Sermon for 9th August 2015

Trinity 10

Before I continue with the sermon this morning I am going to ask you to do something a little different. I want you to listen to the reading not with a heart of faith but with a sceptical mind. If it helps, imagine that you do not know that Jesus is anything else but a teacher. You are a first century person who has just been introduced to him. [Read John 6:35, 41-51]

Pretty incredible isn’t it? For someone to make such claims. What if, later today, you were introduced to someone and that someone said, “Hi, I am the bread that has came down from heaven.” You would look at your friend who just introduced you to this person and you would say, “I’m sorry, what did he just say?” Anyone who seriously made such claims would easily be labeled a nutter!

But, of course, in other areas of life we find it all the time. The first person who I can clearly recall laying such claim to being a great “I am” was Cassius Clay/ Mohamed Ali. Of course, in his case he too turned out to be the Greatest, the Greatest Boxer, perhaps in our life time. But others commonly lay claim to being the greatest, “I am this and I am the other”, I’m the greatest footballer, or rugby player (we’ll leave Cricket out for the moment!), or if you watch X factor “I know I am the best singer, you’ve just got to believe in me!” and so it goes on. But we never accept these people’s credentials. But people to whom Jesus was addressing were being asked to do just that.

Jesus makes a very assertive “I am” statement in today’s Gospel, and does so no fewer than four times: “I am the bread of life.” Indeed, it’s one of many “I am” assertions he makes throughout the Gospel of John. In chapter 8 he says, “I am the light of the world,” and “I am from above.” In chapter 10: “I am the gate for the sheep,” and “I am the good shepherd.” In chapter 11: “I am the resurrection and the life.” In chapter 14: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” and in chapter 15: “I am the true vine.”

Each time he makes an “I am” statement, it is highly inflammatory for his listeners, and sometimes dangerous for himself. When he makes the assertion in chapter 8: “before Abraham was, I am”, they pick up stones to throw at him. In chapter 10, when he says: “I am in the Father,” they try to arrest him.

My examples of “I am” aren’t particularly good ones to be honest because what is actually happening here that Jesus in stating “I am.” He is making an outrageous statement because it goes right back to the Divine Name of God. In fact it goes all the way back to the book of Exodus, when from the burning bush God instructs Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. At first Moses shrinks from the task. This great man and lawgiver is reduced to a gibbering idiot, feebly asking: “Who am I?” He protests that if he tells the Israelites he’s been sent by the God of their ancestors, they’d ask: “What is his name?” and he stammers, “what shall I say to them?” But God, cutting right through his prevarication, replies: “I AM WHO I AM… you say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

No wonder the Jews were aghast to hear Jesus claiming “I am”. As far as they were concerned, if you felt able to assert “I am”, you were effectively claiming to be God. They just didn’t understand that Jesus was God.

And Jesus pushes it even further when he claims, not only to be the bread of life, but superior to the manna God sent Moses and their ancestors in the wilderness. Rather than merely providing physical nourishment from one day to the next, Jesus, the bread of life, will provide eternal sustenance.

Discovering your identity, your true identity, can often be a problem for people. If you’re a rebellious teenager, or you’ve ever been one, or the sibling or parent of one, you’ll know how agonising a young person’s search for identity can be. Nor is such confusion confined to teenagers The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer also wrestled with identity. His poem “Who Am I?” was published a year after he was executed for plotting against Hitler. In it he draws out the bitter contrast between the confident, easy-going man other people see, and what he knows of himself: “restless and longing and sick”.

As far as Jesus’ listeners were concerned, to be human is to be humble enough to ask the question asked like Mohamed Ali, Hitler, Bonhoeffer and Moses: “Who am I?” and anything else was blasphemy. But Christians believe that, through the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, all people have a way of asserting “I am”. Again, the key is to be found in John’s Gospel. In chapters 10 and 14 Jesus says, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me,” and also: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Bonhoeffer acknowledges this in the last line of his poem, when he has a flash of inspiration in the midst of his dark thoughts: “Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.”

The German theologian tells a story of a hungry man passing a store with a sign in the window, “We Sell Bread.” He entered the store, put some money on the counter, and said, “I would like to buy some bread.” The women behind the counter replied, “We don’t sell bread.” “The sign in the window says that you do,” the hungry man said. The woman explained, “We make signs here like the one in the window that says ‘We Sell Bread.’” But, as the theologian concludes, a hungry man can’t eat signs. A hungry man needs the Bread of Life, as we all do.

Life sometimes fools us too. Bread isn’t always found where it seems to be. Like the crowds looking for something else or that man looking in the wrong store, we often miss the point when God offers us enduring life in Jesus as the Bread of Life.

Today we gather in this church to receive a taste of food that will help us remember who we are.  I mean the bread of life, our Father’s gift to us.  This is the food of God’s kingdom, and reminds us that when Jesus said “I am the Bread of Life” then he truly is.

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