Sunday, August 2, 2015

Tenth Sunday of Pentecost
Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 145:10-21
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:22-35

My mouth shall speak the praise of Jehovah; And let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.

Have you ever gone on a road trip with children? I have a million stories I could tell you about trips from when I was a child to the recent trip with Bruce. Something interesting always happens along the way, sometimes those occurrences are not pleasant. When I was about thirteen, my mom and I took a road trip half-way across the country to visit my aunt. The car died late at night and we were stranded on the side of the highway. A very nice trucker stopped, picked us up and dropped us at the next truck stop. We found a tow truck driver, got the car fixed and went on our way again. The lesson we learned from that experience is never, ever put a sign "Kansas or Bust" in your back window; we broke down just hours after I did so.

We have interesting travels stories that include pets, too. I was driving from New Jersey to California with my mom and my cat. I was moving there to marry Bruce and begin a new life with him. We briefly stopped at a rest area in the middle of nowhere Midwestern states and then hurried back on the road. A few miles after we were back on the road I began to wonder about my cat. We called her. Mom looked as I drove. I pulled over to the side of the road and we searched in all the little hiding places. No cat.

We were certain she must have escaped when we stopped at the rest area. The next exit was miles away, but we turned around, drove to the previous exit, turned around and returned to the rest area, adding at least an hour onto our trip. I knew it was an impossible hope, but we had to try. We stopped the car and began looking around, hoping beyond hope that she was just scared and hiding in a bush. That's when she crawled out from under my car seat. I looked under my seat, of course, but she had crawled up into the seat, curled up and fell asleep. I was too relieved to be upset about the lost time and miles. She had this way of finding exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time. She climbed into the box spring at one hotel; the box spring was bolted and unmovable, so I had to jump on the bed to scare her out.

Traveling is fun enough with adults and animals, but children add a whole other dimension to the experience. We drove from California to Pennsylvania with a side trip to North Carolina when Zack was just a few months old. It was summer and we were visiting family. Zack had not discovered the joy of standing yet when we left home, but it came to him while we were in Pennsylvania. He never wanted to get into his car seat again, which made for an interesting trip home.

The trouble with children is that they can verbally make their needs and annoyances known. "Mom, I have to go to the bathroom," always came a mile after the rest stop. "Mom, he's touching me!" "Mom, I'm hungry." "Mom, are we there yet?" That last one usually starts just a few miles from home, making the last three thousand miles exciting.

I have to admit that it was not until recently that I understood the timing of the Exodus events. I suppose I just didn't really think about it or I've based my understanding on the movies I've seen, but I never put the story into a timeline. It took them about twenty five days to get to the Red Sea. Pharaoh did not start chasing them until about a week before then. It was immediately after they crossed the sea and were safe that they began to grumble. Moses healed the bitter water a few days later. Four days after that, the people complained about having no meat. The quail fell that night and the manna was on the ground in the morning. They arrived at Mt. Sinai two weeks later, just forty eight days after the Passover. The people turned to golden calf before the 100th day.

It seems to me that it should have taken much longer for them to turn from the God who saved them from slavery, but in today's passage we see that they had already forgotten the bitterness of their oppression. "Would that we had died by the hand of Jehovah in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh-pots, when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger." It took thirty-three days for them to desire their old lives because at least their stomachs were full.

Our stomachs get a lot of attention, don't they? I spend a large portion of my day in the kitchen, cooking, cleaning up after meals, putting away groceries. I spend as much time planning those meals and shopping for the ingredients. Have you noticed how many recipes you see as you scroll through your Facebook timeline? Most news programs have segments that have to do with healthy eating or with restaurant reviews. I think most of us have experienced that moment when our tummies are grumbling and we can't decide what we want to eat. "There's nothing to eat in this house," is another favorite quote from my children.

In last week's Midweek Oasis, we talked about the feeding of the five thousand. The lectionary I use, which is the LSB version of the Revised Common Lectionary, mostly follows the RCL, with a few differences. Most churches heard John's version of the story last week. We heard Mark's. The stories end up at the same place, with the crowds demanding that Jesus take care of their physical needs. In John, Jesus recognizes the look in their eyes: they want a king that will fill their bellies.

We don't think about much when our bellies are grumbling. We don't think about our soul when we are hungry. We fight for the tangible things, but ignore the things that really matter. That's what Jesus saw in the crowds on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. After feeding a crowd of more than five thousand, the people were seeking Him for all the wrong reasons; they still did not understand. They recognized that He was the Messiah, but they wanted an earthly king. They wanted someone who would lead them out of occupation into a golden age of prosperity as a sovereign nation. They did not know that they had a deeper need, the need for forgiveness and the hope of eternal life. It didn't take long for them to turn away from Jesus because the message was too hard for them to accept. We'll see that in the weeks to come.

