John 6: 24-35
24 When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. 27 Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.” 28 They asked, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?” 29 Jesus replied, “This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.” 30 They asked, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” 32 Jesus told them, “I assure you, it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread from heaven to you, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!” 35 Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
If you’ve been following the local news this past week, you may have seen that there is a food crisis unfolding in areas of Indianapolis due to the Double 8 grocery stores closing. Many people relied on this grocery store in their neighborhood, especially the elderly or those who do not have transportation to go out and buy food elsewhere. In my ignorance, I did not think about the fact that simply closing a small grocery could affect possibly thousands of people. For many of us, we can just hop in our cars and go to the grocery store that is 10-15 minutes away, or (in our case) make the 25 minute trip to the nearest Walmart to do our grocery shopping and get the things that we need. But for many people, this is just not an option. These areas of Indianapolis are now being called “food deserts”- places where people do not have convenient access to food.
Food deserts permeate many cities in our country. People cannot get to the places where healthy food is available. Instead, they rely on fast food or gas station food, which is often unhealthy, and often times more expensive than shopping at larger grocery store that is further away. I know that I have taken for granted the fact that my family and I always have had easy access to food. Maybe I shouldn’t complain so much anymore that Corey and I have to drive the 25 minutes to Walmart to do our grocery shopping.
The bottom line is that there are people out there who are desperate for food- literal food that feeds and sustains. There are people who either cannot afford it or do not have easy access to do it. We have people in our own community who line up every month at the food pantry because it’s possibly the only option they have. And then there are people who are not hungry for literal food necessarily, but are starving for spiritual food and nourishment. These are the kinds of people that we encounter in our text from John today.
The crowds that are searching for Jesus have just witnessed the feeding of the 5,000 and their stomachs are full of loaves and fish. Yet they come seeking more. Jesus is not fooled. He says to them, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”
Like children who keep begging us for more ice cream, the crowds follow just because they want more of the good stuff that fills their stomachs and assures them without a doubt that Jesus is someone important. Recalling the stories of their ancestors in the desert wanderings, they ask Jesus what sign he will do to prove that he is of God. “Moses was able to get God to send them manna from heaven,” they said. “What can YOU offer us?” Jesus corrects them by saying, “It was not Moses, but GOD who gives true bread from heaven: life giving, sustaining, miracle bread.” And then he drops it on them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
I believe that the underlying question that is being asked here and is being asked of us still today is this: are we hungry enough? We are good at filling our lives and our stomachs with the things that satisfy, but only for a short time. We live on the food that, as Jesus says, doesn’t last, instead of on the food that gives eternal life and sustains our relationship with Jesus as the bread of life. Our stomachs may not be empty, but many of us are wandering in food deserts of our own, searching for meaning- searching for the miracle bread that God alone can give.
You can almost hear the sorrow in Jesus’ voice in this text as he hopes that the crowds want more than just more bread…he realizes that their desires are shallow and that they long for the things that do not last and do not bring life. This past week, the news was blowing up with the news of the dentist from Minnesota who paid $50,000 to go to Zimbabwe and lure a lion out of a protected area in order to shoot it with a cross bow, and then a gun. After it died, he proceeded to skin it and behead it, all for the sake of saying he did it and to take home a trophy for his collection. Millions around the world are outraged that someone would do this to an endangered animal, and especially one as highly treasured as this particular lion, whose name was Cecil.
As an animal lover, this story deeply saddened me, but it also got me thinking about the things that we as humans think that we need in order to satisfy ourselves or make our lives richer and worth more. The man who set out to kill Cecil the lion only had a selfish desire to kill one of Africa’s treasured creatures for the sake of saying he did it and to have his head on display for others to look at and be impressed. He had no regard for the beauty or the life of this creature or how it would affect his patients or as he knows now, millions around the world who read this story in horror and wonder why someone would do such a thing.
We ourselves may not go out and pay $50,000 to kill a treasured lion, but there are certainly things that we all desire and have much higher on our priority list than seeking the bread of life that is our relationship with God. We seek the things that do not last and do not satisfy. We work for the food that perishes rather than the food that endures for eternal life that Jesus gives us, perhaps because we are unwilling or unable to name what we truly hunger for and seek. Perhaps we don’t know if we are hungry enough until we find ourselves starving and wondering how we ended up there.
