Sunday, August 3, 2003

Eighth Sunday in Pentecost
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
Psalm 78:23-29
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

Have you ever noticed how many different types of bread there are to purchase? Hard bread, soft bread, dark bread and white bread. There are tortillas from Mexico and sourdough from San Francisco. France gives us croissants and baguettes. Southern kitchens produce biscuits. You can find bread made with cinnamon and raisins, bananas and nuts. Some loaves are small; others are large. Until recently, the food pyramid put bread at the bottom, suggesting nine to eleven servings a day. When we think of the most basic food necessities, bread is always on the list. Prisoners are given bread and water. Many restaurants include a basket of their signature bread with every meal. I love to begin the day with a toasted bagel and peanut butter.

Now, some researchers are claiming that we should not eat so much bread. The food pyramid has been redesigned. I heard one expert explain that bread fills the belly quickly, but is digested so fast that we feel hungry so much faster. It has long been understood that refined grains are less healthy, but now we are told to reconsider our intake of even the healthier types. Of course, my favorite breads are the kinds that are bad for us, but I can hope that some scientist will release a report that overturns everything we've learned so far!

In today's Gospel lesson, we join Jesus and the disciples shortly after He fed the five thousand with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. When the people realized that Jesus was no longer with them, they went looking for Him. They were so excited about the meal they had eaten; they wanted to make Him their king by force (John 6:15). They found Him on the other side of the sea, but they weren't looking for what Jesus knew they needed.

The feeding of the five thousand was much more than wonderful meal. It was a sign of God pointing at Jesus as the One He had sent to feed the world with the bread of heaven. They wanted Jesus to keep feeding their bellies, but they needed a much greater food. He told them to work for food that will endure for eternal life. They asked, "What must we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent."

Now, it is so much easier to trust in someone who gives us the things we need. They followed Jesus because they were fed and satisfied. They wanted to make Him their earthly king so that they would remain fed and satisfied. They were willing to obey anything He would tell them to do. Jesus told them they needed only believe in Him. This is so much harder to do. They wanted a sign.

The Israelites escaped the Egyptians by the grace of God, but within two months they were already grumbling about the lack of food. They were so hungry; they even considered it better to go back to slavery in Egypt where they could get regular meals. "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." If they were going to suffer death, they might as well have done so in the comfort of Egypt even if that meant slavery.

Instead of leaving them suffer, God promised to fill their needs. "Then said Jehovah unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or not." God gave them a sign of His provision - quail at night, bread in the morning. And they had their fill each day. Those who tried to provide for their future found that by not trusting God's promises, their manna turned to maggots. God knew they needed to learn to believe. It isn't easy.

All those years later, when Jesus stood before the Israelites, still looking for signs of God's faithfulness, they remembered the manna that Moses gave to them. But it wasn't Moses, it was God Himself that provided the food that kept them alive in the wilderness and now He had an even greater bread to give them. The Psalmist sings of the wonder of the gift of God from heaven, the manna and quail that filled the Israelites. "So they did eat, and were well filled; And he gave them their own desire."

But that manna did not last. Once eaten it was digested like any other food, and kept beyond one day it turned to maggots. The bread that endures for eternal life will not necessarily fill our bellies, but it will fill us with something much better - the love of God. It is about moving beyond asking God to fill only our physical needs, but to take that which He gives to be built into that which He desires for His people. Paul writes, "...but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love."

Jesus is the bread of life, but He knows how difficult it is for us to believe. So, He has drawn us together into one body, binding us together with the same Spirit, feeding us the same bread, living with the same hope, faith and baptism all under and for the glory of the One God our Father. In that body with Christ as the head, He continues to feed us the true bread from heaven.

Just as there are so many different types of bread, so too there are many different kinds of tasks to do in the body of Christ, to feed the Word of God to those who hear. Paul writes, "And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." These servants of Christ are gifted with all they need to do that which they are called to do, and that is to build up the body of Christ, bringing all those who believe together in love.

Paul begs that we 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 - asking for food and drink when we really need Christ. In our churches, the bonds of peace are broken too easily over disagreements about the things that really do not matter. We are like children, whining for our own way about whether the carpet should be cardinal or brick colored, never seeking God's will about our ministry to one another. Does it matter to God the color of our carpet? Or is that the bread that perishes?

Paul tells us to grow up, to not fall for every idea that comes our way, but to love one another as God makes us into one body by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that everything in the church works as it has been designed by God and is built together in love. This will bring glory to God and He will continue to feed us with the life giving food that comes from faith in Christ by calling us into this life of love.

Thanks be to God.

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