A sermon, based on John 6.35, 41-51, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, August 12, 2018
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger. Whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
Bread. A universal metaphor for elemental nourishment that satisfies bodily need, thus, sustains life. Jesus identifies himself not only as a giver of bread, but also as the bread, thus, proclaiming to us that he gives and is life eternal, and, that by faith in him, the promise is ours.
This sounds like good news. This is good news. But where are we, how are we really “when,” as the hymn sings, “the woes of life o’ertake (us), hopes deceive and fears annoy”?(1) When our lives and the lives of those we love are assaulted by illness or injustice, natural calamity or human iniquity? When our hunger and thirst for relief is not satisfied and quenched? When Jesus seems more absent than present? When what we observe about our lives in this world contradicts our faith-experience, verily, challenges our belief in faith?
This is the predicament at the heart of the encounter between Jesus and the crowd. They knew or thought they knew so much, too much about the way things are. Who Jesus is. His parentage and place of birth. Who God is. The One who fed their ancestors bread during their wilderness trek from Egypt to the Promised Land. Therefore, Jesus can’t be the giver of bread! Jesus can’t be bread that came down from heaven or from anywhere else!
Funny thing about knowledge; that compendium of time-tested-and-trusted-truths wrought from the application of our reason to our experiences. Knowledge can blind us, leaving us unable to see and recognize this ultimate truth: There always is more to know. The more we know, the more we know we do not know. And if…as this is true of the natural world, how much more true is it of God?
Alexander Pope opined: “A little learning is a dangerous thing.”(2) A little learning can lead us to think that we know more than we do know, more than we can know. A little learning, in spiritual matters, can limit our sense, our assurance of when, where, how God speaks, Jesus appears, the Holy Spirit moves in the circumstances of the world around us and in our lives.
Now, we are not called to forsake our knowledge, reject the use of our reason, debunk our history and experience. These are useful, even essential in charting the course of our lives. Yet none – not our knowledge, not our reason, not our history, not our experience; individually or in whatever combination – can provide absolute answers for the conundrums we encounter in this world. None can offer the perfect plan to guide our life’s ship safely across the deepest oceans or to navigate carefully to avoid crashing into the rockiest shoals of this existence.
If anything is universally true about this life, no one – no matter how much education, money, achievement, self-and-public esteem we have attained – is free from suffering. “The woes of life” o’ertake all of us. “Hopes deceive and fears annoy” all of us. Illness and injustice, natural calamity and human iniquity affect all of us.
Nevertheless, or perhaps because of all this, the good news is that Jesus always stands with us, especially at times he seems distant, even absent, saying, “I am the bread of life.” Jesus, who willingly bore the cross of death for our sake, does not spare us from suffering and physical death. Yet Jesus will not, will never suffer us to lose our hold on life eternal. Though we die, we shall not die forever. Even more, as we live, by faith, we have eternal life now. And nothing, not illness or injustice, not natural calamity or human iniquity can sever Jesus’ loving hold on our souls.
(1) From the hymn, In the cross of Christ I glory; words by John Bowring (1792-1872)
(2) Alexander Pope (1688-1744) in his “An Essay on Criticism” (1709): “A little learning is a dang’rous thing; drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain and drinking largely sobers us again.”