Harvest/Student Welcome Sermon
John 6:25-35, Deut 26:1-11, Phil 4:4-9, Ps 100
I wonder if you have any guilty pleasures? My Dad’s used to be watching East Enders, my son’s is eating Nutella straight from the jar with whatever implement is to hand. Mine is reading cookbooks, for pleasure. I’m actually less guilty about it now and totally owning it as a legitimate hobby.
the last couple of years at college squeezed this hobby out, I count it a sign of better mental health and creativity returning that I am reading cookbooks again. The ones I like to read the most are Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries, part autobiography in diary form, part seasonal food descriptions and a large part nosey insight into what someone else likes to eat and of course part cookery book.
It’s become something of a habit to sit at breakfast for just five minutes and alongside my cup of tea, read his daily entry. it’s a homely, meditative, non-threatening read and it grounds me, reminds me to appreciate the food infront of me and teaches me appreciation of the everyday small pleasures, like melting salty butter on hot sourdough toast spread with sour sweet tangy blackcurrant jam. There is something of an invitation to mindfulness in his writing. Here he is talking about bread at New Year:
‘there’s been a decade of new year’s loaves in this house, a simple white bun, it’s surface softened with a bloom of flour, a dimpled focaccia that left our fingers damp with olive oil, a less than successful baguette, as thin as a wand, a brown seeded loaf we ate for days like a fruit cake…’
Bread – that most ordinary of foods, ubiquitous in our cultural understandings as a basic building block of
life. The ancients ate it and we eat it still. For vast swathes of history and still today, bread made up much of the diet. Our colloquialisms and indeed prayers are full of bread references and we all understand the meaning of ‘your daily bread.’
Bread, from the harvest loaf which symbolizes abundant provision in a special loaf and is part of the celebration and all harvest gifts we will gather later, to the flat unleavened bread the 5000 would have eaten on the hillside listening to Jesus teach, bread is the indeed staff of life, and something Jesus imbued with eternal significance.
In John 6, in what’s known as the ‘Bread of life Discourse’, Jesus chose that most common thing, the everyday, the material, the building block of life that is bread to describe himself to the people. He didn’t choose something fine, or special and set apart, like a raisin cake or honey, he chose bread, the most vital of all foods, to help us know him.
The crowd had followed him, wanting to make him king, in love with his miracles and hoping he would lead them to victory over the Roman occupation.
In love, Jesus redirects their desires, holding up a mirror – ‘you’ve come seeking me, across the lake, because you want your bellies filled again, well I’ve got something more important to tell you – believe in me, feed on me, I am on the one God has sent into the world to show you what life is really about.’
The crowd are endearingly like us are they not – wanting more ‘stuff’ from Jesus, more bread and more proof, more miracles, more signs before they will believe, following Jesus for what he can give them, not yet perhaps for himself. You may just have fed 5000 people on a hillside in the middle of nowhere,
but show us another sign, our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, show us something like that Jesus. I’m not alone in thinking there’ some distinct irony here in the way John has grouped these stories together.
Jesus, with a big display of patience I think, again redirects this crowd, reinterpreting what they’ve been reminiscing about with the manna. Naming himself as bread that has come down from heaven, bread that gives life to the world, bread that will satisfy forever, ‘whoever comes to me will never be hungry.’
Friends, that is the secret of life right there, the meaning we are searching for, the answer to the universe is not 42 as Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy would have it, rather it is Jesus, an invitation to feed on him as bread, as the most basic building block of our lives, a daily need.
It is a living relationship with a living person, not a system of doctrines and beliefs to ascribe to. He says always, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” a system of beliefs would be easier would it not, I often long for that certainty, that easy clarity, rather than the mystery of following a person, who himself is the way.
John Vanier puts it like this: ‘Jesus invites us to make a difficult and sometimes stormy passage of faith from the enthusiasm of discipleship to the gentleness and humility of friendship. Friendship with Jesus – the Word made Flesh – becomes the nourishment of our hearts and lives.’
Jesus redirects the crowd in John 6 and us here today from focusing only on the fulfilment of our human needs, which we rightly are celebrating in harvest
time, to the focus of a feast of intimacy and communion with him.
There is a lifetime of meditation to be had in considering what Jesus means in telling us he is the bread of life. Perhaps the gathered Galileans at the time would have understood that Jesus’s talk of bread was also talk of the Torah, the word of God that they considered as a vital form of nourishment: It says in Ezekiel 3, ‘Son of Man, eat what is offered to you, eat this scroll and go, speak to the house of Israel…then I ate it and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.’ The Torah, the word is ultimately the revelation of the love of God for his people, and perhaps some might have glimpsed the truth that Jesus was and is the revelation of the love of God for his people.
Perhaps it would take more time for that revelation to sink in, when Jesus broke bread at that Passover supper before his crucifixion, showing and sharing the broken bread that was his body, perpetually broken for all. Bread we will shortly share in the eucharist, bread shared in our harvest feast, bread broken, bread shared, this is bread we are promised that will satisfy our deepest hungers.
Nothing signifies home and care quite so well as the smell of freshly baked bread does it – that warm, yeasty, toasty, amazing smell, and Jesus as the bread of life invites us home, invites us afresh today to find our home in him. And to those finding a new home in Bristol as students, or exploring a new home here in this community of faith in Cotham we say a special welcome. We are a community seeking creatively together to find and be found by Jesus, to be home together and extend a home in the midst of our community. We hope you’ll join us to find out what this means together in this prayerful, contemplative, creative and activist community. You are so very welcome.
Henri Nouwen said: ‘Jesus’s words of love and affirmation are like bread. We need them each day, over and over. They keep us alive inside.’
May Jesus, the bread of life, bring us home to ourselves, to each other and to friendship with very God herself. Amen