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Saturday, 28 January 2012

John 6 verses 25-35 The Bread of Life

When I was doing the research for this homily, I came across a story that I think fits in quite well with this morning's Gospel reading, so I'd like to share it with you. It might also serve as a warning to those of us who preach sermons!

An elderly minister was searching in his closet for his collar one Sunday morning before church. In the back of the closet he found a box with three eggs and a stack of $1 bills. He asked his wife if she knew anything about the box. She said that she did, and in fact she had hidden it there for their entire 30 year marriage. The minister asked "Why". She replied, "Every time I heard you preach a bad sermon, I put an egg in the box". The minister felt that 3 bad sermons in 30 years wasn't anything to feel bad about, so he asked her about the stack of money. She replied, "Every time I got a dozen eggs, I sold them to the neighbours for $1 ".

Jesus said, "I am the Bread of Life". Does that phrase cause images of cannibalism to run through your mind? It might.......if you are a person who, like most fundamentalist preachers, takes a literal interpretation of what the Bible says. However, as a minister I know once said, you can't take the Bible literally. You have to remember the context of the times during which the books of the Bible were written.

Although the Jews took the phrase "bread of life" literally, it actually refers to the spiritual food offered by Christ. By eating the spiritual food, we will have eternal life because we gain faith through the spiritual food He offers. This spiritual food is offered through Christ's human nature, which He gave up on the Cross to pay the price for the sins of the world. Man needs to receive the Grace and Spirit of Christ in order to ensure salvation. Spiritual happiness on earth and in heaven are expressed by eating and drinking. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that those who partake of the Holy Spirit are made to drink into (or of) the Holy Spirit. Christ is the Living Water which sustains all of us spiritually. If we drink that water, we will never be thirsty spiritually.

There is an interesting comparison that can be made here to the Holy Eucharist. The physical food of bread and wine represents the spiritual food that Christ offers when we have faith in Him, especially when we remember the words of the Prayer After Communion as printed in the Book of Common Prayer-"...the spiritual food of the most precious body and blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, assuring us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us". By consuming the bread and wine, we are in effect partaking of His divine nature, so therefore we live in Him and He lives in us. When we eat Him and feed on Him and His words, we enjoy spiritual freedom.

When we find that God really cares about freedom, we are then free to care about the freedom of others. The love of God satisfies our hunger and thirst for love when we have faith in Him. When that hunger and thirst are satisfied, we begin to experience a glorious love for others, and we can then follow the Golden Rule-"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". When we partake of the spiritual food in faith, we can then go out and do our part to fulfill the Great Commission-"Go forth into the world and make disciples of all the nations". We fulfill this role by sharing God's love in practical ways such as volunteering in our church or community, or by helping the less fortunate as we do when we donate non-perishable items to the local food bank. When we are satisfied with God's love, we have assurance of eternal life, and when we eat the spiritual food, we are energized and charged by the love of God.

The phrase "bread of life" is an echo of the phrase " the living God", a reflection of Christ's divinity. There is support here for self-giving like Christ gave His life for us, but the life He offered for us on the Cross can only come from God. God is love, so the spiritual food God wants to give is the Love of God. Jesus is the love of God made visible. Like John 3:16 says "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son...". To ensure eternal life, we must do three things:

• Continue to feed off of His body-that is, to keep partaking of the spiritual food He offers

• Continue to believe

• Keep His word

By doing these three things, we continue to do His will.

We continue to feed off of His body by regular attendance at worship services, especially when the Eucharist is not celebrated. We can't expect to attend church only a few times in our lives and expect that the small amount of spiritual food we receive at these times to sustain us all the time. Just as we need to partake of physical food on a regular basis in order to live, we must partake of spiritual food on a regular basis in order to live spiritually. That is why many of us attend church services on a regular basis. Those who attend church only for weddings, funerals, baptisms, Christmas or Easter only receive a small amount of spiritual food-an amount so small that spiritual life dies. On the other hand, those of us who attend church on a regular basis and worship in deep and sincere faith get so much spiritual food that we end up at a special place at the head table of God's Holy Feast.

