O TASTE AND SEE – AUGUST 5, 2018

O TASTE AND SEE

A sermon based on John 6:24-35

First Baptist Church of Lynchburg

August 5, 2018

By Paul Dakin

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

 

These are the words of Psalm 34:8—“O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed are those who take refuge in Him.”

 

As we approach this morning’s text, I want to begin by asking you a question: “What is your favorite kitchen aroma?” I suppose that if we were to individually answer that question aloud, we would get several different answers. My guess that some of the more popular answers might be “coffee brewing,” or “bacon frying,” or “popcorn popping.” Those are all certainly wonderful smells and I love each and every one of them. But I must admit that one of my very favorite kitchen smells of all is that of bread baking. When I am making Italian flatbread in the kitchen at home, it fills the whole house with a smell that is both warm and comforting. And it stimulates in the appetite in anticipation of the dinner soon to follow.

 

It also apparently has other benefits as well. A study by The University of South Brittany has suggested that the aroma of freshly baked bread can actually make you a kinder person. (That such a study should be conducted in France should come as no surprise. After all, France is a nation well-known for its love of eating…and also for its glorious breads like the baguette and the croissant…)

 

The experiment went like this: volunteers stood outside two business locations. One was a bakery; the other was a clothing boutique. Those conducting the experiment pretended to be looking for something in their shopping bags as they stepped in front of folks passing by on the sidewalk. While doing so, they dropped something—a glove, handkerchief, or something like that. According to the article published in the Journal of Social Psychology, 77 percent of strangers stopped to help the participants who were standing in front of the bakery. By contrast, in front of the clothing store that had no such smell, only 52 percent of the strangers helped the participants recover their dropped items.

 

The experiment was repeated over 400 times before the results were compiled. One researcher was quoted as saying, “Spontaneous help is offered more in areas where pleasant ambient smells are spread. This confirms the role of ambient food odors on [behavior].”[1] I don’t know—maybe we should all be baking bread more often at home. Perhaps it would make for kinder and gentler interactions between us and our friends…and our family members…and our neighbors…

 

The subject of bread is a major focus of today’s gospel text from John 6. Jesus talks with the multitude that has been following him about bread that will perish…and about the bread that is eternal…

 

Earlier in chapter 6, Jesus performs one of his most famous miracles. You know it as “The Feeding of the 5000.” You no doubt remember how it goes: Jesus was handed a boy’s lunch of five small barley loaves and two small fish. And with that modest meal, everyone wound up eating their fill with plenty of leftovers to spare.  Then after the banquet, our Lord and his disciples got in a boat and traveled to the other side of Lake Galilee. That is where today’s text picks up…

 

The crowd figured out what was going on and traveled to the other side of the lake as well to meet Jesus and the disciples. When the crowd caught up with them, Jesus told them that he knew that they were only interested in receiving another meal from him. (Side bar here: Our Lord does not seem to be very pleased about what the crowd had in mind. I wonder if his voice took on something of a stern tone at this point…The scripture does not tell us.) He then tells them that they should desire food “that endures for eternal life” instead of food that will perish.

 

Verses 28 through 30 have an ironic exchange between Jesus and the crowd. The crowd asks Jesus what they must do to perform the works of God. Jesus responds by saying that their job is to believe in the One that God has sent. Of course, by that statement, he was referring to himself.

 

Then the crowd responds with another question. They ask Jesus what kind of sign he was going to show them, so that they might see it and would believe in him.

 

The scriptures never indicate that Jesus ever responded to anyone with an “eye roll.” But if there was ever a time when Jesus would have rolled his eyes at something, I imagine that this would have been one of those times. Can you imagine? These people were asking our Lord for a sign, a demonstration off his power to prove who he was. These were the very same people that he had miraculously fed just a day earlier with five loaves and two fish. What was wrong here? Were their memories really that short? Or were they blind to what had actually happened? What more sign would they need in addition to the one that they had already witnessed in their midst? Well, whatever the case, “The Feeding of the 5000” apparently did not make not enough of an impression. They demanded another miracle to satisfy them…

 

Not surprisingly, Jesus ignored their request. (As one reads the gospels, it is pretty clear that Jesus never responded in a positive way whenever someone tried to tell him what to do…That would make for a great sermon, wouldn’t it? We’ll just have to save that for another time…)

 

In fact, Jesus would not perform another miracle again until three chapters later. There he healed a man who had been born blind on the Sabbath day.  So instead of performing another miracle, Jesus and the crowd talked about bread. The crowd talked about how God had given their ancestors bread in the wilderness on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. Jesus said that the true bread from heaven is that which gives life to the world. Then he concluded this time of teaching by declaring, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…”

 

Bread…it is one of the oldest foods in human history. Archaeologists suggest that primitive people made flatbreads some 12,000 years ago. Here is the main takeaway from today’s sermon: In the Bible, bread is the earthly symbol for the presence of God in the midst of his people.

 

In the Old Testament passage read earlier in the service from Exodus 16, we are told how the people of Israel were on their way to Canaan when they complained to Moses (and ultimately to God) about the food they were eating. (It was not the first time that this would happen…nor would it be the last that the people would be complaining to Moses and God…) The people longed to eat food like the bread that they had enjoyed in Egypt. So God said, “I am going to rain bread down from heaven for you…” And God was as good as his word.

