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The Bread and the Stuff of Life

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John 6 v35, 41-51

A man was grumbling, he was sick and tired of going to work every day while his wife stayed at home. He wanted her to see what he went through each day, so he prayed: –

“Dear Lord, I go to work every day and put in 8 hours of hard work, while my wife merely stays at home. I want her to know what I go through, so please create a trade in our bodies”. God, in His infinite wisdom, granted the man’s wish.

The next morning, sure enough, the man woke up as a woman. He got up, cooked breakfast for everyone, woke the children, set out their school things for them to take; packed their lunches, then did the school run, came home …. picked up the dry cleaning, took it to the cleaners and stopped at the cash point to get some cash to pay for some bits and pieces in the local shop.
He drove to the local car park, did a food shop, came home and put it all away. He cleaned the cat’s litter box and bathed the dog. By then it was already 1:00 pm, so he hurried to make the beds, do the washing, hoover, dust, and sweep and mop the kitchen floor.

He rushed back to the school to pick up the children; and got into an argument with them on the way home which he had to sort out in a gentle ‘motherly’ fashion. He got them their snacks; and got them organized to do their homework, then set up the ironing board and was able to watch a bit of TV while he did the ironing. By then it was 4:30 pm, so he began peeling potatoes and washed greens for salads. He prepared the chops and fresh vegetables and got everything ready in time for an early dinner.

After dinner, he cleaned the kitchen, ran the dishwasher, folded the now dry washing, bathed the kids, and put them to bed. At 9:00 pm he was exhausted and although there were still things to do, he went to bed where he was expected to make love, which he managed to get through without complaining. The next morning, he awoke and immediately knelt by the bed and said: –

“Lord, I don’t know what I was thinking. I was so wrong to envy my wife’s being able to stay home all day. Please, O please, let us trade back!” The Lord, in his infinite wisdom, replied, “My son, I feel you have learned your lesson and I will be happy to change things back to the way they were. You’ll just have to wait 9 months though. (because you got pregnant last night!!!”)

What has this humour got to do with our gospel reading. What is the connection? I’m sure a lot of you have already worked it out. We have been looking at John 6 over the past few weeks and we now reach the pivotal point in the chapter and after Jesus speaks in verse 35

“I am the bread of life, … “He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never be thirsty…”

there is a big shift in the peoples’ attitudes towards him. In the first half of the chapter we have the feeding of the people, and as Richard Croft said a couple of weeks ago this was maybe 15-20 thousand people they recognised the miracle and who Jesus was (v 14 “Surely this is the Prophet who has come into the world”). Jesus has to withdraw but they follow and they genuinely seem to be seeking and wanting.

Then Jesus speaks “I am the bread of life….” And the tone the undercurrent changes and people start grumbling and muttering and this carries on until the end of the chapter. Why is that, why do they now doubt Jesus, why are they antagonistic having just experienced God in a powerful way. Surely, they should be celebrating; praising. He is speaking words of life and yet they are not received why is that?

Jesus takes them back to something that would have been familiar to them, something in their history; the manna in the desert (Exodus 16). We all know the story. God powerfully rescues the people of Israel from the Egyptians, all the plagues, the parting of the Red sea, God being present in the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire leading them. Yet two months after leaving Egypt they come to the desert and they start complaining to Moses that they wished they died in Egypt where at least they could have as much food as they wanted and now here they are thinking they will stave to death in the desert. What was God’s response but to generously provide food but they were required to follow and obey and just collect what they needed for one day’s use.

There is a parallel a theme developing here God is providing but that he is not going to do it without requiring something of them in return. The people sense this and the grumbling and complaining is their response, they are not willing to concede anything and want to hold on to what they have, follow their own agenda even though much more is being promised.

We also see it from a different perspective; the other side of the crucifixion and resurrection; but it is how we let that impact on us that matters. We know that Jesus suffered and died and that God honoured this gift, this sacrifice by raising him from death to enable us to live. By our “eating of the bread” we join with; align ourselves with Jesus and express our willingness to live in the same way ready to give of ourselves and hold nothing back.

So, do we live like this, are we any different to those hearers in todays gospel? Do we grumble and resist when God asks things of us, shows us a different way? This is not the day to day grumbling about the weather being too hot or the fact that Sara hasn’t got my tea on the table when I come home. No this is at a much deeper level and when God asks us to respond; to live; how do we do that?

In his book Immortal Diamond Richard Rohr talks about us having two selves our true self and our false self.

The true self is our soul that place where God dwells it is difficult to define, you can’t measure it; but it is vast; you will know it and you will be able to test it against scripture and tradition; it is without fear; and it will have wholeness and balance. It will not grasp; need to be built; or need protection nothing can diminish it.

The false self; he says is what he calls the small self it is not bad and it will/may be quite good and necessary as far as it goes but it can be a substitute for the real thing. We will all need it to start with as we start to construct our lives maybe it is our body image, our job, our education, the clothes we wear, how much money we have, our sexual identity, our success and so on. The issue comes, he says, when we are being called beyond any of this and will not let it go either because we are afraid, stubborn or addicted or just like it too much and this is where the grumbling will start.

Again, when I looked at the passage in Exodus I noticed the desert the Israelites came to was called sin. That is probably no coincidence. If we hang on to our false self and not let God move within us and change us this may show where we are with him and this is what Jesus is really interested in actually changing; our core being rather than just the actions on the surface. I guess sometimes even if we want to change we tend to want to force change and tackle things head on; but this can/will be counter productive and probably make things worse, becoming more entrenched. Is this why Jesus approach is different inviting, offering the gift, drawing people to himself showing us the bigger wider different life that we can move into?

Perhaps an example, on a purely human level, from the work place might help. Recently, my team has been involved in a lot of change with people moving around, taking on new responsibilities with the overall aim to make peoples lives easier and to support them so they can have better job satisfaction. When the scope of the changes was announced and the new way set out there was a wide range of responses. Some saw the benefits and went with it. However, one person got very angry and made a lot of accusations against other people but then could not back up what they were saying, another person you could tell was angry but they would not say anything so you were left to guess what the problem was. Yet another wanted to forge ahead but got very frustrated and threatened to “down tools” if the others didn’t buck up their ideas.

This was all bound up in anxiety and people stepping out of their comfort zones but when you try to talk with them about it they either cannot or will not see what the underlying drivers are and go with the changes and this all this makes for a stress-free working life!!!

However, it is easier to see things in others and miss them in yourself and you need to be careful about this. Through experience I know that when I am being challenged I do not grumble, well not much anyway, but rather retreat into myself; prevaricate and have doubts about whether this is right and whether God really means what he is saying. Just as bad as grumbling with the same results!

Paul in 2 Corinthians (2 Cor 7 10-11) talks about sadness used by God bringing about a change of heart that leads to salvation. And sadness that is merely human causes death. Paul was having a difficult time with the church in Corinth and relationships had reached a low point but he did not shy away and spoke plainly to the Corinthian church, longing for reconciliation and he challenged them and they responded positively with eagerness, concern for others and wanting justice done.

So, the invitation to us is come; eat; and live.

I want to finish with some further thoughts from Richard Rohr on what this life (resurrection) might look like. He gives a list of things and I will mention a few.

  1. Refuse to identify with negative, blaming, antagonistic or fearful thoughts.
  2. Apologise when you hurt another person or situation.
  3. Undo your mistakes by some positive action towards the offended person or situation.
  4. Do not indulge or believe your false self but rather choose your true self your union with God as much as possible throughout the day.
  5. Always try to change yourself before trying to change others.
  6. Choose as much as possible to serve rather than be served.
  7. Never doubt that it is all about love in the end.