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.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This 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.”
Bread is Hope
A quick look at the texts for this Sunday reveals a focus on wisdom. After David dies, God offers Solomon the desires of his heart. Solomon asks for wisdom. The alternate reading from the Hebrew Bible is Proverbs 9: Wisdom has built her house. Psalm 111 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Ephesians 5 exhorts us to not live as unwise people, but as wise. Lady Wisdom is personified in Proverbs (1:20-33) and thus has become equated with the Spirit. In other parts of Scripture it is considered a gift of the Holy Spirit. In either case, this presents tempting homiletical opportunities.
For those following our five-week walk through John 6, we have been talking about bread as bread, bread as all I need from day to day, and bread as relationships. This week we take a look at bread as hope.
People cannot live by bread alone. We know we need more than just food and water. We need more than clothing and shelter. As someone once said, “You can live 30 days without food, 3 days without water, but you can’t live a minute without hope.”
We look beyond food and clothing and realize we also need safety. We look beyond safety and realize we also need to love and be loved. Today we look beyond all these and recognize that we need also meaning and purpose in life. We need a calling. We need a mission. We need to be needed. A fruit tree wants to bear fruit.
July 29, 2018 – John 6:1-21 – Bread is Bread: Physical Needs.
Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus walks on water.
August 5, 2018 – John 6:24-35 – Bread Is All I Need From Day to Day: Safety
I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry.
August 12, 2018 – John 6:35, 41-51 – Bread is Relationship: Love/Belonging
I am the bread of life, the living bread which comes down from heaven. No one comes unless the Father draws, and I will raise you up on the last day.
August 19, 2018 – John 6:51-58 – Bread is Hope: Esteem
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.
August 26, 2018 – John 6:56-69 – Bread is Living Beyond Myself: Self-actualization
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…
Maslow looks up the pyramid to a level he calls esteem. He says we need confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others.
I would take it a step further and call it a spirituality of work. Our work, whether paid or volunteer, whether in the world or in the home, is an expression of our spirituality. We all have God-given gifts that we need to put to use to find fulfillment.
Jesus expressed this many times:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free… (Luke 4:18)
My food is to do the work of him who sent me. (John 4:34)
I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. (John 17:4)
Jesus had a very clear sense of calling. Perhaps that sense of calling becomes clearer as we get older, and we look back on our lives in retrospect.
What is your calling? Aristotle is reputed to have said your vocation lies where your talents cross with the world’s need. This is a great way to think about calling. What are your greatest gifts? About what are you most passionate? What do people tell you about yourself? Take the answers to these questions and then take a look at the world. Where are the greatest needs? Where do your gifts meet the world’s needs? Find that place and you will find some of the deepest satisfaction in life, regardless of the pay. In fact, if you get paid at all, it’s like icing on the cake. People who have found their calling (or purpose) often say things like this: “I can’t believe they pay me to do this.”
We are not wired to just lay around (as appealing as that sometimes seems). Life is meant to be lived with meaning and purpose. Finding that purpose is a critical part of discipleship and finding joy in life. Parker Palmer wrote about the spirituality of work in his book The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work. Another good book is Friend of the Soul: A Benedictine Spirituality of Work.
This Sunday could be a time to talk about vocation. All the baptized have a ministry. We are called to serve God in the world, whether we are teachers, salespersons or airline pilots. How is God using us to be a blessing to others and to the world? The prayers of the church could have focus questions for prayer: Where is God in my life these days? How is God leading? What is God saying? What have I been dreaming about lately? What thoughts have been chasing me? What have people been saying to me recently?
These kinds of questions are powerful ways to listen to your life. They can help us discern where God is acting in our lives, and how God is calling. Why not give people an opportunity to pray in worship? Why not write down questions like these that people can take home and pray about in their daily prayers.
I believe congregations have callings as well. Congregations are uniquely positioned in a context that calls for a certain response. Sometimes congregations have a lot of educators, or corporate executives, or international workers. Each of these present opportunities, and calling. What is our congregation’s unique calling?
The questions one might use to get at this are, for example: What are the top 5-10 needs of this community/neighborhood/town? What would the public school teachers say? What would the mayor say? What would the local police precinct captain or county sheriff say? What are our greatest strengths as a congregation? What do we have to offer? What are we most passionate about?
I once heard Methodist pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell speak to a group of about 500 pastors. He said ministry is not as complicated as we think it is. Just make a list of the community’s greatest needs on one side of your paper. On the other, brainstorm a ministry to address that need. That’s what Jesus did. He addressed the most pressing needs of his day: leprosy, blindness, hunger, and so on. He also addressed spiritual needs by warning against materialism and drawing people to love of God and neighbor.
So what? What is the Good News for us today? How will we respond to this?
Hope and purpose are tied together. Both look to the future. When a teenager starts talking about what they want to do with their life, where they might want to go to school, or work, there is hope. When people make purposeful plans for their future, what they will do, it means they envision a future, with hope.
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
It can be overwhelming to consider how to respond to an infusion of hope. What should we do? Love our neighbor, serve those in need, pray?
Jesus makes it simple. Just, “Follow me.” I am the bread of life. Those who follow me will never be hungry. Your spiritual hunger for meaning, purpose, and joy will be filled. I believe this with all my heart. When you are sent on a mission by God, you’re not likely to get bored. When you do something that makes a difference in the world, it fills your soul.
The good news is that Jesus offers us the bread of life. He invites us to follow and trust. He invites us into a life of purpose – a calling. Eat this bread today. It will satisfy your spiritual hunger. Drink this wine, it will quench your spiritual thirst. Receive the free grace of God who loves you unconditionally with an everlasting love and invites you to be a part of the exciting mission of healing in the world.