water into wine, and that from you may “flow rivers of living water.”

    “I Am the son of God” that YOU MAY BE sons and daughters of the living God.

    God says “I AM WHO I AM” that you may say, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”} (author uncertain)

 

There is definition and direction in life and a relationship with God through the words and person of Jesus. Still the people baulked at this understanding. They said among themselves, we know him and his family. We know where he came from. How can he claim that he came down from heaven? He is nothing special. They could not perceive the truth of Jesus words and even today people fail to see who Jesus really is, and what he can do for them, even though the truth is right before them.

People may not come to church because they figure they know what the church is about. They have heard it all before. People may not pick up and read their Bibles, because what significance can an old book have to a modern world? Are we not wiser and smarter today? Don’t be surprised, during the social debates of our age, if you hear someone telling you why the Bible is not the word of God, and why it should be dismissed. People don’t necessarily accept the answers God has given us.

    To these objections and attitudes Jesus made an interesting statement. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.” In Theology we use the word prevenient Grace. This speaks of how the grace of God is active upon us even before we have made a decision for Christ or even acknowledged God’s existence. It is the grace of God that draws us to God. Maybe in some ways a tortilla with the face of Jesus is part of God’s prevenient grace. Surely if the human mind is so structured that religious activity has a positive effect upon it, then that is part of God’s prevenient grace. The Bible tells us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That is an active definition of prevenient grace.

Ultimately truth is found in faith, and faith is the assurance and certainty of what God has promised us. We gain this when we can accept the good news when we hear it. All of this is God’s doing.

The greatest problem with finding the true bread of life, and eternal salvation, is that God has left his treasurer in plain sight and reachable by all, and people live with too much ego and pride to accept it. The people of Jesus day they looked at Jesus and could not see him as anything more than they. However, after the resurrection the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5,

“And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

 

We live on the side of the resurrection that should leave us with no doubt about the extraordinary nature of who Jesus is. God has not hidden the truth from anyone but made it plain to all. Yes, God has sent reminders in the world around us, God has hard wired our minds to be religious in nature, God has given us the witness of Christ and the disciples, God has given us words of prophecy within the Bible, God has poured out his spirit upon all who call on the name of Jesus, and God has continued to reveal truth to us through the lives of others. The bread of heaven has come down and been broken before us and scattered among us so that no one should ever be hungry. We but need to believe and receive.

God’s gift of life and truth is ever before us and even within us. From a perspective life is saturated with this truth. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life: whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty . . . For I am come down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”

This is the bread that we have found that feeds us unto eternal life. Eat and live forever. Amen

Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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