1. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JANUARY 17, 2021

Rev. Sabrina Ingram                                                                                                                                  Epiphany 2

 

WORSHIPPING TOGETHER AT HOME

 

Call to Worship:  John 6:35 – 38

Jesus said to the crowd, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…  Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away;  for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.

 

Lighting of the Christ Candle

 

Hymn of Praise

 

Prayer of Adoration and Confession

Nurturing God,

At the beginning of creation, you made a garden with plants, soil and animals to provide for our needs.

Throughout the time of a great famine, you spoke to Joseph and he stored up grain.

When your people wandered through the dessert, you gave them quail and manna from heaven so they would not starve.

Now, you came from heaven to feed us with the Bread of Life, who is Jesus.

We praise you for your love.  You care not only for our physical needs, but for our spirits.  You give us life now and for eternity.

 

Lord, we confess that when it comes to actual food, we can have a distorted relationship.  Even in that word, we see that we tend to replace you, and other people with food.  For some, our need for control or our vanity cause us to eat too little.  For others, we eat too much.  We seek to comfort ourselves with food.  We stuff down our feelings.  We enjoy your gifts to the point of gluttony.  We are wasteful.  We hoard.  We forget the needs of those who go hungry or are malnourished.

 

Spiritually, our souls are hungry for many things and we don’t always turn to you for nourishment.  We seek to be filled by the things of the world which cannot satisfy us.  We are greedy for experiences which stimulate.  We rush through our time with you failing to taste and see that you are good.  We leave your Bread of Life, sitting on the shelf.

 

Forgive us.  Make us aware of our hunger for you and the things of your kingdom.  Help us to turn to you to give us life.

 

We remember those in our church family as we gather together; may this time be like a family gathering, where loved is shared, the story is told, and we feast on your word.

 

We worship you for you are our hope and sustenance.  Amen.

 

Assurance of Pardon John 6: 48 – 51

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.  Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.   This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.   I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

 

Prayer for Illumination

Bread of Life, through the hearing of your Word, may we taste and see that you are good.  Amen.

 

Scripture Readings

Exodus 16: 11 – 18 & 35

1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 26

John 6: 25 – 59

 

Message:  Bread of Life

 

Have you ever gone to a job interview and been asked, “Tell me about yourself”?  Here are some true and mind-boggling responses:

  • “I am really great at doing an impression of the wind, listen – whooooosh”.
  • “I  am 5′ 10″ tall” (it was not a modelling job).
  • (For a position flipping burgers): “I am really great with animals.”
  • “I am really competitive. In 5 years, I see myself in your chair, wearing your fine suits… Game on, Bro.” 
  • And the winning answer is… “Yourself is an English word and is used as a pronoun.  It refers to the person being addressed as the object of a verb or preposition when they are also the subject of the clause.  Plus, it has 8 letters out of which 5 are consonants and 3 are vowels”. 

Sometimes our answers to such questions reveal more about ourselves than we realize.

 

In the gospel according to John, Jesus makes 7 declarations about himself, known as the “I am” statements.  “I am the bread of life; I am the light of the world; I am the gate; I am the good shepherd; I am the vine; I am the resurrection and the life; I am the way, the truth and the life; and, the 8th is quite simply, I am”.  During the remainder of Epiphany which celebrates the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, we’ll be looking at the first five sayings listed here to hear how Jesus answered the question, “Tell me about yourself?”   His answers are also revelatory.

 

The first thing Jesus tells us about himself is “I am the bread of life”.  This statement follows the feeding of the 5000.  The disciples had left Tiberias and gone to Capernaum.  Jesus had missed the boat and walked across the water to catch up.  When he didn’t return, the crowds searched for him.   Jesus knew they wanted to see him again because they were hoping for more food.  In our society where food is so abundant that obesity is a common health issue and bread is shunned as a “bad carb”, it’s hard for us to relate to the longing of this crowd.  They worked hard for their food and sometimes they had less than needed.  The poor among them begged and starved.  For us, the problem is not that we don’t have enough food, it’s that we can’t get enough.  We can’t get enough of anything.   We are starving for love, peace, hope, emotional and physical wellness for ourselves and those we love.   We are desperate to find meaning, joy, balance and a true passion for life.  We try to fill our empty souls not only with bread but with possessions, prestige, excitement, sex, wealth, attention, happiness, stimulation, money, confidence, knowledge, authority, power, etc.  We are willing to go anywhere and do anything to get temporary satisfaction.  We’ll follow anyone who seems able to fulfill our desires.

