When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, [where Jesus had fed them the day before] 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.” (NRSV)
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus Christ our redeemer and friend, and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
I don’t know about you, but I get hungry every day.
I know the story of Adam and Eve wasn’t one of our readings today, but I’m guessing you know it well enough for me not to have to read it. You know they lived in Paradise, right? And everything was provided for them, right? They didn’t have any needs. They didn’t have to work. I am especially drawn to one part of it though. I have often thought that paradise, where there is no hunger, no need for menu planning, no grocery shopping, no food prep and no clean-up would be wonderful. I like to cook, but the daily grind of it is unrelenting. As soon as one meal is over, you have to start thinking about the next one! I would have SO much more time for other things if I didn’t have to do all that stuff! At least at our house, whoever cooks is done at the end of the meal. When I cook, Ed does the cleaning up… And I DO recognize that it is a privilege to know that I will have plenty for the next meal AND to have choices about what we will eat for it. Too many people don’t have enough, don’t know where their next meal is coming from or what it will consist of. All in all, Jesus’s promise that there will come a day when we will never hunger and never thirst is very appealing!
But in the here and now, we all know we get hungry every day.
I mean, even the food that Jesus fed the people on the “other side” in last week’s gospel reading didn’t last. They were hungry again by morning and they were looking for Jesus. In fact they crossed over to ‘this side’ of the lake looking for him. And basically Jesus told them, “Don’t follow me because I gave you physical food. That is nice, but it isn’t really what matters.”
What matters is the spiritual food. What matters is knowing that all we have and all we are and all we will ever be comes from God. What matters is the relationship we have with Christ, our redeemer, who cleanses us from sin. What matters is receiving the grace of God through Jesus and then passing that along as we live by faith. We make grace come alive when we are generous with what we have received from God, sharing it with those who are in need. There is all this and more in the Bread of Life suitcase.*
But Jesus’s audience wants bread for their physical bodies. They press Jesus for it. They quoted the scriptures, recalling Moses and the people of Israel in the wilderness where the manna was given every day. They want THAT. But Jesus is having none of it. He quotes scripture back at THEM that it was never Moses who gave the bread. It was God all the time.
And it was only while they needed it. God didn’t give the manna forever. When they got to the promised land and they could plant their own crops, they had to.
And that’s just the thing. In this life, we will always have to work for our food. We will always be hungry again fairly soon after the meal is over.
But that isn’t a bad thing. Hunger is the signal that the body needs food. Your spirit gets hungry too. Just as we need to eat every day, we need a regular diet of spiritual food. Spiritual hunger is the signal that you need to get back into worship. You need to read the scriptures. You need to pause for prayer. It might be a sign that you need to be accountable in your Christian community. Sometimes we don’t recognize what spiritual hunger feels like. It can feel like confusion about what to do in a situation…when there is confusion it is indeed time for prayer. You might come to realize your priorities are out of order. That is a signal your spirit is starving…time to turn to the scriptures. Maybe you got too spiritually hangry and you made a mistake that you need to ask forgiveness for…confession is a good idea.
We get fed when we are little children. As we grow, we learn to feed ourselves. First we learn to eat what it set before us. Eventually, we learn where the food is kept and we can eat what is already prepared and there for us in the pantry or the refrigerator. Finally we learn to prepare our own food. That’s when you know you won’t go hungry, when you can prepare your own food. Even then, you can always enjoy going to someone else’s house for dinner to eat their cooking or go to a restaurant for a meal a professional chef has prepared. Same with our spiritual food. In this life, we are hungry every day. As children, our spiritual food is what our parents give us, both at home and in Sunday School, at camp, at worship, you get the idea. As spiritually mature people we have learned to feed ourselves, and that is a good thing. The problem is, we don’t always recognize our emptiness as a spiritual hunger and we try to fill ourselves with other things… will new possessions make us feel satisfied? Not like Jesus will. Will a better job, or better friends or more sex or a new house or a different marriage make us feel better? Maybe on the short term, but they won’t make us BE better. That’s what matters. And in the long run, all that other stuff is futile. It won’t last. It is moldy bread. It won’t satisfy and will give you a spiritual stomach ache.
And so I urge you, my friends, go for the food that provides lasting benefit. Eat the bread of life. It nourishes you now AND sustains you for the life to come.
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
*In the children’s message I asked the kids if they had ever gone on a trip where they had to take a suitcase. Most of them had. I asked them what they had in their suitcase. Clothes, toothbrush, shampoo and conditioner, shoes were the main answers. “That’s a lot of stuff.” I answered. “It would be hard to keep track of everything if you just had to carry it in your arms.” I continued. Then I said this: “Today in our gospel reading we are going to hear Jesus say “I am the Bread of Life.” For the next few weeks we are going to have readings from John that reflect on what it means that Jesus is the Bread of Life. He nourishes us, and sustains us and gives us the power for living. That phrase has a lot of meanings that if we had to list it all every time, it would be very hard to keep track of all of it. So the phrase, ‘the Bread of Life’ is like a suitcase for all these meanings. We have to unpack the suitcase to be able to use all what we have carried there, and that is part of what we will do over the next few weeks, so keep coming back to see what’s in our “Bread of Life” suitcase.