August 5, 2018:
Scripture Used: John 6:24-35
Had you driven by the church on Thursday, you would have seen something very different from the usual: signs, tents, and people everywhere, all day. People under pop-up tents and umbrellas welcoming those who came to vote in the elections. The steady stream of people made it feel like a community center.
I voted early to avoid the crowds. Before I went, I researched candidates online. One thing I read often when I got to the social media platforms was this question: “What will you do for us?” It’s a natural question – I want my vote to go to the candidate who serves me best. That’s how the system works. We expect our leaders to make us happy or to at least uphold our values and desires.
For dyed-in-the-wool party members, there is also the matter of living into the party’s vision. There’s a long game involved for how these people will shape our culture. But, for many, the starting point is, “What can you do for me?” It is that question that starts the dialogue we will explore over the next three Sundays as we dig into John 6 where Jesus, after having fed the 5000, offers an extended teaching on his mission.
This passage starts with the people who want to know if Jesus is “the real deal.” That, of course, meaning is he the savior they wanted. Is he the warrior leader to overthrow Rome? Is he the great healer who will miraculously eradicate disease? Is he the crowned prince who will give them all they hope for and dream of? The miracle of feeding was really cool, but was it a fluke or does it point to something more?
The crowds came looking for him again after finding that he had disappeared during the night. Over the course of the night, Jesus walks on the water to catch up to the disciples who had left earlier. Maybe he performed the miracle to prove once again to the disciples to take seriously what he says, even if they don’t believe it. Or, maybe he just needed to catch up to them and thought a nice walk would do him some good. It is hard to tell with John.
When they get to the other side, the crowd has returned, and they ask about how he got there. Jesus knows they didn’t come all that way just to find out his favorite mode of travel. They followed because what they wanted out of him – to be fed again. That question of “Can I have more bread?”
He responds: “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”
For listeners now, this statement doesn’t make sense, but to the original listeners, they would have understood. Food that doesn’t last is a euphemism of the manna, or miraculously appearing bread, their ancestors ate in the wilderness as they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land. He calls it the food that doesn’t last, because if one worked to gather extra for the next day, it would be moldy and infested with maggots by morning.
They also know about bread as an art. Today, we go to the store to buy bread. Some make bread at home, but it’s somewhat novel these days. I doubt any of us go through the trouble of grinding wheat, mixing it with water, kneading it and folding it, putting it in the oven, keeping the fire of the oven, and caring that it cooks and doesn’t burn. Bread is work. Even that bread goes bad after a few days.
This bread he offers is eternal bread. Not only does he seem to be a miracle worker, he will give them something that will feed them forever. That’s great!
And here’s the good part: they ask him what they need to do to get this food of eternity, the good stuff they didn’t even know they were looking for, the bread they need (but definitely don’t understand how they need it) and his response is short and simple: believe. What? That’s it? Nothing else? Okay!
And that is what Jesus asks of us now – just believe. But what does believe mean? Does it mean to think something is true in one’s mind? I believe the sun will come up tomorrow. My mind tells me so. I don’t do anything to believe it – I just know it as fact.
They press him further. Believe? Are you like Moses? Can you provide not only for us but also for the whole nation? Yes, he responds. It wasn’t even Moses. It was My Father, where Jesus identifies his own divine nature. And he tells them that whoever believes will never be hungry and never be thirsty.
Belief as Jesus means it is something different. He didn’t mean they would never need to eat or drink again. We still do those things. What he means by belief is about knowing in your heart that God is with you and that God already has your best interest in mind. That when God leads us to walk by faith, we believe God will take care of us. Putting our pride on the line and saying “I’m sorry” when we have done something wrong. Giving up recreation time to invest in our spiritual lives without fear of missing out. Tithing of our income. Serving others just for the sake of doing it.
Partaking of the bread we need adds to the bread that does not last. We need that bread too. We need to eat to sustain ourselves; we need recreation for our health; we need jobs to pay the bills; we need family time to be supported. Yet none of those is a replacement for the bread of life. They point to it. They are enhanced by it.
Allow me to offer you an example:
When I was in younger, I had body image issues which were exacerbated by poor diet, and I was a very picky eater. My mom likes to joke that in high school I lived off ramen noodles. She’s wrong. I also ate Zaxby’s chicken fingers and fries. But when I started to date, I had experiences going out to eat where my picky habits made me feel embarrassed, and that was what pushed me to start eating more foods. And as I ate more foods, I enjoyed them, I also got leaner, and I felt better. Having good nutrition is paramount to my physical health – even though I definitely took the path of “what does this do for me?” to get there, but once I realized the good of it, I kept coming back to it.
It doesn’t matter what helps you believe. Jesus did not chide the crowd for coming to him once they were fed. He invited them to continue on the journey and find the real bread that satisfies the whole self.
That’s what God wants from us – to recognize there is something better beyond what gives us immediate gratification. Some of the best things are those we stick with, dig a little deeper. It’s what drives us to go from being good at basketball to hitting every free throw. From knowing how to sew to making clothes. From cooking a meal to the perfect crème brulee. Jesus not only answered what he could do for them now but what he could continue to do in their lives if they remained.
That is the promise of Jesus for those who receive this bread of life. Take it however you can – find reasons to bring God back into your life. God does not begrudge you for recommitting to belief when the policeman miraculously offered you a warning after going 24 miles over the limit or when you ace a pop quiz by guessing the answers. God wants you to just continue to put your hope in Him. To continue to follow Jesus wherever you are led. It may not always look like what you expect, but it will not let you down.
I want to encourage you this week to reflect on the bread you choose. If you feel you can’t receive the bread of life because you are too busy doing A, B, or C, find ways to do those things with people who are also on your journey.
Friends, I am glad you are here today. I am glad we can celebrate our kids as they move up in their learning about Jesus. I am so very excited that they are learning how to use their Bibles, their hymnals, and what all the cloths and symbols and traditions of the church are. We are going to journey on this together. Having a renewed curiosity in your faith tradition may be the step you need to take to be reminded why you came to Christianity in the first place. I am excited, because these are the steps that will raise up not only a new generation of Christians who will lead the church in the future; what we do here may also revive the tired souls of people who have checked the box of “I’m a Christian” for decades yet have forgotten the joy and love and mercy of Christ.
So, what bread do you need? What will you ask God to do in your heart so that you can receive this bread? Is there something you need to face, forgiveness you need to give or receive, good news to keep going? Are you ready to be healed, because he will offer it.