Several weeks ago, I suggested a three-part series of sermons on the Bread of Life discourse in John 6. I encouraged you to center each sermon around a promise Jesus makes in this significant chapter. The first promise was “The Bread of Life Satisfies” (based on John 6:35). The second promise was “The Bread of Life Raises” (based on John 6:40). This week I suggest you pick up Jesus’ words in verse 56 and go with the theme, “The Bread of Life Abides.”
Of the three, the promise in this sermon is the most personal and intimate. The promise to satisfy speaks to what Jesus provides FOR us. The promise to raise speaks to what Jesus does TO us. This promise to abide speaks to what Jesus does IN us. “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (6:56). You cannot get more personal and intimate than that. Jesus, the Son of God from all eternity, the agent of creation, the Savior of all people, promises to abide IN His people. The remarkable thing about this promise is that it is not unique to this chapter. Paul writes this way in Galatians 2:20 when he says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Jesus speaks similarly in John 15 with the image of the vine, and in John 17:21-23 when He prays that He would be one with us as He is one with the Father. The image here is not only Jesus as the one who saves us, but He takes up residence in us and becomes one with us.
This profound truth has several far-reaching implications. Any of them could provide focus for your sermon, or you might consider treating all three of them as effects of Jesus’ gracious promise to abide in us. If you choose the latter, the Cause/Effect structure could help you organize the sermon by considering a singular cause (Jesus’ abiding in us) and the multiple effects this brings about in our lives. What are those effects? At least three suggest themselves:
1. You are not alone. That’s encouraging as we continue to endure the other pandemic. I’m talking about the “loneliness pandemic.” That is what a recent article in Harvard Magazine called it. The article notes that, in 2017, former United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called loneliness a public-health epidemic. A year later, the United Kingdom appointed a “Minister for Loneliness,” and that was before such terms as “social distancing,” “self-isolation,” and “shelter in place” became part of our everyday vocabulary. Loneliness not only effects those who have suffered the last year and a half behind masks and safe distances. It also afflicts children whose parents are too busy working, wives whose husbands are practically married to whatever sport happens to be in season, and social media butterflies who have countless “friends” but no one to listen to them at the end of the day.
Many people struggle with sufficient social support, which is what stands behind the loneliness pandemic. The need for social connection is not undone by this promise of Jesus. But one of the implications of Jesus’ promise to abide in us is we are never truly alone. Jesus abides, remains, resides, dwells IN those who trust Him.
But one of the implications of Jesus’ promise to abide in us is we are never truly alone. Jesus abides, remains, resides, dwells IN those who trust Him.
2. You are fully known. In his brilliant exploration of marriage, called To Understand Each Other (which is still the best resource I have found for pre-marital and marital counseling), Paul Tournier describes a successful marriage as one in which husbands and wives are constantly seeking to understand one another. The reason is relatively simple. We long to be known by someone. We long for someone to understand us.
An effect of Jesus abiding in us is that He knows us completely, even the hairs of our head (Matthew 10:30). The last verse in Psalm 1 comes to mind. “The Lord knows the way of the righteous,” and beginning Hebrew students understand that this type of knowing (יָדַע – yaw-dah) involves much more than mere information.
Jesus knows us, and He still loves us. As the pillow my son received at his baptism says, “Jesus knows me, this I love.” And we do love it because it means we are understood. When no one can relate, or no one cares to try, the promise in John 6:56 means Jesus truly knows us and loves us.
3. You are not you own. For self-reliant people such as ourselves, this may not sound like good news. But it is only a bad thing if the one who owns you is self-centered and self-serving. If, on the other hand, the one who owns you is capable of and willing to do what is best for you, there is nothing more freeing. This freedom is not to be used selfishly, however. As Luther puts it in The Freedom of the Christian Man, our perfect freedom is at the same time complete servitude.
Paul speaks this way in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 when he says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in our body.” How might your hearers glorify God with their bodies? They might begin by looking around at their neighbors—in their homes, in their congregation, in their communities. It might include working a few less hours to spend time with your kids. It might mean missing a college football game to spend time with your wife. It might mean reaching out with a private message to an online friend and taking them out for a cup of coffee.
The idea here—and throughout this series—is that Jesus’ promises change us. They bring us into the world as it really is, and they enliven us for right living within it. He promises divine and eternal gifts, and as a result, he turns us away from ourselves to the people who need us.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 6:51-69.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 6:51-69.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 6:51-69.
 I have composed this reflection so you can still use the idea if you chose not to preach a series on John 6.