For the past six weeks â€” with one exception â€” you have been living in the 6th chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Itâ€™s a marvelous chapter. Although it tells a storyâ€” about Christâ€™s feeding of the multitudes â€” that is also in the other three Gospels, it tells that story in a unique way and Jesusâ€™ words in this chapter represent a new and unique way for us to understand who God is and how God relates to us. In John chapter 6, Jesus employs a metaphor never before used in the other Gospels, never before used in the preceding books of the Bible and never since used in any other religionâ€™s writings. â€śI am,â€ť Jesus says, â€śGod is,â€ť Jesus says, â€śthe Bread of life.â€ť Not the Giver of bread, but the bread. Not the source of our sustenance, but our sustenance. Not our nourisher, but our nourishment. This is a unique and decidedly un-godlike metaphor. Itâ€™s only a metaphor. But metaphors are important because they shape our understanding of God and our understanding of ourselves, our relationship to God and the way we mold and form our society.
Think with me for a moment about the other metaphors we use to describe God and our relationship to God: Deliverer. Father. Sustainer. Higher Being. We Lutherans like â€śFortress.â€ť Roman Catholics like â€śRock.â€ť Germans like â€śLeader.â€ť English, â€śTeacherâ€ť and â€śGuide.â€ť Scandinavians especially appreciate â€śSavior,â€ť and â€śFriend.â€ť God has been described as Judge, Comforter, Companion, Warriorâ€” I can go on and on and each of these metaphors not only describe God but also describe our relationship with God and each of these metaphors shape the ways we relate to God and, in more ways than we want to admit, the way we mold and form our communities and our relationships with others. So when in Johnâ€™s Gospel Jesus describes God as Bread something very important is going on here because if we take the image seriously it will cause us tore-think and re-configure our life and the way we live.
We all know well that there are hundreds of different ways people all over the world think about God. Some, maybe even the majority, simply donâ€™t think about God at all.
For them, God doesnâ€™t exist. God isnâ€™t. For an equally large number of people â€” some of them Christians, some Jews, some Moslems as well as many others â€” these and other metaphors of God are irrelevant because God is irrelevant and as far as they can tell plays no real role in their â€” or anyone elseâ€™s â€” life. And there are, of course, a whole lot of people â€” Christian people, Moslem people, Jewish, Hindu and other peoples â€” who shape their lives and their communities and their view of others as if God was only a father or a leader or a guide or a warrior or a judge or their personal friend. You donâ€™t have to look far to see what kind of communities and relationships these folks have or seek to create.
Donâ€™t misunderstand me. At some point in life, and at specific points in human history, each of these metaphors of God are important and useful. There have been plenty of times in my life when God as Rock, Comforter, Leader, Friend and Guide has been extremely important to me and most of you. God as â€śmighty Fortress?â€ť Well, a lot of the Gospel would not be proclaimed or heard if Luther hadnâ€™t understood and utilized that.
But at this time and in this place, for each of us and for the Church in this city and this world, other metaphors are helpful and useful and for six weeks â€” with one exception â€” you have been living with one of the most helpful one, with God as nourishment and sustenance and bread. â€śI am the bread of life, â€śJesus says, speaking of himself and speaking of God. â€śThe one who eats this bread will live forever.â€ť
Think what that metaphor conveys. A God who is not above us or ahead of us or even alongside of us, but who lives and moves and acts within us and through us. A God who is not outside of us determining or manipulating our lives or evaluating our lives or even bestowing gifts from above into our lives, but a God who is continually nourishing us to live our lives whole and well and free. A God who not only desires to be one of one of us but more, to be in us, to subsume the whole divine being so that we might have life and have it abundantly.
God is our bread. How might we shape our life around that? God is our sustenance. How might we shape a community around that?
God is our nourishment. How might we configure a social order around that? Would we be inclusive or exclusive? Would there be givers and receivers? Would there be leaders and followers and some going nowhere? Would there be any left behind?
The 6th chapter of John and especially what Jesus says about himself and about the one he callsâ€ś Fatherâ€ť is often treated as â€śEucharistic theologyâ€ť and therefore often understood as all about the liturgy. And that it surely is. It is, after all, God who comes to us in bread and wine and the elements, the vessels and the words and the actions which convey our God to us must be reverent, intentional and passionately clear. This is God coming to us. This is Godâ€™s Spirit and our life. But Eucharistic theology is also about the people who receive God, the community we become and our words and actions which convey our God into the lives of others. There is an old and silly saying, that plays on the meaning of the word â€śEucharist.â€ť
A silly saying that conveys everything Iâ€™ve just tried to say about how God as bread of life might shape our life, our community and the way we relate to one another. â€śThanksgiving is thanks-living:â€ť a silly old saying that is absolutely true.
It is good to be back among you! Now, faithful people of Saint Peterâ€™s, weâ€™ve got a lot of thanks-living to do!