After dinner is a great time for a chat and some deeper than normal thinking isnt it.
Jesus experience seems to bear that out; he was often at a meal, a party or talking about a feast.
And one his favourite ways into a subject was with a story, so Im taking my lead there too.
A saintly man was once asked to teach a group how to pray, this is how he answered.
There were once two men walking across a paddock in the country, an after dinner stroll perhaps, they were enjoying a bit of a yarn as they went. At the same moment they both noticed an angry looking bull headed in their direction at a frightening pace. They set off for the nearest fence with the bull in hot pursuit. It was obvious that they weren't going to make it, so one man shouted to the other, We've had it, nothing can save us, then he added, quick say a prayer !
The other shouted back, I've never prayed a prayer in my life, I wouldn't know what to pray.
Never mind said his friend, the bull is catching up, ...say any prayer.
Well I remember one my father used to say, "For what we are about to receive, Lord make us truly grateful", Amen.
It can help us quite a lot if we know what it is we are looking for. The two friends walking across the paddock are a good illustration of people not knowing how to ask for what they needed. The gospel reading today has the Galilean crowds seeking after Jesus, but we see that what they were asking for was inappropriate. The issue here revolves around what is it that we really need to live on? The crowds have a very immediate idea and Jesus challenges them, and us as well, to think more deeply.
This passage comes after the feeding of the 5000 and the crowd are in hot pursuit of Jesus for the wrong reasons, they were looking for miracles and to be fed again, not because there was a great need, but because they hadn't understood what it is that Jesus offers.
Why have anything to do with Jesus is a vital question for us today as it was for ordinary people in Jesus own day. What is it that Jesus can give us, is something that we need to find out, and go on finding out all our lives.
The crowd we heard of who followed Jesus on that day wanted Jesus to do what Moses, had done. If this Jesus was to be a great leader and saviour of the people he ought to feed them as Moses had done with the Manna in the desert. These people were pragmatic and "realistic", if they were going to follow this Jesus they wanted concrete proof and some tangible benefit, it would be manna for all, thankyou. But that was not what they got. Jesus is about offering something different.
So, after that first stunning dinner, Jesus starts to engage the people in some theological reflection.
I wonder if you could imagine yourself back in the first century in the troubled land of Israel, full of political strife and rebellion and violence, - that might not be too hard, come to think of it!, but imagine yourself there to get a feel for the impact Jesus words might have had.
Jesus said I am the bread of life.
Bread of life, what sort of claim is that? What does bread mean to us? and what does Jesus mean by claiming to be the bread of life?
Jesus knew that bread was, in his culture as it is in ours too, a basic, staple food. And of course food is one of our most basic human needs. He reminds us that we have deep hungers.
But we know from his conversations with the crowds that Jesus doesn't mean to feed everyone with the physical bread they need to live on. He says that the bread God gives is about having life, eternal life, a life in abundance that isn't bounded by death and that this bread is for the whole world.
What a claim! What an offer!!
In the Greek it says literally that he gives life for the whole "cosmos". This is what John was talking about when he says at the beginning of his gospel that Jesus, the word was in the beginning, that all things were given their life through him and that everything is sustained, kept alive in him.
Jesus in fact is the source of life from the beginning of all things, he offers abundant life now and eternal life for the future. It would be an understatement to say that John's gospel has a wide vision. As we grapple with it's meaning, it's not hard to see why the people could have misunderstood what Jesus was doing and talking about.
Bread of life is a metaphor Jesus used to express a truth that is hard to understand. Jesus doesn't mean that he is literally bread, or that people should consume him.
What this metaphor, bread of life does is to illustrate that Jesus is as basic to our life as bread, that in a different way, Jesus feeds us and sustains us.
We don't come to church for a slice of Jesus to keep us going, but we do look to Jesus for things that give us life on a deeper level.
I want to suggest a few things that Jesus offers us that we have basic human needs for. These are the things we might usefully be asking for and seeking here. They are, if you like, slices of the bread of life that Jesus comes to bring.
The first is love. Jesus came because God loves the world. The whole purpose of Jesus is to show God's saving love to everyone. Jesus came not just to give us love that we take in like a sponge soaking up water, but to learn from his way and to love as we have been loved.
I guess in the language of bread and feeding we could say that we are fed and at the same time called to feed others in the same way. Love is about sharing, about reciprocating and not being selfish.
The bread of life feeds us with love.
The next slice of the bread of life I want to talk that Jesus offers is peace. Jesus came bringing peace. Not the lack of war type of peace, but the sort of peace that leads to wholeness as a person, even despite what may be going on around us. This peace that Jesus feeds us with is the sort of peace that brings healing from old hurts, freedom from old bitterness and acceptance of what can't be changed.
This peace that Jesus feeds us with doesn't remove us from the conflicts and problems of life so that we have a perfect life. Followers of Jesus are called to take up their cross to follow in the way of the one who brought peace to others at personal cost to himself.
The true bread of life feeds us with peace.
The third basic need that Jesus sustains us with is the forgiveness and the acceptance that we need as people.
We all need to be accepted for who and what we are, we need to be forgiven and set free from our guilt. Jesus offers us this basic food of life and calls us to be forgiving and accepting of others. It's an element of love and a prerequisite of peace. Jesus acceptance and forgiveness is to all who will receive it. Much of it will be offered through those who claim Jesus name as Christians.
The acceptance and forgiveness of God will come to people through you and through me or will some find rejection and the holding of grudges in us instead?
The bread of life feeds us with forgiveness and acceptance as well as with love and peace.
And the bread of life promotes unity, One faith, one hope, one calling, one God and Father of us all, as Paul writes of. Wouldnt it be good if we could all get along together in the world, held together with an understanding like this?
Much is given to those who will ask and receive it, but we will only truly be Jesus followers if we do as he did and share the richness we are given with those who lack.
The bread of life that Jesus offers us is made up of what gives our lives meaning and purpose and hope in a way that material things can never do.
So if we think of ourselves in the terms of this metaphor as those who feed on the bread of life, what are our dietary habits like?
How many meals a day, or week do we take, are we just grazers who nibble occasionally at he edges or is there a healthy balance to our intake?
And when we have this bread of life we ought to be more willing to share what we have with others who need it.
The bread of life is something we can celebrate, that God has given us love and peace and that God accepts us as we are. These are the amazing reality of God's grace to us. Our response should be of thankfulness and readiness to share.
God of generosity, enlarge our expectations of both heaven and earth, that we may be more willing to receive and more ready to give. Through Jesus Christ our teacher, our unity, our bread of life. Amen!