 

Jesus’ response to us would be the same as his response to the crowds of his day, “Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that.  Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides.  He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last” (vs 27).  We’d all agree imperishable food sounds pretty good.  A few years ago, I had cardio symptoms and was sent to a cardiologist who ran every test known to man and then some.  No problems were apparent.  Never-the-less, the doctor prescribed an ace-inhibitor.  When I asked why he’d give me that when the tests were negative, he said, “It’ll keep you alive”.  I thought that sounded good.  Immortality through a tiny pill.  When I told Terry, he wanted them too.  Like Terry, the people ask Jesus what they have to do to get this food that was guaranteed to keep them alive.   Jesus tells them to “believe in” the One sent from God.  In other words, “sign on with [me]”. 

 

Jesus’ claim to be “the One sent from God”  – the Messiah, was a big stretch for his Jewish fans.  They wanted proof.  Moses, the greatest Jewish prophet ever, had feed their ancestors with manna in the wilderness.  It was fresh every morning.   Unlike Jesus’ one-off mass feeding, this miracle happened every day for 40 years.  There was so much manna for so long, the Israelites grew sick of it.  If Jesus had something better than that, he should lay it out.  Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread.  The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.” (vs. 32 & 33).  It wasn’t Moses who fed the Israelites, it was God.   Now God, was giving them the true bread from heaven.  The Israelites who ate all that fresh manna eventually died.  This new bread was life giving, now and eternally.  It sounded better all the time. The crowd realizes it’s for this, that they hunger.   This is what they want.  Not some snack for their bodies, but nourishment for their souls.  Not some fleeting pleasure that leaves them longing for more, but substantial and lasting spiritual satisfaction.

 

In life, it’s really important to know what it is we want.  Without that knowledge, we can’t set goals.  We run after all kinds of unsatisfactory things or we settle for what we’re given.  On the surface, what we want changes at each stage of life.  But if we peel back the layers of our apparent desires, we start to come down to the one thing that is essential.  Ask yourself what it is you want from life right now.  (Try to go deeper than a trip to the washroom or a sandwich.)   Then ask yourself what desire lies under that desire and keep going until you come to the core of it.   In some way, our deepest desire is always rooted and grounded in The Eternal.   The crowd in Capernaum are sure they want this Bread of Life, and they’re willing to do whatever is needed to get it.

 

So, Jesus gets explicit, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me… This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time”  (vs. 35, 36, 39, 40).   So, here comes the kicker.  Because God gave the manna, when the Israelites whined and complained about it, they whined and complained about God.  Couldn’t God do better than giving them bland manna for 40 years?  Can’t God whip up a roast lamb?  What kind of God is this?  The Bread of Life is also a gift from God.  Our response, the way we receive it, is crucial.  It requires faith.  Faith is more than intellectual assent like reciting a creed and agreeing with it, although that is an aspect of faith.   Faith goes deeper than relying on God to get us through tough times or into heaven, although that too is an aspect of faith.  To have faith is to “align” one’s self with Christ.  Alignment entails discipleship – following Jesus.  Alignment also means that we orient (line up) our values, dreams and behaviour with those of Christ.  To be in alignment with Christ is to be united with him – one with him, sharing his very breath or Spirit.

 

How badly do we want this Bread from Heaven?   The people with Jesus were resistant.  If they’d had Jesus in an interview to “tell us about yourself”.  They’d have expected him to say,  I am from Nazareth.  My dad is Joe the carpenter.  Some of you may know my mom, Mary.  They were not expecting,  “I am the Bread from Heaven”  When we get this true bread, what will we do with it?.  Feast on it gratefully every moment of every day?  Devour it with our whole beings?  Consume it, until it consumes us?  Prove that spiritually as well as physically “you are what you eat”?  Do we want it badly enough to become one with Christ?

 

One of the ways we align ourselves with Jesus is through The Lord’s Supper.  In Holy Communion we have union with the Holy.  Because of the CoVid dangers and restrictions, it has been many months since we’ve gathered around Christ’s table to be spiritually refreshed and nourished.  We look forward to being able to do that again.  Thankfully, Christ also feeds us in other ways.  Reading scripture alone, with others in a Bible Study or through devotional reading is food not only for thought but for our emotions and our decision-making processes.  Scripture opens the door for us to align ourselves with Christ on many levels.

