Bread for the Journey

Since we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth, make us hunger for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven. Amen.

Ephesians 4:1-16 Common English Bible (CEB)

Unity of the body of Christ

4 Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

God has given his grace to each one of us measured out by the gift that is given by Christ. That’s why scripture says, When he climbed up to the heights, he captured prisoners, and he gave gifts to people.[a]

What does the phrase “he climbed up” mean if it doesn’t mean that he had first gone down into the lower regions, the earth? 10 The one who went down is the same one who climbed up above all the heavens so that he might fill everything.

11 He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. 12 His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ 13 until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. 15 Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, 16 who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.

John 6:24-35

24 When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Bread of life

26 Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. 27 Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One[a] will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”

28 They asked, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?”

29 Jesus replied, “This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.”

30 They asked, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”[b]

32 Jesus told them, “I assure you, it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread from heaven to you, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 They said, “Sir,[c] give us this bread all the time!”

35 Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Bread for the Journey

There are some things that are so basic to our human need that our bodies won’t survive without them: like food, oxygen, and water.  I believe that God’s presence in our lives is that same kind of basic human need, too.  It seems to me that we will feel so spiritually hungry and thirsty if we don’t know God that we will seek to satisfy this deep need somehow.  And sometimes we seek to satisfy the need for a relationship with God in all the wrong ways.  

After all, God created us to walk in God’s presence.  Do you remember Adam and Eve?  Their job was to walk with God in the garden and to be God’s companions.  And if we aren’t walking in God’s presence, I think we feel something is missing in our lives.  I think we wander without purpose until we rest in God.  I think we search for fulfillment in all the wrong places until our souls are finally and fully satisfied with the bread of life.  We all need to be fed spiritually throughout the journey of our lives.
  In his best-selling book called, “Into Thin Air,” Jon Krakauer writes about the hazards that some mountain climbers faced as they attempted to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Andy Harris, one of the expedition leaders stayed at the peak too long and on his descent, he became in serious need of oxygen.
Harris radioed the base camp and told them about his predicament. He mentioned that he had come across a supply of oxygen canisters left by the other climbers, but they were all empty. The climbers who had already passed the canisters on their own descent knew they were not empty, but full. They pleaded with him on the radio to make use of them but it was to no avail. Harris was starved for oxygen, but unbelievably he continued to argue that the canisters were empty.  The lack of oxygen had ravaged his capacity to recognize what was right in front of him.

What oxygen is to the body, the Bread of Life is to the soul.  Some of us think we have things all figured out.  Maybe we are doing just fine under our own power.  Maybe we even come to church every week.   And yet we are starving for more, and sometimes we don’t even know it.   (Brian Bill in “The Bread of Life” on www.sermoncentral.com.)  I have to think based on my own experiences that if we aren’t walking with God, there is a hunger within us.

       Our bodies need oxygen and food and water.  Our souls need the bread of life for the journey.  We all need to be fed, don’t we?  Every person here today is at a different place in his journey of faith.  Some of us have not yet admitted that we have a need for God.  Some of us continue to walk right past the God who has been calling us since the day we were born.  Some of us are not really sure we need God.  Some of us think God is ok for other people, but not really necessary for me.            

         If this is where you find yourself today, Jesus says: “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  Whoever comes to me, I won’t send away.”  It is an invitation, and it is a promise.  You will never regret coming to Jesus, and your life will never be the same when you do.

Some people here today are a little farther along in their faith journey.  In today’s scripture, the crowd asks Jesus for more signs and miracles.  The crowd probably has some belief in Jesus.  They have just witnessed Jesus feed 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish.  And Jesus warns the crowd, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life.”  The crowd is focused at “stomach-level rather than spiritual level.”  Jesus had satisfied the crowd’s physical need, and now they expect more of the same from him.  The crowd is not seeing the bigger point – they are missing the most important thing.  One writer said that Jesus “challenges the crowd to raise their eyes to see beyond the physical realm.”  (Donovan, Richard, SermonWriter, August 2, 2015).  And so maybe you are at the place in your journey where Jesus is challenging you to a higher level.  

Much of Jesus’s ministry involves providing for peoples’ physical needs, and Jesus never says that that is not important.  But there is something deeper going on here.  I think Jesus is saying, “I didn’t just come to give you bread to fill your bellies, I came to show you that I am the bread.  I came to show you that God will provide for your deepest needs.  I came to show you who God is and how much God loves you.  I came to bring the presence of God into your lives – to radically change your lives – so that you would live in the joy of the Lord.  So that you will never be hungry or thirsty.  So that your souls will be satisfied.  And so that you will have eternal life.”

But don’t we sometimes do exactly what the crowd did?  Don’t we get caught up in talking with Jesus about physical needs?  We pray for loaves and fishes, and better jobs, and raises, and to win the lottery.  We pray for all kinds of physical needs – and that’s ok.  But how often do we pray for the deeper things?  

