2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 Psalm 130 Ephesians 4:25-5:2 John 6:35, 41-51
A female CNN journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Wailing Wall to pray, twice a day, every day , for a long, long time. So she went to check it out. She went to the Wailing Wall and there he was, walking slowly up to the holy site. She watched him pray, and after about forty-five minutes, when he turned to leave, using a cane and moving very slowly, she approached him for an interview.
“Pardon me, sir, I’m Rebecca Smith from CNN. May I ask you some questions?” “Sure”, he replied. “Sir, how long have you been coming to the Wailing Wall and praying?” “For sixty years.” “Sixty years! That’s amazing, what do you pray for?” “I pray for peace between Christians, Jews and Muslims. I pray for all wars and all hatred to stop. I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults, and to love their fellow man.”
“How do you feel after doing this for sixty years?”
“Like I am talking to a brick wall.”
This man shows his faith in going to the Wailing Wall every day to pray over the course of sixty years. The Western Wall or Wailing Wall is the remainder of the outer wall of the Temple after its destruction in AD 70. This remnant of what was the Jewish most sacred building remains the holiest place in Jewish life. It is open twenty-four hours a day and there are always people praying. While it’s true that some people get it and some people don’t, as seen in the continued war and famine in the world despite this man’s prayers, he still shows up every day to pray. That is the gift of faith that we should all be thankful for when it is cultivated in our lives.
The crowd has a role to play in John’s Gospel. Despite the repeated explanations by Jesus about his identity, the crowd doesn’t get it. The crowd is very literal: given Jesus is the son of Joseph, how can he claim that he came down from heaven? Jesus repeatedly explains that he is the living bread from heaven, but the crowd just doesn’t get it.
Part of the theology of the Gospel is that God is the revealer. If you are bewildered, it is because you haven’t been “drawn by the Father.” Not that God is exclusive and only calls those who are worthy. None of us are worthy, but all of us can be called by God. It is about listening and learning and growing and getting outside of ourselves to see God’s hand in so much of our lives, our world. God is very much in control. God is very much God in this Gospel.
The bread being promised is the eternal bread – a bread that enables us to live forever. Eternal life in John starts here and now: it is a quality of existence that enables us to live this life differently and then pass into the life to come.
Martin Luther once said to his congregation, “I wish I could pray the way my dog goes after meat.” In our modest, measured, middle-of-the-road Christian practice, that seems a bit harsh. But I think about the earnestness and the intention and the no-holds-barred approach Zebi has to food she really likes. There is passion and enthusiasm and delight and hope as she chows down. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our prayer life contained all of that and more.
People eat bread to satisfy physical hunger and to sustain physical life. We can satisfy spiritual hunger and sustain spiritual life only by being in relationship with Jesus Christ. No wonder he called himself the bread of life. But bread must be eaten to sustain life, and Christ must be invited into our daily walk to sustain us spiritually. How do we grow in our relationship with Christ? It is an active and intentional approach to how we live our lives – through prayer, scripture, devotionals, holy communion, psalm, hymns, and living out our faith with others.
Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” When John says Jews,he is referring to the Jewish leaders who were hostile to Jesus, not to Jews in general. The religious leaders grumbled because they could not accept Jesus’ claim to be from God. They saw him as a carpenter from Nazareth. They refused to believe that Jesus was God’s divine Son, and they couldn’t tolerate his message. Some people reject Christ because they say they can’t believe he is the Son of God. Perhaps, it is the challenge to the way they live their lives - their obedience and loyalty- that Jesus requires that they can’t accept. Yes, it can be scary, so to protect themselves from the message, they reject the messenger.
God, not man, plays an active role in salvation. When someone chooses to believe in Jesus Christ as their savior, he or she does so in response to the Holy Spirit’s urging. God does the urging, then we decide if we believe or not. God helps us believe in Jesus and to become disciples. When Jesus talks about “written in the Prophets”, he is referring to the Old Testament view of the Messianic kingdom in which all people are taught directly by God, found in Isaiah and Jeremiah. He is stressing the importance of not merely hearing, but learning. We are taught by God through the Bible, our experiences, teachings by the Holy Spirit, inspiring sermons and our relationships with other Christians. Do we continue to work on being open to God’s teachings?
“Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.” In this passage, believesis used to mean “continues to believe.” We do not believe only once, but we keep on believing in and trusting Jesus more and more. The religious leaders continually asked Jesus to prove to them why he was better than the prophets they knew. Jesus referred to the manna that Moses had given their ancestors in the desert. This bread was physical and temporal. The people ate it, and it sustained them for a day. But they had to get more bread every day and this bread couldn’t keep them from dying. Jesus, who is much greater than Moses, offers himself as the spiritual bread from heaven that satisfies completely and leads to eternal life.
How can Jesus give us his flesh as bread to eat? To eat living bread means to accept Christ into our lives and become united with him. We are united with Christ in two ways – by believing in his death and resurrection and by devoting ourselves to living as he requires, depending on his teachings for guidance and trusting in the Holy Spirit to empower us to be better disciples. We are reunited with Christ each time we receive communion and take Christ with us when we leave the altar rail. So each Sunday we are fed and empowered and equipped to go out into the world to love others as Christ loves us.
According to Jesus, it is not our religious experience, our philosophical insight, the accident of our birth, our economic status – nor most of all, God help us, our choice – that puts us within the realm of light that is the presence of Jesus within the community of faith. We are saved by grace alone. It is grace that opens our eyes to see our sin and our need of the living God who is made known to the world in Jesus the Christ, the bread of life, the one who, when we come to him, will never leave us hungry again. When – invited – we turn to him, we have our thirst quenched from a living stream.
We don’t save anyone – only God does that. That is hard for some pastors to admit. It is all God. And we who have been invited and eat the living bread and drink from the life-giving stream can only bear witness. We may bear witness not to the predicaments of faith, but to the abundance Christ brings to the hearts and lives of believers. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
We can argue that without the church – broken and divided and healing – there would be no community of faith to offer God’s teachings and Jesus’ love to those who are hurting and seeking. Without the church, there is no witness to the Word made flesh, a witness found in the scriptures – the living Word. The New Testament it came from, grew out of, and is sustained by the church. We are called to understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the Scriptures. So, we listen to four readings from the Bible every Sunday. We take those words into our hearts, into our lives as we go forth into the world living Jesus – loving Jesus – being Jesus. We don’t save people – we don’t judge people – we love people. And it is God’s love that makes it all possible. Amen.