Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

John 6:24-35

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.
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 ate 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 may 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.”

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)

In 2002, while on my first internship, I had some members of the congregation I was serving appropach me about going to a Via de Cristo weekend. I wasn’t sure, especially when I noticed it was being held over a weekend and in a city near Hell, Michigan. Not to be overdramatic, but my experience over that weekend changed me: how I physically felt, my attitude and disposition, even my perspective. 

The best way I could think of saying thanks to the folks who sent me was to share with them, my family, my friends, and as I continue to do in messages how his gift had changed me, what it was like to experience it, what I wanted to keep in my mind and body from what they had made possible as I went about my daily activities for the next few days. And continue to do today. I have even worked a few weekends, and a youth version of Via de Cristo also.

When we talk about “doing good” as our way of saying thanks to God for the gift of eternal life, I think that this is the sort of grateful attitude we’re meant to have with God; so changed by what God has done and is doing that we want to share everything about what it has meant for us to everyone. We do that through prayer and a lifestyle of grateful living. Of course, it’s only gratitude when we are trusting that what God promises about our eternal life are true; anything else is asking, “What is the spiritual work we are to do?” and trying to earn it…

In the show “Friday Night Lights,” which ended over a decade ago, there was a saying from high school football head coach, Eric Taylor, to his team: “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!” It became so popular and universal that the quote has outlasted the show and become part of mainstream culture. I thought of it while working with this text.

You know how there are some Christian people who seem capable of seeing “God’s hand” in everything? Our passages talk of what it means to have a full belly versus a heart full of wonder made me reconsider take a good hard look. Maybe the people who do that can do it because their eyes are clear (not in their “stomachs”), their hearts are full of wonder about who God is and what the Spirit is up to, and, spiritually nourished in Christ, they know and trust that we really can’t lose with God. 

Maybe I’m more focused on all the needs and brokenness in the world that I too have forgotten to look up and marvel. It’s not a coincidence that “Great is They Faithfulness” is a sort of peak in the middle of the book of Lamentations: a moment of the people lifting their eyes out of the muck to praise and marvel at God.

Some would read the gospel story and see hints that even though the crowd “finds” Jesus, they don’t comprehend who he is: “Rabbi,” they ask, “when did you come here?” (John 6:25). Why would you ask that? The people were looking for Jesus, not the other way around. 

Our appetites are often good things. We yearn for cool water on the hot days of summer, we get hungry for nourishing food, and we long to feel loved and safe. These are good, healthy and appropriate. But sometimes our appetites and hunger for more of even the good things can lead to ruin or lead us to miss something even better. This week’s passages tell the stories of two such times when human appetites were the causes of missing the mark of what God desired.

In this week’s Gospel text, Jesus points out that many of his hearers were letting their appetites distract them from what he would prefer to give them. Our personal appetites that distract from what God was doing nonetheless inhibit the coming of the kingdom of heaven.

When the crowd noticed that Jesus had slipped away from them on one side of the Sea of Galilee, they went to find him on the other side. Jesus’ welcome was less than warm.

The people’s response was not to ask about the nature of the “food” that the Son of Man would give them, but rather to ask what work they needed to do to gain the food . After Jesus told them that they must only believe to receive the bread of eternal life, the people asked Jesus what sign he would give so that they could believe. They cleverly suggested that maybe manna from heaven would help them believe. They were still after physical bread to satisfy their physical appetites, rather than the person who offered them himself.

Make no mistake, Jesus had fed people actual food, and he would literally feed them again and again. The hallmark of the early Christian community was sharing physical meals together. If we turn Jesus into someone who doesn’t care about physical hunger, we make a mockery of him and Christianity. But in the same breath, we must say that Jesus wasn’t only concerned with physical hunger, but with expanding the kingdom of heaven through offering himself. Jesus offered not just bread, but his own life for the people that they might live now and eternally. If we miss either of Jesus’ offers because our own appetites make one or the other more appealing, we do a great disservice to him.

