Message by Rev Jenny Carter
August 5, 2018
(Based on John 6:24-35)
The first day of my holidays this year was an odd day. I woke up at my usual time (which is always too early, but especially too early for someone on holidays!). Living alone as I do, there were no other people clamouring for my attention. Nobody, aside from myself, needed breakfast. I had a few days before I had to leave for my road trip up north, and since I had already done my laundry, mowed the lawn, and packed my clothes, I found myself not really knowing what to do with my sweet self. So I did what any normal person does when they are unsure of what to do with their time, I sat on the couch, and watched a whole lot of television. Periodically I would find myself wandering in to the kitchen and opening my fridge, where I would stare in vain for some delicious snack to appear.
It never did of course. While I did discover that whipped cream can be eaten all alone, out of a bowl, with a spoon, and that you can re-crisp a potato chip left over from the last time the kids came to visit by warming them up in the oven, my search for the perfect snack did not meet with any success. Probably because I wasn’t hungry for food. If I had been eating because I was hungry, then my whipped cream and potato chip discoveries would have fit that bill perfectly! But no, I wasn’t hungry for food. I was hungry for a meaningful way to fill my time. Hungry for rest and relaxation. Hungry for the holiday fun to begin. Not hungry for physical food – but hungry for the food that comes with doing things I enjoy with the people I love most in this world. Which has little, if anything, to do with real, physical food, and everything to do with those things in life that make life meaningful, joy filled, and life sustaining.
Which is just a long way of saying that I was hungry, not for the kind of food that could be found in my fridge or pantry, but hungry for the spiritual food that would sustain me, bring me joy and a sense of peace.
We are all hungry for that spiritual food. Living our lives demands a lot from us. Sometimes we meet these life demands with grace and elegance – and sometimes we are like that commercial for the candy bar – and we end up being “hangry” – that combination of hunger and anger and dis-ease that comes when our hunger is not being met.
The community that John was writing to was suffering from their own version of being “hangry.” In our reading this morning John is nearing the end of his life, nearly 70 years after Jesus’ execution and resurrection. He’s writing at a time when the early Christian communities are under severe persecution from the Romans, and where they have lost all connections with their original Jewish roots. To be clear, John is not writing to the “general public back in the day.” He is writing to a threatened, small, inner group, who have no first hand memory or experience of Jesus or of being Jewish. Their physical and their spiritual lives are at stake. They are more than hungry – they are starving for the kind of spiritual food that will sustain them in the terrifying times in which they are living. They need to feel embedded in their faith in Jesus. They need to feel connected to the body of Christ, so they can withstand the fear and pain of Roman arrest, torture and executions.
So John tells his little community the story we heard read this morning. This story takes place right after the time Jesus fed the 5,000. The people had seen Jesus perform this miraculous feeding, they had heard his words, and they had eaten their fill of bread. They declared him a prophet sent by God. Now they were hungry again. And, not content to wait for him to return, they follow him up into the mountains. Once there, they begin to question Jesus – not as believers and followers at this point – but as people who are hungry for more bread. Their words are filled with challenge. Most especially the challenge of who is Jesus to be saying and doing these things?
Jesus’ response catches them off guard. He in turn, challenges them, by pointing out the difference between “what they are looking for” and what they actually “saw.” They were looking for physical food – real bread. Yet Jesus encourages them to remember what they “saw” in the feeding of the 5,000, which had less to do with bread, and everything to do with seeing God at work. That in that feeding, in that gathering of people from all walks of life, where all are welcome, where being well connected socially or religiously has no bearing on whether or not you are deemed worthy of bread, where abundant life is for all – not just the well born few – that is God made visible. As visible as a loaf of bread and a couple of fish. Real. Tangible. Hold in your hands kind of visible. These things are the works of God.
The message of this story, the good news for John’s little community, and for us, is found in verse 29. Here Jesus’ is responding to the question put to him by the people, the question being, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” To which Jesus responds, “the work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
We English speaking moderns are at a bit of a disadvantage sometimes. Our language is such that sometimes we lose the impact that was intended in the story because it doesn’t readily translate from Greek to English. So given our rather tame translation of “believe in the one he has sent” it makes sense that this translates rather tamely into a simple declarative sentence of our faith as “Sure, I believe in Jesus.” End of sentence. Case close. Nothing more to do here than say “I believe.” Yet a far better translation of the Greek phrase is, not simply “believe”, but to “believe into, embed yourself in, abide in, give your whole self in trust to, and be in total solidarity with.”
John knew that this was the reminder his people needed to hear. That no matter the threats against them in their world, if they remembered to embed themselves in God and into the one God sent, they would have what they needed in order to not only survive, but have what they needed in order to rise above what they were facing, and in so doing, have some hope for a bit of joy and peace in a difficult life.
This is the reminder we need as well. Our faith is less about the statement “I believe in Jesus” and more about the choice to embed ourselves, trust our very lives to, God and what God is doing in this world. To be in solidarity with all of the works of justice and peace making. To be in solidarity with forgiveness and second chances. To be in solidarity with the agape kind of love that sees all of humanity as brothers and sisters.
Every time we gather around the communion table – every, single, time – we gather as people who are seeking to embed themselves in God, and in the one God sent. That is what we are remembering. We remember that even though the world can be dark and scary and difficult – even though our lives can be less than we would wish – at this table we remember that we have chosen to be a part of a different way. By our presence, by our eating of a bit of bread soaked in grape juice, we are declaring that we are people of the way – people who stand in solidarity with all that God is doing in our lives and in our world.
This is the ultimate spiritual food. This is the food that sustains us in our hungry lives. For all the times the world tells us that we are not enough – at this table we are reminded that we are. For all the times the world tells us that there is no hope – this meal reminds us that there is always hope. For all the times we fell short, made mistakes, and didn’t quite measure up to the people we know we could be – the bread and the cup remind us that tomorrow is another day and we are free to try again.
This is the beauty, and the power, of our sacrament of communion. In this meal, so reminiscent of Jesus’ feeding the multitudes, we are being fed by what we see here. Fed by hope. Fed by forgiveness. Fed by the ability to let ourselves be transformed. Fed by this community of which we are a part – and which is connected to every other community of faith of every time and place. Fed by the saints who came before us. Fed by the Spirit that makes everything new. Fed, because at this table, we become a part of Christ, and Christ becomes a part of us. At this table we are fed with the spiritual food that will sustain us in our hungry lives – and that will make all the difference.