Thursday, August 10, 2017

Our Daily Bread

Preached at Lynwood Friends Church
July 30, 2017

On Friday, I started hearing this verse march through my head: whoever comes to me, I will never send away. And I thought, maybe this is for my friends at Lynwood and some who find this on the internet.  It comes from the last part of John 6.

The context:
Jesus has gone to the sea of Galilee, and a lot of people have followed him because they saw the miracles of healing he worked in Jerusalem. Jesus goes away from the crowd with his disciples, and when he does take notice of the size of the crowd, he and the disciples feed them, perhaps three times the recorded five thousand. It’s pretty spectacular. The crowd wants to make this bread-giver king. But he hides from them on the mountain. Then the disciples leave in a boat during the night and a storm blows up. Jesus walks to them on the water, scaring them to death until he identifies himself and says, “Be not afraid.” They sail together across the sea of Galilee. When the crowd wakes up and sees the boat gone, and that neither Jesus nor his disciples are there, they all get into boats and cross the sea looking for them. When the crowd finds Jesus, they ask him when he crossed over, and he does not answer that question. Instead, he provokes a confrontation.

 John 6:26-48

"You seek me because I gave you food and your bellies were filled.  But don’t work for the food that rots, but for the food that lasts into everlasting life, which the Son of humanity, whom God the Father has authenticated, will give to you." And they replied, "What shall we do so that we are working the works of God?" Jesus answered, "This is the work of God, so that you might commit your trust and entrust yourselves to the one he has sent."

They said, "What miracle will you work so that we may see and may trust you and entrust ourselves to you? What wonder will you do for us? The Book of the Exodus tells us that Moses gave his followers bread from heaven in the desert, day after day." (Notice that they did not acknowledge the stupendousness of Jesus's feeding them just the day before.)

Jesus said, "What I am about to say to you is true: Moses did not give your ancestors that bread from heaven.  But my father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread from God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."

And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall never hunger, and whoever trusts me will never thirst.

However, I said to you that you have seen me and have not trusted me.

All those the Father gives me shall come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never send away. For I came down from heaven not to do what I want but to do what pleases my Father, my Father who sent me here. And this is what pleases my Father, who sent me: Of all those my Father has given me, I should lose not one self, but should raise them all up at the last day. This is the will of God who sent me: all who perceive the Son and entrust themselves to him, believe on him, may have life forever and I will raise them up at the last day."

And those who heard him whispered to each other: "We know his father and mother, so how can he claim to have come down from heaven?"

Jesus replied to their whispers: "No one can come to me except those drawn, led, impelled, dragged to me by the Father who sent me.  And I will raise them up at the last day. The prophets wrote, 'God shall teach them all'; therefore, all who hear and learn from the Father come to me. (Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is of God.) I tell you faithfully, All who entrust themselves to me have unending life. I am the bread of life."

This is what Jesus says above, paraphrased with more emotional content:

"You are just looking for more bread; you aren’t satisfied with one or two miracles. Your work is only to fill your bellies; instead you should work to gain the unending limitless life the Son of humanity gives you, because the Father has authenticated him, has placed his seal of approval on him."

The crowd asks, “Suppose we were to work for this unending and limitless life, what do we need to do?” (This construction acknowledges that this is not what they are working for at present.)

Jesus replies, “The work God wants from you is this: have confidence in the one God has sent—put your trust in that one, entrust yourselves to that one, believe on that one.”

The crowd understands that he is talking about himself. They want some guarantees.  “Do something spectacular so we can see it and believe on you—so we know we can trust in you. How about bread every day? Moses did that.”

Jesus replies, “Moses never did that. That wasn’t Moses’s gift to your ancestors. My Father gives you the true bread from heaven every day. The bread from heaven is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

So they said, “OK, then, give us this bread every day for ever and ever.”

I remember well a time in my life when my hopes for my career had been frustrated—worse, my understanding of my call from God had been negated. I was broken-hearted and angry. I was angry with people, sure, but mostly with God. God had opened door after door and then finally shut one in my face. Like the crowd tracking Jesus down in order to get more bread, I wanted God to miraculously open all the doors for me. And perhaps I would never have been satisfied, even if I had achieved that goal, if I had been able to fulfill what I thought was God’s call.

I have so much to learn from this part of John’s story. Specifically, miracles aren’t a successful strategy to cause people to trust in Jesus. Instead, they create an expectation that Jesus’s main purpose is to do miracles that will make life easier. I want more miracles, and I want them now.  I am hungry for wonders, even insatiable. It’s like the folk tale about the talking flounder who could grant wishes.

