Sermon for August 15, 2021

JOHN 6:51-58

“Eating Bread”


        According to an issue of Smithsonian magazine (March 2014) in 1961 Michael Rockefeller, a son of then-New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller disappeared in the jungles of New Guinea while collecting artifacts from a Papuan tribe. His body was never found.In this same area today exist remote tribes that have rarely or never seen a white person. They can be suspicious and untrusting of people from the outside. They call white people Laleo (ghost demons) and their legends warn that when the laleo come their world will end.

    Also, according to the magazine, “some (of these tribes) are said to kill and eat male witches they call khakhua. They practice cannibalism. Because of their limited understanding of illness and disease, when someone dies if the dying person identifies someone as a khakhua, that person is considered responsible for causing the person’s death. The khakhua is considered an evil spirit that comes disguised as a relative or friend of a person he wants to kill. “The khakhua is said to eat the victim’s insides while he sleeps, replacing them with fireplace ash so the victim does not know he’s being eaten. The khakhua finally kills the person by shooting a magical arrow into his heart. So, when a person dies the family will seize the person identified by the one dying as a khakhua and kill and eat him. When asked if they eat their enemies or those they kill in battle, one tribe member replied “We do not eat humans, we only eat Khakhua.

    Now I will spare you the gory details the article had in giving an account of their killing and eating one of their fellow tribe members who got so identified, but it seems we can accurately guess at what happened to Michael Rockefeller. While the article was interesting, I would have to say that I am sure most of us probably find the discussion of cannibalism repulsive. Most people in our world would. The people in Jesus’ time would similarly be repulsed by the thought of cannibalism. It is not what you come to church for, and yet today as Jesus contends with those who came to him, because they ate their fill of the five loaves and two fish, he tells them, “Truly truly, I say to you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.

    As I was first reading through the scriptures in my younger days, this was one verse that I put a question mark by. Why would Jesus say such a thing? Does he want us to be cannibals? That is a repulsive idea. In the Old Testament in Leviticus and Deuteronomy there are several places where people are instructed in making sacrifices not to drink the blood, but to pour it out upon the ground. The idea of consuming blood or cannibalism was way outside the boundaries of acceptable thought among the people in Jesus’ day, just as much as it is for us today.
If you want to be a Christian, you must eat the flesh of Christ and drink his blood. Who can understand that? Who can follow such thinking? What could Jesus have possibly meant when he began to tell the people that his flesh was food and his blood drink?

    Well earlier Jesus said that he is the bread of life. Now this parable strikes up an interesting analogy, that can help us to understand what Jesus meant.
Bread, can be eaten/sustain our physical bodies. In Jesus time bread was a very important part to their meals. Often all they may have had was bread and drink. In some ways this was their meat and potatoes. They might not always have fruits and vegetables, or fish or meat to eat, but flour was generally available and so it was not too difficult to make some bread for a meal, and with that they were able to provided their bodies with the health and vitality that they needed to live.
The Bread of Life therefore should be as the substance that nourishes our very lives so that not only are we alive, but we truly are living. Bread made from flour is life for the body and the “Bread of Life” is life for the spirit and soul.

    Jesus is life to us. This is what Jesus was trying to teach us. It is good to have food to eat, but even more important is having a life that is worth living. In other words, you are not truly alive until you are spiritually alive, and that is something that can only come from God. It is something that specifically can only come from Christ; for Jesus said that he is the bread of life. We must by the grace of God possess the life of Jesus within us to truly be spiritually alive. As John’s Gospel teaches us, (John 1:12) “But to all who received him, who believed upon his name, he gave power to become children of God.” Just as eating bread enables the body to live, so Jesus within our lives enables our spirits to thrive.

    Now we understand quite well what regular bread is about. It is made up of wheat, water, yeast, salt. These are some of the ingredients that nourish us, but what makes up for us the bread of life?
The Bread of Life is composed of the very flesh and blood of Christ. As
Jesus said My FLESH TRULY IS FOOD AND HIS BLOOD TRULY IS DRINK. This is what truly nourishes us spiritually. The difference however is that you can physically eat real bread, but you can not physically eat the bread of life. So, the question has to be asked, “How are we to take in this bread of life?” How are we to eat?

    I think this is what it means. First the flesh and blood of Christ refers to Jesus’ death. I knew of a minister who was once asked to say grace, and so he prayed something along these lines, “God thank you for this food that you have set before us; we thank you for the animals and plants that have been nourished by the richness of the land and have given up each of their lives so that we might live.” Then, he prayed mentioning every item of food and calling into remembrance where it came from, the field and the farm, and thanking God for the sacrifice that was made for the benefit of those who eat of it. Later many people told him that they felt his prayer was wonderful, but they were not certain if they wanted to eat afterwards. His prayer perhaps brought the sacredness of life a little too close for some people, but how true such a prayer is.
Christ death brings us a very special nourishment as well. In the New Testament, Christ’s death is mentioned over 1,300 times. It reminds me of a
religious plaque that I am certain many of you have seen. It usually has a picture of Christ on the cross, and the writing says something like: One day I asked Jesus how much he loved me. Christ then stretched out his arms and died.

    To eat the flesh of Christ and to drink his blood first directs us towards realizing that Jesus died upon the cross for our sakes. He gave up his life so that you and I might live. Within his death is the nourishment for our souls. Jesus did not mean that we could literally eat his body and drink his blood, but his words were spoken to demonstrate the sacredness of his life that he was willing to give up for our sakes. Do not let the words of our Lord discourage you as it did many in his time. Jesus was using these words to describe how closely we must identify ourselves with his death. If Christ had not died for you, then you would not be alive unto God. You would still be dead in your trespasses. Just as you consume the life of another living thing to remain physically alive, so you must partake in the death of Christ in such an intimate manner that you may be spiritually alive. that is one thing that Jesus was talking about.

    Secondly, the flesh and blood of Christ is referring to his life. As I contemplate the life of Christ, I believe that Jesus was a person that was most alive unto God. Read the parables that he has given to us closely and carefully. The parables of Jesus were not just the telling of good stories, but the parables were an outpouring due to Christ desire to describe what was within him.

    The old saying comes back to us, “You are what you eat.” That is very true when you think about it. Your body is constantly repairing and rebuilding itself. Most of the cells in your body today are not the ones that you were born with, and it is from the foods that you eat today that your body gains the substances and building blocks for sustaining itself.

    Should we not surely make the bread of life as much a part of us as bread made of wheat. So much of the time we can spend our lives consuming junk food for the heart and soul. Many things that you can watch on TV, or read about, or talk about they might not really hurt you if you keep your life in balance, but they certainly will not help you either. Our world is filled with junk food for both the body and soul, and we really need to be aware of that, and therefore fill our lives with the work and presence of Christ. As it says in Philippians, (4:8) “Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. “

    Why should we dwell upon the things of God? Because it feeds the soul. Our lives should be an effort to consume and become a part of the life that Jesus had. The whole death and life of Christ should be consumed by us; become intimately a part of us.

    Often People are obsessed with food and eating, but what a difference it would make if we were equally obsessed with the heavenly food that Jesus is seeking to give us. Is your spirit and life hungry for that which will truly satisfy and fill you in such a way that you will never want or need anything more; then come to Jesus. He is the Bread of life that will feed you. Amen.

Published by Rev. Russell

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

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