Sermon Sunday August 5, 2018
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.” John 6:35
At some point in my ongoing observation of the world in general and humanity in particular, including myself, I came to the conclusion that people don’t ever really grow up….we just grow big. I think we have our moments of thinking and acting as adults should but for the most part, the same needs and desires that drive our behavior as children continue to influence us as adults. The need for love, for attention, for food…for some semblance of control over the world or at least the people in our lives…all of these things continue to have more effect on our behavior than most of us would like to admit.
Both our Old Testament reading from Exodus and our Gospel lesson from John show God dealing with a people always hungry for more and trying to give them some instruction in how to be less attentive to the stomach and more concerned with the soul. The Israelites had been liberated from the oppressive bondage of slavery under the Egyptians but in the time spent wandering in the wilderness, they began to resent Moses and the difficulty of the life into which he had led them. They regretted their decision to escape and began to think that the life a slave wasn’t so bad after all…at least they had enough to eat. It is amazing how an empty stomach changes one’s perspective.
God heard their complaining and sent quail and manna to satisfy their hunger. “And mortals ate the bread of angels.” Of course later on, after the novelty of heavenly bread wore thin the Israelites would complain again about having to eat the same thing every day. We all know folks who never seem to be satisfied with the blessings they have and always desire something else….some elusive thing that will make everything better. I suspect that at some point in our lives all of us have been that person….wanting something more without needing it and not really sure of that something more is.
In the Gospels, we find the people seeking out Jesus and his disciples who had slipped off to be alone for a bit. The people were remembering fondly that time Jesus fed the multitude and they got into boats and tracked him down. Jesus calls them out, letting them know that he is fully aware that they are following him, not so much for his teaching but because they would like some more free food. I learned early on in my work with the Church that if you want a crowd to come to any event you offer them food. The stomach is a very powerful organ and controls most of us more than we are aware.
Of course, food is necessary for our lives and the fellowship of the table is one of the ways we connect with one another and strengthen our communities and families. The fact that families do not sit down to eat meals together in our too-busy modern culture has certainly weakened our emotional connections. At one time a great deal of time and energy was involved in the acquisition, preparation, and consumption of food. With our methods of mass production and development of convenience items not only have we disconnected from the source of our food but we spend much less time in preparation and often eat while doing other things. We have interpreted our hunger as the need for bread when in reality it is a need for much more than food. It is a need for some relationship with the earth from which our food comes and for engagement with other people in some meaningful way.
The crowds who went looking for Jesus also had an appetite for entertainment and spectacle. They were willing to consider the possibility that he had been sent by God but they wanted him to perform some miraculous sign to prove it….preferably one that involved food. They said, “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Jesus reminds them that it was not Moses who gave them the bread from heaven but God. At this point Jesus tries to move them out of their stomachs and into their minds using the bread as a metaphor … “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.”
Jesus goes on to reveal that he, himself is the living bread sent down from God to bring life to the world. Despite the fact that those who heard his message did ask for him to give them the living bread, we know that they did not really understand what he was trying to teach them. Jesus was offering them a new perspective on a very familiar message. Humanity does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus was the Divine Logos…the living Word of God given flesh, come to dwell among the people to teach and to guide …and eventually to save.
The underlying point of all of these instructions about food and heavenly bread is that we come into this world with a deep hunger…an emptiness that can only be filled by the love of God as revealed in Christ Jesus. The love we share with one another is a reflection of that deeper love that is the very essence of God. The sad thing is we spent so much time trying to appease our appetite for the things that do not really make us happy…for more…for better…for something else….for influence…for control…for attention…for any number of fleeting trivial things that we starve ourselves of the only thing that really matters…love…..love expressed in acts of compassion and generosity….love revealed in the very life and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sister…life is a fleeting thing. We are here for only a short time and we cannot predict when those who are dear to us may be taken from us. As much as it is possible through the Grace of God, take some time to feed the hunger for love, for fellowship with family and friends. Share a kind word and maybe your lunch with a stranger. Make a real connection with someone…don’t be afraid to love…openly, fiercely, unapologetically. Care about something…care about someone and show it in your actions. This is all the time we have and God is still sending the bread of love from heaven, given for all of us without condition. Jesus said …, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” God has given us all that we need….take…eat…love.