“The Artisan Bread Church” John 6:56-69 8.26.2018
For the past several weeks we have listened to Sunday gospel readings from the sixth chapter of John. Several sermons were given on these bread themes.
- We started with Jesus feeding of the 5,000 with “five barley loaves” (vv. 1-15).
- Then it was Jesus as “the bread of life” (v. 35).
- That was followed by Jesus as “the living bread that came down from heaven” (v. 51), and the promise that “the one who eats this bread will live forever” (v. 58).
Together, these teachings reveal the type of spiritual nourishment that Jesus provides to anyone who will dare “to eat his flesh and drink his blood” which we read today from v. 56 of the gospel.
One of my foremost memories of early childhood was the wonderful aromas that would emit from my maternal grandmother’s kitchen. It seemed as if those warm, mouth watering smells were always present whenever I visited.
I can’t remember when those aromas were NOT present during my visits. The aroma was fresh baked bread, and on occasion chocolate chip cookies. But the smell of fresh bread seemed to be present on an almost daily basis.
Maybe you have the same memory from your childhood concerning your mother or grandmother or both baking bread. Maybe some of you did so while your children were young, or maybe you still bake fresh bread.
Somewhere along the way you have experienced fresh baked bread. Even while I speak you can probably smell the aroma & taste that bread can’t you! I know I can.
Mike Ferretti tells people: “We don’t give samples, we give ‘amples.’” Mike is the CEO of the Great Harvest Bread Company, and he’s talking about the thick slices of freshly baked bread, topped with rich honey his customers get when they walk into his stores.
Mike understands, as did Jesus, that you don’t eat bread, you experience bread. When you walk into one of Mike’s stores, the aroma is what hits you first. Follow your nose and look behind the counter and the chalkboard menu and you’ll see the racks of hand-kneaded, new-this-morning loaves of honey wheat, cinnamon walnut, and country French breads, among others.
And what you’ll really notice is the eclectic mix of people crowded into the little shop — business people in suits, multi-pierced high-school students on lunch break, a mom with a toddler in hand, a bike messenger, even a homeless person — all lined up, patiently waiting. Some are there waiting to take home a loaf of handmade bread for the family table, but all of them are there to get that free slice. No purchase necessary. No wonder customers keep coming back. In other words, “Cast your bread upon the counter and it will come back to you tenfold.”
But it’s not just the “free” bread that keeps customers coming back. People are following their noses and bellying up to the counter in search of good bread — bread with character; not the mass-produced, square-bodied, chemically preserved, white and doughy generic kind … but the handcrafted, whole grain, crusty, exotically flavored, chewy, melt-in-your-mouth kind, also known as “artisan” bread.”
Artisan bread is best described by thinking about the person who makes the bread. Artisan bakers are crafts persons who are trained to the highest ability to mix, ferment, shape and bake a handcrafted loaf of bread. They understand the science behind the chemical reactions of the ingredients and know how to provide the best environment for the bread to develop.
Compare an artisan baker to other familiar crafts persons. A baker’s work parallels that of jewelers, glass blowers or furniture makers. They all have a palette of preferred, trustworthy materials. They know how to combine their materials to build something strong and at the same time delicate or elegant. Combining the raw materials in different ways will create various shapes, textures or colors. The finished product is something to be proud of when so much thought and creativity went into it.
Artisan bread takes on a unique character reminiscent of days gone by. Great Harvest boasts, “Our breads taste so good our customers ask if we hired their grandma.”
What bakeries like Great Harvest have done is to bring back the homemade taste and feel of the old days when grandma would bake in her kitchen a weekly supply of loaves made with love. For grandma, the only “real” bread was made with her own hands. No store-bought bread was good enough to grace that turkey sandwich, or get slathered with apple butter. Grandma’s recipes were unique, reflecting her own character and artisan skill, and always brought a begging crowd when the oven door opened!
Jesus knew what grandma, Great Harvest and every artisan baker knows — there’s no substitute for the character, nutrition, taste and experience of fresh, filling and fulfilling “real” bread. Jesus is the real bread. The whole of John Chapter 6 is really a lesson in artisan baking.
Several weeks ago we read about the amazing feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and a couple of fish — basic nutrition provided via mass production. Having received this gift, the crowd pursues Jesus around to the other side of the lake looking for more.
Like their Israelite ancestors, who received a daily portion of manna in the desert, the crowd is clamoring to be fed on a similar scale with “bread from heaven” — the kind of plain old daily bread one might expect from a cosmic convenience store. But Jesus isn’t interested in making bread for subsistence; Jesus IS the Bread of Life — the “true bread from heaven … that which … gives life to the world”
Jesus is bread conceived in the mind of a Master Artisan. In his own sacrifice on the cross, with his own flesh and blood, Jesus the Bread of Life is uniquely and divinely crafted to satisfy the recommended nutritional allowance for eternal life for all who feed on him and his words.
The flesh and blood of Jesus, freely offered for the salvation of the world, are “true bread” and “true drink” (v. 55). The “true bread” that Jesus offers is the kind that brings people into a deep relationship with God.
Breaking bread with someone was a sign of true intimacy in the ancient world — a sign that those who participated in the meal were bonded for life. In a shocking reinterpretation of this tradition, Jesus offers himself to the world as “bread” — the means through which God and humanity become bonded for eternal and abundant life. Jesus says, “Just as the living God sent me and I live because of God, so whoever eats me will live because of me … the one who eats this bread will live forever” (vs. 57-58).
“Feeding” on Jesus is a means of taking in all that he offers — the satisfying fullness of salvation, the daily nutrients of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the strength to live life to the full with an eternal perspective.
Jesus is the bread — apparently a concept too weird for many people. The disciples’ response to Jesus’ offer is that the “teaching is difficult; who can accept it.” (v. 60). And John tells us that, “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him” (v. 66).
Maybe it’s because they couldn’t get past the “ick” factor — the seemingly cannibalistic language that Jesus was using. Maybe it’s because they simply couldn’t accept the gift that Jesus was offering them — there was no way they could “earn” it, no list of righteous boxes to check, no requirements to clean your hands and use proper table manners.
Or maybe it was because of the exclusive nature of Jesus’ offer — if he’s the only “real bread,” it eliminates all the others. In the search to fill the gnawing emptiness inside, people turn to a wide variety of cheap, processed, mass-produced “breads” that ultimately leave them starving to death: money, prestige, power, “stuff.”
Jesus’ call is to bypass these well-stocked shelves and the stale supermarket spirituality that the world offers. Instead, he calls us to go a little out of the way to the intimacy of the corner bakery for a free slice of the “Bread of Life” — bread with a unique and life-giving character crafted by the “Artisan’s loving hands” especially for us.
When we receive the bread offered during Holy Communion, it’s the spiritual equivalent of receiving free bread. No matter how you slice it the “real” bread and “real” drink connect us deeply and spiritually with God through Jesus Christ. We are nourished by the grace we receive, encouraged by the diverse crowd around us and strengthened to live life to the full.
There’s no substitute for the love and life we experience when we break the “Bread of Life”. Like Peter we cry out, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (v. 68).
Jesus is the bread — the bread of life – let’s share the bread.
A hungry world is lining up and looking for something to fill the gnawing emptiness in the pit of its collective heart. Know and love the fantastic “product” you have to offer in the love and grace of Jesus Christ; open the doors & invite everyone to the table, and freely give what God has given you.
If you’re offering the Living Bread, people will always come back for more. Amen.
@Rev. Tim Wolbrecht, August, 2018
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 8-26-18” name of the sermon.