Proper 13b, August 2, 2015, Newport FUMC

August 4, 2015

Do What?
John 6:24-35

6:24 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. 25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 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.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 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? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” 32 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. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 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.

One day a Jewish rabbi was walking down the street and as he passed a barber shop he decided to go in and get a haircut. The barber gave him a nice haircut and when the rabbi went to pay the barber said, No, you are a man of God and this is my gift to your good work. The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop he found a nice loaf of bread from a local bakery, and a note from the rabbi saying how grateful he was for the nice haircut.

Later that day an Episcopal priest happened by and decided he needed a haircut, and he went in and got one. When started to pay the barber told him the same thing – that there would be no charge for the haircut because he wanted to contribute to his ministry. The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop there was a bottle of wine with a nice note on it thanking the barber for his generosity.

Later that day a United Methodist minister came by and went in for a haircut, and once again the barber didn’t charge him for the haircut. He said, No, you are a man of God and this is my contribution to your ministry. The next morning, when the barber arrived at his shop there were three other United Methodist ministers waiting for him to arrive.

I wouldn’t single out United Methodist ministers for this kind of abuse if I wasn’t one, but I happen to know that there is a good amount of truth to the story. Of course there would probably some truth to this story if you inserted any denomination or profession in to the punch line. The fact is that human beings in general are inclined to show up for a good deal. Good free stuff always gets out attention.

We like to get what we think we need, and we will go to great lengths to have our perceived needs met. I think it’s important to differentiate between our actual needs and our perceived needs because we can get those things confused. Of course food is more than a perceived need – we actually do need food to survive, but sometimes we are inclined to think that’s all we need. In some ways our lives revolve around getting food, and that’s understandable – we are biological creatures in need of fuel, but we aren’t just biological creatures, and I think this is what Jesus was getting at when he said: Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.

This is a large challenge for us. We do have to work for some of that perishable food if we don’t want to perish, but we can get overly focused on our material needs at the expense of our spiritual lives. Of course getting an adequate amount of that perishable food is a large challenge for a lot of people. I don’t have the statistics in front of me right now, but there is a lot of food insecurity in our state and in our nation these days. There are a lot of hungry people all across this country and this is a terrible thing. It’s awful that that there are so many people who have trouble getting enough food for themselves and for their children. I don’t know how to fix this, but I know it’s important to be sensitive to this, and to do what we can to help people get what they need.

I know that food isn’t all that we need, but I assure you if I was a person who came from a place or from a family where food was scarce, and I heard Jesus was feeding people in a miraculous manner I would have been one of the first people to go looking for him. And he probably would have been talking to me when he differentiated between the people who were following him because they saw God in him and those who followed him because of the good bread he was handing out.

Jesus comes across as being somewhat confrontational in this passage, and I get that also. I know that its possible for us to become overly focused on the wrong things. We can become very twisted in our pursuits, and it’s often hard for us to see how off balance we are. We need to have our ways of thinking and our patterns of behavior challenged every now and then – otherwise we remain focused on feeding our least essential needs and desires.

In my work as a pastor I am often approached by people who have tremendous needs. This is not something I regret. It’s honestly something I try to address in a sensitive manner. I know that this world can be a very hard place for a lot of people. It’s easy to get behind, and it can be hard to catch up, but I also know there are people who get in bad patterns of behavior and they won’t do what they need to do to break the patterns.

There was a man I knew in Little Rock that drove me crazy in that way. I hardly ever saw this man when he wasn’t asking me for something. I don’t know how many times I would be heading to or from my car at the church and I would hear this person yell out at me: Hey Rev.!! And he would not be calling out to say hello. When he said Hey Rev, what I heard was, Hey Rev, I’m going to come tell you some story of why it’s critical that you buy me some phone time or a bus pass or give me a new backpack and something to eat. On more than one occasion I told him how much I dreaded seeing him because I knew it was going to cost me something. He rarely got all that he wanted from me, but I rarely got away from him without having to give him something. I did some fine preaching to him about his unfortunate pattern of behavior, but I think those sermons did more to make me feel better than they did to create any adjustment in his way of living.

Bad patterns of behavior are hard to break – for all of us. I never sensed that this needy man in Little Rock was ever able to find the kind of food that endures, but it could be that his perpetual quest for what struck me as perishable food was just more obvious with him than it is for most of us. In all honesty, it’s not easy for any of us to remain focused on pursuit of the food that doesn’t perish. And this is what Jesus revealed to the people who were chasing after at him in hope of getting something to eat. He told them they were looking for the wrong thing. They responded by asking him what they should do, and I think they were a little baffled by what he told them they needed to do.

He told them that they needed to believe in him. And they responded to that by asking him to do something that would enable them to know he had come from God.

It’s easy for us to think those people were being pretty dense when they asked this man who had recently fed 5000 people with a handful of fish, walked across the sea, and calmed a storm to show them a sign of his connection to God. But what I know is that when we aren’t looking for the right thing there is nothing that will ever satisfy our need for more.

I think this story is designed to remind us of how wrong-headed we can be about what we think we need and what we expect from God. It’s easy for us to have the wrong expectations of God and those wrong expectations can prevent us from seeing who Jesus was and from doing what he said to do. We can be as dense as those first followers when it comes to seeing Jesus for who he was, and if we aren’t careful we can remain devoid of the food that endures even while we claim belief in Jesus.

If you are expecting me to explain how to adjust your way of thinking you have the wrong expectations of me as well because I don’t really know what you need to do to become more focused on the food that endures. All I know is that it’s possible to want the wrong things – even when you say the right words. What I know is that it’s possible to have treasures in heaven when you have nothing on earth or to have a malnourished soul when you are surrounded by wealth. I wish I could give you some fine instructions on how to do what Jesus said to do, but all I feel capable of saying is to watch out for yourselves.

Watch out for your self because it’s not easy to stay on the path to true life. It’s easy to want the wrong things and to work for the wrong kind of food. It’s hard to follow Jesus, but the good news is that God knows this and God provides us with some of that miraculous bread from heaven regardless of what we think we need and work to obtain. God reaches out to us in surprising ways, and the best thing we can do is to try to pay attention to those gracious moments. It’s not easy to see the truth about ourselves or God, but that is what Jesus came to reveal, and by the grace of God this can happen.

We do have access to the kind of food that endures. Do all that you can to find it, and know that God wills for us all to feast upon it. Thanks be to God.


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