Monday, August 03, 2015

Sermon on John 6:22-35, for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, "Your stomach's in it, but not your heart"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. We’re in the midst of several weeks of Gospel readings that follow a close order of events in Jesus’ ministry. To help you keep track, we had the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, then Jesus’ walking on water, and upon arrival back on shore, He begins teaching about the Bread of Life, which is in John 6. We will hear that sermon of Jesus in 3 parts, beginning with part 1 today.
Crowds still following Jesus are having a tough time keeping up, because they didn’t know about His secret nighttime stroll across the Sea of Galilee, and arrival in the boat with His disciples. But eventually they catch up. But rather than indulging in their attention, Jesus discerns their motives and desires are misguided. Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:26–27). Jesus was telling them the truth, that their stomach was in this pursuit of Jesus, but their heart wasn’t in it. At least not yet. They were expending their effort or working for barley loaves, when they could have something of eternal value. Bread that only the Son of Man, Jesus Christ could give them.
Another free meal might be a compelling reason for them to chase after Jesus, but if that was all they were after, they were missing something of monumentally greater importance—Jesus Christ Himself. When Jesus warns them not to work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life—He wants to change what they are working for, and how they are doing it. We might get a little offended if we were told that we were working for the wrong thing. I might feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in the paycheck I just earned, and the satisfaction of a job well done. And if someone said my labor was misplaced, I might get defensive. But much wiser would be to set aside my pride and listen to Jesus’ words. What am I doing wrong? If I’m laboring only for the bread that perishes, I’m on an endless treadmill that can never end with true satisfaction or contentment. Jesus can help us find that satisfaction.
We can readily identify with what Jesus says about bread that perishes. We see our paychecks run out too quickly, or the food in our fridge spoiling or running out too soon. We see the fruit of our labors, our homes or our clothes, or our material things, wearing out and breaking down all too quickly. We barely get one problem taken care of and a new one crops up. Perishable goods are all too familiar to us. But we still are relentlessly driven by hunger or worse, by selfishness, to accumulate as many “perishables” as we can. And Jesus says if you’re laboring for this and not something better, you’ve misspent your effort. Ouch. But put your pride aside and see what He has to say.
Labor instead for “the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him, God the Father has set His seal.” So there’s something better available than these perishable goods? There’s better bread to be had, than what’s going stale in my pantry, with no preservatives added? Yes there is, and that’s what our effort should be spent in getting.
The crowd insightfully asks, “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” They are seem ready to accept a solution, and they will gladly work for it. But Jesus’ reply is the curveball. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” Jesus narrows down the “works” of God to the work of God—to believe in Jesus, whom God sent. So Jesus has really reversed the direction of the works, from what we do to earn this better bread, to God working faith in Jesus inside us. To deliver this better bread to you, isn’t about you finding your “A-game” and “working smarter, not harder”—for God to deliver His better bread to you. He’s got to work on your heart. He’s going to draw you to Himself. Create faith in the One He sent to help. Give you the gift He’s waiting to give. Jesus’ gift was ready and available for free. Not the reward of harder or better work, but the gift of faith. This is the work of God.
But instead of believing in Jesus, and receiving this gift, the crowd looked for further proof. Isn’t that just like us? Isn’t it our common human nature to have proof after proof, and evidence after evidence of God’s goodness, His providence, His creation, His deliverance for us, and to still demand another proof? Just like Israel couldn’t trust God to get them a meal, when He safely delivered them out of the hand of Pharaoh, by mighty and awesome miracles? We have ample evidence of God’s own goodness in our lives, yet at critical crossroads in our lives when we are called to trust in Him, we act as though we need just one more proof to show we should trust in Him again the next time? In any case, Jesus did not concede to perform more miracles to entertain and satisfy the crowd’s curiosity or need for proof. Jesus reminded them that it was God, not Moses, that fed Israel in the wilderness. A greater miracle was already happening before their eyes, and they were missing it.
This was the greater miracle. “ ‘For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.’ They said to Him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I AM the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’” The bread of God coming down from heaven is a person! Jesus is that Bread of Life, come to give life to the world and feed them. In their stomach-driven pursuit, their hearts were still empty, because they didn’t recognize the true bread from God was Jesus. He was the satisfaction of their hunger and thirst—not of their stomachs, but of their hearts. Before they even realized Jesus was talking about receiving Himself, they said, “Sir, give us this bread always.” It sounds good to have a living bread from heaven! But they were still chasing after the benefits, and not the person.
They were eager for the gift, but not for the Giver. If we want to reflect on the shallowness of that hunger, compare it to marrying someone you don’t love, just for their money or inheritance. Hopefully the real reason you marry your husband or wife is for the person themselves. Not what you can get out of them for personal gain.
