The Barrel

The Rev. Dr. John H. Pavelko

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Year B - 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

John 6:35, 41-51

Dining on the Bread of Life

John 6:35,41-51

The Taste of Great Bread

There is bread and then there is bread. Plain bread is just plain. The loaves of plain bread are mass produced in large kettles. Wheat, water, seasoning and artificial flavoring, coloring and preservatives are combined and stirred into an impersonal relationship. Bakers of plain bread watch the loaves from a distance and remain detached. Extra potent yeast is stirred into the dough to add more fluff. The bread is soft and moist. It almost melts in your mouth. But bread should be chewed and savored. It should be made of whole grains from the finest fields of Montana. When you enter the store that makes great bread you instantly know it. The fragrance of the freshly baked loaves fills the building. Your mouth begins to water. The smell alone generates a craving to taste the sweetness of the loaf.

You will also notice a difference between the people who shop for plain bread and the ones who want to dine on great bread. Purchasers of plain bread are in a hurry. Reading the label that contains the nutritional value of a squishy loaf delays them from completing their litany of errands. They cannot be bothered. They are bargain hunters. The price tag is the only label they read.

In stores that make great bread, you will find a eclectic array of people—business people in suits, multi-pierced high-school students on lunch break, a mom with a toddler in hand, a bike messenger, and even a homeless man. But they all are willing to patiently stand in line to purchase their favorite loaf—handcrafted, whole grain, crusty, and exotically flavored. Each slice is a feast worthy of royalty. Once you have enjoyed a slice of bread from such a loaf, you will regret every bite of less worthy slices. This is dining pleasure at its finest. Stores that make great bread have taken one of the most basic commodities of society to a new level in dining pleasure.

Bread as the basic component of a meal is not new. It is one of the oldest known elements of a meal. Learning to grow and harvest grain was an important step in the transition from a nomadic life to an agrarian society. In ancient times bread was fundamental to the family's diet. Throughout Israel's history, peasants would go several days without tasting meat, but a piece of bread was distributed with each meal. Crop failure would produce disastrous results. Multiple years of drought finally forced the patriarch Judah to send his sons to Egypt to buy grain. The land of the Pharaohs had storehouses filled because God had given a dream to Pharaoh that only one man could interpret—the son that Judah thought was dead, Joesph. The lost brother was reunited with his family because of the need for grain to make bread. When Israel wandered in the desert and could not grow their own grain, God provide food for them each morning called manna. It had a dough-like consistency and they referred to it as heavenly bread.

Jesus used the term as a spiritual metaphor to tell us many things about our understanding and relationship with him. However, unlike the bakeries that specialize in exotic breads and offer several varsities, Jesus said “I am the bread of life.” He is telling his disciples that their eternal survival, they salvation is solely dependent on a relationship with him. In God's culinary cook book there is only one loaf of bread that brings salvation.

The Essential Diet

The exclusivity of this claim is constantly being challenged in this age. Critics argue that there are many spiritual gurus, shamans, teachers, prophets and miracle workers who offer much wisdom and guidance in spiritual matters. They should not be dismissed because there are many roads to God. Others have argued that Jesus never made such a claim. This is the thesis of the recently popular book, The Da Vinci Code. In the early chapters, Langdon, a Harvard historian is accused of murder. Sophia, a French police cryptographer comes to his aid because she knows that he did not kill one of the men he is accused of killing, her grandfather. After barely escaping the dragnet that the French police surrounded the Paris branch of the Depository Bank of Zurich , they flee to the estate of a leading expert on the quest for the Holy Grail, Sir Leigh Teabing. This Englishman aristocrat explains to Sophia that over 80 gospels were considered for inclusion into the New Testament but the ones chosen had been previously altered by the disciples after Jesus' death. These altered texts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) present Jesus as divine while the unaltered (The Gospel of Phillip, Mary Magdalene, and Thomas, sometimes knows as the Lost Gospels) are the more reliable manuscripts. They present a more human Jesus whose romantic pursuits with Mary Madeline produced a child.

The implications of this metaphor are staggering, even beyond the ancestral claim. If Jesus was just a man then he could not have claimed superiority over any other great religious teacher. He would be just one among many important religious teachers. Also, the four gospels, may be interesting reading but they should not be treated as authoritative because they present a distorted shadow of Jesus' true teaching. Instead more time should be spent reading the unaltered gospels that present the real Jesus, the Messiah who is in tune with the feminine dimension of his personality,

Time does not permit me to throughly shred this argument into tiny pieces of confetti. I would need to present many technical components that would bore you to sleep. Therefore, I must limit my rebuttal to one theme—the reliability of the manuscripts. Even this is a difficult topic to present in a sermon. I can see some heads nodding already but give yourself a pinch if you find your thoughts wandering because this is extremely important. It strikes at the heart of the faith. How do we know that these are really the words of Jesus. How do we know that Jesus himself said, I am the bread of life? How do we know that some other person wrote those words and put them into Jesus mouth?

Faced with scores of manuscripts about the life of Jesus, the leaders of the church gathered together to determine what should be in the canon. In this usage, canon means the authentic works of God. The leaders of the church tried to determine what books were inspired by the Holy Spirit and what books were the creation of highly imaginative authors? The first step that these leaders took was to read the literature of the second generation of church leaders. These were men who had been discipled by the original disciples. For example, one church leader was named Ireneaus. He was mentored by the apostle John. The leaders of the 3rd Century tried to identify all the verses Ireneaus used from others sources. By doing this, the church leaders discovered that the writings that were most frequently quoted were—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These church leaders concluded that it stood to reason that the most frequently used gospels were more likely to be more accurate accounts, since they were written by eye witnesses. The other supposedly, “gospels” were branded as heretical and discarded.

What does this tell us? It tells us that when we pick up the gospels from the New Testament we are reading the most accurate record of the words of Jesus. And if John records that Jesus said, “I am the bread of Life,” then we should spend more time considering the implications of that profound truth than arguing about whether they are really the words of Jesus. In those words, “I am the bread of life,” Jesus makes a very bold claim.

As bread is an essential component of a healthy diet, so our Lord is essential for salvation. We can survive for a few days on other tantalizing delights but without a loaf of basic bread, we will suffer malnutrition. However, the sad reality for all of us is that we spend more time on other activities than dining upon the bread of life. Compare how much time you spend surfing the Internet instead of reading Scripture. Consider how much time you watch television rather than read. Add up the hours you spend on your hobby whether it be golf, stamp collecting, skiing, fishing, or tennis. All these activities are fun and exciting but they do not enrich the soul. They also shape our attitudes and beliefs. The Internet and television thrive on advertising. We are bombarded with ads to encourage us to put ourselves first; to indulge in the finer pleasures of life; to spend freely and worry about the consequences later. These messages contradict the words of Jesus when he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)”.

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Crossroads Presbyterian Church
1445 Welch Rd
Walled Lake MI 48390

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