Ephesians 6:10-20 – Put on the full armor of God.
John 6:56-69 – Eat my flesh for eternal life. This is a difficult teaching; who can accept it? Does this bother you? Do you also wish to go away? Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Bread is Living Beyond Myself
We have been in a series called Jesus, Maslow, and Bread. We have worked our way up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to talk about the things we need to live.
- July 26, 2015 – John 6:1-21 – Physical needs: Bread is Bread.
- August 2, 2015 – John 6:24-35 – Safety: Bread Is All I Need From Day to Day.
- August 9, 2015 – John 6:35, 41-51 – Love/belonging: Bread is Relationship.
- August 16, 2015 – John 6:51-58 – Esteem: Bread is Hope.
- August 23, 2015 – John 6:56-69 – Self-actualization: Bread is Living Beyond Myself.
Jesus says we cannot live by bread alone. We need more. In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches his followers not to worry about the basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid: food and clothing. “Do not worry about your life: what you will eat, what you will drink, what you will wear…” he says. “Seek first the kingdom of God.”
In John 6, Jesus has consistently invited us to look higher on the pyramid. “Do not strive for food that perishes, but the food that endures to eternal life.” Don’t worry so much about the tangible, material things. Seek the intangible, spiritual things. What is eternal life? Jesus provides the answer to this in John 17:3:
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.
Eternal life in John is knowing God by knowing Jesus. It is not pie in the sky when you die. Eternal life begins now, it is deep and wide, not linear, something that will come in the distant future.
John 6 is a self-contained unit, in which we find one of Jesus’ many discourses in the fourth gospel. Devoid of parables, John’s gospel instead has these discourses, often in conjunction with one of his seven “I am” statements. The “I am” statement in John 6 is the first of the seven: “I am the bread of life.”
- I am the bread of life. (John 6: 35, 41, 48, 51)
- I am the light of the world. (John 8:12, 18, 23)
- I am the gate (John 10:7, 9)
- I am the good shepherd (John 10:11, 14)
- I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)
- I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6)
- I am the true vine (John 15:1, 5)
By saying “I am the bread of life,” and “those who eat this bread will never be hungry,” Jesus is not promising to satisfy our physical hunger, but rather our spiritual hunger. “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus doesn’t want us just to have life. He wants us to have LIFE.
We have talked about many of the non-material things we need for life: love, friendship, community, belonging, meaning, purpose, hope, joy, and more. This week we reach the top of the hierarchy to talk about what Maslow calls “self-actualization” or “self-transcendence.”
The fullest expression of life is self-sacrifice. “Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus says, “to lay down your life for your friends.” Giving ones life is a tremendous act of self-sacrifice. What on earth would move someone to give up her or his life for the life of another? It would take a cosmic awareness of one’s place in the world. To give our lives might take the most intense kind of love, like the love has for a child. This is hard to imagine. For some it is impossible: to imagine giving my life so that another might live.
Jesus says, “If you would be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” To be a follower of Jesus is to be willing to see the world, and ones own life, with new eyes.
Maslow talks about self-actualization, or self-transcendence, as morality, creativity, and lack of prejudice. These are timely words with all the talk going on about race. The shooting in Charleston has made us aware of something that has been under the surface for some time. No one is without prejudice. It’s just that some are more aware of it in themselves than others. Too often we confuse racism with bigotry. People assume that because they don’t feel overt feelings of hatred in themselves, that there is not racism built into the system and even our way of life. To reach this highest level in the pyramid is to become aware of our prejudice and to begin to dismantle it. Those who say they don’t have any prejudice or racism have not yet scratched the surface of this realization.
Self-actualization or self-transcendence is coming to terms with our limits, our mortality. According to Maslow, this level of need is reaching one’s full potential. It is seeing that that there is more to life than accumulation and self-satisfaction. It is learning to find the incredible joy of satisfying the needs of others. Some sociologists call this generativity. They claim it only comes with age. I would give it a simpler name: generosity. We spend the first parts of our lives struggling to get what we need for life. We gather, earn, collect, accumulate. With maturity, a time comes when things mean less, and less is more. We find more joy in giving than receiving.
By Maslow’s criteria, very few people ever find their way into this category. Most of us remain so consumed with getting what we need – food, shelter, safety, love – that we simply don’t have time for these “higher things.” The death of Jesus models for us an almost unattainable kind of love. It is a willingness to let go.
Those who want to save their life will lose it,
but those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
– Matthew 16:25
The preacher might look to the martyrs and saints for examples of this kind of living. Who are some modern day martyrs to whom we might point, those whose love called them to live beyond themselves?
Throughout this series, we have seen Jesus turn Maslow’s hierarchy on its head. Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you. Maslow claims most people never reach the higher levels of greater purpose or creativity because they get stuck in the lower levels of simply staying alive. He’s right of course. Most of us don’t look to the higher things because we’re so worried about the lower things. Even if we are armed to the teeth, we still obsess about safety. Even if we have so much food that most of the country is obese, we still worry about not having enough food. Even though our homes are three times the size they were 50 years ago, and we store our things in storage facilities (barns?) we still fret about not having enough stuff. What is thirst when the well is full, Khalil Gibran asks, but a thirst that is unquenchable?
So what? What is the Good News for us today?
The good news is that God has provided us a way to satisfy that nagging hunger we have, that too often we try to satisfy with things. Jesus is the bread of life. Eat this bread, follow Christ, and you will find an abundance of hope, purpose, and meaning. You will find your life overflowing with generosity. Drink of this cup, and you will never be thirsty again. Note, this does not mean that you won’t have trials or struggles. This does not mean you will become wealthy. It does mean that you will become rich, however, in the ways that really matter in life. It does not mean that you will find the perfect job, or the perfect spouse, but you will find Love with a capital “L.”
How will we respond to this?
Invite people to respond by asking themselves what really matters in life. Perhaps you can engage them in an exercise. If you knew that you would have enough food, clothing, healthcare, and shelter for the rest of your life, what would you do with your life? If someone gave you enough money to live on for the rest of your life, how would you respond? What if you were Bill Gates? To what would you devote yourself? I had a friend who used to ask, “If you could do anything with your life, what would you do? And why aren’t you doing it?”
Maybe in week five you can pull it all together with a summer’s end feast. Talk about bread as the way we live our lives in the world. Our lives are our witness. Maybe you can finish up with a second offering of money for world hunger and in-kind for local needs. I hope you’ve enjoyed thinking about what it means to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” I hope people have had the opportunity to think about the higher needs we really have in this life. I would consider leaving them with this:
Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God* and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
– Matthew 6:31-33