When it comes to God, we are tempted to pursue the gift but ignore the Giver. In doing so the mindset becomes, “what can I collect from God?”, rather than “who is this kind, wise, loving person—I want to know Him?!” Unfortunately as Christians, we sometimes play right into the hands of our sinful nature, when we try to become “salesmen” for Christianity by promoting all the secondary benefits, rather than the primary, central thing, which is knowing God in Christ!
One obvious example of trying to market Christianity is the “health and wealth” or “prosperity gospel” that is common among the televangelists. Not only have they taken secondary things, like material possessions, and made them the selling feature of a so-called Christianity—but they have actually made a false set of promises about what God has promised to give us. Instead of speaking of the true benefits of faith in Christ as forgiveness, life, and salvation, they expand and promise what God has not explicitly or always promised us. God indeed may generously bless us according to His will, but by no means does He guarantee wealth and health to any Christian. To the contrary, we are promised that we will have crosses to bear if we follow Jesus. Faithfully following Jesus will bring us into conflict with the world. But that’s ok, since God is on our side, we cannot be separated from His love. And besides, gaining the whole world only to forfeit your soul obviously isn’t worth going the way of the world.
C.S. Lewis wisely stated that we don’t get second things by putting them first. The conclusion is that you only get second things by putting first things first. God is first and He is all in all. Without Him, the best we can hope for is bread that perishes. We won’t get His gifts until we first receive Him. Jesus offers the way: “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Did you catch how coming to Jesus and believing in Him are equaled? Coming to and believing in Jesus is the only way to escape the perpetual hunger and thirst of our heart and soul, crying out to God to be filled. Receiving Jesus is first, and receiving His gifts and satisfaction is second.
Coming to Him and being satisfied and never thirsting, is not a “transaction” , like we go to the ATM one day and withdraw a million dollars, and don’t plan ever to return. It’s not like we “convert” to believe in Jesus so we can check an item off our list, and have our “life insurance policy” filed. Making a quick transaction and then leaving Jesus, is to go back to hunger and thirst. Coming to Jesus and believing in Him is altogether different than a transaction. This is entering into a relationship as believer to God, or disciple to our Lord and Savior, or as a child to our heavenly Father. Entering that faith relationship, as we’ll see again next week, is by God’s drawing. As we heard today, it’s by God’s work that we believe in Jesus, whom God sent.
So the satisfaction, the life, the end of hunger and thirst—all Christ’s saving benefits—come by being in right relationship to Him. By believing in Him, which is the work of God. Jesus Himself is the Bread of Life. He is the end to our spiritual hunger and thirst. We cannot divorce Christ’s saving benefits from Himself! We cannot have them without Christ! So when they or we ask “Sir, give us this bread always”—God gives us Jesus. God sends Jesus to be our Savior, and He sends us to Jesus’ arms for help.
When God sends us Jesus, and when God works His work in us, so that we believe in Him, sent by God—then our hearts are in it. Our hearts come alive by God’s work in us, and want to know who this awesome God is. We want to know the person of Jesus Christ, the One who came into the world to give us life, to sacrifice Himself and lay down His life on the cross for our sin, for our unbelief, our greed and our craving empty things, instead of the things that truly matter. Our heart comes alive with faith to believe that Jesus has done this incredible work of dying and rising again to give us life. To know that in Him we are loved, we are fed, and we will never hunger or thirst again. God freely gives us Jesus, the Bread of Life—food that endures to eternal life. In His Holy Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
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1.     Why was the crowd’s pursuit of Jesus about their stomach and not their heart? John 6:26-27. What are the “perishable” things that we spend our effort in pursuing? Matthew 6:19-33. What should we pursue instead? Who gives that better bread?
2.     What does Jesus say is the work of God? John 6:29. Can we earn this imperishable bread? When they asked for more proof of who Jesus was, how did it show they had not progressed past the grumbling doubt of the ancient Israelites? Exodus 16:2-15. When do we also act as though we need more “proof” from God before we’ll trust in Him?
3.     What was the greater miracle that was happening before their eyes? Who was Jesus? John 6:32-33; 1:9-18.
4.     Why are we so often driven by “secondary things” instead of what is primary, namely God? How does that method fail in human relationships?
5.     Why does faith in Jesus lead to crosses and difficulty, rather than promises of health and wealth? John 17:13-15; Matthew 5:1-12; 1 John 2:15-17; 3:13; 5:1-5. Why is that still far better than going the way of the world? Mark 8:34-37; Romans 8:31-39
6.     Coming to Jesus and believing in Him are equaled (John 6:35). Why is discipleship like an ongoing relationship, and not just a transaction?
7.     When God has done His work of faith in us, how is our heart truly “in it?” What do we find and receive in Jesus?

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