The Bread of Life
 — Rev. Tom Jones

August 2, 2015

Exodus 16: 2-4, 9-15
Ephesians 4: 1-16
John 6: 24-35

Grace and Peace be with you this morning, as we hear the words of the Torah and the Gospel. May we also be blessed with the wisdom to understand how God is still speaking to each of us this morning.

Moses is leading the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt, the Lord parts the waters & they cross the sea ahead of Pharaoh’s army, which is then drowned. Then they set off across the desert, but within the first few days they are grumbling & complaining that they need food and water. Wait a minute! How is that possible? They didn’t know they were going to leave the empire to go to the Promised Land? They couldn’t figure out that it might be a good idea to bring some food & water? OK. Maybe back then people thought that if they didn’t make any attempt to be responsible, they could just blame someone else? Sure glad we never see that happening around here these days! But the Lord hears their concerns of the people, and sends them a sign of God’s Spiritual presence in a physical way. The bread and meat and water does provide for their physical needs, but it is also an answer to the people who have been grumbling about Moses taking them out in the desert only to die. They didn’t trust Moses, they didn’t have faith that God was leading them, and that God would take care of them. Certainly the food was a sign of God blessing them, but it is also important to see that this sign is designed to show the people an important lesson about what God’s true nature really is. The Creator is also giving us direction for how to deal with problems in our world, sustaining us through times of trouble, and giving us the tools to work together in love.

In the Gospel lesson from the sixth chapter of John, Jesus had just fed five thousand people, then sent the disciples off in a boat, while he went off by himself on a mountain, to get away from the people who were about to take him by force and make him be their king. Later in the night, the weather got rough out on the sea, and the disciples were struggling to row the boat, and when they saw Jesus walking out to them on the water, they were terrified. Yet, when Jesus got into the boat, the storm was no longer a problem and they reached the shore quickly. Which brings us to the part we read today, when Jesus teaches the crowd about the real importance of the signs they have witnessed.

The crowd finds Jesus across the Sea of Galilee and they ask, “Rabbi, when did you come over here?” …So, they have seen him cure the sick, feed five thousand people, get away from them without anyone knowing how, and when they find him, what does their question reveal about what they were thinking? It is more than just a casual, “Hey, long time, no see.” From the answer Jesus gives to their question, he reveals that they are not really understanding the importance of what he is teaching. He does not answer their question, “When did you get here?” with a story about walking on the water during the storm the night before. Instead he seems to ask them, “Why are all of you here?” and then he answers that question instead. Perhaps Jesus could see into their hearts from their questions; perhaps we can see this same dynamic in churches today, when people ask, “When did this plan get approved? & Why wasn’t I informed about this idea first?” Asking Jesus “When did you get here?” sounds like people want to try to get some control over what, when and where Jesus & the disciples are doing. Their next question continues, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” There could be two interpretations for the phrase, “the works of God”:

  1. The work God expects us to do, or
  2. The work that God does for us.

Jesus does not give them a list of things they should be doing, but goes back to the point they don’t seem to understand, that even though they have seen Jesus perform these “signs” of God’s love, they still do not believe. They do not Trust Jesus or God. In fact, they seem to be trying to control God. The phrase “to Believe in Jesus” means we need to trust Jesus to set our agenda, not that we are in charge of telling God what to do. When people are in charge, they want to make sure their needs are the main priority; when God is in charge, setting our priorities, we don’t need to worry about any of our fears. We don’t need to over-react to threats, anxieties, or what we consider to be an emergency. We need to trust Jesus, and follow his lead.

When Jesus feeds the crowd, the point was not to simply meet their need, but to reveal God’s true nature as our creator and sustainer. The point is that everything we have is really a gift from God, who is in control, and we should not give in to idolatry of pretending that we are in charge of telling God what we deserve, what we’ve earned, what we have created, or what God owes us. Our work is to believe in Jesus, to follow his example, honor his priorities, and to fill our hearts with gratitude and compassion. Jesus says that he is the bread of Life, the bread that comes down from heaven to give life to the world. Do we understand what this means any better than the crowds Jesus was teaching?

Perhaps the answer to what it means to believe in Jesus is expressed most clearly in Ephesians, chapter 4. If we are trusting and believing in Jesus, we are called to live, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. “ This scripture passage goes on to say that, “each of us was given grace… and that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” That’s a poetic way of saying what will happen when the church really believes in Jesus. We will speak the truth in love.

This does not seem to be what I see on the news, nor what I experience in how we treat each other. When we recognize the spirit of Christ in each other, we can work together to solve our physical needs. When we recognize that all people are God’s Children, even though we have different gifts, different strengths and challenges, still we realize we are all loved and created by God. We are all called to live with patience, humility and gentleness, but instead, we are far too likely to over-react to our fears. Believing and trusting in Jesus means practicing compassion and patience, especially when it doesn’t come easily. When we do that, we build bridges of understanding instead of allowing racism to set the agenda. When we treat each other with humility and gentleness, others can respond in love as well.

Ephesians 4 gives us some tangible ways to translate what it means to Believe in Jesus in terms of our attitudes and behavior. If Jesus is the Bread of Heaven sent to give life to the world, how do we authentically receive this gift? How do our lives show that we have sincere gratitude for God’s love? As a congregation, how do we practice compassion for each other and for all of God’s children in the world? It must begin with trusting & believing in our God, made known to us in the man, Jesus, continually growing beyond our human understanding, yet always calling us to grow in love.

Let us feel the mystery and power of God’s Presence as we join our voices now in singing Hymn #11, “Bring Many Names”.