Gathered in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some of us are members, some are in a new member class, some may not have been baptized yet. But one thing holds us together – our attraction to Jesus Christ.
The piano music offered at the beginning of our service was I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. It was purposefully chosen to help us reflect on our intentions today. By dedicating an hour or two of our time this first morning of the week – the Lord’s Day, we are showing our willingness to be his disciples – his students – we are a people who have decided to follow him.
Our Shift team went to another training last weekend –it marks the start of focusing on our second shift. We’re still working on the first shift – from fellowship to hospitality. And now we’re also thinking about the second – which is shifting from worship as an event to worship as a lifestyle. When you read about the first disciples Jesus gathered you will notice that they didn’t just spend time with him for an hour or two once a week. They were together every day, 24/7. They ate meals together, they ministered to the crowds together, they set aside time for private tutorials. They were with him all the time. True disciples of Jesus yearn to be with him all the time. (We then sang a song called All the Time).
A seven year old came home from school one day. “What did you learn today?” her mother asked. “My teacher said, ‘You are what you eat.’ But I’ve been thinking, if that’s true we’d better stop eating fruit loops and nuts.
You are what you eat.
Every 35 days your skin replaces itself and your body makes new cells from the food you eat. The food you take into your body literally becomes YOU.
You are what you eat.
We are still in chapter 6 of the gospel of John. We started it two weeks ago when the disciples and Jesus were followed by a multitude (5,000 men plus women and children), and out of concern for their need, Jesus took five loaves and two fish and multiplied it so that everyone was fed with food to spare. When Jesus and the disciples moved on, the crowd followed them, and Jesus accused them of simply chasing after the free food. “Do not work for the food that parishes,” he reprimanded them, “but for the food that endures for eternal life.” But they still were not following him. What he said sounded like magic so they replied, “What must we do to perform the works of God? What sign are you going to do, Jesus, so that we might believe you?”
Jesus once again tried to redirect their attention saying. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will ever by hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
This got their attention. The crowd began to complain when Jesus said this. “I am the bread of life come down from heaven?” Is he crazy? Maybe he’s been eating too many fruit loops. We know his mother, we know his father.
But from our perspective, as followers of Jesus, who believe that he is the Lord God almighty, come down from heaven, we need to consider what he wants us to know. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life….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. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”
In the beginning of the funeral service we hear Christ’s words, “I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I hold the keys of hell and death. Because I live, you shall live also.” You are what you eat. When we take Christ into ourselves we will become like him, sons and daughters of the king, heirs to the kingdom of heaven, true children of God reflecting his image to all the world
You are what you eat. Jesus is the bread of life.
The Jews in Jesus’ day knew all about the bread of life. They remembered it every Passover when the story of the escape from slavery in Egypt was told. After passing through the Red Sea these children of God followed Moses through the wilderness for 40 years. The few provisions they carried with them ran out soon enough and they felt threatened by impending hunger and thirst. But the Lord provided, giving them manna from heaven – a kind of daily bread, and water from the rocks. The manna had a very short shelf life. God to collect what they needed for that day, not try to store it up for later. Like most children, they disobeyed their heavenly Father but the manna they tried to save spoiled quickly. So year after year they learned to look for the manna, the bread from heaven that God provided them first thing every morning. It was their daily bread.
In retelling this story of God’s salvation and providence over and over, the Israelites came to understand that God was giving them more than food for their bellies. They came to see that the 40 years in the wilderness was a precious time of learning to follow, to trust, to rely completely on God. In Deuteronomy chapter 8, just before they finally enter the Promised Land, they are reminded of this. “2Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. 3He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
We can find references to God’s word as the true manna from heaven in several other places in the Old Testament. The prophet Jeremiah says to the Lord, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.” And God said to the prophet Ezekiel, “O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” Ezekiel reports, “So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.”
The Psalms confirms the taste of eating the word of God, 34:8 “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 19:10 says God’s words are, “More to be desired…than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.” Psalm 119 verse 103 exclaims, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
Eating the bread of heaven becomes a metaphor for being taught, being shaped and molded by encountering God’s word day, by day, by day.
You are what you eat. Those who eat the word of God become more and more like God.
Jesus fully understands this metaphor, and the importance of attending to God’s word. When tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread, Matthew tells us that Jesus refuted by quoting Deuteronomy 8. “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
And when we open the gospel of John what is the first thing he tells us? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” Jesus is the Word of God. And now here in John 6:36 Jesus says he is the Bread of Life, the bread from Heaven.
This puts a different spin on our request for God to, “Give us this day our daily bread.” You are what you eat.
