August 1/2nd - 10th Sunday after Pentecost - John 6:21-35
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
John's Gospel works a bit differently. John wishes to show us the opposition that Jesus faces, senseless stubborn opposition. John shows Jesus performing miracle after miracle – he calls them “signs” - and these signs point to and demonstrate that He is the promised Messiah. And yet, folks are still stubborn, still complain, still want more, still miss the point. And then Jesus begins to confront them. The next three Sundays we will be studying this confrontation, and in hearing Jesus' words, we will see how Satan will try to attack our faith in Jesus, but also what Jesus wants us to remember. So, let us dive in.
After the feeding of the 5000, people go searching for Jesus, and they finally hunt Him down in Capernaum. And when they ask Him when He got here, Jesus answers saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Truly, truly – Amen, Amen. Right away, Jesus levels a devastating accusation. You've missed the point. You aren't here for Me because you recognize Me as the Messiah, as the Savior from sin. You're here because you want stuff. Your bellies were satisfied, and you want more and more. And, in spite of what you might hear from preachers on the TV with their “name it and claim it” theology, this is a bad thing. Greed, for the lack of a better word is bad. Always wanting more and more, is bad. And it's especially bad if you co-opt God into your greed, if you think that if you just pray enough, or put enough in the offering plate, or share the right thing on Facebook that God will just bless you. This is a horrid part of American theology, the prosperity Gospel – where if you just smile big enough and think positive thoughts God will bless you with truckloads of stuff. Think for a moment what that turns God into – do we really think God is so stingy and cruel that He'd make you jump through hoops before providing for you? Is our God some sort of pagan deity where we have to placate him before the crops will grow or some such trash? By no means! God is a not a crazy and cruel Daddy Warbucks in the sky – rather He gives us our daily bread as we need and as He sees fit. And yet... those lousy American-greed thoughts creep in sometimes, don't they? I've been a good little boy – shouldn't I have more? I've been a good Christian – maybe a nice bonus to the bank account is in line? Or if I just get this job, if this crop just comes in, I promise I'll come to church more, even bible study? They miss the point. God is not to be bribed – He gives good things for this life as He knows is best.
But the thing is – **this** life is not the key, and that is what we forget. Jesus continues, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.” So, are you going to run around after bread, after the Almighty dollar? Bigger this, bigger that? Where's that get you in a Century? Come 2115, we're all dead. Well, maybe one or two of the infants in here might still be around – but basically, all of us, out at that Cemetery south of town. And all the cash in the world wouldn't do us a hill of beans good out there. If we are looking only at our life now we are forgetting the big elephant in the room – we are mortal. We die, and as for stuff, you can't take it with you. Jesus is saying, “Why are you chasing after Me for more bread – you had that yesterday and you're hungry again! Why go for the temporary, when I offer the eternal?”
And the folks' interest is piqued. “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” There's the question. Alright, Jesus – how do we shift from the temporal stuff to the eternal stuff? We know the ways of this world – you work hard, you scratch, you claw to get ahead. You make connections and network, which is why we hunted you down in Capernaum, Jesus. So, how do we work the game to get eternal life? And Jesus' response is the hinge upon which the whole Gospel of John rests – it sets up everything else that follows. Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” That's it. Simple, short, sweet. What work are you to do – we'll, it's not really work. It's not a great task, a mighty labor. You sit back and trust Jesus. You believe in Him, you let Him do the heavy lifting, and He will give you life everlasting.
And here's the rub – people hate that. Our own sinful flesh hates that. Why? Because if it's about trusting Jesus to do everything, it means we are not in control. And our sinful flesh hates that. We know how it goes. The old adage is if you want something done right, do it yourself. Let me be in charge, and I'll dot the “i's” and cross the “t's”. I'm sure each of you can think of something where you don't get to be in control and it drives you nuts – a spouse driving instead of you, preparing a meal, having to wait on doctors for surgeries, when your kids plan out something and it's not the way you want them to. Lots of stuff – we want things to be under our control – and then here comes Jesus saying, “It's not under your control – you just trust Me.” And it can rankle.
