Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sermon on John 6:22-35, for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, "The End of Discontentment"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Two weeks ago we talked about the feeding of the 5,000 and the spiritual hunger that we have that is satisfied only in Christ. I read some of these same verses from our Gospel in John, but today I want to expand on the idea of discontentment, and how Jesus is the Bread of Life. Discontentment is more than just hunger. It’s dissatisfaction with what we’ve been given, and ungratefulness for the gifts we have. The Bread of Life, however, is the end of discontentment. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus told the crowds that followed after Him looking for another bread miracle, that they should “not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” They were spending their time and effort working for something that would leave them empty. They took His question and said, ok, well if we need to labor for that which endures to eternal life, “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” How do we earn that eternal food you’re talking about? Their question already assumed that what they needed to do was some kind of works. What good works are necessary to please God? What do we need to do to earn His favor and this enduring food?

Their question left Him the perfect opportunity to explain all the things that it was necessary for them to do. Which were the most important commands of God; how to do them; what things they were neglecting to do; what they were doing well. He could’ve spelled out all the works, duties, and responsibilities that God wanted them to do. But He wouldn’t have answered their question. God doesn’t give His approval by our good works. Jesus throws them a curveball. Jesus named one single thing as the work of God: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” The one work He names, isn’t even a “work!” Instead of telling them something to do, He tells them to believe. The one work of God is to believe—in Jesus Christ, whom God sent. Paul reiterated Jesus’ point when he wrote that “To the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5).

Jesus didn’t give them a work to do, because then whatever they did would be on the basis of “earning it.” When you work for it, it can’t be counted as a gift, but as your due—your wages. But to believe in God is not our work, it’s God’s work in us, and to believe is to have righteousness counted to us by faith—as a pure gift. No earning or doing on our part. So Jesus calls them and us to believe, but what is their reply? “What sign do you do that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” They basically said, you want us to believe in you? Do some miracle to prove who you are! Let’s see what you can do! Were they so bold as to ignore the feeding of the 5,000 that He had just done? Or were they suggesting that this was a minor miracle by comparison to the manna of the Old Testament? After all, Moses fed hundreds of thousands, not just 5,000…and every day throughout the 40 years of wandering! Apparently they weren’t satisfied with what He’d done so far. Chasing after loaves and miracles, they had the seeds of discontentment.

Jesus sets them straight that it wasn’t Moses who gave the manna, but Jesus’ own Father that did. But their reaction was nothing new…in fact, in our Old Testament reading the Israelites were discontented with the miracle God had done in bringing them out of Egypt. They grumbled and complained that it would’ve been better for them to die with full bellies as slaves in Egypt than to be free out in the wilderness, dying of hunger. Their discontentment showed that they didn’t trust God to feed and provide for them. Actually it was entirely false to think that they’d die of starvation in the desert. They made their situation worse by creating this worrisome and false possibility in their mind.

Discontentment is an ugly sin, and it’s as much our problem today as it was for ancient Israel. Moses warned the Israelites that their grumbling and complaining wasn’t against himself and Aaron, his brother, but rather they were grumbling against the Lord. It was the Lord who gave them freedom, and now they wanted to go back to slavery? It was the Lord who gave them freedom, and now they doubted He was capable of feeding them? That He’d perform an amazing miracle in the Exodus, only to have them die in the desert? But this is just what discontentment looks like. It’s never satisfied with what it’s given. And for the Jews who saw Jesus’ miracle, they were discontented with the miracle He did. Discontentment always craves more of the things that cannot fill. For Israel it was the “meat pots” and bread of Egypt.

What is it for us? What are the “meat pots” that we crave for back in slavery? How’re we discontented with what we have, and seeking something to fill us that never can? Slavery is always something comfortable and familiar. It’s so completely irrational that anyone would rather be dead in slavery than alive in freedom. But it’s so easy to see the contradiction in others, but not so easy in ourselves. Let’s consider some examples of old slaveries that we might try to return to, out of our discontentment. See which shoe fits. Is it a slavery to possessions or money? How much is enough? Greed can never be satisfied with the emptiness of riches. You find comfort and security in having lots of things, or the best things, or always to keep one step ahead of the Joneses. It can be a sign of your success, trendiness, power. Never content with what you have, there is always something more or something better that you need.

Is it a slavery to food? The Israelites longed for the “meat pots” and bread of Egypt. Food can be a weakness or something we obsess about. For some it’s a matter of resisting what we know is unhealthy, and moderating our diet. For some it’s that we’re never satisfied with what we have. A matter of perfectionism. Is your slavery to fear? Whenever new or challenging things face you, you retreat into your fears. There’s a sense of safety in not venturing out, not confronting fear. Fear can control or ruin your life. You can give power to your fears by leaving them unchecked. Last week we heard how Jesus speaks courage to our heart and calls us out of fear to follow Him. Fear and worry and doubt can immobilize us when we’re called to action.

