So, let's do that this morning. Here we are on a hilltop by the lakeside. But the lakeside isn't Skaneateles, this morning. We're on a broad grassy field on a hill on the west side of Lake Chinnereth, also known as the Sea of Galilee. It's a warm sunny day in late April. This field is far from the nearest town. The rabbi, Jesus, and his closest followers are over there, sitting in the grass. Before we join them, let's remind ourselves what's been happening recently. They've had a busy week. Jesus' disciples have been baptizing crowds of Jews, even more than John the Baptist. Word reached the Pharisees. To avoid confrontation, Jesus and his disciples leave Judea and head back up north here to Galilee. On the way, they pass through Samaria, where Jesus speaks with a woman at Jacob's well, while his disciples are off in town buying food.
You recall how Jesus offers this Samaritan woman living water. Pointing to the well, he says, " Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water that I give him will never suffer thirst any more". Meantime, the disciples get back from town. "Rabbi, have something to eat." But he says, "I have food to eat of which you know nothing." The disciples say to one another, "Can someone have brought him food?" But Jesus says, " It is meat and drink for me to do the will of him who sent me until I have finished his work."
After a few days more teaching and converting Samaritans, Jesus sets out for Galilee, saying, " A prophet is without honor in his own country." The Galileans have seen Jesus' miracles in Jerusalem, and they remember his turning the water into wine at the wedding in Cana. Jesus does several more miracles of healing in Galilee. And crowds follow him.
This is the backdrop. Now here we are in the grassy field on the hill beside the lake, where Jesus has come with his disciples. There is Jesus. He is speaking with the disciples. Jesus looks up, and he sees a crowd, thousands of people who had seen the healing miracles and have followed him up the lake to this remote hillside. Jesus speaks; "Philip, where are we to buy bread to feed these people?" The gospel tells us Jesus says this just to test Philip. After all, Philip and the other disciples saw the miracles, they heard Jesus say He had food to eat of which they knew nothing, that it was meat and drink for him to do the work of the Father.
What would we say in Philip's place? "Lord, aren't you the bread of life? You handle it, Lord of life?" No. Philip says, " $1,000 bucks wouldn't buy enough to feed all these people." Good job, Philip. Andrew, Peter's brother speaks up. There's a boy here with 5 barley loaves and two fish, but what good is that with so many people. Well, at least he checked to see what they had on hand.
Jesus says, "Tell them to sit down." They sit. Jesus blesses the food, thanking the father. You know, the regular blessing of the bread; "Boruch ato Adonai Elohenu melech ho'olom. Ha'motsi lechem min ha'oretz." Then, Jesus passes the morsels of food to the disciples, who in turn, pass out the little bit of bread and fish to the seated crowd. The 5,000 people eat their fill. The people eat from the hands of Jesus and the disciples, and they are satisfied. As we will see they are very satisfied. Then Jesus tells the disciples to gather up everything left over...so that nothing may be lost. The bread pieces left over fill up 12 baskets. Wow! The people recognize Jesus as the prophet who was to come into the world, that he is the Messiah for the Jews. So they try to grab him and make him king.
Jesus gets away from the crowd, while the disciples take ship for Capernaum without him. Jesus comes along later, walking most of the way on the water. Later, the crowd gets word Jesus is in Capernaum, but they knew only one boat had left without him. They track him down and they ask how he got there without a boat, but Jesus answers their real question.
"You aren't looking for me because of the miracles I did. "You are seeking me because you ate the bread and were satisfied. Don't work for ordinary bread, which does not satisfy, but get for yourself this bread, which I give you, the bread of eternal life.
"How do we work for this bread?"
"Your work is to believe in the one who was sent. And I will give you that bread of life."
So, you don't have that last part in this morning's reading, but that is what happens in the next few pages. What does it mean to eat the bread of life? How do we get this good stuff? This morning we opened our worship with the call to celebration from Isaiah.
Isaiah chapter 55:"Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?"
