A sermon preached on John 6:35, 41-51 on Sunday, August 12, 2012 at Peakland United Methodist Church.

Dust was flying through the air as the children ran back and forth kicking a soccer ball.  Spanish and English floated above heads as college students from the United States were playing futbol with Costa Rican children while on a mission trip to the shantytown Los Diques.  As the ball flew past Paul, one of the American college students, the Costa Rican children laughed that they had gotten the ball past him.  But Paul’s attention had left the soccer game.

In the distance, Paul noticed something.  Or, rather, someone.  Sitting next to an electrical pole that didn’t work, in tall green grass that hadn’t been cut, was a toddler.  Paul walked over to the electrical pole as the soccer game continued.  He picked up the small boy who was wearing only a diaper, and carried him into the church.

Paul writes

This was the first time I met Jabel.  He was two at the time.  He lived in a small two-room house that sat across the dirt road from a church and next to the shantytown’s trash pile.  At random times during the week someone would come by and set the trash on fire to burn down the pile.  The smell of burnt trash would drift into Jabel’s house

His single mother worked in coffee fields all day.  She would walk about 20 minutes from the shantytown into the nearest city to ride the bus thirty minutes to the coffee fields.  During the day, she left her three boys, Jabel and his two older brothers, at home by themselves.

Even though Jabel’s mother loves him deeply, she struggles to put bread on the table.

The average person in the world will eat one small meal today, and this was true for Jabel and others like him in the shantytown of Los Diques.  Hunger is a reality that hurts.

In Biblical times, hunger was a reality that was not overlooked.  And it is this context of hunger – a universal experience –  that Jesus spoke what became controversial words: “I am the bread that comes from heaven.”

In verse 41, John tells us that the Jews started complaining because Jesus said, “I am the bread that came from heaven.”  This statement aroused anger and anxiety in the people.   This is in contrast to the response Jesus got in last week’s reading from John 6, where the people wanted more of Jesus. They sought him out.  But not this week!  Here they complain!

They didn’t seek understanding or clarification.  Instead they murmur and complain.  “How can this be?” they ask.  These words from Jesus cause them to remember how their ancestors wandered around in the wilderness (murmuring and complaining, none the less), and how Moses provided them with manna from heaven.  “The giving of the manna,” Biblical scholar William Barclay writes, “was held to be the supreme work in the life of Moses and the Messiah was bound to surpass it.”  And so, here is this Jesus who claims to be the Messiah, with no manna from heaven.  Instead, he calls himself that bread from heaven.

With this one statement, Jesus calls into question everything the people had believed and held as truth.  Not only was Jesus changing their way of understanding “bread from heaven,” but he was changing their understanding of being in relationship with God.  To be in relationship with God meant believing in Jesus as the Christ.

And their way of coping with this, was to complain.  And why not?  It’s so easy.

A monk joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. After the first 10 years his superior called him in and asked, “Do you have anything to say?” The monk replied, “Food bad.” After another 10 years the monk again had opportunity to voice his thoughts. He said, “Bed hard.” Another 10 years went by and again he was called in before his superior. When asked if he had anything to say, he responded, “I quit.” “It doesn’t surprise me a bit. You’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here.”

But seriously, when it comes to growing in our faith and in our relationship with God, complaining gets in the way.  You know why the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years?  Because they were complaining so much.  Look at Jesus’ answer in verse 43: “Do not complain among yourselves.”  The Message puts it this way, “Don’t bicker among yourselves.”

Jesus calls it as he sees it.  Complaining gets in the way of spiritual growth.  Jesus offers to us the Bread of Life, the nourishment that will keep us individually and as a community of faith, from wandering in the wilderness.

Irenaeus, an early church theologian, was asked what new thing has Christ brought that others do not give us, he replied, “He brought himself.”  The bread from heaven that Jesus brings is himself for the spiritual self of humanity.  “He is,” Irenaeus says, “as necessary to us as our food.”

We may not be hungering for bread like Jabel, but we hunger in a spiritual way. And Jesus says that he is the bread that came from heaven, those who eat of this bread will live forever, and be hungry no more.  A hunger that can be fed through Jesus Christ.

For it is through a relationship IN Christ that we, as the workmanship of God, are able to share the Bread of Life with those who are hungering.  We, as the Apostle Paul tells us through his letter to the Ephesians are to live the life which we are called.  Those of us who claim Christ as Savior are called to be Christians, which can be simply translated as “little Christs.”

In the 1992 Walt Disney film, Aladdin, the title character goes through some extreme measures to get a loaf of bread, including running away from the Sultan’s guards.  As an adolescent living on the streets, Aladdin knows that this loaf of bread could possibly be the only food he’ll have that day.

As he’s about to bite into the bread Aladdin notices two small children digging through trash, searching for something to eat.  In that moment, Aladdin becomes a “little Christ,” generously giving his bread to the children.  As Frances Taylor Gench, of Union Seminary in Richmond says, “No image could convey more clearly Jesus’ power to nourish and sustain human life and to address our ultimate hunger – the hunger in every human heart for relationship with God.”

We are called to do the same – to share the Bread the Life with those who are hungering.  When Paul says in Ephesians 5:1 that we should be “imitators of God,” this is what he means.  We – in every way, on every day – are to imitate the God we say we love.  Whether that be in Central America, right here in Lynchburg, or even within the walls here at Peakland; packing lunches or giving money to support a feeding program; we are called to imitate the Christ.

So, I ask you how – where – are you being called to imitate Christ by sharing the Bread of Life?