This is the second Sunday in the Gospel of John series on the Bread of Life theme. Prior to this series, we were in the Gospel of Mark being invited to “Come and See” and learning about the life of discipleship. And yet those crazy lectionary people throw us right into John mid-stream...trust me, preachers online are losing their minds!
But when I really started to think about it, this Bread of Life series is actually one of my favorite pieces of the Gospel of John. Unlike the other gospels, John often has Jesus starting with the phrase “very truly I tell you” which is another way of saying “listen carefully and trust me”. In other gospels, Jesus is constantly reminding the disciples and the others he encounters not to tell anyone who he is...whereas in John, Jesus acknowledges that he is the Son of God...the Messiah. I like the Jesus of the gospel of John because he uses images and metaphors that would have been meaningful to his audience; he describes himself as the vine, the bread, the good shepherd...all agrarian references that would have indicated that he was different from the other prophets because he had something to offer that was life giving for those who chose to follow him.
And that’s where we meet up with Jesus in today’s part of John, chapter 6---reminding his friends and followers about the bread of life. "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” The Message translation puts it more plainly, “You've come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, [and] filled your stomachs…”
They are looking for Jesus not because they saw God in his actions, but because their stomachs were filled...and they wanted more.
In 2002, Tiffanie DeBartolo published the fictional book God-Shaped Hole which is a love story between Beatrice and Jacob. Now, admittedly, I haven’t read the book...I’ve been a little busy since 2002 reading other non-fiction books, Harry Potter, and Hunger Games. BUT, there is a quote that I have come across on more than one occasion that speaks to our gospel lesson today that I want to share with you:
Writing in the voice of Beatrice, DeBartolo states, “We’re all searching for something to fill up what I like to call that big, God-shaped hole in our souls. Some people use alcohol, or sex, or their children, or food, or money, or music, or heroin... I could go on and on. I used to know a girl who used shoes. She had over two-hundred pairs. But it’s all the same thing, really. People, for some stupid reason, think they can escape their sorrows.”
And that’s what these people who had been fed on the hilltop and had come across the river into Capernaum were trying to do...they were trying to fill the “God-shaped” hole in their lives. And for them, Jesus--the miracle worker, healer, and prophet--was the way to fill that hole. But not because they experienced God, but because they had been given food--enough to be satisfied--and they wanted something more. The food--the 5 loaves of barley bread and 2 fish--were a substitute for what they were really yearning for--grace, forgiveness, acceptance, love--the gifts freely and generously given by God.
I think when we’re honest with ourselves, we realize that we often try to fill up that hole with other things. For me, it’s a Dairy Queen peanut butter cup blizzard, or hiding under the covers when the world seems too big, or putting my mind on hold while I peruse Facebook. Sometimes we fill up this hole with busyness or quick fixes. Sometimes it’s the false sense of security when we hoard our treasure instead of sharing abundantly.
We all want to gather up and eat our fill.
But that’s not what Jesus--the Bread of Life--is about. Partaking in the Bread of Life is about connecting people in ways that build up, not tear down. Partaking in the Bread of Life is about creating a community where there is a spirit of generosity and respect for one another. Partaking in the Bread of Life is about supporting one another in our moments of sorrow and joy. Partaking in the Bread of Life isn’t focused on “me and mine” but on “ours”.
In the concluding verses of this morning’s gospel lesson, Jesus says, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
In the original Greek, this passage indicates that this happened not once, but that it is ongoing.
The bread of God is constantly coming down and continuously giving life.
We could easily replace bread with other words that describe the gift that God has given us in Jesus:
--The grace of God is constantly coming down and continuously giving life.
--The forgiveness of God is constantly coming down and continuously giving life.
--The acceptance of God is constantly coming down and continuously giving life.
--The love of God is constantly coming down and continuously giving life.
Trust me, it doesn’t work as well to replace bread with shoes or money or drugs or even Dairy Queen. The gift of Jesus--the grace, forgiveness, acceptance and love that is incarnate in Jesus--is the only thing that will fill that God-shaped hole.
The people said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."
Do we see God at work in the world, or are we still searching for a quick-fix to our God-shaped hole?
Are we ready to ask for and receive this bread?
Are we ready to accept this bread of God which is constantly coming down and continuously giving life?
And can we share this bread with others who are also seeking something to fill their God-shaped holes?
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."
And to that, I say “Amen, amen”.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.