11th Sunday after Pentecost; August 5, 2018, Year B
Exodus 16.2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78.23-29; Ephesians 4.1-16; John 6.24-35
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the bread of life, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“There was a name in nineteenth-century China for persons who came to church because they were hungry for material food. They converted, were baptized, joined the church, and remained active members as long as their physical needs were met through the generosity of the congregation. But once their prospects improved and they and their families no longer needed rice, they drifted away from the church. Hence missionaries called them “rice Christians (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3, p. 308).”
In our Gospel reading a whole bunch of “rice Christians” are following Jesus around. They were fed by him and wanted more. We are told they get into boats and search for him. They find Jesus, and say, “Rabbi (meaning, teacher), when did you come here?” They may as well have added, “Um, Jesus … what did you do with the leftovers because we are hungry again?”
As we recall from last week’s reading, there were 12 baskets of food left over from the meal. The people don’t quite know what to make of Jesus … they call him teacher … yet they can clearly see that he cares about them enough to see their hunger and feed them, and that he is different than anyone they’d ever met.
They are drawn to him, and maybe they don’t even fully know why. They are hungry, yes, but there is a deeper hunger that runs in their veins for healing and life … a hunger to fill their souls.
So once again, Jesus engages the people. He says to them, “I know you are hungry and looking again for your next meal, but I can give you so much more than bread and fish.”
What Jesus continues to say to the people confuses them more than ever. He speaks of food that perishes and food that endures for eternal life. He says he will give them the food that lasts forever, but they have no idea what he is saying. They want Jesus to perform a sign, some miracle in order that they may believe.
But, they forget so quickly that Jesus just gave them one by feeding thousands of people starting out with 5 loaves of bread and two fish.
The people then bring up receiving manna from heaven, or bread, in the wilderness. We just heard part of this story earlier in our first reading.
Jesus tells them that God provided for the people in the wilderness, giving them bread to survive, and now God is doing a new thing … God is giving the people true bread from heaven.
Jesus says, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Give us this bread always,” the people say.
Jesus says to them, “I am that bread and I am standing right in front of you.”
Sometimes we don’t even know what we are hungry for. We know we need to eat each day and like I said last week, God cares deeply about providing us food to eat. God feeds the people in the wilderness in our Exodus reading; God feeds people through Jesus when they seek him out by the thousands; God has given us food already this day through our breakfast and will again feed us at the communion table.
But there is a hunger in human beings that runs deeper than an empty stomach. It is Spiritual hunger and is the kind of hunger Jesus is trying to get the people and us to think about.
We know this kind of hunger when we wonder if there is anything more to life than we have already experienced. We know this kind of hunger when someone we love dies and we long for them. We know it when the saying “everything happens for a reason” no longer speaks to or satisfies us.
We hunger in our search for meaning, for purpose, for better life, forgiveness, understanding, belonging, and love. This is Spiritual hunger.
We know this kind of deeper hunger when we show up here on Sunday morning for worship and we don’t quite know why. We wanted to sleep in, or watch TV, or go for a hike, but here we are, hungry to hear a word of hope, hungry to hear more from this one called Jesus.
This morning Jesus says to us, “I am the bread of life.” And then he gives us a promise: “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
What does he mean by this?
Jesus’ promise implies that often times people are searching for something, or feel like something is missing in their life. Of course, all of our lives are different, but what is the same is this sense of longing and restlessness that so many of us can experience.
I have been particularly struck by what I’ve been hearing about loneliness in the United States. Some have even been calling it an epidemic and a health crisis for our country. People are more connected than ever by social media and yet nearly ½ of the people in this country express feeling disconnected and lonely, like no one understands or really knows them. The greatest increase in report of feeling lonely is among teenagers.
According to one National Public Radio interview, 20,000 adults across the country took a survey designed to measure loneliness.
“More than half of survey respondents — 54 percent — said they always or sometimes feel that no one knows them well. Fifty-six percent reported they sometimes or always felt like the people around them “are not necessarily with them.” And 2 in 5 felt like “they lack companionship,” that their “relationships aren’t meaningful” and that they “are isolated from others (https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/05/01/606588504/americans-are-a-lonely-lot-and-young-people-bear-the-heaviest-burden).”
I raise this issue because I have to wonder with ½ our country feeling lonely, what are we all hungry and thirsty for? When our bellies are full, but we are still longing for something, to what or whom to we turn?
The truth is that many people are trying to find meaning and satisfy their desires through both good and bad things: shopping, drugs, alcohol, money, work, relationships, food, even marathon running.
What Jesus is trying to communicate is that ultimately, none of those things will satisfy what we long for. We will still be hungry and thirsty for something more.
From this understanding we can hear Jesus’ words again: “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
The crowds come looking for him for one thing and he offers them what they really need, whether they knew it or not: He offers them himself. Jesus is telling them and us here today that there is only One who can satisfy this longing and searching within ourselves, and that is God.
I came across a few questions presented by a man named, Wes Telyea, in my sermon prep this week. Even as pastors, Jon and I both felt convicted by them, yet also felt they are worth sharing.
Wes Telyea asks (Sundays and Seasons Preaching Year B, 2018, p. 217.):
“-Why is it that so many people spend hours shopping for clothes and making themselves look presentable for the approval of others, and yet spend so little time dwelling in God’s word to learn about eternal life?
-Why is it that people spend thousands of dollars investing and getting their finances right for retirement, yet so little time investing in those things that last forever?
-Why it is that many people read their Facebook feed multiple times a day to stay up to date, but do not know the basic story of scripture?”
St. Augustine, a Bishop in the early 5th Century, said this about God: “Our heart is restless until it rests in you (Confessions).”
God does not just give us food … God wants to give us more. God does not want us to simply be rice Christians, but deep people of faith who hunger and long for relationship with Jesus. It is through this relationship with Jesus that God offers us the greatest gifts: unconditional love, companionship, and eternal life.
The people in our Gospel reading come looking for food and Jesus says, “Here I am … I give to you my very self. Eat and be satisfied.”