Good question. So, how do we get this bread here in Skaneateles? How come we're still hungry? The crowd that tracked Jesus down to Capernaum asked him, "Sir," they said, "from now on, give us this bread." So what is this bread? Jesus makes it sound simple.
Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe."
What does it mean to believe in Jesus? Don't we all believe? What does it mean that Jesus says, " you have seen me and still you do not believe."? This work of belief is tougher than it sounds. The belief Jesus is talking about is not an easy one. It takes work. Even the disciples who eye-witnessed all the miracles had trouble with this, and finally he was left with only the original twelve. And here is what gave everyone trouble.Put yourself in the minds of the disciples as they listen to these outrageous statements. What would you be thinking and saying?
Jesus said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven."
They said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, 'I came down from heaven'?" Jesus said, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, Does this offend you? The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.
So, what is Jesus saying to us here at the lakeside? What is this soul food he's talking about? I think the truth is, all we humans are more aware of, in tune with, our animal nature than we are with our spiritual nature. We are men and women of flesh. We hunger, we want to be loved and appreciated, we worry, we want to win, we want to be well clothed, we want to care for our families, we want to be remembered for our good works. All these are good things, and the father knows what we need today. But more than anything else, our deepest needs are spiritual. And we humans don't yet have a good vocabulary to describe our deep spiritual needs. Yet from time to time, like the crowd on the hill, we taste the Lord and see that he is good.
But our minds rebel at the idea of being transformed from flesh to spirit, making that shift. And this is what belief in Jesus requires. This is what Jesus asks of us. Not just living a better life and behaving well. This is good, but not enough. Not just providing for the needs of our fellow humans, but loving them at the same time. Not just curbing our wishes so we can get along with others, but having a genuine desire to put others first, to prefer others, to diminish our own sense of our own well being, and seek the happiness and consolation of others. The actions of love are good. The surrender of self in love is better. Martha's part is good, but Mary's is better.
Jesus is calling us, through belief in him, to consent to surrender of our self in love. Jesus calls us to be reborn in a new birth of a new self. A way to do actually do this, is to eat, to ingest real spiritual food and drink. When we eat this spiritual food, we become what we eat. This new spiritual food will help us become more fully creatures of spirit, and help us slough off and free ourselves from our old animal nature.
We need the spiritual food of our Communion ritual, which is both a symbol, and more than a symbol of eating nourishment for our spiritual selves. We need the nourishing refreshment of prayer. We need the high-fiber nutrients of reading scripture. We need the protein of reflection on scripture. And here is the deeper meaning of the passage. Bread and meat nourish our animal selves. We need this nourishment. But we also have a baby spiritual self inside us waiting to grow. This spiritual self needs nourishment, too. And the nourishment for our nascent spiritual selves is the soul food of which Jesus speaks when he says, "I am the bread of life."
Again, what is this bread of life? As we conclude, four things.
1. First, Jesus asks that we believe God himself could and did walk the earth as a human.
2. Second, we believe he did this to point us towards the death of death, and the birth of a new life that lasts forever
. 3. Third, that we believe the matzo and wine he transforms into his spiritual flesh and blood is in fact his real, spiritual flesh and blood; real, since we now know spirit is more real than flesh.
4. And Fourth, Jesus asks that we ingest his flesh and blood in our desire that we be transformed from flesh into spirit.
Our sacrament of communion is important. But also daily, as we eat, as we ingest the Word of God through prayer, reading of scripture and reflection on the scripture, we become what we eat. Every day, we have a schedule of meals to feed our animal bodies. We know how to feed our bodily hunger. We may not feel our spiritual hunger so acutely day by day. The bread of life for our spiritual bodies is a daily schedule of meals of prayer and reading of scripture.
So, now when we tell our children the story of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, we know it's about more than whole wheat bread and Doug's Fish Fry. Those are good, very good. And God understands our need for them. This story is also about real soul food. Man and Woman do not live by bread alone. We need our daily portion of soul food. Let's pray.