A poor fisherman and his wife lived in a hovel, a simple hut. One day, he pulled his net in, and it had a huge flounder in it. He was delighted, thinking of the meal he could have with fish left over to sell. But he heard a voice saying, "If you throw me back in I will grant your every wish." The fisherman was astounded to hear a fish talk and in respect threw it back into the ocean. Then he went home and told his wife. She said, “Look around you. Where do we live? You fool, go back and ask for a cottage.” So he did. “Flounder, flounder, noble fish, my wife would have me ask a wish. She wants a cottage, clean and bright.” “Go home, she has her wish tonight.” (I had this on a record when I was a kid.) Every granted wish upped the ante for the next request—first a cottage, then a palace, then “I want to rule the moon and sun”—“you want too many things, now you have none.” If this were a Christian story, this would be the happiest ending possible, because now, having had her wishes frustrated, she is ready to want the best thing.

Jesus tells us, when we hunger and thirst for righteousness—for being who we ought to be in relationship to God, namely being humans who do every day what God says every day, rather than humans who try to be God, who try to earn our place with God by our good works, our virtues. When we hunger and thirst to be in this right relationship with God, then we are blessed and our deepest hunger and thirst will be satisfied.

Miracles do not satisfy, only obedience does. Only affirming our humanness before God and our doing what God tells us—that satisfies. Remember that those who had actual bread from heaven every day in the desert, those who had a miracle done for them daily, got tired of it and complained.

So what does God want me—us—to do? Trust in the character and work of Jesus, and follow Jesus’s example in doing what God says to do. This is Jesus’s food—he says, "My food is to do the will of God who sent me, he says. I do nothing but what I hear from my Father." A daily bread indeed—every day listening for what God asks from us and every day doing that because we have entrusted ourselves to Jesus, the one sent from heaven. It’s not my responsibility to fulfill some long-term goal, even if I think it is God’s call. It’s my responsibility to entrust myself to Jesus, to listen, and to obey. Daily.

This is also the eye of the needle for us. Many of us are rich in virtues like self-control or generosity or kindness, and we have possessions and intelligence and education, and yet we can trust in none of these things instead of or in addition to Jesus. Further, all of these things have to be entrusted to Jesus, and Jesus may or may not value them the same way we do. Going through the eye of the needle strips us down to where all we have is our trust in the work and character of Jesus.

Back to the story:

Jesus tells the crowd: "Here’s what I have heard from my Father, and what I am doing: I am taking in every person God sends me. I am accepting all the Father places in my care. I will lose none of it, not a single soul. I am giving life to the whole world. All who perceive the Son and trust themselves to me, to them I am giving unending, limitless life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

"No one comes to me without being drawn, impelled, dragged to me by my Father. Everyone who hears and learns from God comes to me. All who trust in me will participate in eternal life."

When I was so angry and frustrated that God did not make a way for me to do what I thought was God’s call on my life, big C Call, I was sitting in church. I had my head down on the pew in front of me, and I was crying hot angry tears. And God said, “Look at me.” I stubbornly kept my head down, but I felt this—a finger under my chin, raising my face up, so that I could see. And when I looked into God’s eyes, all I saw was love.  This is what happens when God draws us, impels, drags us to Jesus.

That’s why I am so eager today to ask you to be honest with God. If God has let you down, be angry, be open. Don’t run and hide in the trees like Adam, don’t wall in your hurt and disappointment within your heart, don’t pretend. God knows where you are hiding, what you are hiding. And as Job says to God, “Can you not look away from me for an instant, long enough for me to swallow my spit?” As the Psalmist says, “Where can I go to get away from your presence? If I make my bed in Sheol, in the grave, you are there.” God is always on our trail, God always has an eye on us. Anne Lamott’s metaphor is the stray cat you just can’t get rid of. We run from God, and our running makes us afraid of God, afraid of judgment, but God already knows us. God knows when we get up in the morning, when we go to bed at night, what we do in between, what we dream of. God wants us to turn around, to lift our faces, to look God in the eyes. God is on our side.

And then what? Sometime around then, God told me, “You don’t have to do anything more to fulfill that Call. You’ve done enough.” God never said, “And now I have nothing more for you to do” because God’s call is daily, God’s teaching is daily, our obedience is daily, our trusting is daily. And the trusting is all that God really looks for.

I am talking to myself, and I hope this resonates with you as well. We can trust Jesus, the person God sent to give us unending and limitless life. We can confide in Jesus. Jesus will not lose us, will not reject us, will not cast us out. Instead, Jesus will give us Himself as our daily bread from heaven, and he will raise us up at the last day.

Query: How much am I trying to squeeze through the needle’s eye? Am I ready to trust Jesus, to entrust myself to Jesus, and let that be enough today?

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