When I was in between my freshman and sophomore years at Butler, I was taking a few classes in the summer to get ahead with some of my credits. My roommate had moved out, and the dorm was eerily quiet. I tried to get together with those who remained between doing homework and studying, and I spent a lot of time on the internet and playing games to distract myself (this was before Facebook!). It wasn’t until one day when I totally broke down on the phone with my parents that I realized that I was struggling to connect with God and community. I didn’t realize how much I needed it. I hadn’t realized that I was starving. As much as I was afraid to do so, I got dressed that evening, pried myself away from my school work and the quiet dorm, and I took myself to church. I sat in the back of the large sanctuary by myself at St. Luke’s as the praise band started the evening service, and wondered if anyone noticed me come in. The pastor quickly made her rounds and shook hands with everyone and greeted worshipers with a warm smile. I knew that I had made the right decision.
After that night, I made it a priority to attend church at least once a week if I could, not as a person on staff, not even as a volunteer, but as a worshiper- someone who needed to connect with God and community in the midst of the business and isolation of life. That was a difficult summer for me, as I found myself lonely and disconnected on several occasions. I was tempted at times to feed my loneliness and disconnectedness with things other than God and community or just stay by myself and wallow in isolation, but I chose to let God connect the pieces of my life and I found that I was always invited to partake in the food that lasts- that miracle bread that Christ alone can offer. Sometimes it just takes a nudge from the Spirit to remind us that we all hunger and thirst for God, for community, for the bread of life that is Christ Jesus.
The question remains: are we hungry enough? Or are we too stuck in our routine to realize that we are in fact, hungry for the bread of life? This past week during our Becoming a Disciple book study, we discussed how easy it is to simply fall into the routine of coming to church on Sunday morning and forgetting why we are there. Most people who come to church do so without the expectation that God will actually show up in worship. Well, I’ve got news for you: God DOES show up in worship, whether we expect God to or not! The problem is that many of us actually don’t expect to have an experience of the holy as we sit in church on Sunday mornings. Many of us don’t prepare our hearts to receive God into our lives as we worship. We just come because it’s what we do on Sundays. We want to see our friends. We want to hear the latest town news. We like the music. We feel uplifted for the week or hear something that challenges us. But do we actually prepare to work on our relationship with the bread of life and to partake of it when we come to this place? Are we hungry enough and ready to receive it?
The same question comes along with communion- has it become just another routine that we do that has lost its meaning? When Jesus proclaims himself to be the bread of life and when he tells his disciples to eat the broken bread that is his body, and to drink from the cup and to remember, he does not tell them to do this just so people like us thousands of years later will just have something else in a worship service to fill time. He instructs them to do this so that we still today will remember and will receive this bread of life as a reminder that God alone fills us and sustains our spiritual needs. It is God who gives us this gift as a means of grace so that we have a tangible reminder of Jesus as the bread of life- not just to take it and walk away only to forget it moments later, but to let it continue to sustain us as we continually seek God in our lives and for meaning in the things that truly last. When we let communion become just another meaningless routine, we lose one of our most precious rituals that feeds us and sustain us as Christian disciples. We risk losing sight of the miracle bread of life.
Sara Miles was a 46 year old woman who was a restaurant cook, a writer, and also an atheist. One morning, however, she found herself wandering into a church where she took a piece of bread, took a sip of wine, and found herself radically transformed. A routine Sunday activity for millions around the world became a life changing event for Sara. When she made the decision, out of nowhere, to partake in this strange ritual, she says that this mysterious sacrament turned out not to be a symbolic wafer at all, but actual food- indeed, the bread of life. Sara met Christ at the table, and she found that he had already been there, waiting for her all along.
This life changing moment became a turning point in Sara’s life where she realized that she had a purpose and a mission to feed people. She started a food pantry and gave away literally tons of fruit, vegetables, and cereal around the very table where she first received Christ’s miracle bread. She organized food pantries all over the city to provide hundreds of families with free groceries each week. And she did this without committees or meetings or even an official telephone number. She recruited a lot of volunteers and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. And all of this based on her experience of receiving communion, the body of Christ, this bread of life one random Sunday morning (Sara Miles, Take This Bread).
So may we continue to seek this bread of life…not in the things that will only satisfy temporarily, not in complacent attitudes that allow us to fall into routine and forget meaning, not in the things that promise one thing but lead to another. Instead, may we constantly be asking the question, “am I hungry enough?” Hungry enough for Jesus? Hungry enough for God’s presence in my life? Hungry enough to be filled to the brim with God’s love and grace? Hungry enough for God to really use me? We have a standing invitation to come to the table to eat and partake of the bread of life- this miracle bread. Jesus bids us to come not just so we will believe, but so that we will remember: “remember how God became one of us? Remember how God ate with us and drank with us, laughed with us and cried with us? Remember how God suffered for us, and died for us and gave his life for the life of the world? Remember how Jesus is the bread of life? Remember? Remember?” (Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday, 128). Amen.