 

When we unite with God’s will through prayer, Christ unites with us.  Prayer is more than pleading with God for what we want or need.  It goes beyond asking to include praise, confession, and thanksgiving.  Prayer goes beyond us talking to listening to what God has to say; this takes times of silence and awareness, not only in the moment but throughout the day.  Prayer goes beyond words, to being with God, aware of God’s love for us and offering our love to God.

 

Acts of service, working to create God’s kingdom on Earth, sharing and being generous with our forgiveness are actions that align us with God’s hope.  The Bread of Life sustains us as we exert ourselves in these ways.

 

An epiphany is an awakening, a realization, a discovery, an inspiration.  It is the spiritual moment when we cry out, “Eureka!  I’ve found it!”  Every epiphany begins with a revelation.  In Christ, God came to tell us and show us who he is.  He came to answer the question, “Tell us about yourself”.   Jesus  is The Bread of Life which comes from God.  Taste and see that the Lord is good.

 

Silent prayer and reflection

 

Offertory

Loving God, we thank you for Jesus, whom you sent to us as bread from heaven, feeding our spirits and giving us life.   We offer to you our gifts that through them, by faith, others may come to you and never be hungry.  Help each one of us to be a source of spiritual nourishment for those we meet.  Amen.

 

Hymn of Praise

 

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession

 

Bread of Life, we thank you for coming from heaven to enter into us and make us one with you.  Help us to receive you so that we may never be hungry again.  We thank you for the hope we have because this bread which gives life to the world. 

 

Thank you that we are not alone in our relationship with you.  Each week our prayers combine with those of Christians throughout the world.  We face many challenges.  We pray for Christians who suffer persecution.  We pray for those who are self-righteous and make a mockery of faith.  We pray for those who serve you in doing good things but do them out of their own strength.  We pray for Christians who find it difficult to speak about Christ.  We pray for those whose churches are dying.  We pray for those who seek to usher in your kingdom.  Revive your church, O Lord.

 

We thank you that through this pandemic you continue to be present to us and we thank you for the faithfulness of other Christians.  It is not easy to be under a “stay home order”; it causes us to go within rather to find the peace you give rather than escaping outside to find stimulation.  It is more difficult for those who work in health care and are drained from the work, the isolation and the responsibilities.  There are many who are isolated and deeply lonely.   There are many who are anxious and others who are stressed by changes in work and schooling.  There are those who are hard hit by the economic consequences.  There are those who are more vulnerable due to population density.  There are those who are vulnerable due to the lack of love on the part of those who take risks.  There are people who are very sick.  There are people who have lost loved ones and grieve.  All around life has been disrupted.  We  pray that this virus would come to an end.  We pray that you would be with each person and family giving them hope, strength and health.  We pray that through this experience people might align themselves with Christ. 

 

We remember before you today people living with war and violence and never-ending fear.   We pray for all those displaced by violence, seeking refuge in camps and communities around the world, where living conditions are deplorable.  We pray for those who seek asylum in other countries, such as Canada.  We pray for new immigrants who are healing from the past, adjusting to a new culture, too often mistreated, and seeking a better life. 

 

We pray for people who are angry and full of hate, and who are self-righteous and diminishing of others.  This week as a new president is inaugurated in the United States, that the country would once again be united.   Create in people a desire for peace.  Shatter pride.  Heal wounds.  Breach the divides.  Give people your Spirit of calm so that they will not be murderous or destructive.  We pray that protests do not give way to civil war and that democracy will be upheld and honoured. 

 

W pray for people who participate in or experience discrimination and social prejudice, for those who are bullied at school, at work or at home.  For those who are challenged by disabilities.  May there be respect and dignity for every person.

 

We pray for those living with illness and suffering, and name before you those whom we know. 

We pray also for loved ones who are spiritually lost, may they find their way to you.

 

We praise you for Jesus, the Bread of Life, and pray together saying…

 

The Lord’s Prayer 

 

Hymn of Praise

 

Invitation to Mission

God sustains our spirits with Jesus, the Bread of Life

and calls us to be a source of spiritual fuel for others.

We pledge ourselves to offer Jesus to all.  

 

Benediction     May the Triune God bless you and keep you.