Posted on Thu, Aug 6, 2015
August 2, 2015
10th Sunday after Pentecost
Gospel Text: John 6:24-35 – “The Wafer IS the Feast”
24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ 26 Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ 28 Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ 29 Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ 30 So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ 32 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave 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 that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ 34 They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ 35 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
The hymn powerfully portrays the plight of so many of God’s children: “Across the world, across the street, the victims of injustice cry for shelter and for bread to eat, and never live before they die” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship #729).
And never live before they die. The reality becomes all the more poignant when I allow myself to linger on and ponder the word “children.” How many kids go hungry in the world and in our nation, in our community and even in our neighborhood? It hurts to see all the tricycles among the tents in Kaka’ako on the news every night.
With the crowd chasing after Jesus, I want a sign that God is doing something new -- that human-created circumstances and conditions cannot undermine or negate.
As someone familiar with how Bible stories end, I am sometimes impatient with the crowd chasing after Jesus. How can people bother Jesus for another round of loaves and fishes, when Jesus is going to serve up his very life on a cross to draw all people to himself and take away our sin and the sin of the world? With Jesus, I find myself recalling the text, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Humanity will give you” (John 6:27).
Then I contemplate this story through the realities of our world. As long lines form in front of our church every Thursday and Friday, and for humanitarian aid offered all over the world demonstrate, eating your fill one day does not mean that you will not be hungry the next. When there is no food, and you do not know how you will sustain your life or the lives of your children today, what is the point of working for eternity? When you need food for family, all you think about is, Food. Think about parents whisking their children out of their beds in Syria -- or Sudan or Libya -- on the promise of a better life elsewhere, only to watch their kids starve to death, lost at sea, stolen into slavery or die during the journey to someplace else… all in hopes of just finding a place that will allow you to find work, and therefore, food, shelter and just some peace…
Some things are worth complaining to God about. Sometimes, asking God for assurance that God is still with us is understandable, even appropriate. When Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26), I do not think Jesus was scolding the crowd for seeking bread because they were hungry, even though it appears they are only looking for Jesus to receive another free meal. I think Jesus was disappointed that the crowd did not expect more, not more bread but something more, something more meaningful, spiritually deep and satisfying. Perhaps Jesus was thinking more about ending hunger, justice for God’s people, or at least words of thanksgiving to God from those who received a meal, than just serving up more bread for the people who were able to find Jesus. Moses and Aaron, not to mention God, may have been disappointed that Israel did not expect more when they begged for food in the desert and God gave them manna a quail. I’m not talking about a gourmet menu or an Egyptian deli in the desert, but that the God who delivered them from slavery would also sustain them in the desert with more than just a flaky substance. They received manna because they whined to Moses for bringing them out of slavery to a new life without “fleshpots” … just think what could have happened if they prayed with thanksgiving and anticipation of something truly amazing… They were limited only by their desires of the stomach.
This is easy to see and even easier to say because we know the end of God’s story, for us and for the world, as well as for the people in the Bible –
So why don’t we expect more from God? Why do we settle for signs of God’s grace -- bread from whatever source -- rather than seeking and expecting God’s immortal love for us? Could it be that we work for the food that perishes, rather than the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Humanity gives us, because we are unwilling or unable to name what we truly hunger for and seek? Are we even trying to become aware of what we truly hunger for and seek for our spirit? Why do you suppose this is? Is it the fear of being disappointed, a need to somehow protect God or ourselves if the result of our request is silence, or the perception that we somehow don’t deserve a positive response from God for our request? All these things come to mind.
And why do we assume that we have to work to get what we truly hunger for and seek? With the crowd, we also assume that the key question when we encounter God is, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" (John 6:28) Along with, “How much is enough for us to do?” and “How do we make sure that we do it right?” These questions press even harder when the stakes are war and peace, safety and security, food, water, and health care, the economy and the environment. "What must we do to perform the works of God?"
Jesus responds to us as he did the crowd: "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom God has sent" (John 6:29). To believe is to trust that God is doing something new that human-created conditions and circumstances cannot undermine or negate. To believe is to submit everything, even our highest-stake issues, to God’s saving work in Jesus. To believe is not so much what we do as being open to what God is doing.
Of course, being open to what God is doing and submitting everything to Jesus means we might not do what is wise, practical, advantageous, or even safe. In fact, being open to God and submitting everything to Jesus means that our doing is less important because we are not in charge, let alone in control.
Now if we are going to give up all control, we need some assurance, some guarantee. Perhaps we can understand the crowd asking, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you?” (John 6:30). Since the crowd is looking for a political king like David and a prophet like Moses, what better sign than manna in the wilderness? The people cry out, “Moses gave manna to their ancestors, and their ancestors believed.” But Jesus points out that it was God rather than Moses who fed the people in the wilderness. What made the feeding a sign was not the manna, but that the manna came down from heaven FROM GOD. The manna wasn’t the miracle; God knowing the very needs of God’s people was the miracle. The manna was only an appetizer for the true bread that came down from heaven, Jesus, who gives life through his teaching and his flesh, because God sent Jesus.
Jesus is the bread that fulfills all our hunger and thirst. Jesus frees us to follow him not to achieve self-satisfaction, not to get anything that is in it for us, not even to attain or maintain peace of mind. Jesus frees us to embrace God’s redeeming will to restore the cosmos to what God created and humanity to what God intends. Such faith does not mean separating the spiritual out of the social. It means putting God rather than us at the center of both. When we do this, and are aware of this grace that constantly falls from heaven we can and will expect more.
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