August 5, 2018

Pentecost 11 August 5, 2018   (Ps 107, Ex 16:1-4, John 6:15-24) John 6:25-40

Bread of heaven


Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more… Feed me till I want no more

Jesus has the crowd singing the hymn with him today… At least for a few measures… As, remember – a week ago, our time – just a day ago, their time – Jesus fed five thousand from two little fishes and five small loaves of bread. Now it’s the day after, and the crowds have gathered again around Jesus, hoping for a repeat performance. “More loaves! More fishes! Feed us till we want no more!”

Jesus has not exactly given them any reason to expect a repetition. After producing yesterday’s great banquet, with more than enough for everyone and twelve baskets of take-home left-overs – Jesus sends disciples off across the lake in the boat – and  heads off to an undisclosed location on the mountain to avoid crowds who want to crown him king.

In feeding the multitude Jesus gives an amazing sign of his power. In private, later that night, he also walks on water for the benefit of disciples in the boat. These and other signs and wonders now convince the crowd Jesus is The Prophet foretold by Moses. They’re getting the idea he’s also the Messiah King of Israel. Yet they have no clue yet what the Messiah’s job description actually looks like. (Hence Jesus’ quick departure as they try to make him king.)

These and all the other signs Jesus has done surely ought to remind people of Moses and Israel’s exodus out from Egypt – where God gives manna, bread from heaven, every day, forty years in the wilderness – and God parts the waters of the Red Sea as Moses stretches out his arm at God’s command – and all Israel passes through the waters on the way out from slavery into freedom. Now here’s Jesus giving bread, mastering the waters, as Moses did…

But the crowds seem oblivious to the obvious connection to their own sacred history. Jesus accuses them of not even noticing what the sign’s about – and following him just because he’s fed their bodies.

“Don’t be working for food that lasts just a few hours. Don’t  waste your life working for what’s here today, gone tomorrow. Work for the food that lasts forever – the Son of Man’s trying to give you – and teach you to eat.”

The people hear a little now, on one level, as they pick up on what he’s saying about work for food that endures for eternal life – asking him “so what do we need to be doing – to do the works of God?”

“The work of God is to believe in the one God has sent,” Jesus tells them. And they understand now he’s talking about himself – but they’re still totally missing who he is – missing the meaning of what he’s just done by feeding them.

“What sign are you going to give us so we can see and believe you?” they ask. Like – what work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, the bread of heaven…”

Not getting the irony – of asking Jesus what sign he can do. Jesus, who has just done what Moses did and then some. Not understanding the irony of doing the same kind of grumbling and disbelieving against Jesus that the ancestors did against God and Moses throughout Israel’s liberation exodus.

Reminding me of the radio news report I heard this week on people fighting a court-room battle in Memphis, trying to preserve a statue of a confederate general. Arguing they’re trying to honor their heritage. Which seems a strange way to talk about the war of rebellion that cost as many or more American lives as all our other wars combined. All in an attempt to prolong the life of slavery in the land of the free.

But Jesus is gentler and far more patient than I am. As he ignores their rudeness and explains to the crowd – “the true bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

‘Now you’re talking,’ people say, as if they understand. “Give us this bread always.”

I am the bread of life,” Jesus says. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry…. But up to now you’ve been seeing me without believing….”

If Jesus is getting short-tempered here with the crowd, he isn’t letting it show – as he continues explaining who he is… Which is not something even Jesus can do in a hurry…But…

On one level, we, the readers of John’s gospel, already know who Jesus is from the opening verses –“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…” And – “The law indeed was given through Moses – grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” As readers of the gospel we’re given privileged information. But digesting that information… till we know it in our bones…still takes plenty of slow chewing…

Which is why we need to keep worshiping together, praying, loving, serving, and studying the whole bible together to understand Jesus for who he is…

And the more I study the word, the more I pray, the more I listen for the Spirit –  the more I keep coming back to the conclusion – that God’s deepest desire is still for all to be saved.

I still struggle with the concept. Sometimes I have a hard time accepting – God loves even slave traders, terrorists, and racists. But then I remember – Nelson Mandela, finally released from prison after 27 years – telling his former captors he knew their history – he could identify with how they feel. He studied their language and culture in prison. Learned to see history from their perspective. He was still intensely committed to complete abolition of apartheid. But by learning to understand his enemies he won the victory over them… And made it possible for them to not be enemies….forever.

Yet another reason why I know I need to keep getting to know Jesus better… And hear him better than I often have… as he says –  “anyone who comes to me I will never drive away… (and–) This is indeed is the will of my Father – that all who see (– meaning recognize–) the Son and believe in him may have eternal life. And I will raise them up on the last day…

And the more I spend time in John’s gospel, the more I hear Jesus say – every day is the last day – And – every day’s the first day…

Much the same way – Jesus always loves us, just as we are, as his own beloved children – and – Jesus always challenges us – to grow in faith and be mature adults in faith – and help him with the raising of the next generations in faith.

And speaking of raising the next generation – reading the Bourne Enterprise this week I was struck by how Mary Richmond, in her weekly nature column, talks about watching a pair of young osprey – big enough now to fly and catch fish – but still trying to figure out how to eat fish. She says: “One caught a fish and flew in circles, screeching all the while. It would land, then fly, then land again. It didn’t seem to understand it could eat the fish it caught. (Then–) After both young birds had fish in their talons – the father appeared, also with a fish. He ate his – and a bell seemed to go off for his progeny. They ate their fishes – tentatively at first – then with great gusto.”

Reminding me now of when our daughter Rohi first began eating solid foods…. sitting up in her high chair – proud parents snapping pictures and making a happy fuss over her. So glad, after months of spoon feeding her, when she began to feed herself with her own little spoon.

Learning to eat usually comes with a certain amount of mess-making with our food. We’ve got pictures of Rohi with food all over her face, her bib, her high chair – and traces of food tossed in all directions.

Good thing little children are so cute at this stage of life… which makes it a lot easier for parents to be patient…

And just in case, lest I forget – my mother, when she came to visit, brought a set of baby pictures of me when I was that age… With food all over myself and all over everything around me… And my parents of course loving me all the while.

Something I like to remember now… As I think about Jesus…teaching us how to eat the bread of life.

It can still be very messy…

But Jesus still loves us all the while.

Thanks be to God. Amen.