First Mennonite Church
March 3, 2019
Let us Never Go Hungry!
Text: John 6:25-35
Chapter six begins with the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand people by the mountainside, across the lake from his base town–Capernaum. As Jesus arrives at the site, he notices a large crowd coming to hear him teach and to have their sick healed. At the end of a day of teaching, Jesus refuses to send the people back home without their eating something. The location where the feeding takes place is a good distance away from town.
After the people eat, they want to crown Jesus king, but Jesus avoids it by going up the mountain to be by himself. The disciples, for their part, get into a boat and go home to the other side of the lake.
On the following day, the people notice that the only boat that was there after the disciples left is still there. So, they guess Jesus might still be around on their side of the lake. But once they cannot find him, they row over to the other side. And after finding Jesus there, they ask him, when he came. It seems as if Jesus is not thrilled to see the crowds again, at least for the reason he knows they are. He sort of rebukes or scolds them. Jesus tells them their reason for seeking him is not because they are convinced he is from God, but because they think they have found a source of free meals. “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you,” Jesus tells them.
To some degree, Jesus’ words here seem to contradict Paul’s who says the one who does not work should not eat (2Thes. 3:10). Obviously, the context of each of these sayings is different. When Jesus tells the crowd that the manna was not the bread from heaven, but that the one whom God has sent is the true bread from heaven, the crowds begin to ask for it. Jesus then tells them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
What does it mean that Jesus is the bread of life? And what does Jesus mean when he says we should not work for the food that perishes? What does it mean that if anyone comes to Jesus, such one will never go hungry again, or that if someone believes in Jesus, such one will never go thirsty again?
Bread. We will have a potluck today. I had breakfast this morning and I am already hungry! “Do not work for food that spoils” Jesus says. Yet, everything, or maybe, most of what you and I brought today, we had to buy it. In other words, we had to work for these things. It is obvious, we cannot help but work for the food that perishes. It is possible that we go to the grocery store more times than we come to church. It is also true that even when believing in Jesus, we continue to be fed by him. The Daily Bread devotional is in your mailbox today. We read and study the Bible; we pray and we come to church every Sunday. We feed on God’s word and we need to find life in Jesus. We need both the food that perishes and the food that sustains our spiritual lives. There is a song in Spanish that captures the dilemma we have with the two kinds of bread. The words rhyme smoothly in Spanish. Here is my free translation.
Por Un Pedazo de Pan (For a Piece of Bread)
For a piece of bread and for a bit of wine,
I’ve seen more than one brother abandon the path.
For a piece of bread and a bit of wine,
I’ve also seen many people find the path of love.
For a piece of bread and a bit of wine,
I have seen many people meet God once again.
For a piece of bread and a bit wine,
Christ made himself loaf of bread and cup of wine.
For not having wine and not having bread,
I have seen more than one brother bitter in life.
And for not sharing his bread nor his wine,
I have seen many believers suddenly drifting away from their moral anchor.
But by sharing bread and sharing wine,
We plant the seeds of justice, love and equality.
In our context, it is hard to go hungry. Many of us not only have a refrigerator and a pantry, but we also have a full deepfreeze. It is no wonder why there are so many fad diets. We should be mindful, however, that many around the world and even in our neighborhoods still go hungry to bed at night. So to those of you who bring food for Loaves and Fishes, I want to tell that Maria Madrid Sabi, the director of this organization, called and asked me to give you thanks and to tell you your donations are making a difference in people’s lives. Yes, it is food that perishes, but it also food that keeps people from going hungry.
But again, in this context of abundance, it is hard to realize which our truest need is. Because when we have a roof over our head, when there is a car in the garage, or when a paycheck comes twice a month, pinpointing our deepest need becomes more elusive. That is because when we have food, good enough health, and material possessions, we get confused as to what we should do when we feel a deeper longing resurfacing from within our soul. In such moments, we might believe that what we need is simply a break from our routine, like going on a short vacation, or that what we need is an upgrade of some kind, maybe a better TV, or cellphone, or maybe that we need a cup of wine, or a meal we have not had for a long time. When in fact, what we need, what our soul or spirit might be craving for is something beyond what we can ever afford. It might be God’s rest and peace that only he can provide.
Jesus says, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
Someone told the story of her driving along one day with one of her dear friends who was just diagnosed with a terminal disease. As they were going, they came to a place where the scenery was so beautiful and to which they have always stopped at before. As the two women gazed into the horizon before them, their silence was broken by the one who was ill. “I only wish,” she said before she started sobbing. And as she sobbed, the other waited patiently to know what her friend only wished for. After gaining her voice and composure once again, she said, “I only wish I had not worried so much about money.” After a very short illness, the woman died. And this friend went over to see the woman’s children as they were cleaning up the house. It was full of stuff, but what reminded her of her friend’s conversation was that after the children divided amongst themselves a few items and set out some for donations, most of her friend’s belongings had been piled up to go to the dumpster.
My dear friends, we need the perishable food that keeps us physically alive. We work for it every day. We not only pursue it, but we also depend on it. Jesus knew the crowd he fed the day before will need to eat again. But maybe, we like the crowd are tempted to only seek Jesus when we need. We like the crowd might have found the source of God’s forgiveness, unconditional love, his sustaining presence, and therefore when we feel the need for those things we are forced to come to him. Although the things God offers are those we cannot buy or produce by ourselves, yet it could be that the reason we come to him is not out of devotion, absolute loyalty, or for his lordship over us. It could be we come to him simply because it is in him that we get the comfort we need, the sense of security when we are afraid, or his grace to lift us up when we are down in our spirit. Jesus rebuked the crowd, not because they ate the bread he offered them, but because that was all they wanted from him. The crowd was not interested in receiving Jesus as the one who God had sent. The crowd could not see Jesus as the one through whom God was calling them to himself, but only as a man who could multiply bread.
Let us not only see Jesus as the one we go to in our difficult moments, but as the one through whom God wants to meet with us, to save us, and to make us his own. By allowing Jesus to become everything in us and absolute in every aspect of our lives, we also get consumed, lost in him, and yet it becomes the only way we find ourselves alive. That is what eating the Living Bread means. It’s a life in which we find that life is impossible without Jesus, his word and following his example.
Once again, this is what Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.” Let us receive Jesus and his words. Let us follow in his footsteps. And let us choose never to go hungry again. Amen!