In the series “Everlasting Life: Now and Forever”
Food is one of the strongest desires we have. People will do almost anything for food if they are hungry enough – rob, steal, kill, rent out their bodies, and so on. Looting sometimes happens when supplies run low during a natural disaster. Grocery shelves empty out in a short time when floods, blizzards, or other inclement conditions are forecast. The pandemic caused a run on certain food items like yeast and flour, meat, cheese, canned soups and vegetables, and canned beverages. It’s not a bad idea to have your own reserve of nonperishables for emergencies. While you’re at it, you might bring some to local food pantries to help our neighbors now and perhaps yourself later when you most need it. Or, as Pastor Becky shared on Facebook this week, when you see an item that’s buy-one-get-one, keep the one and share the other with someone who might be struggling to have enough to eat.
According to the non-governmental organization Bread for the World, “Although we live in the world’s wealthiest nation, more than 40 million Americans, including 12 million children, live in households that struggle to put food on the table.”[i] That is about one in every five children in the U.S.
While some struggle with hunger, the problem many of us have tends to be that we get too much to eat. Maybe you’ve had the experience that I’ve had of eating so much that I feel full but not really satisfied. Sometimes I can eat a delicious meal and feel nicely full, not stuffed but comfortable. But then, a short time later, I’m back in the kitchen searching for something to eat: fruit, chips, cookies, cheese, a little ice cream, or when we have it, freshly baked bread. On some occasions, I find that one item that makes me feel completely satisfied, but often, I eat several things until I’m left feeling overstuffed and still unsatisfied.
Feeling full and feeling satisfied are not the same, yet we live in a time and space when the world would try to convince us otherwise. We start to believe that in order to be satisfied or happy, we have to be full. Yet, in many areas of our lives, feeling full doesn’t leave us satisfied. J.D. Rockefeller was once asked how much money was enough. He answered, “Just a little bit more.” Being full doesn’t equal being satisfied.
So, we go after more. Feeling lonely? Turn on the TV, radio, and computer for the chatter so we don’t have to be alone in the silence. Feeling sad or anxious? Try a little “shopping therapy,” which is even easier online, where you can find millions of products at your fingertips. Bored? Why not invest in another “big boy toy,” oh, and you’ll need the toy hauler for it, too. We’ve bought into the notion that being full and being satisfied are the same when they are very different.
It’s the day after the feeding of the 5,000, and the morning after Jesus walked on the water to his disciples. When the people who had eaten their fill of bread and fish the day before saw Jesus and his disciples were no longer at that place, they set off to Capernaum to find him.
When they finally found Jesus, he said to them, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.” (John 6:26 The Message) It seems the crowd was hungry for breakfast. They were searching for Jesus, not because they wanted a relationship with him, but because they wanted their bellies full. They wanted another free meal to fill them up, not fulfillment for their lives.
Are we any different though? Why do we look for Jesus? Is it out of love for him, or for what we can get from him? Are there times we turn to material things to feed our souls rather than seeking the nourishment of the One who offers food that never perishes?
Then Jesus invites us to seek the “food that endures for everlasting life,” which the Son of God offers in order to satisfy our deepest hungers, not just our fill our bellies.
What are those deep hungers? Hungers for meaning, for relationship, for love – both to be loved and to love, to give our lives for something greater than ourselves, to help feed the world, heal the sick, care for the broken and brokenhearted, to be changed from the inside out.
But I don’t know. The truth can be uncomfortable and make us defensive and cynical. Or it can make us stop, look, reflect, and change, but that sounds hard. Maybe I’d rather have an Asiago ranch chicken sandwich and fries from Wendy’s for today than face the truth. How about you?
The crowd listening to Jesus were still stuck on the loaves and fishes, but now, a day later, those loaves and fishes were gone; they had perished. The people were hungry again, as they would be again and again and again.
So, they asked Jesus for another sign. “What must we do to get in on God’s works?” (John 6:28 The Message)
Jesus answered, “The work of God is that you believe in him whom God has sent.” (John 6:29) His response shouldn’t surprise us. After all, we’ve heard and some know John 3:16-17, which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have [everlasting] life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God sent Jesus Christ the Son as a gift of living proof of how much God loves us. We don’t have to work hard, live without sin or shame, be really, really good. The only response called for is to believe, to trust, to put our faith in Jesus for this life and the life to come so that we may experience everlasting life, which is a quality of life that is deeply satisfying; it begins when we believe and extends into eternity. It is the gift of God, so that no one can boast.