In our Samuel text we hear that David’s appetite for sex provoked a prophetic condemnation of an appetite for flesh. Around the Sea of Galilee, Jesus warned the people that their appetite for physical nourishment—which he had already met—was blinding them to their spiritual hunger that he was also trying to satisfy. In both cases, God had already provided abundantly, but people craved more. 

The challenge for this week (and probably forever) is to reflect on the way that God has already provided for us, and on the ways that we hunger for something other than the Bread of Heaven, especially as it is revealed in the person of Jesus.

So what drives our pursuit of Jesus? Do we follow Jesus to get what we want from Jesus or are we following Jesus in order to participate in and witness to the miraculous work of God?

The crowd recognized Jesus’ power but wanted to harness it for their own benefit. They may have had plans to overcome the Roman Empire, not to break the world from the grip of empire and the inequities that arise from hoarding and gathering political and economic resources for personal gain, but to capture that power for themselves. They failed to ask Jesus what he wanted or intended because Jesus was instrumental to achieving their goals and desires. There is a vast difference between being attracted to the ministry of Jesus and being enticed by the might of Jesus.

  • There are those sports fans who only root for winning teams. 
  • There are voters who leave pundits perplexed because they don’t vote on the issues, but they get caught up in the furor of the crowd and vote for the person who they think will win. 
  • Most of us are familiar with so-called fair-weathered friends, people who will hang with you in good times but cannot be found when times get challenging.

Some people approach faith in the same way. They want to be on the winning team. They love the frenzy of the crowd and being attached to the popular. Many of our faith communities bemoan the loss of Christendom, what they consider the height of Christianity. Sanctuaries were full and the question was in which church did a person or family hold their membership. Financial resources were plentiful and buildings were sources of pride rather than consternation. The world, as they experienced it, revolved around the Christian calendar. Sundays were for worship and the rest of the world stopped.

But I’m wondering…did Jesus cross the water from that church? 

  • That church that reserved worship for Sundays and sanctuaries, but didn’t live into the ways, manners, means, and values of the culture it was called to impact. 
  • That church that focused so much within that it failed (or refused) to acknowledge the fullness of diversity in God’s humanity. 
  • That church that treated membership in the body of Christ like belonging to a social organization with dues rather than a way of being and a call to participate in the kingdom of God.

Did Jesus reject efforts to force a name-only allegiance to a rule and reign designed by human hands for selfish and self-serving ends? Jesus, who entered into the human condition with all its messiness, pain, and complexity, surely didn’t need the incarnation to secure a throne. Rather, Christ came to bring the good news to a world shrouded by evil and far removed from the abundance, liberty, and life crafted in the garden at creation. The incarnation and the passion of Jesus are cataclysmic events of breaking into systems of this world and upending them so that it might be on earth as it is in heaven. The feeding of the five thousand was a demonstration of the kindom of God, but too many of the crowd saw it only as a demonstration of power they schemed to harness for themselves. That is not the will nor the work of God.

The church that sees itself in decline because of decreasing numbers fails to recognize the decreasing numbers resulted from a decline in pursuing the work of God. So many of us are trying to get back to a memory of prominence when God is calling us back to a movement. 

  • When Jesus healed the sick, the sick knew they had a healer. 
  • When Jesus forgave sins, those who lived in shame understood that they were beloved of God and not condemned. 
  • When Jesus listened to children, widows, outsiders, and ostracized members of society, he gave them voice.

Jesus did not come to win over crowds, Jesus came to repair, to redeem, and to restore a broken creation.

I was amazed the summer I worked for a landscaper about his visioning ability. See, in gardening, there are plants that help each other grow. When planted in pairs or other groupings, they share nutrients, they enhance the soil for the other, and they help their companion plant to flourish. They grow on their own, but the ideal situation is for them to grow together. Their relationship to one another makes them better individually and collectively. One I sepcifically remember, you may enjoy tomato-basil sauce on your pasta, but those two not only pair well on your palette, they function well in the soil. The basil repels insects and encourages the tomato plant to yield fruit more plentiful and more nourishing.

The kindom of God also benefits from companionship that resists threats to flourishing and enables fruitfulness. Jesus invites us to a relationship in which we follow the example he provides and the leading of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t take a crowd, it only requires those who will come together and grow, grow together.