REVISED SERVICE – Stoke Hammond – 12 March 2017
Readings Exodus 3:1—15
Moses and the burning bush
3 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up.’
4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’
And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’
5 ‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ 6 Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
7 The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey – the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’
11 But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’
12 And God said, ‘I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you[b] will worship God on this mountain.’
13 Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’
14 God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you.”’
15 God also said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has sent me to you.”
‘This is my name for ever,
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation.
Reading Hebrews 3:1—6
Jesus greater than Moses
3 Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. 2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honour than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honour than the house itself. 4 For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5 ‘Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,’ bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. 6 But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.
Gospel John 6:25—35
Jesus the bread of life
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’
26 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’
28 Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’
29 Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’
30 So they asked him, ‘What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’
32 Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’
34 ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’
35 Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
A week or so ago, I thought I would be talking to you about Nicodemus, who visited Jesus at night. He was told he must be ‘born again.’ To us, the words sound reasonable. We know what being ‘born again’ means, or we think we do. To Nicodemus, the whole thing sounded impossible. Yet he was told to believe in the seemingly impossible, just as Abram was told to believe he would become the ancestor of many peoples. In Scripture, God walks and talks with the patriarchs, and somehow believing the impossible is easier when you are that close to the divine.
Today in the Lent course John Waller has devised, our readings are about Moses, who sees the impossible and is sent to try and negotiate the unlikely release of his people from Pharaoh. The Hebrews reading tells us that Jesus is greater than Moses, just as the designer and builder of a house is greater than the house itself. The gospel passage chosen by John Waller brings these two together in an extended metaphor about the Bread of Life.
The background to the conversation between Jesus and the crowd of those who had followed him round the Lake of Galilee is the ‘Feeding of the 5,000.’ The people had been miraculously fed, and they followed Jesus wanting more. The bread was like a kind of manna, not the one that fell from the sky, but even better: it landed in their laps.
After the ‘Feeding of the 5,000’ Jesus evaded the people and went off on his own. He sent his close disciples ahead in a boat. When they encountered a dangerous storm, Jesus miraculously appeared, walking on the surface of the water. What had happened must have surely been spread around the crowd, who had rounded the lake in search of another free lunch.
It’s tempting for the preacher to try and explain the feeding miracles in some detail, but as you will no doubt learn from the Lent Course, that misses the point. After the feeding of the 5,000, many people wanted to have Jesus as their King, one who would take up arms against the Romans and make Israel great again. That reminds me of Donald Trump’s campaign aims, hopefully this time more believable. The point, though, is not about what Jesus did, but who Jesus is. The ‘sign’ is not about people being fed, but the nature of the divine.
I don’t know if you noticed, but as I read the gospel passage the conversation sounded very similar to the woman at the well. That was about living water and not the physical water in the well. This time the extended metaphor is not about bread, and what it represents for us. In the end, both are about who Jesus is.
These events have a lot in common. Both include references to the ancestors: first Jacob, provider of the well; second Moses and the manna in the wilderness. Both ask for Jesus go on providing a permanent supply of bread or water freely. These are understandable physical desires, but both call for correction by Jesus, who explains the signs refer to himself, not bread or water.
This theme is what theologians refer to as ‘Christological’ — they are centred on Christ. When we look at the questions posed by the people and Jesus’s answers, they are told not to work for bread that spoils, but the bread that has God’s seal of approval, the kind Jesus provides. This sounds good. The crowd want the username and password. How can they work for this bread? Jesus tells them God’s work is to believe in Him—the One God sends.
The people want a ‘sign.’ They want another feeding miracle. They want to see more manna falling into their laps, just like Moses in the wilderness. Jesus explains this is not the true bread. Another sign won’t help. Only the true bread is sent by God and comes down from heaven.
Finally Jesus given them the key to the metaphor. The true bread comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world. OK, the people say, give us this bread then. Jesus replies:
…‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’
Just as the preacher is tempted to explain the details of the feeding miracles, so this preacher is tempted to say something more about who Christ is. What does ‘living water’ mean? What about the ‘bread of life?’
The ‘signs’ in John’s gospel, like the parables, speak to each one of us differently. Even the locks are not consistent, and the meaning seems to vary whenever we try and access it. So all I have to do is invite you to contemplate Who Jesus is for yourself and myself. Perhaps Lent is an opportunity for us all to ponder on this aspect of our faith?
The starting point could not however be clearer. The only food that can last for all time is the bread that Jesus himself is, the true gift from God. The key to unlocking this bread is to believe in Jesus, the One God sent. Now the hard bit—what follows from that? Amen