Harvest Sunday: Jesus the Bread of Life


Deuteronomy 26:1-11
John 6:25-35

Happy Harvest Sunday!

There is no more fooling ourselves – the season is changing! Anyone else got the heating on? Have you noticed more yellow, red and orange leaves than you might want to? The children are back at school and hopefully settled in. I think that there is more change in the autumn season than at New Year. This is the time of year when most changes happen; new things/activities start. The party might be better when the calendar changes, but the change is less. Now is the time to make resolutions!

It may feel difficult to ‘celebrate’ given these recent events but also after the summer we have had. The heat waves and lack of rain that damaged our crops locally, nationally and internationally. The anticipated lack of food in many parts of the world from the war in Ukraine and floods in Pakistan. The impact of this can feel very close to home and worlds away. Harvest this year feels somehow more poignant; there is a maybe a deeper need to be thankful for what we have.

We remember the farmers at this time of harvest and think about where our food comes from. We remember those who do not have as much as we do. We support both One Can Trust and Community Matters with donations of needed items or financially.

Remembrance, thanksgiving and action are very much part of harvest; they are also very much part of any season of change. There is a theme of change running through the readings this morning.

In the final section of Deuteronomy, Moses is preparing the Israelites for their move into the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey by giving them some guidelines for life there. The Israelites were to remember what God had done for them when he freed them from Egypt. In return they were to give some of the first fruits of the ground, the harvest and give them back to God. They were his anyway!

Change was coming for Israel; the big move was ahead of them. They were not to forget about God. It’s so easy to do that isn’t it? When a lot of change comes all at once, we can forget that God doesn’t change and is always with us. God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
When we are faced with change, we should be thankful, remember who knows what that change will bring. Even if we can’t see it or understand it – God does.

We know that the Gospel changes things! When people know the Good News of Jesus, lives change, families change and most importantly eternities are changed. The Gospel will bring change.

We are transplanted this week out of Luke and back into John; right into the middle of an interesting chapter too. John 6 starts with the feeding of the 5000 by the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish brought by a small boy. Later that same day Jesus walked on the water and calmed the wind.

Our reading this morning happened the next day; Jesus and the disciples are being stalked by the crowds who want more from them. The crowd that was following Jesus that day had different ideas about who Jesus was. This was likely the crowd of 5000 that were fed the day before with loaves and fishes. They are back today for more. Jesus knows why they are following him, and he calls them out, ‘Hey guys – you are not following me because of the signs but because your bellies were filled yesterday!’ They clearly saw the sign; the loaves & fishes multiplied but they missed what it signified. The Kingdom of God, Jesus the bread of life.

Jesus came to change people’s minds. He is starting by trying to change the crowd’s understanding of who He is and what He does. Jesus came to give us a different perspective, to see beyond what is right in front of us. Jesus then tells them ‘do not work for the food that spoils, perishes – but the food that lasts for eternal life – which the Son of Man will give you.’

The crowd does not quite get it again. They ask Jesus what they have to do: what work, activity does God require in exchange for more bread? Tell us and we will do it. Jesus’ answer startles them, and it should startle us a bit too or at least remind us. ‘This is the work of God – that you believe in him whom he has sent.’

The crowd, sticking to its original demand, still wants another sign! They are bringing up the past, their ancestors who ate the manna in the wilderness. Jesus corrects their history; it wasn’t Moses who gave them the bread; it was God. They want physical feeding and Jesus is offering them spiritual food, the bread of heaven that gives life to the world – that is Jesus himself. This is better bread!

Jesus is saying that he is the bread of life. Those that come to him will never be hungry and never be thirsty. What do we think about when Jesus says, ‘I am the bread of life’?

Is Jesus the bread of our life?

The crowd still think they will be physically fed. This is not what Jesus means. Of course, they needed physical food as we all do. I think what Jesus is talking about here is our priorities. Do we need to be eating different bread? We can be distracted by many different types of bread.

The next time you are in a grocery store, take a slow walk down the bread aisle as a metaphorical exercise. Marvel at the sheer variety of bread that is available; shapes, sizes, thin, medium or thick cut, white, whole wheat, rye, seeds, nuts, grains. Danish, French, Italian. It was really quite overwhelming!

I also found some fun bread facts:

*According to the Flour Advisory Board Approximately 12 million loaves are bought everyday in the UK.
*99% of households buy bread.
*Men eat more bread than women.
*44% of men eat bread twice a day – only 25% of women do.
*White bread accounts for 76% of all bread sold in the UK.
*About 200 different types of bread are made here
*Sandwiches account for about 50% of bread consumption
*People in the UK spend about £3.6 billion pounds/year on bakery items, mostly bread

However, there is really only one bread that we need. Jesus the bread of life. He will take away the core emptiness that we all have. We will need to feed on him, be dependent on Him for everything we need. We need to go to Him daily, hourly – sometimes minute by minute. If we harvest from Him by learning from him, receiving from him, hearing and seeing Him. Taking up what is offered to us we will not be hungry.

How is the harvest looking today? Are we harvesting the right things? Eating the right bread or is it mouldy? Sometimes we can be harvesting in the wrong fields! Collecting rotten produce? Maybe we are trying to harvest in a field that is barren?

Are we celebrating a harvest that does not last? Working for bread that cannot and will not satisfy? As we celebrate harvest today it is right to give thanks for the material goods that we have; for food, clothes, homes, beds, clean water, gas, electricity and the means to pay for it all.

