Oct. 9, 2016 Sermon
Be the Bread of Life
Have you ever been desperately hungry or thirsty? I think everyone has. But once, both hit me at the same time when I was lying in the hospital after a surgery. The day before the surgery and the day of the surgery, we are not allowed to eat or drink anything; so on top of fear and anxiety, I suffered hunger and thirst. It was the hardest after I woke up from the surgery. I was so thirsty that day that I kind of felt like the rich man in hell asking Abraham to send the beggar Lazarus for just a fingertip full of water. I wanted to cry out, “Why did you wake me up so I can suffer?” No, I’m joking; actually I spent that painful time praying. But you know what happened the next day when I was ready for food and drinks? I was so hopped up on pain medicine that my tongue couldn’t handle a sip of water.
I know that some of you can relate to my experience suffering from hunger and thirst. Now imagine you are really hungry, not because you are going through surgery and recovery but because there is no food. Think of how much you would suffer, not only from the hunger pang but also from sadness and misery you would feel. Now in that situation, someone comes to you and offers you a piece of bread; how would you feel? Overwhelming emotions, tears of joy, or “Oh let me kiss your feet, my superhero!” Am I right or am I right?
When we read this story in John’s gospel about Jesus being the bread from heaven, the first thing we need to understand is that a lot of people during Jesus’ time, especially those who followed him, were poor and often hungry. Interestingly, the location where today’s scene happens is where Jesus fed the 5000 people at the beginning of the same chapter. This is not a coincidence. People were hungry listening to the teachings of Jesus, then he fed them using five loaves of bread and two fish. Since his followers know what hunger feels like, Jesus uses this parable of the bread from heaven to teach them to seek the eternal and heavenly values. Parables are highly cultural because the audience should be able to relate to them. Those of you who are my Facebook friends, a little while ago, I posted a modern day parable of the kingdom of God that read, “The kingdom of heaven is like spending all night looking at memes, and then when you finally find that really hilarious one, you send it to all your friends and tell everyone about it the next day”. People who use social media laugh at it and understand the message because they can culturally relate to it.
The followers of Jesus understood what it’s like to be hungry and thirsty, so when Jesus said, “I am the bread from heaven” or “those of you who come to me will never hunger or thirst”, his followers understood exactly what it meant and how it would feel seeking the reign of God that Jesus preached. Jesus used the image of bread as a metaphor for God’s kingdom (or “eternal life” as it is usually called in John’s gospel). But this bread is not perishable like the one we actually eat. The “bread” that the Son of Man offers lasts for eternity. Can you imagine being told you will be hungry no more when you had to struggle to get enough food all your life? That is why most of the followers of Jesus were poor people who were in need of some serious hope. Jesus and his message of God’s kingdom was this serious hope that the poor and the marginalized needed. This message of seeking food that lasts for eternity instead of perishable food is connected to other gospel messages; for example, do you know the story in John chapter 4 where Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well and tells her that the water he offers will never leave her thirsty again? Also in Matthew chapter 6, Jesus teaches that God will take care of all our needs so we should stop worrying and seek first the kingdom of God. “Do not spend too much energy pursuing mundane things, and instead pursue a greater cause; spend your energy on working for God’s kingdom”; this is the message we hear from today’s gospel text.
We are meditating on this message on this Thanksgiving Sunday and the last Sunday of Creation Time. Since it is Thanksgiving, naturally we will think of all the blessings we have received and be thankful for them. But as members of God’s community, feeling thankful and happy is not enough. We are called to be active members of this community and to realize God’s reign here on Earth. As the people of God who received both the bread of heaven and bread of the Earth, how should we respond to the gratitude we feel for our blessing? Since Jesus and his message on God’s kingdom became the bread of life/ bread of heaven for us to enjoy for eternity, we should in turn become the bread of life and hope for others in our world. We received God’s love and blessings; pass them on! The hope and joy of God’s kingdom is not to be hogged. It is meant to be spread. As it says in the internet meme about God’s kingdom, “The kingdom of heaven is like spending all night looking at memes, and then when you finally find that really hilarious one, you send it to all your friends and tell everyone about it the next day”. The joy of God’s kingdom should be passed on.
In the Deuteronomy text we read today, the people of Israel are commanded to pay tithes in their new land. When God blesses their crops in the new land, they should pick from the first produce of the ground to offer to God because God has blessed their land. The crops offerings in the ancient times functioned in a similar way as our taxes. They remind us that we are interdependent, and the blessings we received should be shared communally and benefit everyone. Pay it forward. Pass it on. That’s why we give offerings for the church ministry and our mission projects.
Christianity is a religion of action. It’s a religion of love, but love is not love without showing it with words and actions. Love is action. So as we share in the Lord’s Table today (again), and share the Thanksgiving meal with our loved ones, let us get out to our community and the world to pass on the bread of life, the blessings that we received; with our deeds of love. Let us love our neighbors with our loving service. Let us love God’s Creation with our pro-environmental lifestyle. If we believe that God gave us the blessing of life and love, we should pass them on by giving others the blessing of life and love (and yes, even God’s creatures that are not human). Let’s go out and be Jesus’ action heroes. Let us be the bread of life in the world.
Rev. Sunny Kim