Message Manuscript for “Choosing Bread for Thanksgiving” John 6:24-35
Delivered to VOA Holiday Service
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Audio version is here.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Christmas season has already begun. I’m not one who tends to get cranky about the commercialism of Christmas or one who believes there is a conspiracy out there to take Christ out of Christmas, but I am a bit alarmed this year at the erosion of Thanksgiving. An article I read yesterday in the Christian Post that mentioned that, Thirty-three million Americans are expected to ditch their turkey and mashed potatoes and swarm the mall on Thanksgiving Day this year, with stores like Macy’s, Wal-Mart, and Old Navy opening their doors for them. It does seem we’ve surrendered our souls to the commercialism of the season. We are directed by commercials and media to crave and buy things we never even thought of needing. Have you noticed they are never about what we really need the most: better relationships, self esteem, better education, healthier food, a nose hair trimmer, cleaner baseboards, and new underwear? Aren’t these what need the most? We can so easily be led astray by things that don’t end up fulfilling us.
What we find in our Scripture here today, John 6:24-25, is a statement from Jesus about our greatest need in life. He makes the boldest of claims, although never sounds like a fast-talking pitch man. He just states it plain and simple: the world is hungry, he has the bread. Actually, what he says is that he is the bread; that he is the solution to what humankind needs the most. As we hear these words today, what we can know is that our need today is the same. We are hungry. And Jesus is still the bread, the one who fills us with what we need the most.
To understand all of this talk of bread, we must remember how basic bread was to human existence back then. The people who heard these words from Jesus knew that bread was life. They recalled how their ancestors lived on it, manna from heaven, with nothing else to keep them alive while wandering in the desert. It was a temporary fix, though, as God didn’t use preservatives. He provided it for them every day. Jesus knew all about bread and its importance, mentioning it in his model prayer for the disciples, Give us this day our daily bread . . . Jesus also understood that their spiritual hunger was just like their physical hunger. It was a craving that nothing seemed to satisfy. It was something they needed every day.
This is where the bold claim comes in. Jesus, noting their need, made the claim that he was their solution, using the powerful name for God, I AM with his presentation. It is one of the many I AM’s of John’s Gospel–I AM the way, truth, and the life, I AM the resurrection, I AM the vine, etc. Jesus wasn’t just pointing to a solution out there in the world that could meet their need. He was saying he was the solution. He pointed to himself.
In case they were wondering what kind of bread he was, he gave further description, that he was the kind of bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. His life and way were a staple that would last a lifetime; an eternity. When they received him, they would not have to search any longer, but could find true fulfillment for their lives, just as the crowd had previously been satisfied when he provided the five loaves and two fish.
I was talking with someone last week about her plans for Thanksgiving. She planned to stay here in town, having a quieter holiday with her husband since some of their kids and grandkids would be out of town for it this year and she wasn’t sure if she would be baking much this year. She told me of her tradition of making bread for the Thanksgiving meal and how much time and work she put into it. worth every bit of it for those who gathered. It was a true labor of love. The meal just wouldn’t be the same without it.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, what we must know is that we have been given the gift of bread as well. God has given His best labor of love to provide us with true manna from heaven in Jesus Christ. He is what brings comfort to our souls. He is the staple that gives us strength. He is the sustenance of our existence. It is his life that satisfies our lives, gives us hope, feeds us without limit.
Our time of communion in just a moment is a reminder that we are all invited to receive this Bread of Life; that God doesn’t hoard his bread in heaven nor does he hide it from us here on earth. It is ours for the asking. The greatest challenge, though, may be that we are too busy looking for something else to fill us up, rushing around for things we don’t need rather than simply receiving the joy of the bread of life.
Part of the joy of receiving this bread is in what it provides us. The other part is in what it is to provide others. Our work here at Volunteers of America is one of sharing the bread of life with the people we serve every day. The staff and volunteers hold out this bread to at risk children and youth, to veterans without a home and in need of assistance, to adults who cannot stay at home, to the disabled, and to people who need a vision of hope. What we offer to them is a ministry of service, a bread service. What we serve to them is what is real and lasting.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote (source) that, There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread. We are those people. Jesus is that bread. As we gather around the table, let us give thanks for what God has given. And, let us take and eat.