Looking for the Bread of Life

Adapted from a sermon originally delivered by Ken Streitenberger, Associate Pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church.

C.S. Lewis once observed that physical pain is the megaphone of God. He said, "God uses pain to speak loudly of our need for God. Though God does not send or cause the pain, God does use the pain to help us lean totally on God's grace and healing."

In his book, "The Bush Is Still Burning," Lloyd Ogilvie sees heartaches in the same way. They are caused by a loss, a disappointment, a feeling of impotence. We feel like a cannon ball has been shot through our inner being. There is a gaping hole, an emptiness, a frightening insufficiency -- a malnutrition of the soul.

We are made aware that we need the bread of life. Don't we know exactly what Ogilvie is talking about? Oh, maybe we don't associate it with heartache, but we feel an emptiness within us at times. Sometimes we feel alone. Occasionally we admit that the world and relationships and our jobs or our family responsibilities or the decisions we have to make are too much for us.

We feel incompetent, incapable, unprepared, too weak to do or to bear all that confronts us. We think that what we need is a better job, a higher salary, a boss or a spouse who understands us, more children, fewer children, more recognition, a nicer home, a new car, shorter work hours, fancier clothes, additional gadgets, more "with-it" parents. We're feeling hunger pangs of the soul.

In order to relieve those hunger pangs we try to stuff our emaciated spirits with junk food –quick fixes, material and spiritual gimmicks, busy-ness. What we really need, though, is vitamin-and-mineral-packed food. Food that is spiritually nutritious. Food that doesn't speak to our desires, food that satisfies our soul's real longings.

We need the bread of life. Jesus' message to the Galilean people said essentially the same thing. The people had come out to Jesus because he had fed them the day before -- the miracle when he fed 5,000 and satisfied their physical appetites with loaves and fishes. But what Jesus was trying to get them to see was that his greater purpose was to satisfy their spiritual appetites.

Jesus would like to have been to them the food that lasts; the food that nourishes the soul; the food which is literally "the bread of life." Jesus said, "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life." Jesus said, "I am that food." Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry."

But how can that be? How can Christ nourish us? How can Christ meet these many needs we have? How can Christ feed us and make us into new creatures who never hunger spiritually? Let me share with you an analogy one theologian uses to illustrate how this feeding happens. He writes, A man is tired; and because he is tired, he is irritable and impossible.

But let the man have a meal and likely enough, throwing aside his gloom and ill humor, he will become his usual equable self again – kindly, unselfish, companionable. And why? Because the strength that was in the food has passed into him and become his strength. It has made a stronger and a better person of him.

So, says this theologian, in Christ there is that which feeds, which sustains, which restores spent vigor and exhausted energies, a strength we can appropriate and make our own, doing and being what apart from him we could not do and be.  Jesus is the bread of life. He can and will nourish and strengthen and refresh us. Part of how he does it is by giving us new goals, new values, a different orientation toward life, grace to accept ourselves and our finitude and our frailties.

But also a part of it has to be our willingness to partake of Christ as the bread of life. Now, if you are at all lie me – and I'm fairly sure you are -- then you don't think you need any bread of life. We all tend to think – at least from time to time -- that we don't need any help or assistance.

We can do everything on our own. If there are big decisions to be made, we can make them. If there are tasks to be done, we can do them. If there are pressures to handle or conflicts to settle or problems to solve or crises to endure, we can take care of them. Or at least we think we can take care of them.

We somehow have gotten the idea that we have to take care of things all by ourselves. There is no one we can trust to care for our needs, and we never think of turning our needs over to God. But eventually, it hits us like a slap of cold water in the face on a January morning – we are at the point of collapse, we are at our wits end, we are about to break from the pressure, we are impossible to live with – and it dawns on us, why not turn all this over to God?

Why not allow God to help us shoulder this burden? Why not allow the bread of life to nourish us and nurse us through this? Why not allow God to do what God has promised? And we do, and we find again that our Lord is as good as his word. He has fed us. He has met our need. He has seen us through, indeed he has carried us through. He is the bread, the sustenance of life.

My friends, the topic today is nourishment, hunger, the bread of life. It is an appropriate topic for us to consider on this Holy Communion Sunday when we come to the table of our Lord laying before our God our selves, and receiving in return God's all-sufficient spirit.

To close, I would share with you a poem by Annie Johnson Flint. The poem provides us with thoughts to consider as we stand this day at the table of our Lord. She writes:

He giveth more grace as the burdens grow greater; He sendeth more strength when the labors increase. To added affliction, He addeth His mercy; To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace. When we have exhausted our store of endurance, When our strength has failed ere the day is half done; When we reach the end of our hoarded resources, Our Father's full giving is only begun. His love has no limit; His grace has no measure; His pow'r has no boundary known unto men. For out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!

Rev. Ken Streitenberger is the Associate Pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church in Toledo, Ohio. Epworth is an exciting, growing, and dynamic church with a heart for missions and a passion to grow in its faith in Christ and service to the world. If you are looking for a church where people are friendly and welcoming, we invite you to try Epworth.

Epworth offers three Sunday morning services: at 8:30 a.m., our blended worship service brings together a traditional worship style and a contemporary flair. Our traditional worship service begins at 9:45 a.m., followed by the contemporary worship service at 11. We are located at the corner of Valleyview and Central Avenue in Toledo, across from Wildwood Metropark.

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Epworth United Methodist Church
3077 Valleyview Drive
Toledo, OH 43615-2237
Telephone : 419-531-4236
FAX : 419-531-7487

Corner of Valleyview and Central Ave, across from Wildwood Metropark