Rev. Jane Sorenson, Pastor
August 5, 2012
What would you say if I told you, that there is a man down by the Evergreen State Fairgrounds, who is giving away free bread? What is your first thought?
It might be, “hmmm, wonder where he got it….” You might think, “Well, if he’s giving it away, it can’t be very good, now can it?” Or you might wonder, “What’s in it?” Or you might think, “what’s he up to? What’s the catch? There’s no such thing as a ‘free lunch’….what does he really want in exchange for this bread?” Or you might think, “hey, my budget’s tight enough, I’ll go try this free bread of his! If it turns out to be icky, well, no great loss, right? Worse thing that can happen is that I get something I can’t use….but I won’t have spent anything to get it, beyond my time. It’s worth a try.”
Did I cover your reaction? Anybody think something else, have a different reaction?
What are the common threads to those responses? Some skepticism…about what’s in the bread or about the man’s motives. Some curiosity…..”I wonder why this is happening. I wonder just how this is happening.” Some weighing up of options: “well, it won’t hurt anything to go see…”
All of these probably described the crowd that Jesus was speaking to in this morning’s reading. In the beginning verses of this chapter in the Gospel of John (ch. 6), Jesus was gathered with his disciples, and a large crowd had come up, curious about him and about the reports they had heard about his healing of the sick. Jesus asked Philip, one of the disciples: “Where will we buy bread to feed all these people?” and Philip freaked out. Not a Biblical term, but apt. Philip said, “Six months’ wages couldn’t feed all these people!” But out of what they had -- a boy among them had five loaves and two fish -- they did indeed feed the crowd, the writer of John reporting, “as much as they wanted.”
Today’s Gospel reading picks up the story’s thread when the crowd continued to follow Jesus as he had gone on to Capernaum, because they had seen healings and now they had received bread, and they probably were wondering what else this guy Jesus might do.
And Jesus said to them, “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.” I can only imagine the crowd going, “Huh? Don’t work for food?!” Or “Cool! He’s going to do something else even more amazing!” I mean, what’s more amazing than food that does not perish, that does not grow stale or decay?
And, as usual, the crowd missed the point.
The writer of John used the word “signs.” “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs….” He didn’t write “because you ate bread” or “because you saw miracles.” He chose the word “signs.” As the hearers of Tom’s sermons, you get the significance of that word. A sign is something that points beyond itself. A sign is not that important within itself -- what matters is what that sign can tell you, what that sign is telling you. For a really easy example: we all know what it means when those glorious, billowy, gray clouds form over us -- they are a sign of interesting weather to come, maybe wind, maybe thunderstorms,….but definitely something interesting. Something we need to take into account as we go along. As in “These clouds mean this is a really bad time to get up onto the roof of your house.”
Jesus called the healings of the previous chapters in the Gospel of John signs. He called the food of the loaves and fishes a sign. Signs conveying an important message.
The people in the story didn’t get it. They said to Jesus, “what sign are you going to give us, that we might believe you? What work are you going to do?” They didn’t get it. They were still thinking in concrete terms, in physical terms of something they could hold, something they could taste, something they could see, that would prove to them somehow that Jesus was worth listening to.
Jesus didn’t give up on them. As much as their sticking with the obvious and concrete must have driven him nuts, he hung in there, and he said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” And if you continue to read this chapter in the Gospel of John, you will see that they never did get it, that they kept holding on to the real, the physical, looking for a bread that would never decay and always satisfy them; or asking how this man can become bread, like a magician’s trick, because that’s what they thought they heard him say; or wondering how this boy from Nazareth could claim to be anything but a boy from Nazareth, much less something that had come down from heaven.
The crowd around Jesus, and I suspect the disciples, too, did not know what to do with these words. How can this be, that we would never be hungry, that we would never thirst? What was this Jesus, a 24-hour deli? What could he mean? We’re not that different from the crowd. We’re not that different from the disciples. We would like to have some physical reason to care about or follow Jesus, some tangible, grab-it-with-both-hands proof that Jesus is truly of God. We, too, wonder how Jesus can feed us, can quench our thirst.
I was talking with my associate in pastoral work this past week, and he wondered, “Was there no actual hunger in John’s community? Wouldn’t those words sound so wounding to a poor and troubled people, to say ‘you won’t hunger any more’ to people whose stomachs must have been growling?” Yes, it would wound. Yes, it would trouble those who heard it. And, with any luck, a person might follow that trouble, that seeming wound, to a destination of a question: is my physical hunger the only one I experience? Of all the hungers that I have, is the rumbling in my stomach the most important one?
Maybe that’s assuming a pretty sophisticated thought process for a crowd….but I think that is the writer of John’s Gospel’s point. I think it’s what Jesus asked them, and is asking us, to consider. Yes, we need food and drink to sustain life -- and too many of us around the world lack those things. But don’t we hunger for more than food and water?
As we come to Jesus, to see and taste this free bread he hands out from this table, what hungers do we have? What rumblings within our hearts, or our minds, or our bodies, do we seek to satisfy?
For most of us, I guess and I hope that physical hunger is not our first concern. Most of us probably have enough to eat. But we, all of us, have hungers:
But these are hungers that God can fill. For us, Jesus is the bread of life, the bread of heaven -- for through him, through his example and his teachings, we find our fill, we find our nourishment: we find that we are loved, by a God who has sought and continues to seek deep relationship with each one of us. We find that we matter to God, no matter who we are or what we have accomplished. We find that God can help us see ourselves and see our world more fully, and so help us determine how we might best spend our efforts, our days, our talents and make a difference in our world.
One way to fill these hungers, is to come to this table. Not to eat our fill of bread. Not to see some really nifty healings or some other miracle. We come to this table to be nourished in our faith, to feel God’s love a little more deeply, to know ourselves treasured a little more clearly, to understand how our hands, and our feet, can help build God’s kingdom of Justice and Peace a little more fully. We come as a sign of our willingness to meet Jesus and to be embraced, known, changed by him.
Come to the table.
Come, open yourself to the Bread of Life.
Come, partake of this Food for Thought.
Food for Love. Food for Life. Food for you. For that which you truly hunger.