First Reading: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
4Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.”
9Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’ ” 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12“I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’ ”
13In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”
Psalm: Psalm 78:23-29
23So God commanded the clouds above
and opened the doors of heaven,
24raining down manna upon them to eat
and giving them grain from heaven.
25So mortals ate the bread of angels;
God provided for them food enough.
26The Lord caused the east wind to blow in the heavens
and powerfully led out the south wind,
27raining down flesh upon them like dust
and flying birds like the sand of the seas,
28letting them fall in the midst of the camp
and round about the dwellings.
29So the people ate and were well filled,
for God gave them what they craved.
Second Reading: Ephesians 4:1-16
1I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it is said,
“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.”
9(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Gospel: John 6:24-35
24When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were [beside the sea,] they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus 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. 27Do 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.” 30So 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? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32Then 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. 33For 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.”
35Jesus 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.”
Let us pray: Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.
I feel like we need a geography lesson as we tackle our text today. We have been following Jesus through a journey near the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel for three or four weeks. The hungry crowds have followed Jesus from one side to the other of the sea except they have gone by foot along the edge and the disciples have gone by boat amidst storms. Jesus walked on water! Jesus has fed the crowds, healed the sick, and taught. The crowds wanted to make him king and this Sunday, walk back to Capernaum to find him. They are still baffled about who he is and how relationship works. Today they ask three questions in our text.
- Rabbi, when did you come here?
- What must we do to perform the works of God?
- What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?
It seems to me these three questions are continually asked of Jesus and are still being asked today? Most of us come today with some version of these three basic questions.
“Rabbi, when did you come here?”
Actually there are two parts to this question that challenges us today. The crowd addresses Jesus as “rabbi”, teacher. For many today Jesus is a great teacher, one of the prophets like Mohammed, as good as Gandhi or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, on the level of Confucius or Buddha but not God or perhaps one of many ways to reach God. We come to church today hoping for a great sermon that will engage our minds but not necessarily expecting an encounter with the almighty God. The better the preacher, the better the choir, the better the programs for the youth, we think means the better the church. Why are we here today? Turn to your neighbor and share one thing you were hoping for as you came to church today.
Jesus reflects back to the crowds that they have come looking for him because their stomachs were filled with bread. We come to Jesus with our list of needs and wants. That is not necessarily wrong except that when we approach Jesus like a bank, then prayer becomes the check that draws from the deposits of tithes, good deeds, or faithful life we have lived or deposited in our account. We come with an agenda for God, not to meet and ponder together. We are somehow off center. Jesus accuses the crowd of selfishness or self-centeredness.
Jesus was a rabbi but he was more. The products of relationships are not the relationship. To put it a bit crudely, having children is not the same as building a marriage. When I address my husband or my friend with my list of wants and needs, my focus or understanding of our relationship is off balance. We come to church to meet with God, not just for a spiritual experience. Jesus was able to feed them with bread because he was God. So perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves today is if we came to worship just with our shopping list, or out of habit, or with hungry souls to meet with God?
“When did you come here?” God’s presence is in our situations before we realize. We sometimes seem to be as surprised as the crowds that Jesus has entered a situation before us. How did Jesus get there? Perhaps we think our prayers wake God up and help him focus! Hmmm? This is not to say that God is organizing everything to go according to his plans. Sometimes people look back on events and rationalize that “God knew” such-and-such needed to happen so that such-and-such would happen and so we would learn the lesson God wanted us to learn. I didn’t get that job because God knew this better job was coming. Even though I did not want to move, it worked out for the best because…fill in the blank. That makes God very manipulative and diminishes our free will. King David prayed in Psalm 139: 7-12:
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Jesus is a teacher but he is also God. Jesus goes before us, walks with us, and Jesus has our back. We need not be surprised to find him already working in the events of our lives, not just for our good but for all concerned. Jesus admonishes the crowd to not work for food that passes through the body but to work on the relationship with God that feeds the soul.
Next the people ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” I think this comes from the thinking that if we labor for the food we eat, then how do we labor for the food that feeds our souls. What must we do? Jesus responds, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Food for the soul does not come from work of the hands but from work of the heart. Each Sunday we recite the Apostle’s Creed. Faith is based on the doctrines or confessions that unite us. Our creeds and our prayers like reciting the Lord’s Prayer are beacons pointing us to the ground zero of our faith. We build on these foundation stones with the works of our heart.
Let us review the second article of the creed. Let’s say it together:
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
Let me review the explanation of the second article as found in Luther’s Small Catechism.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, (pause and reflect)
who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, and precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, (pause and reflect)
that I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as he is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
THIS IS MOST CERTAINLY TRUE! Jesus is my Lord, my redeemer, and I am his.
I should hear a loud AMEN now! What is doing the work of God? What does he want from us? He wants us to believe these truths. Full stop. Period. To believe he is here now and goes before us, goes with us, and has our back.
Third question: “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Prove yourself and then we’ll believe.
Just as we get all tangled up about the identity of Jesus as member of the Trinity and don’t recognize his presence, we also get all tangled up about our role in our relationship with God, and so we seek proof that this relationship with the unseen is really working. We look for those flowers on anniversaries and all the little “works” that affirm that the other cares. As we age, as we enter trials, we need the reassurance of “signs.” When I was a chaplain, I walked through the lobby and chanced to overhear a conversation between a little ole lady sitting on a couch gently crying. “I’m old, crumpled, no longer beautiful. How can you still love me?” The aged gentleman, her husband, standing with his walker beside her, was gently reassuring her of his commitment forever.
What is the sign of commitment, of relationship? Our wedding rings represent that and yet we know in this world today that words are cheap and people go their separate ways. Our children grow up and find new loves that take them far from us and somehow a phone call is never often enough. Accidents happen and our beauty, health, talents that give us value disappear in a moment. Diseases now rob us of mental ability and leave the body unable to express itself. Life speaks to transition so what ties down and solidifies in cement our relationship with God?
The cross has become that symbol of what we call The Covenant between God and humans. I love the picture of a handshake. In that mysterious handshake between God and humans, God holds on to us when we have little strength, faith the side of a mustard seed, and eyes clouded with tears. God holds on to us. The empty cross shows how far God will go for us. Jesus points the crowd to God and not to bread. We cry like our children, “If you love me, you’ll let me do what I want to do,” and yet we know relationship is not built on giving us what we want, not giving us just bread but faith that is built on the cross.
- Crowd: Rabbi, when did you come here? Jesus: God fills our past, present, and future, leading and loving us to his kingdom
- Crowd: What must we do to perform the works of God? Jesus: Believe in Christ.
- Crowd: What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Jesus: The cross is the reminder that God sees, cares, and has your back.
35Jesus 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.”
What a wonderful promise. May we cling to that promise. Amen.