What’s in it for Me? God’s Reign Now – August 8

A sermon based on John 6:24-35
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on August 6, 2021
by Rev. Scott Elliott

This is the last of three sermons I wrote on sabbatical. Last week we heard the John 6 account of Jesus’ feeding five thousand people fish and bread and then walking on water in a storm to catch up to his disciples as they crossed the sea in boat to Capernaum. Today’s story takes place after the crowd of five thousand figured out where Jesus went – though they are not sure how he got across the sea since they saw that the disciples had taken the boat without him. We are told “when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.” When they caught up to Jesus they inquired how he seemed to have miraculously got there. Jesus responded rather abruptly pointing out that they (the crowd) didn’t seem to really care about the miracles he did unless it benefitted them. Jesus sensed a “what’s in it for me” interest.

Of course, what Jesus had done for them was feed them full with food– a necessity that many in First Century Palestine were in want of and cannot be blamed for hoping for more of. Daily bread was a blessing that could not be taken for granted back then. Personal necessities in times of need are worth making the effort to follow Jesus. Which is what the crowd did. But they are there to see what’s in it for them. In the long history of Jesus Followers they’ve not been alone. For two thousand years people have come to church to find and follow Jesus hoping to fill a need.

This happens still for all sorts of reasons food; money; spiritual matters; healing; prayers; connections; types of worship; types of music; or types of programs in church, the Body of Christ. Like the very real manna from heaven, the bread, the necessity that God gave to the Hebrews– as well as the loaves God incarnate in Jesus gave to the five thousand– people are still being given needed things through the Body of Christ. The. Church. In the lesson Jesus calls such things “food that perishes.” And while “food that perishes,” (necessities) are A good and holy thing for people to receive from the Body of Christ, receiving them is not the work of the church, the work of the Body of Christ.

Christians can and should receive necessities, (everyone should), but personally getting necessities, or what we want, doesn’t count as the work we are supposed to do. Jesus’ work was not personally receiving necessities, it was getting them to others. We are to strive to be like Jesus. So our work is not personally receiving necessities. Done Jesus’ Way our work is to bring about heaven on earth for everyone, not just for self. God’s will is well-being for all. We are to want that, to work for that. Here’s how we put it to prayer every week to God, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Here’s how Jesus puts it in the lesson: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

When the crowd asked Jesus “‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, “‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’” The Greek word translated as “believe” is pisteuo; it means have confidence in, trust. It’s not about belief in the dogmas created by men after Easter, it’s about trusting Jesus and his Way. It means “I believe YOU Jesus.”

Although Jesus and the disciples fed all five thousand the day before, the next day the five thousand demanded more miracles. One was not enough to have confidence in him, to trust Jesus. They focus on what’s in it for me now? “[T]hey said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?” Then hinting at wanting daily bread from him the crowd reminds Jesus “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’”
Jesus responds with an exegesis, an interpretation, of the manna Bible story they misuse: .

“Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’” Then Jesus adds this kicker “[He] said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’”

We’ve likely all heard that Jesus is the bread of life, but what does that mean? In the context of John three things can help us understand it. One is that throughout that Gospel Jesus is understood to be “The Word” that was with God at the beginning speaking creation into being. In other words, in John Jesus is always the incarnation of God in the world– which is what Jesus means by “I am.” In the Moses and burning bush story we learn “I am” is God’s name. The second thing that helps is that back in John, chapter 4 we’re told Jesus provides living water to quench all thirst. The third thing is God so loved the world that he provided manna and loaves to the masses.

See access to bread and water are essential and Jesus the great “I am” – God incarnate– is the source of all of the physical sustenance we get– all the bread of life. But the bread of life also means more than physical food. Professor Karoline Lewis in her great book called John, puts it like this

“Jesus is able to give what God is able to give. Bread and water are quite literally bread and water, but they also represent life, especially life in the midst of dire circumstance . . . in this regard bread and water symbolize abundant life. Abundant life with God is not a postponed promise for the end- times but a present materiality here and now. “ (John, p 90)

Professor Lewis points out that Jesus’ stating in verse 35, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” must be read in context with verse 38 which is not in the Lectionary reading.

In that verse Jesus notes “I have come down from heaven.” Professor Lewis points out:

“Incorporating these verses provides the necessary background for what is to be the subject matter of belief in this moment. To believe in Jesus here is to make the connection that he is both the bread God provides that gives life and also the source of the bread. . . . To believe in Jesus as the Bread of Life in primarily to acknowledge God and God’s people. The bread from heaven is provided for the Israelites whom God loves and will not abandon. In the wilderness God is present providing for God’s people and God’s people rely upon that provision. To believe in Jesus as bread from heaven is to recognize that relationship. It is to believe in that relationship and what that relationship means, both then and now . . . That relationship also means being in community.” (Ibid.)

To believe in Jesus, to trust him, is to follow his teachings to do the work of God in a faith community like this– the church, The Body of Christ. To do the work of God is to believe God relates to us by loving and providing all manner of things for us to thrive. To do the work of God is to believe we need to be in community where we do not center our relationship with Christ on what’s in it for me, but center it on Jesus’ Way which requires us to be the Body of Christ’s hands and feet and voice today. That’s the work of the church. We are to provide for the well-being of all so that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. AMEN