Sunday, August 02, 2015

It doesn't just stop with a free lunch…a sermon on John 6:24-36

A sermon preached at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, CO. 

Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the Triune God.  Amen.

I wasn’t originally going to preach on this text.  I was going to preach on a text from Ephesians that talks about unity in the Holy Spirit and I even went so far as to write most of that sermon. But this Gospel text from John, the bread of life, has not let me go.  The word “life” in this text seemed to really grate on me this week. As I read the texts and prayed, I also experienced one of the most challenging weeks in my career as a chaplain, bearing witness to 8 deaths in the last 48 hours, along with the trauma, illness and pain that happen in every hospital. I've not been thinking about life, I am thinking about mortality and death. I feel like the crowd, having a hard time understanding what Jesus is saying about eternal life. They ask, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we might see it and believe you? What work are you performing?” In my work, where I see so much suffering and death, I plead to God, “Give me a sign so that I can believe you when you say that death is not the end!”
I have been earnestly chasing Jesus for a sign just like the crowd that we hear about in John’s Gospel. The crowd followed Jesus to Capernaum because they witnessed a miracle in the feeding of the 5,000.  They want to make Jesus their king by force, because they were impressed with the loaves and fishes. When the crowd catches up to him, he says “I am giving you eternal life, my body and blood, and you don’t get it.  You are happy to just stop with a free lunch!”  Jesus tells the people, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food which endures for eternal life.”
The crowd was stuck in the broken time of now, unable to see the holy not yet. Their hunger, a sort of physical hunger that is hard for us to understand, compels them to have their stomachs filled and their hunger pangs quieted, and until the needs of the present are cared for, it is really hard to see the promise of what is to come.  While our stomachs might not growl with starvation in the same way as the crowd gathered around Jesus, we too are stuck in the broken time of now. We hunger for justice when we hear about yet another Black American killed by a law enforcement officer. We hunger for answers when we learn of stabbings at a gay pride parade in Israel. We hunger for forgiveness for the ways that we continue to oppress our brothers and sisters of color through systemic racism. We hunger for life and for good news and for the promise of the Gospel when we battle shame and despair and depression and addiction everywhere around us.
Jesus says to the crowd, consumed by their current hunger, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”  Do not be consumed with the brokenness that you see now, but focus on the promise of all that God gives you.  And the crowd asks, “What do we do to secure these promises for ourselves?” And Jesus says, “Nothing. The work of God is to believe in him whom he sent.”   
And the crowd says,  No, really. There has to be something. And give us a sign so that we can believe you about the whole eternal life thing.  What are you doing so that we can believe?  When our ancestors were doubting the presence of God, they were given manna in the wilderness by Moses.”  And Jesus says, “ It was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven, but my Father who gives you true bread in heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  Still perhaps wishing for a nice sourdough or rye loaf, the crowd says, “Give us this bread always.”  Jesus proclaims, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” 
Jesus says the same to us, “Do not be consumed with the brokenness of the world, but know that God is among you, the bread of God has come down into the world.” We think are better off than the crowd because we know that Jesus talking about himself and we know the rest of the story, but we still struggle with believing what Jesus is saying.
Perhaps because we equate believing with intellectual understanding.  If we just had enough evidence, enough signs, if manna of some sort could be provided, that would be great. But having faith is not about comprehension and making a reasoned decision based on carefully considered facts.  It is about an encounter with Christ. It is Christ coming into the world for us, and saying, “Come to me, I will feed you from my very body.”  And it is about us bringing all of our broken pieces and our open hands saying, “I am hungry.”
What if believing that Christ is the bread of the world is not about understanding what it’s all about, but about a willingness to come to this table each week with our hunger? To say, “I have no idea how this works. But I am going to eat anyway because I am hungry.”  Our pastors declare each week during the invitation to communion, “Behold who you are, become what you receive!” We are all Christ’s body, we are all Christ’s beloved.  When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we share in his life and death and resurrection. We are reminded of Christ in us and around us. We are reminded that death has no dominion. THIS, the bread and the wine, THIS is the sign for which we cry out when we hunger, when we are surrounded by fear and shame and death.
Hunger is not the end. Pain is not the end. Fear is not the end. Even death is not the end. And because it is really hard to remember that, we get to be reminded each week when we eat the bread of heaven as we gather together around this table.  I am hungry to be reminded that death is not the end, even though it surrounds me everyday.  I need to be fed so that I might have the strength that comes from Christ to continue to do my work in the hospital. 

How are you hungry? How does this sacred meal feed you? 

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