(preached at Cherryvale UMC in Staunton, VA on 11/27/13)
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you are your fill of the loaves. 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.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God? Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we might see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 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. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 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.”
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.”
After miraculously feeding 5,000 people, the crowd stayed on the other side of the sea. Though they had been properly fed by the Word, the loaves, and the fishes, when they discovered that this miracle man was nowhere to be found, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
When they finally caught up with him on the other side, they called out, “Teacher, where did you come from?!?” Jesus responded, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me for the wrong reasons, you came here not looking for signs, but because I gave you enough to eat yesterday. Do not work for the food that spoils, but instead 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.”
“Okay, okay, so what do we have to do in order to perform the works of God?
Jesus answered simply, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
“Well, who do you think you are Jesus of Nazareth? What sort of sign are you going to perform? Why should we listen to you? How can you prove what you are saying to us? Sure, yesterday you fed all of us, made something out of nothing, but so did Moses in the wilderness. Why should we turn away from him, to you?”
“Very truly, I tell you, it wasn’t Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, the manna, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Now Jesus that sounds pretty good to us, we would like some of that bread!”
“No, you don’t get it. I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
One of the great paradoxes of what it means to be Christian, is that we already know the end of the story while we’re stuck in the middle of it. Because we read from God’s word in order to remember the mighty acts of God in the world, we are all well versed on what happens in conclusion. Therefore it becomes nearly impossible for us to imagine the depth and meaning of these narratives in and of themselves.
Try with me, if you can, to imagine that you are there among the crowd. Yesterday you were blown away by this nothing of a man who made something out of nothing. As you stood in line with your stomach rumbling, you were given more fish and bread than you had ever seen in your life. Now, you were so hungry that you ate until your stomach was about to explode, (just like many of us will do tomorrow…) and the next day, the miracle man was gone. As your hunger started to creep back up, you agreed with those around you to go looking for this Jesus.
So here you are, gathered together to hear him speak once again. Some of the people in the front challenged him about Moses’ miracle in the wilderness, something about Manna, but you just want him to provide some more food. So as Jesus begins to describe this true bread from heaven that gives life to the world, your mouth begins to water. You imagine a glowing loaf cooked perfectly, warm and moist on the inside, with just enough crust on the outside. You join the chorus around you, “Give us some of that bread Jesus! We want that always!” And Jesus responds, “I am the bread of life.”
For us, the temptation to jump to the end of the story is great. We hear “bread of life” and we think about Holy Communion, we think about the last supper that Jesus shared with his disciples, we think about the crucifixion and the resurrection. And though it is important to know the end of the story, we’re not there yet.
I imagine that many who had gathered together that day were very confused. “What did he say? He’s the bread of life? What in the world could that mean?”
They don’t get it. The crowds that had witnessed Jesus’ miracle the day before knew exactly what they wanted, but thats not what Jesus is offering.
Today too many of us give the impression that numbers and popularity and packed pews are all important and sufficient in themselves. Many churches seem willing to accept people on any terms, if only they will come at all. How interesting is it then, that Christ would only accept the crowds on his terms, and would not want them upon any others. It hurt and frustrated him that they were merely interested in his ability to provide an easing of material difficulties or an increase in their comforts. “You came to me only for the chance of loaves and fish.”
Similarly, in our contemporary culture people are hugely interested in the by-products of Christianity, but hardly at all in Christianity itself. Crowds of folk are constantly looking for whatever they can get out of church and worship. They are primarily interested in the kind of faith that will give them bread and fish, bigger homes, shorter hours, better health, happier families. Today Christ looks into the depth of our hearts and triumphantly declares, “there are far better and more satisfying things within your reach than you have realized.”
The whole exchange begins with an accusation by Jesus regarding the crowds’ overwhelming desire and interest in full stomachs, instead of the power of theologically oriented signs. Jesus proposes to give them enduring food and not the kind they consumed the day before. The exchange then elicits a question from the crowd about the “works of God” which Jesus reduces to one, namely belief; belief “in him whom he has sent.”
What is belief? What does belief mean for each of you? Are we called to believe in God, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit? Is belief about accepting the bible as truth? Can we boil down our belief to something like the Apostles’ Creed?
