August 2, 2015
The problem with buying groceries is that inevitably, you have to do it again. This very obvious lesson is one I’m re-learning all the time. Last week my little brother was texting me pictures of these amazing meals he was preparing:
So I sent him a picture of my fridge.:
I had just gotten back from Detroit and hadn’t gone shopping yet. And, interestingly, when I said to him, “clearly I need a paycheck and to go shopping,” he said to me, “You need Jesus.”
Now, he meant that as a joke. But in that comment, he pointed out what I think is one of the central points of our Gospel text today. That conversation between my brother and me basically summarizes my sermon: I try to address my emptiness with what I can buy based on what I have earned with the work I am doing. He reminds me that the thing I really need to fill my hunger is Jesus.
But just to catch up—last week we heard about Jesus using the meager resources of a small child to feed a crowd of more than 5,000 people. The people see this sign and try to make Jesus a king. Clearly this man is good leader material. Clearly he has power to do cool stuff that meets their needs. Jesus resists their coronation attempts and crosses over the other side of the sea. But the crowd follows him, either interested in another cool bread trick, or wanting to make sense of what they’d already seen Jesus do. They have some questions: “Who are you? Where did you come from? What are you doing for us?” And like in so many other places in John, when they ask a physical question, Jesus answers from a spiritual perspective.
The first question the crowd asks is in v. 25: “Where did you come from?” They want to know how he got from one side of the sea to the other. But throughout Jesus’ response he talks about being sent from God, coming down from Heaven: he answers with a spiritual response. One of the characteristics in the Gospel of John is that Jesus always knows what is going on in the hearts of the people who ask him stuff. So when they ask him where he came from, he addresses their intentions and motivations: “You guys aren’t looking for me because you saw signs,” he says, “you’re looking for me because you ate your fill of loaves.” Jesus calls them out and says that they don’t really want to know whether he walked or took a boat, nor are they really interested in whether he came down from heaven…they just want to know what he’s going to make them for supper. And then he says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” They were looking for Jesus to fill their empty fridge, and his response was what my brother reminded me: “You need Jesus.” They thought they needed to go shopping again. He knows that what they really need is Jesus.
How often are we like this crowd? We buy groceries and enjoy our full fridge, but then it gets empty and we go shopping again. We come to church because we need to get our ‘fix’ for the week, because we want to feel full again. Which doesn’t sound like a bad reason, but I think what Jesus hopes is that it’s not the primary reason we come to Jesus. Jesus wants us to come to him because of who he is, not because of what he can do for us or what we need from him. I remember as a kid we would complain to my parents about having to go to church where the service was boring, we didn’t get anything out of it, we didn’t know anyone. And every time we made that excuse my mom would say, “Has God been good to us this week? Have we had food on the table, clothes on our backs and beds to sleep in? Alright…we can go to church, be with God’s people, and say thank you.” My mom was modeling to me what is really hard for me to remember sometimes: we don’t come to worship primarily because of what we get out of it. If we do, then we are like these crowds who came to Jesus looking for him to do something else to prove himself to them.
Throughout this chapter, the crowds want Jesus to DO something to prove who he is. They want him to heal their sick, do the cool bread trick again, be their king. “What work are you performing so that we believe,” the crowds ask. Jesus says it’s not about what I’m DOING, it’s about who I AM. That’s what he’s asking them to believe—not what he does or how he makes them FEEL, but who he is—the Bread of Life, come down from heaven to give life to the world. “This is the work of God,” Jesus says, “that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Remember the question we wrestled with last week—what are we going to do to feed these people?” So often we answer that question with STUFF. More programs, better outreach, more interesting worship, better services. We see an empty fridge and we try to cash in our paycheck and go shopping for what we can buy, plan for, or create. We shop around at churches until we find one that has the product that we like…the program that makes us feel full. But Jesus reminds us that ultimately, that kind of food will eventually perish. If we try to fill our hunger, either personally or even as a community, with anything other than belief in Jesus, eventually we will be hungry again. “The work of God is that we believe in him whom God has sent.” This food—the Bread of Life—is gift to us. It is given to us by God. The work that God does is to create belief in us. AND, it is an invitation to do the work of God—to believe, to come to Jesus, to eat this bread. It is gift. And it is invitation.
If you are able to regularly keep the fridge in your house full for yourself and those around you, that is a gift and blessing. And it is important. Food is important and nourishes us in really important ways. I’m not promoting some sort of extreme living where you substitute groceries for Bible study and meditation. Physical hunger is real and physical food is important. But I am inviting you to reflect on the status of your spiritual fridge—that which nourishes your soul and spirit. Maybe you’re in a good place and you are regularly filling up on the stuff of faith that lasts forever. If that’s you, celebrate that and share it with others. Maybe you’re feeling like whatever you are DOING to try to feel full isn’t working—or at least doesn’t last for very long. If that’s you—and I think that’s all of us on some level—then I hope you hear this invitation from Jesus, the Bread of Life. The invitation is to believe in him—not because of what he DOES or how he makes you FEEL, but because he is the Bread of Life, sent from God to give YOU life. Not a life that perishes, but a life that is eternal. Not a life full of quick-fix gimmicks, but a life that sustains you through the inevitable experiences of hunger, drought and wilderness. Don’t try to fill your hunger with food that perishes. Don’t follow Jesus just when it feels good and he gives you what you need. Be filled by Jesus. Let the Bread of Life, bread that is eternal, be the relationship…the reality…that fills you—when your fridge is full and life is good AND when your fridge is empty and your hunger is real.
So here’s the invitation to you today: and I shared this with you as part of our Communion prayer last week. It was the invitation to Communion shared with the youth at the Gathering in Detroit:
From all corners of the earth, Jesus invites everyone who hungers to this table. So come to this table, you who have much faith and you who would like to have more. Come to this table, you who have been to this meal often and you who have not been for a long time. Come to this table, you who have tried to follow Jesus and you who feel you have failed. Come to this table for Jesus, the Christ, invites us to meet God here.