A new priest came to town. The first Sunday he preached one of the best sermons folks had ever heard. Everyone was excited, believing that things were looking up for their church. They all complimented him on his wonderful and inspiring words. The following Sunday the new priest preached the exact same sermon, to the letter. Folks looked a bit bewildered, but it was so good, they all thought it was worth hearing a second time, just not two Sundays in a row. However, since he was new, no one said anything other than that they enjoyed the sermon. The third Sunday, once again the priest preached the exact same sermon. The Sr. Warden didn’t think they could take a fourth Sunday, so after everyone had exited the church he had a word with the priest. “Father,” he said, “that’s a good sermon you preached.” “Thank you,” he replied. “However,” continued the Senior Warden, “you have preached the same sermon three times now. We’ve all heard it and were wondering when you were going to go on to a different subject.” “Sir,” he responded, “when you all start acting like you’ve heard it, I’ll preach something else.”
O Lord! We installed him as rector yesterday and he’s going to turn into a tyrant today! Nope. That story has nothing to do with you all not hearing the message. Instead, it has to do with our Gospel reading, because after the next several weeks, you’re going to hear the Gospel reading and ask yourself, “Didn’t we just read this last week?” The answer is: almost.
Last week our Gospel reading ended with, ”I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” This week it began with that exact same verse. Next week the Gospel will begin with, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” and the week after that Jesus will say, “The one who eats this bread will live forever.” This particular grouping of verses – John 6:22-59 – is known as the Bread of Life Discourse. So, with these four weeks focused on that one idea of Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life,” we should all get the idea that an important message is being conveyed. To fully understand what Jesus is saying, we must once again go back to the story of Moses.
We know that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt for four hundred years and that God selected Moses to lead them to their freedom. While kneeling before the burning bush, Moses hears the Lord’s plans. At one point in the dialogue, Moses asked the Lord:
If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.
“I Am” is the name the Lord gives Himself.
Now, I would not normally give a lesson during a sermon on the Hebrew language, because a) it would be really boring and b) I barely passed Hebrew in seminary, but…
God says His name is “I Am.” The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and so you will read the Hebrew word for “I Am” translated in different ways: Yahweh, Adonai, and Elohim. For fear of taking the Lord’s name in vain, many later Jewish writings translate it as Ha-Shem, which translates as “the Name.” However, we will most often read it as “the Lord.” In case the question ever comes up in Trivial Pursuit, it appears 6,823 times in the Old Testament.
The New Testament was written in Greek, not Hebrew (and for the record, I did a little better in Greek than I did in Hebrew). Even so, the Name of God will appear many times as Jesus applies it to Himself. In particular, there are the seven great “I Am” statements that we are most familiar with: I am the Light of the World; I am the Door of the Sheepfold; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the Resurrection and the Life; I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; I am the True Vine; and the passage we read today, I am the Bread of Life.
Juliet said to Romeo, “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” In any other case a name may not truly matter, but here – in the context of Jesus applying the Name of God to himself – the Name is everything. For as we said, when translated I Am can be Yahweh or Adonai or Ha-Shem, but it may also be interpreted as Jesus. With that understanding, those “I Am” statements of Jesus can be written as: Jesus is the Light of the World; Jesus is the Door of the Sheepfold; Jesus is the Good Shepherd; Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life; Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life; Jesus is the True Vine; and Jesus is the Bread of Life. Jesus is the Great I Am.
Is that accurate? Is that a misrepresentation of Scripture, forcing it to say what we want it to say? Absolutely not. Paul, speaking of Jesus in his letter to the Philippians (2:9-11) wrote:
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
All of this goes to support Jesus’ claim that he is God, as he says in John 14, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” And in chapter 8, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”
If you believe this, Jesus is God, then what are the implications of such a claim when applied to our Gospel reading when Jesus said, “I am the bread of life… Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Last week we said that in tasting Jesus we will be satisfied. So, if Jesus is truly God and if Jesus is truly the bread of life, then what is it to eat the Bread of Life? How do we go about being satisfied and nourished by God? Answer: We seek to feed our souls just as we feed our stomachs and that is not something you only do on Sunday, but multiple times each day. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “The belly is an ungrateful wretch, it never remembers past favors, it always wants more tomorrow.” Perhaps the soul isn’t quite that bad, but if we are not in the habit of feeding it on a daily basis, allowing it to taste God, then it will grow cold, isolated, and prone to sinful behavior. We have mealtime and we must also have soul time.
How do we nourish ourselves on God? We receive him physically through Holy Communion, truly the Body and Blood of Jesus, but we also feed on Him through the study of His Holy Word, prayer, and the other spiritual practices. Consider the questions we will ask as Derrick makes his Baptismal Covenant this morning and we renew our own. Each of them points to how we feed on God through repentance, fellowship, proclamation, giving, and serving. Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Your soul hungers for Him, so seek Him where He can be found. Feed on Him through these various practices and be filled.
Jesus is the Great I Am. He is the Bread of Life. Understand that He is the only one who will satisfy the hunger of your soul; therefore, set aside time each day to provide nourishment for your soul.
So that Derrick might join us in our life with God by becoming a part of Christ’s one holy catholic and apostolic Church, the candidate for Holy Baptism will now be presented.