John 6: 24-35 (CEB)
24 When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. 27 Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”
28 They asked, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?”
29 Jesus replied, “This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.”
30 They asked, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
32 Jesus told them, “I assure you; it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread from heaven to you, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 They said, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!”
35 Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Praise to you Lord Christ.
Sermon, “I’m Hungry”
What are you hungry for? You might be wanting another piece of bread like we gave out last Sunday. Rod Parker made some delicious homemade bread for our meditation during worship. If you would have followed me and my son Zechariah last Sunday after worship, you would have found us peeking into the basket of bread looking for more pieces. I even gave out some to others around me as we talked about how good that bread was. One person actually told me that it was the most anticipated piece of bread he ever had, as we held it, looked at it, smelled it and eventually, finally tasted it.
I know that part of the illustration was to meditate on bread, to experience bread, as we continue in our lectionary series called “The Bread of Life,” but it also illustrated another point. We all have different hungers. We all long for different types of food. Some of us really couldn’t wait to eat that piece of bread while others were probably fine as maybe bread isn’t their favorite. Some hunger for pizza. Some hunger for watermelon. Some hunger for paletas, or popsicles from La Rosita. We were supposed to have them today to celebrate our Vacation Bible School, but as you know, many of our kids, including my own little guy is home today. We will share some of these delicious treats with everyone next week at our Back to School Blessing, but I have to be honest that I may have had one, or two, just a few last week. My hunger for the delicious watermelon paletas did me in.
We all have a hunger for food. The crowd that followed Jesus had been with him when they sat down on the grass, all 5,000 of them, as they watched Jesus take bread and a single fish and fed all of them. There was so much food, they even had leftovers. Now we come to this week’s reading, the next day after the large feasting on the grass, the crowd sought after Jesus, but he knew their deeper desire.
Sure, they were hungry again, Jesus knew that, but they also longed for something deeper. What we see illustrated in this crowd is a physically hungry group who seems to be hangry again, you know the word hangry right? It’s when you put together hungry and angry you get hangry, which is a real word in the dictionary. The definition is when you are bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger. That first meal just didn’t cut it. Surprise, surprise, they were hungry again and they came back to Jesus for more.
Jesus knew this, but challenges them not to work for food that doesn’t last, but for food that endures to eternal life. He makes a shift in this desire talk, moving them from a physical hunger to a spiritual one. It’s not that Jesus is downplaying the importance of eating, I mean he just fed 5,000 people, he knows it’s important to eat and avoid a hangry crowd, but he knew that they also desired something more, something deeper. The crowd asks him, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God desires?”
That’s such an important question for us to pause and consider this morning. What must I do in order to accomplish what God desires for my life, my career, in retirement, in my family, and in my church? Jesus answers by saying, “This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.” The crowd flipped the questioning by instead of asking what they are to do, they ask Jesus what miraculous sign he will do so that they will believe. We often feel like we have to do something in order to receive the spiritual food and purpose God offers. We feel like we have to change this or do that, then God will provide. Yet God does provide as we believe and follow the One whom God sent, Jesus.
Jesus tells them to believe in whom God sent. The Greek word that John uses here is not pistis which means faith, instead the word here is the verbal form, pisteuein, which means believe, have faith, or put faith in. It’s an active commitment not just a slogan, saying, or belief. It cuts to the heart of what we believe and how we live that out or not and even deeper still it points to our desire and our hunger. And really it points to a deeper restlessness inside of us. Sure, it’s easy to pray like the psalmist, “My soul longs for you in the night…Like a deer that years for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you my God….For you alone do I long! For you alone do I thirst!”
It sounds deeply spiritual, but if we’re really honest with ourselves and with God, many of our longings and hungers are for things that do not seem of God. We have earthly desires and natural instincts, along with those things that our ego tells us to hunger for. Spiritual author Ronald Rohlheiser challenges us with this: “There’s a surface and there’s a depth, and in every one of our longings and motivations we can ask ourselves this: What am I really looking for here? I know what I want on the surface, here and now, but what am I ultimately looking for?”
When we never seem satisfied or we keep hungering, then maybe it’s time to ask what it is we are looking for. The crowd who followed Jesus wanted more bread; they were hungry again. It’s a challenge for all of us as we hunger for everything else. Once we get that right job, perfect house or car, the best possessions, the most money, the biggest savings, etc. then we’ll find our hungering satisfied only to be hungry again in the morning. Many of us hunger for success, accomplishments to be proud of, notoriety, or a hunger to be loved, only to find that we’re never quite full. We’re never quite satisfied until we rest in God alone. Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote the famous line in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Are you feeling filled or restless or both?
Perhaps Jesus was trying to point the crowd and us to that which will never leave us hungry and thirsty for those other things. It’s not manna from heaven, even though it’s sweet and filling. It’s not the miracle bread that Jesus provided on that grassy hillside. It’s not even having everything we always dreamed of in life. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty,” Jesus told them. I can have all the paletas in the world and the finest bread to eat, but until I dwell fully in Jesus, the bread of life, my heart will be restless.
The great Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman was the chaplain of the Civil Rights movement and mentor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his book Deep is the Hunger, he wrote this prayer meditation that sounds like Augustine or Jesus when we consider our deepest hunger. He wrote, “I abandon all that I think I am, all that I hope to be, all that I believe I possess. I let go of the past, I withdraw my grasping hand from the future, and in the great silence of this moment, I alertly rest my soul.” That’s a soul that’s feed by the bread of life.
In a few moments will be partaking in Holy Communion. As we receive the bread and drink from the cup, we are given strength and sustenance for the journey of faith, of believing, of following the One whom Jesus sent, but we will be hungry again. My hunger and thirst for Holy Communion have never ended, because it’s in this meal God draws me closer to Godself in Jesus Christ.
Maybe that’s the best kind of hunger to have, a hunger that never quite goes away and a thirst that is never quite filled, because our entire lives are ultimately journeys with the divine, a journey that reminds us that the divine, sacred, and holy bread of life has always been right in front of us. Maybe the point is not to be filled, but to hungry for the right thing, to hunger for the bread of life, to hunger for Jesus. Amen.