In this season of change, there is much to be thankful for. Even if you can’t see it or understand it. Let Jesus guide you in the changes of this life. He is the real bread, feed on him. If you want the real harvest then let Jesus be the bread of your life.

Harvest & Creation with St Francis & Sir David Attenborough

Sermon for Parish Harvest
October 4, 2020

Psalm 148:7-14
Galatians 6:14-18
Matthew 11:25-30

We are not unawares that the seasons are changing! I am still somewhat resistant to socks and coats but have turned the heating on. This change of season tells us that it is the time for the harvest; time to pause and give thanks for God’s provision and goodness to us. I am under no illusion that many people will find it difficult to give thanks this year. More jobs are at risk, the food banks are busier than ever, times remain uncertain and the rules are changing.

Yet – God is bigger and beyond our circumstances. Jesus addresses God in the Matthew reading by saying, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth.’ Let us try to start today with that big view of God.

Over the last few years, there has been a growing movement in the church to celebrate ‘Creationtide’ or a ‘Season of Creation’ over the Sundays in September, culminating on Harvest Sunday. We are encouraged to not only give thanks for the harvest but also to consider the environment, creation, the current crisis and how we play a part in damaging God’s creation but also how we can work to fix it.

No one is exempt. We might not want to take responsibility, but we cannot deny that our actions of everyday life have an impact on the environment. If you woke up this morning in a warm house, had a cup of coffee or tea with milk & sugar and some breakfast food, washed and put on clothes – you have made an impact on the environment.

I was struck this past week as I watched Sir David Attenborough being interviewed on BBC Breakfast. He was asked by Louise Minchin, ‘if there’s one choice to make today, what choice would you like people to make?’ He paused for a moment, and then said, ‘don’t waste. Don’t waste anything. Don’t waste electricity. Don’t waste food. Don’t waste power, just treat the natural world as though it is precious, which it is. And don’t squander the bits that we have control of.’

I think he is absolutely right! We should do as much as we can to reduce our waste. It may mean living beyond our convenience, which, if we are honest, we do not like to do! It means new ways of doing things, paying more attention to what we buy, how it was made and what to do about the waste.

I don’t want to flog or guilt anyone this morning, I am very aware of the considerable stress and pressure many people are under currently. This needs to be balanced with the urgency to be more aware and better education on our impact on our planet. Notice I didn’t say ‘the planet’ – it is our planet.

How as Christians can we do this?

The answer is reasonably straightforward: Root it in the Gospel. By this I mean worship the Creator and then the created! Many people will say that they don’t need church, they experience God in creation, in a sunset or on a mountain top, at the beach. I take the position that unless your life is orientated towards God in the first place, you will not meet him in rainbows and flower petals. This is worshipping the created and not the Creator.

I admire David Attenborough; I think that the work he does is magnificent. He has captured the attention of millions of people around the world like few else have on issues of the environment. He is a great man of science but not of faith as a professed agnostic. We should follow the science and yet we need to go further and worship the Creator.

If we love Him first – then we will love his creation, the creation he gave us to look after, care for right from the beginning. In Genesis 2, Adam was given responsibility for working and caring for Eden and the naming of the animals. So huge was this job that he needed a suitable helper and God created Eve.

The responsibility to care for God’s creation has not changed since then. It may have fallen out of fashion, we may have forgotten about it or dropped it as a priority, but God certainly has not. We are part of the created order and need to renew our commitment and reclaim our responsibility for it. It is not just about our practices and habits but about our attitudes.

I have been surprised and inspired by the conviction of many young people over their concern for the environment. I may not fully agree with the way they protest in some cases but their dedication to the cause is unwavering.

As Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 11:25, ‘I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.’ Maybe it is the voice of the children that we are to listen to. They are the ones who must care for creation long after we are gone.

Today is also the Feast of St Francis which would have been celebrated at St Francis this morning. St Francis lived about 900 years ago and a quick Wikipedia search indicates that he lived a very interesting life in Italy. Although he is the Patron Saint of Ecology and animals, he did a great number of other things: had some big issues with his father, bucked all family expectations, founded the Franciscan order of friars and then an order for sisters with St Clare of Assisi, he travelled extensively, was blessed with the stigmata of the nails marks of Christ on his own hands, and he even tried to negotiate peace during the Crusades (unsuccessfully).

All through his life and ministry, St Francis had a deep love for creation as he saw God in it. He wrote Canticle of the Sun, which praises and thanks God for Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Water and Fire, all of which he saw as praising God. St Francis invited all animals, plants, natural elements to give thanks and praise to God. This is no tree hugging stuff!

Francis provided a bigger vision of the creation we are all part of, he reminds us that God is very much at the heart of creation and all creation worships him. In 1982, Pope John Paul II said that love and care of creation by St Francis was a challenge to contemporary Catholics to “not to behave like dissident predators where nature is concerned, but to assume responsibility for it, taking all care so that everything stays healthy and integrated, so as to offer a welcoming and friendly environment even to those who succeed us.”

In and through Jesus, we are a new creation as Paul tells us. We are made in God’s image and part of his created order. We have a responsibility as part of that order, to listen to the voice of the children, to worship the Creator, not to waste creation for our convenience but to love and care for Creation. Creation is a great gift of God, it is precious. Let us treat it better than we do.