And it rankled the folks there. “Then what sign do You do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” Alright, bub, just why in tarnation should we trust you? Your signs that You have shown, Your healings, the water to wine, walking on water – all these things – blah. Even the feeding – pshaw – that was one day. Our fathers got manna for fourty years! Step it up, Jesus – bring us the goods, because we aren't impressed yet.
Alright – bible history time. So, it's interesting that they mention their fathers in the wilderness. Why did the children of Israel have to eat manna for 40 long years? It wasn't because Moses got lost and wouldn't ask directions to the promised land – it was because God had them on the border, ready to take over the promised land... and their fathers grumbled. Their fathers didn't believe. God said that He would give them the land – and the spies came back and complained about how strong the armies were (all except Joshua and Caleb who said that God was going to give them some primo land) – and they refused to enter the Promised Land. Nope – we don't trust you God. We don't believe that you will work a victory for us there as you said you would. So God sent them out in the desert. And they got to eat their manna for 40 years, every single adult of them... until they died. All of them (except Joshua and Caleb). Yeah, that's where their desire for control and lack of trust in God got them – dead in the wilderness, never getting to the promised land. And that's what you come back at Jesus with?
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then this sounds good at first (although they grumble about it – we'll hear about that next week) – and Jesus caps it off - “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” Your fathers hungered in the desert – they thirsted in the desert (in fact, it was anger at their griping about thirst that tripped Moses up). But Jesus says, "I am better – I will bring you life everlasting. I bring life to the world – I bring resurrection from the dead. Believe in Me."
So then – what shall we take away from this text today? At first glance, it seems so easy. Jesus does all the work; we believe – and even that we know is a gift from God. Jesus is active; we are passive – how could it get any easier? It is a simple thing – but it cuts across the grain of our sinful nature. We are called to be receptive – to receive from God His gifts, both temporal and eternal, in God's own time – and that's not what our sinful flesh likes. Think of all the times you've been antsy, when you've been impatient, when you haven't liked how someone else was doing something they were supposed to be doing and it bugged you – even though what they were doing was okay. These are all ways in which Satan and our sinful flesh stir up discontentment. And it has negative consequences in our own lives with each other – how often are our arguments and disagreements with even friends and family really caused by this desire to always be in control and doing something? Not only is this something to watch out for when it comes to dealing with your friends and family, it's something to remember and watch out for when it comes to your faith and how you view God. It can be really easy to let grumblings and complaints about God and His timing start to attack your faith. While Jesus serves us, He is not a serving boy for us to order around; He remains in control, and in spite of what our flesh would tell us, that is a good thing for us.
Consider what is going on right now. Here we are at Church – we have been called here together by God to receive the gifts of life and salvation that Jesus has won for us. Even in that last sentence, did you note how things work? Jesus is the One who is active – He wins life and salvation by His death and resurrection. We are passive, we receive this forgiveness, this salvation. And that's how the service operates – it's a giant pattern training us to receive God's gifts. We enter the Church – and the first thing we do is confess our sins and then hear that Jesus has died for us, and we receive forgiveness, receive absolution. And then we give thanks, we sing, we praise... and then we sit down, we are quiet, and we listen to the Word of God. Passive – receptive. And it's a wondrous thing – Jesus gives us His Word that proclaims what He has done for us. Then there's the sermon – and again, I don't make you get up and do jumping jacks for Jesus or something like that – you hear the truth that Christ Jesus has died and risen for you. You sit and receive. Or the other great highlight of the service – we come before the altar of God and Christ Jesus, the very Bread of Life comes to us and we receive His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sin. This is the pattern, the shape – we are called by God away from all the business out there in the world where we want to run the show, and rather to pause and receive from Him His good gifts. Which is good.
Jesus is in control. And He is in control of things for you. It's not about what you do. Jesus provides for you, both body and soul, both now and forever. Jesus really is in control – and when sin or our flesh or Satan would drive us to forget that, He gives us His life and salvation again. It is a great and mighty thing He does for you, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.