Sermon Series on
“The I Am Statements of Jesus”
What Does it Mean for Jesus to Say “I am the bread of life”?
Today is the second Sunday of Lent and we are well into that journey to Easter (40 days minus Sundays) and for many of us this is a time of a little more spiritual discipline and focus on our faith. So from time to time we like to take this opportunity to be focused in our sermons as we intentionally walk together in faith. Last Sunday the gospel was the temptation of Jesus and Garfield reminded us that temptations are real and need to be faced. Today we begin our Lenten sermon series on the “I am” statements of Jesus as found in John’s gospel.
To begin this, let us take a little time to first reflect upon John’s gospel. We do not see John a lot in our Sunday lectionary (assigned readings cycle) as we have a three year rotation where we work through the bulk of Matthew, Mark and Luke – these are sometimes called the synoptic gospels. When we tend to see John is when we want to look at more difficult concepts. So we read from John on Trinity Sunday and we see John a lot during the season of Easter and this is because John goes beyond the narrative (story) of Jesus’ life and looks very deliberately at the meaning of Jesus. So while all the gospels are full of meaning one could argue there is a layer of complexity in John not seen in the other gospels. We see this in the structure of John itself. The biblical scholars have divided John up into four parts. There is the prologue, the book of signs, the book of glory and the epilogue. The prologue is famous for echoing the opening of Genesis and sounding like Greek philosophy. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. We will look at this a little more next week and the epilogue is the resurrection. In between these two pieces there is the book of signs, which contains the seven miracles of Jesus as found in John’s gospel (another sermon series for another day) and the book of glory is the events of the passion (last supper, arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus). Littered through these middle two sections are seven “I am “statements which really speak to John’s portrayal of the meaning of Jesus and this is what we are looking at during this sermon series. If you want to discuss and learn more you can certainly come to the Wednesday night Lenten study where we do just that.
The first “I am” statement is today’ gospel where Jesus says “I am the bread of life”. Now what does this mean? Well, as Christians we often hear this and jump ahead. We think that it has to do with the last supper, the breaking of the bread and our Eucharistic (communion) celebrations. While there is something to this and it should not be forgotten, this particular “I am” has more meaning to it than that. There are two parts really in that statement that we should reflect upon. The first is the “I am” statement itself. We will look more fully at this next week but for now it should be said that this in itself is a profound statement. In the scriptures on over three hundred occasions God is referred to within the context of “I am” and so Jesus is drawing upon this and saying something about who he is in relationship to God – again more about that next week. For now though, let us focus on the second part of the statement where Jesus says “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never thirst”. From this statement it is obvious that Jesus is speaking about more than just physical bread but rather is using the image of bread to speak some truth about himself and about belief in him. In fact Jesus is responding to a request, perhaps a demand, by the crowds who had come out to hear his words. This is the first “I am” statement and is fairly close to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In fact Jesus is starting to gain some renown. Just prior to the gospel we have this morning we have the feeding of the five thousand, one of Jesus seven signs. It always strikes me as strange. Jesus has just done the impossible, a miracle of abundance and here the crowds want a sign. Was it because they wanted to see more or perhaps it was a new group who had just heard and not experienced Jesus’ miracle. Whatever it was we see that they wanted a sign, like manna from heaven they say, and that Jesus does not oblige. In fact I think this is one of the inherent weaknesses of the miracles of Jesus is that when they are used as proof or confirmation of the divinity of Jesus it is ultimately unsatisfying as Jesus has to perform them again and again to larger and larger groups in order for the proof to stick. So Jesus does not bend to their demand for a sign, or another sign I would argue, but rather tells them some truth about himself. He responds to their request for a miracle like Moses’ manna in the desert by reminding them that as miraculous as that was they became hungry again daily and that if they come to him they will never be hungry. What Jesus is speaking here is of our need for spiritual food and a recognition that we are more than our bellies. It is that fundamental realization that we are spiritual beings as much as physical beings and as it is often noted, we are spirit, soul and body and we need to care for all of these aspects of ourselves. I think it is worth noting here that Jesus does not dismiss the physical but rather recognizes its limitations. Just as Moses fed the people with manna and they became hungry once more, when Jesus fed the five thousand they too became hungry. Jesus has cared for their physical needs but as he notes these physical needs never disappear and are always with us. What he does here is use that demand for a sign and the understanding of the relentless nature of our physicality to point us in the direction of something more, in this case the feeding of our spirits which can be only found in him. He is the bread of life.
I was reading something recently which speaks to this truth and I would like to share it with you.
The promises afforded of the world are at best of transient significance. Work hard and you will succeed; be faithful and you will build a solid home; save, and you will have enough to live on in your old age; play for publicity, whether by being great and good or being outrageous, and you will have fame. But we all know that these promises are frequently broken. Work hard, and you might succeed. Alternatively, you might get fired or contract cancer and die young or get killed in a hunting accident. Be faithful, and you will build a solid home – unless, of course, your spouse is unfaithful or your kids somehow hit the skids adn cause you endless pain or you happen to live in a part of the world that is ravaged by war and tribalism. Even when these promises work out, they are at best transient. The hunks and beauties of today’s football field, today’s catwalk, today’s big screen will all die. If they live long enough, they will die weakened, perhaps emaciated, likely in some pain or doped out so as to be largely unaware of their surroundings. On an eternal scale, the world’s pormises are not very reassuring. (Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church by D.A. Carson, p. 224-225)
Today, after Jesus has fed the hungry, he tells us there is more and that if we believe in him we will no longer be hungry or thirsty. Jesus is telling us that his mission is to feed us completely, in our spirits, in our souls and in our bodies. Jesus is calling us to belief in him because in him we are made whole and know God.
Thanks be to God. Amen.