8-19-12 is Pentecost 12B – Eat this Bread

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 – David dies. God offers Solomon anything. Solomon asks for wisdom.
or Proverbs 9:1-6 – Wisdom has built her house.
Psalm 111- The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
or Psalm 34:9-14 – Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Ephesians 5:15-20 – Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit
John 6:51-58 – Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. The one who eats this bread will live forever.

This week we get the text of God offering Solomon anything he wants. He asks for wisdom. This text can be followed by Psalm 111: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Or you can use Psalm 34: Taste and see that the Lord is good, which fits with the gospel reading. You may recall we used several versions of Taste and See at the synod assembly this year (for example, ELW 493). Some of you are preaching in Ephesians during August. We get this interesting passage from Ephesians 5 which tells us not to be drunk with wine, but to be drunk with the Spirit.

In John 6:51-58 Jesus says he is the living bread, come down from heaven. The bread I give for the life of the world is my flesh. John rightly reflects the Jewish leaders balking at this. The idea of eating flesh and drinking blood in the name of a god was a pagan practice. One might drink wine in a feast of remembrance, like Passover, but one would never drink the blood, even symbolically of a person. Drinking blood was strictly forbidden in Jewish circles. Some of this conversation clearly reflects a later wrestling with these polar tensions.

Jesus says, “Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have Life within you.” I think all of this relates back to the Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus offers physical bread in that event to satisfy a physical hunger. He then tells his followers to seek instead for bread that does not perish. Jesus is always pointing us to the spiritual. Jesus is offering himself as food for spiritual nourishment. It is a mystical statement.

As preachers, how can we help people look beyond the plain objects of this life, the matter, and look to the spiritual things, things that have eternal value? In I Corinthians 13 Paul says everything we know will one day pass away, and that only three things will endure (to eternal life): faith, hope and love. Things that are material pass away. Things that are eternal last forever. Jesus is inviting us to participate in eternal life in the here and now. On earth as it is in heaven.

Brian Peterson reminds us that John does not have words of institution, or even a cup at a Last Supper. That’s the stuff of the other three synoptic gospels. Many scholars suggest that while this may be heard as a Eucharistic statement in our churches today, it probably wasn’t meant so by John. Peterson reminds us that for Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin, eating is a metaphor for believing in Jesus.

This is a very Johannine theology. Jesus is the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. We are invited to take this flesh and eat it, in the same way Ezekiel is asked to eat the scroll in Ezekiel 3. Ezekiel is to devour the Word of God. We are invited to do the same.

So what is John’s message to today’s congregations? Perhaps that Life with a capital “L” is found in Jesus. Hope is found in Jesus. Joy is found in Jesus. Eternal life is found in Jesus. It is an invitation to put ones trust completely in Jesus for all the intangibles that are necessary for life.

So when we say, “Eat this bread,” we are not just inviting people to take communion. We are inviting them to take this Jesus into the innermost places of their lives, to put their trust in Jesus as a way of life. And we are given the promise that by eating this bread we will find eternal life.

The congregation’s question will be the question of the crowd in John’s gospel. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” How might this happen? How might we eat this bread of life? The preacher might imagine practical ways in which this might happen, to help people put this passage to work in their lives this week.

  • Through prayer.
  • Through reading Scripture.
  • Through following Jesus, doing what he did in serving, loving neighbor, eating with outcasts and sinners, caring for the poor, welcoming strangers.
  • Through taking communion, ritually taking Jesus into ourselves, inviting Jesus into our lives.

These may be some ways of eating this bread, taking this Jesus into ourselves. When you do, the promise is that you will abide in Christ, and Christ in you, and you will have Life within you. You will be filled up with bread, like in the feeding of the 5,000, only spiritual bread. This Jesus bread will satisfy your spiritual hunger. Has that been true for you? If so, then preach about how this has been true. Make it real. The promise continues, you will be raised up on the last day, and have eternal life. There is a promise of the resurrection in this bread. The Life that Christ offers is Life for now and also life in the future that we cannot possible see.

This bread and cup we take in worship is a sharing in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is an invitation to be filled with spiritual sustenance, to be filled with life, hope, peace, love and joy. Are you ready?

About michaelrinehart

Bishop of the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
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