 

Each morning when the Israelites arose, the ground was covered with a flaky substance as fine as frost on the ground. Exodus 16:31 tells us that “The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.” They called it “manna” because the Hebrew word “manna” means “What is it?” They had never seen anything like it before. While they may not have known exactly what it was, they knew that manna was bread from heaven. They knew that it was a gift of God to his people, a sign of his divine presence in their midst.

 

Another example of bread as an earthly symbol of god’s Grace and presence…Beginning in Exodus 25, the Lord instructs Moses and the people of Israel to build a structure where they could conduct worship as they traveled to the Promised Land. He gives them directions on how to build a mobile sanctuary. This is what became known as “The Tabernacle,” or the “Tent of Meeting.”  God gave detailed instructions on how the Tabernacle was to be built, how worship was to be conducted, and what kinds of furnishings it was to have. One of the furnishings inside the Tabernacle was a table—a table made of wood overlaid with gold. Bread was to be placed on this table at all times—twelve loaves representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The loaves were to be arranged in two rows of six loaves each. They were always to be on the table and replaced every Sabbath.[2] The bread is called “shewbread” in the King James Version. In the Hebrew, it is called le-chem pä-nem. Le-chem means “bread.” Pä-nem means “face” or “presence.” So most modern English versions translate the phrase as “The Bread of the Presence.” This Bread of Presence on the Tabernacle table was another symbol and constant reminder to the priests and to the people of the Lord’s care. Bread is the earthly symbol of God’s presence in the midst of his people…

 

In today’s passage from Mark 6, Jesus refers to himself as “the bread of life” which comes down from heaven. The meaning is unmistakable. Jesus is now the presence of God among his people. You remember in Matthew 1 that it talks about the birth of our Lord. And every Christmastime we read that scripture which says, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Emmanuel’—which means ‘God with us.’” Jesus as the bread of life that comes down from heaven is evidence that he is truly “God with us.” Jesus is now God in the midst of his people…

 

[Side bar: Another piece of scripture that bears this out and that we hear every Christmas is from Luke 2. In that familiar story, we are told that Jesus was born in the city of David, which is called “Bethlehem.” The name “Bethlehem” in Hebrew literally translates as the “house of bread.” So the town of Bethlehem is the place where the bread of heaven—the bread of life—the one known as “God with us”—first appears. “God with us” born in the “house of bread.” How appropriate…I do not think that was coincidental… because Jesus is “the bread of life”…and bread is the earthly symbol of God’s presence in the midst of his people…]

 

Every Sunday during worship, like tens of thousands of other churches of many different kinds around the world, our congregation recites together the prayer that our Lord taught his disciples, and us to pray—the prayer that has become known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” During the course of that prayer, one of the petitions that we make is “Give us this day our daily bread.”

 

Here in the Lord’s Prayer, the meaning of the word “bread’ is at once simple, natural and material. It is also more profound and sublime than we usually suppose. The natural and the sublime aspects are closely linked. Bread is a sign from God, given to his people in the wilderness, to the poor, to the afflicted, to those who hunger and thirst, to those in the very jaws of death. Because of all that it stands for, bread is something sacred. Bread is the promise, and not simply the promise but also the mystical presence of that food which nourishes for good and all; the food which, whosoever has eaten of it, will not need to eat again. In the Bible every meal, from the most frugal to the most sumptuous, is something sacred because it is the promise of life immortal and eternal.[3] That is because bread is the earthly symbol of God’s presence in the midst of his people.

 

In a few moments, we will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper together. You remember the story. During their last night together, Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples in the upper room. In his account of the Last Supper, Luke tells us that Jesus “took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’”[4]

 

By using bread to represent his body about to be nailed to the cross, Jesus once more identified himself as being the evidence of God in the midst of his people. And not only that, but God was working through Jesus to bring salvation to a lost and hurting world—a love demonstrated through a self-sacrificial, self-giving love. 2 Corinthians 5 tells us “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting our sins against us…God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” The bread that we eat at the Lord’s Table is symbolic of the new life that God offers us through his Son. As we take the bread into our bodies, it truly is a symbol of “God with us” in a tangible way. And it points to the life-giving, life-affirming presence of Jesus in our lives, reconnecting us to God…and reconnecting us to each other…

 

 

*******

So come to the Lord’s Table this morning. For the bread of this table reminds us that God is present among us, that God cares for you, and that you are important to him. Come—bringing all of your joys, bringing all of your hopes, and bringing all of your dreams.  Come—bringing all of your fears, bringing all of your pain, and bringing all of your anxieties. Come—bring all of who you are to the Savior. Come and dine this morning on the bread of life…as I repeat again the words that began this message—the words of Psalm 34: “O taste and see that the Lord is good…blessed are those who take refuge in him…”

 

To God alone be the glory! Amen.

 

*******

 

Hymn No. 323    Let Us Break Bread Together

 

 

[1] www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/02/the-smell-of-fresh-baked-bread-_n_2058480.html (Accessed August 1, 2018)

[2] Leviticus 24:5-9.

[3] This paragraph is largely taken from Karl Barth, Prayer and Preaching (Naperville, IL: SCM Press, 1964), 47-48.

[4] Luke 22:19.

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