Do we pray for God’s presence?  

Do we pray that God would give us spiritual gifts to use for God’s kingdom?  

Do we pray that God would use us however God sees fit, or that God would lay us aside if it is necessary?  

Do we go, when God says “go?” Do we listen, when God says “listen?”  Do we stop, when God says “stop?”

In Paul’s letter to Ephesus that you heard earlier, Paul said that “God’s goal is for us to become mature adults – to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ.”  Paul basically says, “It’s time to grow up, Ephesians.  We aren’t supposed to be infants who are tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from deceitful teaching or scheming people.”  Paul calls them to “grow in every way into Christ.”   Ephesians 4:12-16.

Some of us may find ourselves at this point on our spiritual journey.  We have come to Jesus.  We believe.  We have experienced the bread of life.  But maybe the bread is kind of dry.  Maybe it is time to grow in every way into Christ.   Maybe we are ready for a richer diet.  

When my son Mark was a kid, he had some pretty strange eating habits  – a diet that we very un-rich.  Every time we went to a salad bar, Mark would only get peaches and croutons.  He was missing out on all the other wonderful things right before him on the salad bar – the spinach and the cottage cheese and the olives and the cucumbers.  No matter how we tried to convince him what he was missing out on, he stuck with peaches and croutons.  Now he realizes what he was missing out on!   As Mark has matured, he’s learned that the salad bar is about more than just peaches and croutons.  So, I want to convince you today, to give up the peaches and croutons!  Branch out into a more mature diet.

Maybe, today’s scripture is calling you to a deeper and more mature walk with Christ.  We all need to be fed.  We all need to be fed every day.  And although we may start out thinking peaches and croutons are the most satisfying thing ever, there is so much more that we can experience when we receive the fullness of the bread of life.  Jesus came so that we would be fed well – richly, abundantly in overflowing measure!  

And the amazing thing about God’s love, the amazing thing about the bread of life, is that it is free – it is there for the taking.  There are no strings attached.  We don’t have to earn or deserve it.  The bread of life is there for us to receive.  

But it is up to us.  God is not going to pry our hands open and force us to receive God’s life-giving presence.  We must open our minds and our hearts and our hands to accept God’s grace.  

And so I urge you today to make a plan.  We will never mature in Christ if we are haphazard about it.  We have to be intentional and disciplined in our spiritual lives to grow.  And it sure helps to have someone to be accountable to.  For me growing in Christ, is just like exercise.  I need a time and place every day to work on my spiritual disciplines.  And when I have someone holding me accountable to that, I can really mature in Christ.  If I don’t schedule it and plan a time for God, and turn off the tv and put my phone away, it’s not going to happen – my life takes over and so many other things that really don’t matter at all take the place of my spending time with the creator.  

So this week, would you ask God to show you a way to grow deeper?  Would you ask God to show you the time in your day that you can spend seeking God through prayer and scripture reading, through studying or worshipping?  Would you ask God to show you where you need to become more mature and how that can be accomplished?  Would you ask God to revive you and bring your spiritual life to a whole new level of maturity?  These are the kinds of prayers that God longs to hear from his children!  These are prayers that God delights to answer.

Your starting point might be as simple as listening to praise music in your car or as challenging as reading the whole Bible. Or God may even call you to grow in Christ by showing compassion to the world or by working for justice in a world that is in desperate need of the bread of life.  If you ask, and if you listen, I promise God will show you how to grow – no matter how crazy your life is.  And God will lead you deeper in your faith no matter how mature in Christ you already are.  I promise God will show you how to grow.  

Jesus challenged his disciples to be fed with the bread of life so deeply that they would never be hungry or thirsty.  And that is my challenge for you today.  Ask God how you can grow, and commit to becoming more mature in your faith daily.  It is not easy.  It is so difficult in our busy lives to force the noise aside.  But that makes it even more important.  We have to be fed constantly, or we can never survive the chaos of the world.

Don’t let a busy, crazy life be your excuse for missing out on the life-giving love of the God.  Why in the world would we settle for peaches and croutons when a feast is prepared for us?

Jesus said to the crowd: “The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  And the people said, “Sir, give us this bread all the time.”  Give us this bread all the time!

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Let us pray.

God of love and bread of life, we are starving for you.  And yet we walk right past you.  I pray that each person in this sanctuary would experience your sustaining presence today.  I pray that we would open our eyes on our journey to .  I pray that we would not just seek God for our physical needs, but that we would grow mature in Christ.  God show us the way.  Show us this week, a specific way that you would want us to become more mature and more complete.  And God help us to put you first in our lives.  Help us to put aside all the lesser things that interrupt and keep us apart from you.

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