Today's passage from John juxtaposes the manna in the desert to the Bread from heaven which is Jesus. These things come from God. They are gifts from the One who cares for our every need, even the grumbling of our tummies. But as with the Israelites in the desert and the people by the Sea of Galilee, we are reminded that there is something much more important to understand here: these lessons are about trusting that God will provide us what we truly need.

Jesus didn't come to feed the hungry or heal the sick. He did those things to prove to the people that He is who He is. He did it, just like God proved Himself in the desert, to prove Himself to us. And all He wants in return is that we believe, and trust that He will do what is good and right and true. He will provide what we need. And while we do need food for our bellies, the true bread is Jesus. In Him is life; in Him is eternal life.

The final words of the Gospel passage are difficult to comprehend and believe. Jesus says, "...he that cometh to me shall not hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." I have believed and I have been hungry. What of those third world countries where faith in Christ is growing and moving and doing amazing things, yet also suffer great poverty, hunger and thirst even among those Christians who are living lives worthy of their calling. If you ask them, however, they will tell you that they have far more than we because they have learned to trust in God.

We live in our fancy homes with our cushy jobs and worry the minute there is a threat to our security. We grumble when we are hungry at four o'clock because we missed lunch. We look to false gods for our salvation, for our deliverance. We give credit to the wrong sources for our many blessings. We work hard for the perishable, giving far too little attention to the imperishable. Yet, active faith will naturally work the work that pleases God: to believe in the One whom He sent. That's the advantage those Christians have in this world. They have nothing on which to rely except God.

Paul was in prison when he wrote the letter to the Ephesians. Today's passage is so full of powerful words, words filled with God's grace for our lives. It begins with a difficult request. Paul asks the reader to "walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called." Here, once again, we see encouragement to work. Yet, what is the calling to which we are called? Jesus told us: to believe. This is not a passive faith; it is an active faith that naturally works the work that pleases God. It is the faith that leads to maturity, and that maturity leads to love. In love we live in unity and in peace in the body of Christ.

Paul begs us to live a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called. What is that life? He goes on to say that we should live, "with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

We don't do this very well. We find it much easier to grumble when we feel our needs are not being met; we demand physical satisfaction when we really need Christ. The bonds of peace are too easily broken in our church over disagreements about things that simply do not matter. We are like children, whining for our own way about whether the carpet should be cardinal or brick colored, ignoring the true needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Does it matter to God the color of our carpet? Or is that the bread that perishes?

Paul tells us to grow up. We need to stop falling for every idea that comes our way, trusting as God builds His body the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. He has created the perfect machine, but we spend so much time chasing after that which satisfies our flesh that we forget to do the work that will bring glory and honor to our God. It did not take the Israelites very long to turn to the golden calf; we are as easily swayed by the ways of the world.

We will continue to study the Bread of Life over the next few weeks, and the lessons will get incredibly difficult for us to understand and accept. It will be so shocking to Jesus' audience that many will stop following Him. Jesus began this lesson with the feeding of the five thousand because He knows that we need to have our flesh satisfied before we can truly learn about our spirits. We can't stay there, however. We have to take the next step to truly believe in Jesus. He did not come to be an earthly king; He came to save the world.

That salvation is enough. We might not think so when we are two miles into a thousand mile journey or when we are standing in front of a refrigerator with nothing that we want to eat. But if we begin with thankfulness for God's salvation and praise for God's graciousness, then we will find that He generously helps us deal with the rest. We can join with the psalmist in singing the hymn of praise to the LORD who is the Great King of a kingdom that reaches far beyond this world. He has done great things; He saved His people and fed them as much quail and manna that they needed to be satisfied. He taught them to trust in Him, and while they failed over and over and over again, He continued to love them with His faithfulness to His promises.

We will fail. We focus too much on our stomachs and too little on our spirits. We forget the great things that God has done and turn again to the gods who promise to fill our bellies and satisfy our physical desires. We turn from God by demanding that He serve as our earthly King and ignore the greater Kingdom that He rules from heaven. We turn from Him when He demands more from us than we are willing to give or that we can understand. We forget to praise Him for our daily bread because we can't find anything that will satisfy our desires on the shelves of our pantries.

Why do we continue to put our trust in earthly things, human beings and man-made institutions that cannot do what God can do? The Israelites trusted in Moses, but He was not their savior. They didn't learn the lesson that God taught them in the desert. The Jews trusted that Jesus could be king, but they missed what Jesus was really teaching them when He fed them. There will be grumbling of bellies and mouths, but God hears and He is faithful to all His promises. He has called us to do the work that really matters, to believe in His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. From there He will work in and through us for the sake of the world.

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