August 5th, 2012 “Bread” Rev. Heather Jepsen
John 6:24-35 and Ephesians 4:1-16
This morning’s texts beg the question, why are you here? What are you really doing here in church this morning? What are you seeking? What do you hope to find? What is your reason, your motivation, for getting out of bed, leaving behind that giantly delicious Sunday paper, and coming to church?
Our gospel reading continues in John chapter 6. Last week Jesus fed the crowd of 5,000 and when they were full, the people looked to make Jesus their king. He fled from them, walking across the sea of Tiberius. Since that time the people have been searching for him. Where is this man that gave us the bread? Where is the prophet who is come into the world?
The folks cross the sea, looking for Jesus, and when they find him they ask what’s up. Where has he been, they have been looking for him. Why wasn’t Jesus where they expected him to be? Why is he fleeing from their adoration?
Jesus calls them out, “You’re looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Jesus goes on to declare that he doesn’t want for them to eat their fill of his gifts, rather he wants them to understand who he is and why he came. He is about more than simple loaves and fishes. He is the bread of life. To know him is to no longer know hunger.
That Jesus is the bread of life is a rich metaphor, one that we will spend the whole month exploring. Today though, I am thinking more about the crowd then I am thinking about Jesus.
Jesus accuses them of not seeing the sign. But I think that they did see the sign of the loaves. They ate their fill, and that is precisely why they are following Jesus. I think they had to have seen the sign, or they wouldn’t have crossed the sea to follow him. They are people of faith. The people saw the sign; they just didn’t understand the sign. Similarly, we are at risk of not understanding the sign. We are at risk of only seeing the miracle of the loaves and not understanding the miracle of the bread of life.
Like the crowds in the gospel of John, we have a belly full. Like the crowds, we have experienced the blessings of God. In our private lives we have been blessed with home and family, with financial comfort and good health care. Now I know this is not true of all of us, but it is true of many of us. In our past, we have experienced blessings and we attribute those blessings to God. Similarly our church has experienced blessings in its past. There was Alex’s long years of committed service, there is the honor and joy that is our music program, there was our wonderful church remodel, and of course our record of service in the community and beyond. We have been blessed.
Like the crowds, we have had our fill of the loaves and we are ready to make Jesus our king. And so we seek him. And like the crowds, we may or may not find him. You will notice that the people had to leave their comfort zone to find Jesus. They had to leave the area they were familiar with and cross the sea looking for him. Such was an act of faith.
Similarly, if we are looking for Jesus we need to leave our comfort zone. If we look for him here in our sanctuary, we are as likely to find him as the crowds were. For many of us the sign has already happened here and Jesus has moved on. It is only when we are willing to get in the boat and cross the water that we will find him. In the gospels Jesus is always moving on to new mission and ministry. We can’t be surprised if we don’t find him in the same old places. If we are to find him we need to move on as well.
I am afraid that when we do find the Christ, his response to us will likely be the same as it was to the crowds. You are here for the wrong reason. You are here because you ate bread and are looking for another belly full. We will all be tempted to deny such a judgment but the chances are that we all stand guilty. We are here because we want more of what we have had in the past. Personally we want more money so we can live at a greater level of comfort and give more to the church. We want a better home life, so we can devote more time to ministry. We want healing, so we can serve. We want a repeat of the blessings we have had in the past. We want more bread.
The same is true of the church; we are following Jesus because we want more. Like the crowds in the story, we want a repeat of the same miracle. We want to go back to the time when this church was full to the rafters. We want to go back to the time when we ran a successful campaign to build the Culton Street outreach center. We want to go back to the time when this was the church that all the college kids went too. Just like the crowds talking about Moses and manna, we want to go back to the past, the old miracles, and the old blessings. We want more bread.
Jesus challenges us and the crowds to reexamine what we are looking for and why. Why are we following Jesus, (assuming we are even able to leave behind the old and follow him)? And what are we looking for? Are we looking for him to feed us, the 5,000 again? Jesus doesn’t do that. Are we looking for a repeat of the same old miracles in the same old places? Jesus doesn’t do that. Are we looking to return to the glory days of the church? Jesus doesn’t do that.
Jesus has moved on to new places performing new signs and he expects us to move on too. He expects us to realize that it’s not about getting our fill of bread; it’s about understanding where true nourishment comes from. It’s not about returning to our old days of glory, it’s about following God into the new life of the church. We can’t keep looking for Jesus in the same old places; we need to follow him across the waters into new discussions and new understandings. As individuals and as a church we need to leave behind the loaves and fishes and embrace the true bread of life.
Following this train of thought, our reading from Ephesians talks about what the role and work of the church should be. Building upon the wonderful body of Christ metaphor; the writer of Ephesians calls us to remember that the church is a unit. In fact the church is one. One bread, one body, one baptism, one church. But oneness is not about sameness, and unity is not about uniformity. Rather the church is about unity and diversity. There is a diversity of gifts given to the church for the lifting up of the church. There is diversity in the body of Christ. One in the Lord and yet diverse in gifts, in service, and even in thought.
If the church is unity in diversity, and the church is the body of Christ, then the church will go through periods of change. In fact, I would say that just as the human body ages and changes, so does the body of Christ. The church goes through life cycles much as the human body does. There are times when we are weak and times when we are strong. Times when we are injured and times when he heal. There are times when we are young and vital and times when we are old and tired. There are even times when some churches die. Like a human body, the church body can’t go back in time. As the writer of Ephesians says, we are no longer children but are called to grow in our faith. We can’t go back to the way things used to be, we can only move forward into the way things are and the way God calls us to be now.
The crowds in the gospel of John are good faithful people. They follow Jesus because they believe. They are just looking for the wrong thing; they are looking for the same old miracles, and they are looking for more loaves and fishes. Similarly modern believers and churches also follow Jesus for the wrong reason. We too are looking for the same old miracles, looking to recapture a way we felt in our past or the way that God blessed this church years ago. Like the folks in John, we stand before the Lord and listen again to the word about the bread of life. Jesus didn’t come to give us material blessings; Jesus came to give us himself, the bread of life.
As the church we are called to grow into this understanding of spiritual nourishment. We are called to work together as one body, with various gifts and ministry. We are called to boldly move into the future, following Christ wherever he leads us. As the writer of Ephesians tells us, some are called to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, and some teachers. Like bread, all of these roles are for the building up, the nourishment of the body. We are not called to ask, “What’s in it for me, how many loaves can I get?” or “what’s in it for our church, how can we grow?” No, we are called to ask “how can we work together to be the body of Christ, the bread of life, in the world around us?”
Weekly, as we gather in worship, the words of Christ should challenge us, and today is no exception. Today we are called to ask ourselves as individuals and as a church why we are here. Have we come looking for loaves and fishes? Have we come looking for a miracle from the past? Or have we come to follow Jesus willingly into new territories? Have we come to turn away from material blessings and willingly seek after that which is the bread of life?
We will spend a month considering these words of Christ, “I am the bread of life.” My prayer is that we will come with pure hearts and motives to receive true nourishment as individuals and as a church. Amen.