But the crowd didn’t get it. They asked for a sign, so they could see it and believe, and they cited the manna in the wilderness, from their history. When God through Moses led their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt, God provided them with manna every day to meet their needs. They were instructed to take only what they needed for each day, or it would spoil. For 40 years, God sustained them daily as the journeyed through the wilderness to the Promised Land. The crowd wanted a sign like that, one that would keep their bellies full.
Never mind that they had seen the miracle of 5,000 fed from a boy’s lunch of five loaves and two fishes the day before. That was yesterday’s miracle. “What are you going to do for us today, Jesus?” they were asking.
But Jesus told them it wasn’t Moses who gave them bread from heaven, but God who provided for their ancestors and who gives them the true bread from heaven, which gives life to the world.
They eagerly said, “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!” (John 6:34 The Message)
The crowd wanted manna, like in the days of Moses. They were living in the past, focused on the way things used to be rather than on the living God who blesses us today. Do we live in the past? Are we focused on a fading memory of what used to be? Did our Christian experience and hope stop with an event long ago? Or can we recognize what God is doing in our lives and in our midst now?
There’s a temptation for churches as we continue through the pandemic. It is the urge to “go back” to the way things used to be. In other words, turn the clock back to 2019 and just pick up where we left off. I watched a webinar presented by Dr. Jim Baucom, church consultant for Fresh Expressions and pastor of Columbia Baptist Church in metro Washington, D.C. He says what most other church consultants have been saying since the pandemic began: That the coronavirus pandemic accelerated churches in their life cycle by anywhere from five to twenty years. In other words, we have advanced from 2020 to somewhere from 2025 to 2040 in our natural lifecycle. Baucom points out that there were a number of “preexisting conditions” prior to the pandemic that have accelerated, resulting in a new reality, where among other things, just 47% of Americans are members of a church, synagogue, or mosque. Our culture is no longer simply polarized; today we are tribal. We’ve become increasingly individualistic. The pandemic gave people opportunity to reconsider their commitments, attendance, serving, and giving patterns, and to change their priorities and habits.
When will people come back? we wonder. Some never will – they have reprioritized, and the church is no longer high on the list. Some will come back but less frequently; instead of coming two or three times a month, they might come once a month or once a quarter. Others find it more convenient to connect online, so digital ministry is here to stay. Some have found other places where they feel better connected than at St. Andrew’s, and from the perspective of the Kingdom of God, it’s a good thing that they are still connecting to a church, even though it’s not ours. We’re not called to be sheep rustlers or sheep traders; we’re supposed to be seeking lost sheep and bringing them into the flock.
The point is that we could long for and ask God for more pre-pandemic manna. Or we can ask ourselves, “Where is God working right now to offer the bread of life to us and to our community, and how can we join in the work God is doing?” Instead of thinking and talking in terms of “reopening” resuming what we did before, we have the opportunity to shift our mindset to “relaunching” and thinking about how we would connect with our community today. “What would we do today?” rather than “What should we keep doing that we were doing in 2019 or 2000 or 1970?”
The crowd asked Jesus to give them miraculous manna as Moses had always. But Jesus offered them something far better. He said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35 NRSV) Jesus invited them to satisfy the deepest and most fundamental need of every human, which is to be in an ongoing and trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. In a famous prayer, early Church father St. Augustine said to God, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
Jesus used the simplest of images to help us understand who he is and what he offers. He talks of bread. In his day, when diets were simple, bread kept people alive. It satisfied hunger and gave them strength to keep going.
As physical food gives life and energy to our bodies, so being in connection with God and with God’s people sustains us in our spiritual life. Jesus is the Bread of Life. When we come to him, believe him, and as a result seek to live as best we can by his example, our spiritual hunger and thirst will be satisfied, now and forever. We experience the gift of everlasting life starting in this life – not based on our circumstances, but in relationship with God through Christ – a life of love, joy, hope, compassion, and community.
Have you tasted the bread of life? Or are you still working for the bread that perishes?
Prayer: Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your simple and powerful word. You are the Bread of Life. As we ponder your word, give us understanding and insight. Open us as we reflect on our lives to hear your truth and your gracious invitation to everlasting life now and forever. Help us always draw life from your friendship with us. Amen.