Aug 12, 2018

“Complaining About Bread” - John 6:41-51

“Complaining About Bread” - John 6:41-51

            An atheist was swimming in the ocean.  To his shock, he spotted a shark fin.  So, he started swimming furiously back to his boat.  He looked over his shoulder and saw the shark heading straight at him.  He was scared to death.  When he saw the jaws of the great white beast open, revealing its horrific teeth, he screamed, “Oh God!  Save me!”

            In an instant, time was frozen, and a bright light shone down from above.  The man was motionless in the water when he heard the voice of God.  “You are an atheist.  Why do you call on me when you do not believe in me?”  The man was confused, but knew he could not lie.  So, he replied, “Well, that’s true.  I don’t believe in you, but what about the shark?  Can you make the shark believe in you?”

            The Lord replied, “As you wish,” and the light was retracted back into the heavens.  The man felt the water move once again.  And when he looked back, saw the jaws of the shark closing in on him.  But then, just like that, the shark stopped in his tracks.  The man heaved a sigh of relief.  That is, until the huge beast closed its eyes, bowed its head, and said this.  “Thank you Lord for this food which I’m about to receive”

            Believe it or not that’s what our Gospel reading for today is about.  It’s about a God who didn’t just come to make sharks more thankful, but comes to save us and to show us a better way.  In our reading, we find Jesus and his disciples in Capernaum.  It is there that a crowd of people catches up with them.  It is some of the five thousand people whom he had just fed the day before.  They’re hungry again, and they’re looking for another free meal.  When they finally locate Jesus, they don’t waste much time making it clear what they’re looking for.

            They march right up to him, make small talk, and then boldly put in their order.  “Jesus where were you?  When did you get here?  We’ve been looking all over the place for you.  Are you feeling well rested?  Oh, and by the way, Jesus, we’re hungry.  We haven’t had a thing to eat all day.  Could you make us some more of that bread?  It sure was tasty?”

            Jesus puts and end to the small talk.  “Do not work for the wrong reasons.  Do not work for food that perishes.  Rather, work for the food that is eternal.  The food that the Son of Man will give to you.”

            The crowd is all ears.  “That sounds great Jesus.  What do we have to do?  Tell us right away and we’ll do it.  Cause we’re starving here.”

            “All you have to do is believe.  Trust in God.  And trust in him whom God has sent.  Follow me, and I will give you the best bread you’ve ever tasted.  Yes, I will give you the bread you’ve really been searching for.  The bread that will truly satisfy.  The bread of life.”

            The crowd is practically jumping up and down in excitement.  “That sounds great Jesus.  This is the bread that we want.  Where can we find this bread?  Please give us this bread always.”

            Jesus replies.  “It’s right in front of you.  Look at me.  I mean really, really look at me.  I am the bread you are seeking.  I am the true bread.  I am the bread of life.  I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

            They’re all excited by this news.  All, that is, except for a small group of people.  And they begin to grumble.  They begin to complain just like their ancestors did in the wilderness.  They rain on the parade.  We’d better take a closer look.  Let’s see how Jesus handles them.

            Let us pray.  Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

            John lets us know that not everyone in the crowd is happy.  Not everyone is pleased with Jesus.  Some of the people who’ve heard what Jesus is saying are deeply offended.  They’re gravely upset by his claims.  “Who does this Jesus think he is anyway?  How can he have the nerve to claim to be the bread that came down from heaven?”

            To them, the claim that Jesus is making seems downright impossible.  At the very least, they think that Jesus must be off his rocker.  In fact, it sounds a lot like blasphemy to them.  So they confront him.  “We know you, Jesus.  We know your folks and your entire clan.  Why you’re the son of a simple carpenter.  You’ve had no schooling that we know of.  No impressive resume.  And you’re not from heaven by any means.  Why, you’re from Nazareth, for Pete’s sake.  And everybody with a lick of sense knows that nothing good comes from there.”          

            As you can see, their murmuring has turned to outright criticism.  They’re done holding their tongues.  They hold up signs.  They fill the air with complaints.  They don’t hold back.  They let it rip.  “What in the world is going on here?  Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?  How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?  You’ve gotta be kidding!  We know exactly where he’s from.”

            Of course, Jesus hears what they’re saying.  What they’re saying about him.  It’s clear they’ve prejudged him.  And it’s clear that their judgment is flawed.  They fail to grasp what God is doing in their midst.

            So, Jesus speaks up.  “What’s going on here?  What are you doing?  Do not complain among yourselves.  Let me explain why I said what I said.  Let me help you make sense of all of this.  Let me help you to better understand what’s going on here.”

            Jesus pauses for a moment.  He looks at the protestors.  Looks at their faces.  Looks to see how they are handling what he’s saying.  They seem to be listening politely, but it’s clear to him their minds are already made up.  They aren’t trying to learn from him.  They seem to have already drawn their own conclusions.  Their minds are closed.

            But that doesn’t stop Jesus.  He keeps trying to reach them.  He lets them know that God is at work in all of this.  That God’s trying to draw them closer.  Like a giant loving magnet.  “You see, no one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.  It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.”

            Jesus pauses once again, to see how the protestors are doing.  To see how they are faring.  They still don’t seem to get it.  Again, Jesus decides to continue.  He returns to the topic of bread.  That’s something they understand.  Many of them live from hand to mouth.  So, he tells them about the bread from heaven.  The real bread of life.  “Very truly, I tell you, I am the bread of life.  Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.”

            Once again Jesus pauses.  To take in how things are going.  Then he proceeds to unpack his message.  He lets them know how they can get this bread.  Where it can be found.  What it will do for them.  Exactly what this bread is.  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

            You see, despite the chilly reception, Jesus keeps trying.  He keeps trying to reach them.  He keeps loving.  He keeps teaching.  He keeps pouring his very life out for them, for us, and for the rest of the world.  He keeps doing this even though it seems he’s making no progress at all.

            A small boy had been consistently late for dinner.  One particular day his parents had warned him to be on time, but he arrived later than ever.  He found his parents already seated at the table, about to start eating.  Quickly he climbed into his chair.  It was then he noticed what had been set before him.  Only a slice of bread and a glass of water.  There was a deafening silence as he sat there staring at that plate.  He was crushed.  Then just like that, his father switched plates with him.  That’s right, his dad put his own full plate in front of his son, smiling warmly as he made the exchange.  

Later, when the boy became a man, he said this about that night.  “Since then, I’ve known what God is like.  I’ve known what God is like by what my father did.  When my father substituted his plate for mine that night.  He let me know by his actions that he hadn’t given up on me.”

            The Good news for us is God is still like that.  Jesus is still like that.  No matter how hard headed we are, God doesn’t give up on us.  God still loves us.  Still reaches out to us.  Still wants what’s best for us.  Still looks after us.  Still meets our needs.  And still wants to be close to us.

            In fact, this Jesus loved the world so much that he kept right on trying to get through to us up to the bitter end.  Kept right on trying to reach us until he was raised up on a cruel Roman cross.  That’s how much he loved the world.  That’s how much he still loves the world. 

            In a moment we’ll join him at the table.  He still invites us to come.  There, we will be reminded of what he has done for us.  And there, we’ll be reminded of what his Spirit still does for us.  There, we will eat his bread.  There, we will drink from his cup.  There, we will taste and see that God is good.  That God is love.  That God still loves.  Loves us.  Loves our world.  Always has.  Always will.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.