Participation in the Lord's Supper is not absolutely necessary for eternal life. That is why we have services such as Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. If we turn away from His teachings, especially by not attending church when Eucharist is not celebrated, or when the service is not from the Book of Common Prayer, or if the service is not from the Book of Alternative Services, we exhibit a lack of saving faith. The Eucharist is only part of our expression of faith just like the Last Supper was only part of the expression of the love Christ had for people and His disciples when he walked on the face of the earth. While the Eucharist is an important part of the spiritual food God offers, He also offers spiritual food at times when we celebrate Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer. The spiritual food offered through lay celebrants is just as important as the spiritual food offered through the priest and the Sacraments. Spiritual food is more than just the rites of the Eucharist. It is also offered through the prayers in all church services and the homily offered by the celebrant. Al we have to do receive the spiritual food is to believe in faith, and it will be offered to us in plenteousness.

I recently read a report by the African Institute for Contemporary Mission and Research. One of the topics in the report that surprised me is that although Africa has a wealth of natural resources, many of its people are dying as a result of disease and hunger caused by conflicts over the poor management of these resources. This famine prevents them from enjoying the banquet of God's Kingdom. Just like these people are suffering from both a physical AND a spiritual famine, we here in the Western world are experiencing a spiritual famine caused by declining church attendance. As I mentioned earlier, we need to continually partake of God's spiritual nourishment on a regular basis.

You might recall the parable of the woman at the well-the woman who had five husbands and was living in a common-law relationship with another man. She came to that well seeking the water that satisfied the physical thirst, but she found the water that quenches the spiritual thirst-namely, faith in Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Like many of us today, she was looking for something to satisfy physical needs, but unlike many people today, she found something that can satisfy our true spiritual thirst-namely, faith. As it says in Psalm 107:9 (New Living Translation), " He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things".

Have you ever been so thirsty that no matter how much you drink, you're still thirsty? I certainly know the feeling, and it makes me appreciate how long distance runners must feel especially on a warm day. There is a story about a long distance runner who foolishly decided to prove his stamina by running a race without drinking any water during the race. His foolishness resulted in permanent damage to his health. Just as the runner foolishly ignored his physical thirst, it is foolish for us to ignore our spiritual thirst. We need spiritual vigor in our lives to sustain us in faith, and the only way spiritual vigor can be sustained is for us to partake of the spiritual water God offers us on a regular basis.

God offers this spiritual food and water when we come to Him in faith by prayer. Prayer in faith is like the umbilical cord that attaches an unborn child to its mother. It allows us to draw nourishment from a source that we, like an unborn child, can't understand-namely, God our Heavenly Father. His love and nourishment so overwhelm us that we can't take it all in at once. You may recall the parable of the loaves and fish, especially the part where the disciples gathered up enough leftovers to fill twelve baskets. The leftovers represent the parts of God's spiritual food that we can't absorb all at once. That is why we need to keep partaking of the spiritual food He offers.

When we partake of the living bread and water, we are filled with power and strength, just like we are filled with power and strength when we partake of physical food. This power gives us the strength, wisdom and courage to walk with God in faith. The apostle Paul wrote, "I can do all things in Christ which strengthen me". When we have faith in God and partake of His spiritual nourishment, nothing is impossible for us!

There is an old adage that many computer users are familiar with-"garbage in, garbage out". It means that if we put garbage or wrong data into a computer, we will get garbage as a result. The same truth applies to the nourishment we receive. If we eat physical food that is not nourishing, our health will eventually suffer. If we put garbage into our soul by not partaking of God's Holy Nourishment, our spiritual health will suffer. Someone also said once that "A mind is a terrible thing to waste". That's true, especially if we foil our mind and soul with garbage. If we as believers focus our minds on what we want to mentally chew on, we will draw closer to God in faith, and be assured of both eternal life and God's holy blessings.

We must be careful however not to take God's blessings for granted. We need to keep relishing and noticing these blessings by continually partaking of His spiritual food. In Revelation 3:20, Jesus himself said, "If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me". Most important; however, is the need to be thankful for the spiritual food and the blessings it brings. We must always allow these blessings to draw us closer to God in faith, hope and love.

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