Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
5 August 2012
St. John United Church of Christ
St. Clair, MO
Bread for the Soul
Based on St. John 6: 24-35
By Rev. James Semmelroth Darnell
Have you ever been in a one-way relationship? It’s the kind of relationship where you’re the only one putting forth an effort. You express your admiration, adoration, and adulation, showering them with love and support and encouragement, but receive nothing in return. It can be a romantic relationship, or purely platonic. It can be a frustrating, even heartbreaking position in which to be. You can come away from such experiences just feeling used.
I actually think that’s how Jesus felt after feeding the 5,000 the loaves and fishes. I don’t know about you, but I never really thought about Jesus being or feeling used, until studying our gospel lesson this past week. As I said last Sunday, many of us are familiar with the story of just a few loaves and fishes being enough for the crowd of 5,000. It’s an amazing miracle contained in all four gospels. But few of us are familiar with what happened after the feeding. Fortunately our lectionary, that is the official listing of scripture passages for each Sunday, follows this story closely for the next several weeks and we get to see what the after-effects really were, closely reflecting on the bread of life.
Our reading today picks up right where we left off. After the feeding, after Jesus walked on the water to the disciples in the boat, after having reached land – who should be on their heels, but the people who had just been fed, who had just been shown a sign of the bread of heaven. Jesus is perturbed. He says to the crowd, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” He knows they are back not to experience God, not for the nourishment of their souls, but their bellies.
Jesus understands physical hunger. He was fully human. After all in one of his resurrection appearances the first thing he asks for is something to eat. He doesn’t begrudge the crowd having eaten the first time. What he does begrudge is that they failed to see the sign that the feeding pointed to – that Jesus is not some magical baker, but is the Bread of Life himself. They failed to see beyond their immediate need.
Mennonite minister Michael Danner comments, “Jesus’ miracles seemed to serve a two-fold purpose. On a concrete level, his miracles set people free from tangible burdens. Illness. Social isolation. Physical limitations. Demonic possession. Hunger. On an equally concrete level, his miracles also put God’s power and reign on display. Jesus’ ministry among the people provided tangible proof that, indeed, the Kingdom of God was at hand. The question is, do people have eyes to see and ears to hear one within the other? If they don’t, their relationship with Jesus will become manipulative and exploitive. They will end up using Jesus for bread and miss out on the Bread of Life.”
My guess is that Jesus felt used here. We don’t often think about how our actions make God feel, do we? But if we truly believe that God wants a relationship with each and every one of us, maybe we would do well to think about how we are living and maintaining our relationship with God. Is it one-way? Do we pray, go to church, do works of mercy and justice for our “Get out of jail” card, to ensure an eternal reward – or is it in response to God’s grace and the relationship God seeks with each one of us? Those are questions we really need to ask of ourselves.
Jesus continued speaking to the crowd saying, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” How hard it is to focus on the food that does not perish, the living bread, when our bodily needs press before us and we feel and hear the rumble in our stomachs. But spiritual starvation is just as real. We need to feed our souls as well, to partake of the bread of life, to not let our faith and spirituality grow stale.
The followers ask Jesus what they must do. Jesus’ answer is: believe in the one whom God sent. Jesus doesn’t even say that he speaks of himself. But the followers get where he’s going with this and say “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?” I really would like to know who in that crowd had the chutzpah to ask the question. Jesus had just hours ago fed the 5,000 – as much of a sign as they should have needed, and here they have the gall to basically say, “Eh, that wasn’t enough the first time. Do another trick.” But they don’t stop there. Then they work the guilt trip angle, saying that Moses gave their ancestors manna, that “‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus reminds them though, that manna was not from Moses but from God, just as Jesus is from God.
Alyce McKenzie, Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, writes that Jesus is treated almost as a reality show contestant, saying, “Let’s see your act again, Jesus. If it holds our interest, we won’t buzz you, and we’ll vote you through to the next round. They’re treating Jesus like a talent show contestant who has to prove himself to them so they’ll advance him in his career. The crowd’s demand of Jesus … is incredibly insulting. Jesus breaks out of the mold. He demands that this “audience” do some work. To receive the food that will nourish them to eternal life they need to bring belief to the table. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Jesus challenges the crowd to see beyond their immediate need, to see beyond the miracle, to see the sign of the Bread of Life, to respond by believing in him.
When Jesus reminds the crowd that it was not Moses but God who gave the bread, he said, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Again the crowd wants to be recipients of what Jesus has to offer them, rather than participate in his work in the world. It isn’t so hard though – to receive the bread of life we only have to believe and live our lives in response to this everlasting bread. This is the bread which nourishes our souls as well as our bodies. This bread never grows stale or crusty – this bread always feeds our hunger for divine connection. It is no coincidence that when Jesus gathered his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion, that he broke bread, blessed it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body broken for you…do this in remembrance of me.” Whenever we eat bread for our earthly bodies, we should recall and make memory of all that Jesus Christ, the Bread of Heaven has done for us.
UCC theologian Bruce Epperley reminds us that “Jesus gives us the bread of everlasting life; soul food and not fast food. Feasting on Christ’s bread gives substance to every meal: apart from the abundant life God provides and promises – the abundance of interdependence and relationship with God – nothing can satisfy. Nourished by divine bread, we become large-spirited, having the mind of Christ that embraces the body of Christ – not only in the church but in the world – in all its wondrous variety.” We are nourished by Christ’s love and sacrifice and intercession for us. This is true living bread. We should respond as Christ tells us to: by believing in him whom God sent. By the signs, revealing God to us, we can say, “Truly, you are Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior, our Messiah, the Bread of Life.”
Jesus said to the crowd, “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” This is Good News! We don’t have to go chasing after Jesus for sign after sign to get more bread. He offers it freely if we only just believe. In Christ our souls and spirits are fed and sustained. As we receive Holy Communion today let us remember that it is truly the Bread of Life which feeds our hearts and souls through all eternity.
To God be the Glory. Amen.
 Michael Danner, The Hardest Question, http://thq.wearesparkhouse.org/featured/ordinary18bgospel/
 Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Jesus-Got-Talent-Alyce-McKenzie-07-27-2012.html
 Bruce Epperley, Living a Holy Adventure, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/