Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
August 3, 2003
The Gospel: John 6:24-35
Sermon: "Believing in God's Grace"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" Jesus answered the, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 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." Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." So they said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat'" Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." 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."
Believing in God's Grace
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost - August 3, 2003
The young child was in the store with his mother buying groceries. She had her list and was dutifully checking off the things she needed to have to provide her family with healthy, wholesome food. Meanwhile, the child was grabbing cookies, candy, gum, and other junk food. The mother gently took the cookies, the candy, and the gum from the child and placed them on the shelves. However, when they were in the check-out line things changed. The child wanted some gum from the gumball machine at the front of the store. The mother gave the child some money and he went and bought a piece of gum. The child had no sooner placed the gum in his mouth and he was back asking for some more money for more gum. When the mother said no, the child asked again. When she said no again, the child began to beg. When she said no again, this young child changed tactics. This little boy was about five, but he had already learned another way around no. He began to bargain with his mother. If he picked up his toys when he got home could he have another piece of gum? If he fed the dog, could he have another piece of gum? If he was good for the rest of the day could he have another piece of gum? At each bargain the mother stood her ground. At this point nuclear meltdown occurred. This five year old threw a temper tantrum of epic proportions. The bargaining did not work, so the child threw a grand fit.
Now, how many of us have either seen or witnessed this type of behavior in a store? How many of us have been the child in the store? We want to have our way. When we can't have our way we will ask, beg, even attempt bargaining to get what we want. We are hardly ever satisfied with what we have. Instead we want more. We tend to act this way towards our family, our friends, and even God.
A prime example of how we attempt to bargain with God is in the Gospel. Jesus has just fed the five thousand. He has walked across the water to the other side of the sea. The disciples saw and participated in both events. The crowd only participated in eating the bread and the fish in the lesson. Having been fed by Jesus, they followed him across the sea. However, they did not follow Jesus because they recognized his authority. They did not follow Jesus because they recognized his identity. They followed Jesus because he had filled their bellies with food and they wanted more. They wanted their stomachs to be full all the time.
However, Jesus knows why they follow and he challenges them. He challenges them to look beyond the feeding miracle to who is behind it. He challenges them to look for God. He challenges them to see who He is, the one whom God has sent.
What is their response? They want a sign. They want a sign from Jesus so they may see it and believe. Correct me if I am wrong, but didn't they just receive a sign? Jesus took five barley loaves and two fish, blessed the food and fed everyone. Not only did he feed them but there were twelve baskets of fragments left over. God's grace is more plentiful than we can imagine. Yet, here they are asking Jesus for a sign.
Jesus responds to their request by challenging them to look for the food of eternal life. He challenges them to open their eyes and see him for who He is, the Son of Man. He wants them to see that He is the bread of life. Still, they bargain. They want to know what to do to perform the works of God? In other words, what must we do for God in order for us to get more food? They are still looking for physical food. Jesus responds that they must believe in the one whom God has sent. Now, they know Jesus is talking about himself. So, what do they do? They go right back to asking Jesus for a sign. They want a sign like the food that they attribute to Moses. They think Moses gave the food in the wilderness. They will believe if Jesus can do something similar. So far, they have acted like the child in the store. They have asked for food. They have begged for food. They have asked for signs. They have bargained with Jesus. They have done everything but believe in Jesus.
Now, I have one question for us. Can we see ourselves in this story in today's world in today's terms? I am not talking about food, but about other items or helps we desire from God. I have some questions and statements to ask that might help us in our discernment.
If we have ever prayed to God before a big test promising to be good during the upcoming weekend, we might see ourselves in this story.
If we have ever asked God to help us with a new job or a promotion and promised to increase our pledge if we get it, we might see ourselves in this story.
If we have ever asked God for a sign so that we will know unequivocally that God is real, we might see ourselves in this story.
If we have ever asked for help with our love life and promised to help others as a result, we might see ourselves in this story.
Finally, if we have ever been in deep trouble and promised God we would become a priest or nun if we got out of it, we might see ourselves in this story.
There are a million other ways we find ourselves living into this Gospel lesson as the stubborn people of God. If it were not for God's grace through the Son Jesus Christ we would be lost indeed. Jesus is the bread of life that has come into the world for all of us. God asks us to believe in Jesus and follow. The amazing part of this relationship is that God stays with us. Through all the wanting, the asking, and the bargaining, God stays with us. The offer of eternal life is always present. Jesus is the constant presence in our lives. He is the eternal bread. He gives life to each one of us and indeed to the entire world. God's grace is always more abundant than we can imagine. Are we willing to believe in the abundant grace of God? Are we willing to believe in Jesus, the Son of Man?