One person who took these words to heart was Robert Raikes, publisher of the Gloucester Journal in England. He lived in Dickensian England and was concerned about impoverished children who were forced to work as early as age 4. This meant that they could not go to school – their only day off was Sunday. So Raikes created a Sunday school in 1780, held on the children’s only day off. Sunday School was created so that the children could learn to read the Bible, which was their main text book. John Wesley embraced this movement and published Raike’s letter in his magazine. The movement grew to include a quarter of all the children in Britain by 1831. Giving children a steady diet of God’s word contributed significantly to the rise of the middle class in Britain and here in America. When education was first offered to the general public as a right and duty, a steady diet of God’s word was an important part of the curriculum. People grew strong by reading the Bible daily at home, in Sunday School, and even in public schools. It was a matter of course that they would learn long passages by heart.
You are what you eat. Jesus is the bread of heaven, the Word of God. Feed on him in your heart, by faith, with thanksgiving.
Today things are different. There is a great deal of Biblical illiteracy, not only in the general public, but even among those of us who attend church regularly. We don’t know our bibles well enough to look up a passage without a table of contents or a page number. We don’t know if Zephania is in the Old or New Testaments. Many Christians still have a bible somewhere in our homes, but we are not in the habit of reading them every day. In 1992 the Barna Research Group asked a sample of US residents, “In a typical week, during how many days, if any, would you read the Bible, not including the time you are at church? Daily, 13%; 3 times a week, 32%; Not at all, 43%.
Maybe we have tried reading the Bible on our own and been disappointed. I remember getting my first Bible in 3rd grade and starring to read it and getting hung up in the first list of “begats.” Adam begat Seth and Seth begat Enos and Enos begat Cainan, and Cainan begat Mahalaleel, and Mahalaleel begat Jared, and….” What nutrition are we supposed to get out of the begats?
Someone once observed, “Some seem to expect the Word of God to hit them like a jolt of adrenaline each time they read or study it. Although the "jolt" may hit us periodically, the benefits of the Word of God act more like vitamins. People who regularly eat nutritious food receive long-term benefits, not because every time they swallow some spinach, or broccoli, they feel new strength surging through their bodies. They have developed a habit of consistently eating nutritious food because they have been told that, in the long haul, it will have a beneficial effect on their physical health, resistance to disease and, general well-being The same is true of reading the Bible. At times it will have a sudden and intense impact on us. However, the real value lies in the cumulative effects that long-term exposure to God’s Word will bring to our lives.”
So let us resolve to take up, or renew the habit of allowing ourselves a steady diet of Jesus Christ by encountering his word every day. You can use your paper bible, or download a Bible ap onto your phone, buy a recorded version to listen to. Besides just listening to, or reading the scriptures, it is helpful to study them. Members of the Tuesday evening Bible study and I would be happy to give you some names of the study guides we find helpful. Another related practices you can try is to memorize some scripture passages. I’ve given you a list of common ones to start with, but you can also just read until something speaks to your heart and then spend a week or so learning it by heart.
If memorizing just the words of scripture is challenging, try finding a hymn based on it. In place of the Psalm today we sang a hymn that Martin Luther wrote which paraphrases Psalm 130. Luther and other Protestants including our own Charles Wesley wrote loads of hymns to get the word of God into the people.
And last but not least is the practice of meditation on the scripture. “Meditate is to ponder, muse and converse with yourself silently or aloud. It is a time of reflection upon some truth or some aspect of the person of God. It has been likened to the calm and leisurely way in which a cow chews its cud. Meditation can come after our morning study in which we have felt that a certain verse has particularly spoken to our hearts. Write thoughts down. Share them with someone.” (Jean Gibson – on-line library of brethren writers)
Live by the scripture – try it out – apply it to your personal life – let it change your understanding of God. “Application is the fruit of your study. It brings you to face what you intend to do about what you have read. Bible study is intended to change us, to bring us into conformity with Christ and to a fuller appreciation of God. Information without application is a miscarriage of the intended purpose of Scripture. Look for promises, warnings, commands, examples, sins and encouragements or truths about the character of God. Earnestly beseech God to speak to you through His Word while you study. Wait on God when necessary and do not rush in and out of His presence. Write down each day what you have learned in a notebook or devotional diary for future study and reference. Use the personal pronoun “I” when you write an application. Use a verb of action to indicate what you intend to do. Eliminate weak or impersonal observations about Scripture from your study. Do not be an avoider. God is willing to be your Teacher if you truly want to learn at His feet.” (Jean Gibson)
Jesus is the bread of heaven. You are what you eat. As you come forward for communion this morning, let it be a sign of your commitment, of your willingness to dedicate some portion of each day this week to feasting on the word. Let us pray for one another that each of us will grow in making a steady diet of the good news of Jesus Christ which leads to everlasting life.