Is it a slavery to sensual pleasures? In a day where attitudes about sex are free and loose, it seems that society has granted us open permission to treat sex as casually as shaking hands. That we should have no boundaries and that no one should tell us that we’re harming ourselves and others by treating it so superficially. This is a dangerous discontentment because we ignore the deeper emotional and spiritual side of what happens. Slavery to the ways of the world can be quite enticing and comfortable. Is your slavery an addiction? Chemical dependency to cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, or medicines can leave us with a perpetual discontentment. There’ll never be satisfaction from just one cigarette, one shot, one drink, one pill. There has to be a constant stream of more, and yet the more we indulge, the less it satisfies. It’s the law of diminishing returns. This slavery also comes with a physical price to pay in our bodies, among other things.

Is it a slavery to computers or video games or entertainment? We can spend hours and hours with amusements, and never be satisfied. Improve your score, beat someone else, get to the next level. There’s an endless variety of information and entertainment to search and find on the internet. There’s enough movies to rent to keep you occupied for the rest of your life. This can be another path to boredom and discontentment. It can even be power that we are enslaved to! Jesus contrasts the way the world lords power and authority over others, with the servanthood He displayed at the cross. The hunger and thirst for power can corrupt and twist a person morally. We can be enslaved to lying, to greed, to lust, to fear, to all sorts of things that will readily become our masters, and leave us discontented and craving.

Many of these things in themselves are not harmful, and can be used and received as good blessings from God if they are used in moderation and with self-control. If we use God’s gifts as He has intended for them to be used, then we will be the masters, and not enslaved to our pleasures or greed or whatever. Jesus says it’s a useless pursuit to chase after these things, for bread that won’t satisfy. And a great danger is for us to be discontented with what we have, so that we’re always grumbling or complaining—all which goes right up to God as a sign of our ungratefulness for the portion we have been given.

However, when we pursue the food that endures to eternal life, by believing in the One whom God sent, namely Jesus Christ, then we’ll have the Bread of Life. Jesus is the Bread of Life, and He gives life to the world. Whoever comes to Him shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Him shall never thirst. Jesus is the end of discontentment! He delivers us from our self-absorbed slaveries and discontentment and brings us freedom and life. Even if we get the things we chase after in this world, they can only be enjoyed in this life. But Jesus promises a life of contentment not only for this life, but beyond! What do we do to get this? Simply believe. God works to create faith in our hearts, so that we receive this gift of Jesus and the contentment He brings, entirely without cost or by earning it. He freely gives this Bread of Life without cost.

But how can Jesus say that we won’t hunger or thirst? Aren’t there even many Christians who face starvation and poverty in the world? Yes, and thank God that He has also blessed us with the ability to share and care for those out of our own “loaves and fishes.” But contentment isn’t about how much we have. In fact some of the poorest people can be the most contented, while the richest can often be least contented. Those are earthly hungers, but as a commentator noted, “There are other hungers which can be satisfied only by him. There is the hunger for truth—in him alone is the truth of God. There is the hunger for life—in him alone is life more abundant. There is the hunger for love—in him alone is the love that outlasts sin and death. Christ alone can satisfy the hunger of the human heart and soul.”

The contentment that Jesus brings is the freedom from finding your fulfillment or meaning or value in earthly things. In Him we have life and value. In Him we can be content in all things, for He strengthens us. We never need doubt that He has set us free from sin only to starve in a wilderness. We never need doubt that He can feed and provide for our needs. So when we travel through this earthly wilderness, don’t complain when we travel light! Know that God is not going to abandon us. Jesus as the Bread of Life is the only enduring food that will never cease to fill us and content us. Jesus paid for the sin of discontentment also at the cross, and by removing this sin from us, we can begin to know what it is to be content, and how it feels to rest in what God has given and be satisfied with that. We paid nothing for this gift, but Jesus paid the great price of His own life…the Life that brings life to the world. We gain all truth, all life, and all love from His gift of His life on the cross. Hunger and thirst no more. Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
1. Read John 6:22-35. How did the people assume they could earn the food that endures to eternal life? How did they assume they could do it, or please God?

2. What single “work of God” did Jesus name? Is it our work? Read Romans 4:4-6. What goes wrong if it’s our work?

3. Describe the sin of discontentment. How does it show itself? What slavery(ies) are you enticed to return to? Possessions & Money: Read Matt. 6:19-24. Food: Matt. 4:1-4. Fear: 1 Pet. 5:7; Matt. 5:25-34. Sensual pleasures: 1 Cor. 6:9-20. Addictions: Eph. 5:18; Rom. 13:13-14. Amusement: Eccles. 2:1-11. Power: Mark 10:35-45.

4. Why is contentment found in Jesus alone? John 6:35. What does Jesus supply that is missing? What is the price for such contentment? How do we receive it?

5. Read Matt. 11:25-30. Why is the contentment that Jesus brings incomparable? What price did Jesus pay to bring us this gift?

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