Often times belief in Christian living is compartmentalized into believing that God simply exists.
The kind of belief that Jesus talks about with the crowds in John 6 is a different kind of belief. Belief is more than mental affirmation, belief is a world view, belief is a paradigm shift, belief is about a redefinition of reality.
What we believe, shapes how we behave.
Everything about what we do begins with belief; we believe in Jesus Christ and the things for which he stands, the way and the truth and the life he teaches us, the God whom he reveals to us, the grace and faith he came to offer us, the victory over death which he makes possible even for the least likely of us, the kingdom of God that he inaugurates for us.
Okay Jesus, you want us to believe, to drop everything, to change our lives, to pick up our own crosses, to follow you. But why? Moses fed us with the manna in the wilderness, what can your belief offer us?
Moses was Moses, a mighty servant and steward of the Lord. Yet what Moses gave to the wandering Israelites was not the bread from heaven; it is God the Father who gives you the bread from heaven, and that is being offered to you this day. What Moses provided, rather what God provided through Moses, was merely food. What Jesus offers the crowd is the almighty God.
Tomorrow, millions will gather together with friends and family to celebrate the wonderful holiday of Thanksgiving. Crowds will develop in all of the airports, the roads will be filled with traffic, and kitchens will be teaming with individuals trying to concoct the perfect mashed potato – turkey – gravy – cranberry – stuffing combination of all time. After exchanging pleasant and cliche reflections on what we are most thankful for this year, most of us will partake to ridiculous degrees on the food set before us. Mountains of mashed potatoes will be eroded with rivers of gravy. Quarries of cranberry salad will rival seas of stuffing.
Perhaps most frightening is the fact that within 24 hours, we can go from thanking God for all the blessing in our lives, to fighting one another at Best Buy in order to purchase something to fill our insatiable appetite.
We know what we want, but thats not what Jesus is offering.
I like to think that, as the church, we have matured from our fragile days of discipleship in the first century. I like to believe that because we know the end of the story, we are better prepared to heed Jesus’ call to a life in the kingdom. I like to imagine that, as moderns, we are ready to take up our crosses in brilliant fashion and follow Jesus into glory.
But the truth is, we are still standing in that crowd asking Jesus for the bread.
We struggle so desperately to find meaning in our lives through failed relationships, the accumulation of material possessions, and vocational discernment. We hear the word of the Lord in scripture, and then quickly fall back away into the shadow of our lives. We thank God for our families and then bicker and fight as if they were not precious gifts in our lives.
Just as He did that day in the crowd, Christ looks out to all of us this thanksgiving season and offers us something more fulfilling than anything else. “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
“I am the bread of life”; search throughout the scriptures, I challenge you to find something equally simple and profound in summarizing the Good News. This the gospel of Jesus Christ at its very finest! How ample in its sweep, how generous in its description, how impossible to evade. This is a passage to which we can all cling in the darkest moments in our lives. With this one sentence we discover an everlasting hope that will endure all things.
“I am the bread of life”; Jesus Christ is as important to us as the very food we eat. Indeed, Christ is more important to us than food. No amount of food or drink or any material thing will ever fill us the way that Christ does. Through the bread of life that Christ offers we receive strength to live out our faith, we are sustained and nurtured and loved in all things.
“I am the bread of life”; The triune God is an end to all the craving and discontent in our lives. The bread of life roots our identities in the one from whom all blessings flow, the maker in whom we live and move and have our being.
In a few moments all of you will be invited to Christ’s table to partake of him through the bread and the wine. Just as Jesus stood before the crowd to proclaim his identity as the bread of life, Jesus once gathered with his disciples to remember the stories of God in the world and share one final meal.
What are you thankful for this year? How have you been trying to fill the voids in your life? If you want to be filled, if you want to find a sustenance in your life, if you desire to have your life transformed, if you need to be made whole, if you want to discover purpose and faithfulness in your life, if you desire to know God, if you hope to find peace in your lives, then come. Come to Christ’s table. Feast on the true bread from heaven, believe in Jesus Christ, and be filled by the Spirit.