Give Us this Bread Always
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
May 3, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 6: 26-41
Exodus 16: 1-8
Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
For your eyes show the way
Your mind knows the truth
Your being is the life.
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, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing 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, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father 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, “Lord, give us this bread always.”
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; 39 and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
41 The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.”
So here we are again, chapter 6 has shaped up to be like the other chapters of the first part of John's gospel, it's almost like a broken record, Jesus performs a miracle, and then the fall out, and Jesus' explanation. Now here in chapter 6 we've got two miracles. Jesus feeding the 5000, and then Jesus walks on water across the Sea of Galilee. . . and now we have made our way across following Jesus, and so have the crowds. They've followed Jesus, and now they're over in the town called Capernaum. . . and they come up to Jesus, who had to escape, remember, up a mountain right after feeding this multitude, he had to escape up the mountain because they wanted to and I quote, "force him to be their king" and now they've followed to the other side of the sea, and they come up to him and ask him, "when" he got there. Now remember last week, in the last few verses of the story it had said that the people had noticed that there was only one boat, that the disciples had gotten in, but Jesus did not because remember he was up on the mountain escaping them, but then the next day, Jesus was no where to be found, he didn't get in the boat with the disciples, and now they've found him on the other side. . . . so it is quite reasonable to ask him "when" he got there, or maybe it would have been better to ask how he got there, but Jesus reacts, much like he has again and again in this Gospel, he doesn't answer their question, but challenges their unspoken motives. . . he did the same with Philip, and Nicodemus, and the woman at the well, and then the Jews in the temple. . . so with these people, rather than answering their question about Jesus' travel schedule, he says, "you seek me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of loaves."
Now I've been waiting to talk about this line for about three weeks now. It has been so hard to talk about the miracles, knowing this is what Jesus was going to say to them, but not being able to jump ahead too much. Look at this, "not because you saw signs but because you ate your fill of loaves." How are we supposed to take this? At the end of last week's sermon I closed with a question: Why does Jesus keep pushing the people who are coming to him to see him as more? Nicodemus claimed he was a teacher sent from God, Jesus pushed him. The woman at the well, saw him as a prophet, then slowly more, Jesus kept pushing here. Jesus pushes the envelope with the people in the temple who are angered because he heals on the Sabbath, and then when he pushes them, they get angry at what they consider blasphemy. We normally think that even a little bit of Jesus these days is a good thing. Are we wrong? And now is it wrong to simply follow Jesus because our bellies long to be filled? Is that connected to why it is wrong to try to force Jesus to be king?
I've been thinking and praying alot in these last few weeks to understand the people in this crowd, the ones whom were fed, these 5000 people who want to make Jesus their king, and not just understand them, but to empathize, to put myself in their shoes, to fully comprehend what it is like to experience a miracle like that. I want to understand the full bellies, and the human needs, and how that is all connected to Jesus escaping up the mountain, and now seemingly chastising them for wanting their bellies full. . . or only wanting their bellies full. I want to take it beyond just bellies, because I think that it has to do with experiencing a miracle, experiencing Jesus in your life, and then seeking to replicate it to control it on your terms not his.
I told you a couple of weeks ago that I took the boys at Blue Ridge, the seniors, and had a day where I was talking to them in small groups about discernment, them finding out who they are, breaking through all the distractions, and inconsistencies in their young lives, and really trying to get a peak at how they make decisions in their lives, what makes them tick, to peel back all those layers and get at that true honest understanding. I posed a question to them. I said "have you ever in your life had a moment where you were at the exact right place at the right time, where you felt like every aspect of your life was pointing to this one moment, like you were completely equipped, all your knowledge, and all your skills, and all your experience made you perfectly prepared, and now the effort that you're putting into the moment is equal to the return of energy back, so you were a perfected system, completely centered in the moment." Some of them had some of them hadn't. . . I can tell you that I have, and those moments are amazing, and life fulfilling, and wonderful. You feel the presence of God, the providence of God, you feel like Your life has finally said honestly, Here I am send me, and you were sent, You feel like God is saying, I knew you in the womb, I formed your inward parts, I know every aspect of you, and you totally get it. And you can do anything. To me that is a 5 loaves and 2 fish moment. Your belly is full, both spiritually and bodily. . . I have had those feelings teaching lectures at school, this one time I was teaching about the idea of "necessity is the mother of all invention" and we were breaking it down, and we had discussion, and I was leading them, and I was always one step ahead, with a clever answer to any question. . . I was doing it to step through the pyramid, the pillars of learning. . .you know the Bloom's taxonomy deal, where recall is at the bottom, where you are remembering facts, then application where you apply those facts you know, then one step higher is analysis where you are looking at the parts, then evaluation where you are judging the quality of those parts, then the two highest forms, Synthesis, where you put the parts in a different order and make something new, and then finally we got to creation, and I posed for them the question, is it ever possible for people to create something completely new, that is not just a reworking of parts, but is something new. I told them to put something together, to try to create something new about "necessity is the mother of invention" and then when they had given up. . . I told them that I just did it. . . it was like a light bulb went off. . . and I said I needed a way to show you, and I did it, I created something new by creating an experience. . . you all didn't really need to invent the new thing, but I did. . . it was awesome. . . totally in the moment, great. . . maybe you had to be there, but it was miraculous.
I've had the feeling preaching before, too, actually this week, I was asked on Wednesday afternoon, they knew it was last minute, but they asked me if I could preach Thursday morning, I said sure why not. . . and it was crazy, for two weeks or so now, I was thinking to myself, man I hope I get a chance to preach before the end of the year at school because I want to say this, and I want to say that, but as soon as they asked, I couldn't think of any of those things. . .my mind was a complete blank, but I started to think about just this week, how cynical I felt on Monday, how I wondered if I was making any difference anywhere, if anyone was being affected by anything that I was doing. . . one of those days, and now all of a sudden I'm being asked to preach. . . it was like Providence, I had to face that cynicism head on and think of something to speak about, and the Baltimore Riots were going on, and that was hard, and Clara's birthday was going on, and I was like, man, how can I teach my 3 year old daughter, what will she need to face a world like this one, and all I could think of was she needed hope, we all need hope. . . so I took all of that in, and gave a speech about excuses, and man I preached it hard, and I was in the moment and it was huge, and since then some 400+ people have been inspired by those words, beyond just the boys at school. . . those are amazing moments. . . your bellies full, and you are ready to make Jesus king, simply because you want to hold on to that moment, to replicate that moment, to have that moment be, again and again. . . and you never can. . . can you? I tried to teach that mother of invention lesson again, it flopped, it didn't make any more sense the next year than it did for you all this morning. They were like you were, man what is he talking about. . . one year ago to the date, my class thought I was the smartest man ever, and these guys are looking at me like I'm crazy. . . you can't recreated it, and you can't go home. . .
I decided to put a quote from John Keats' poem, "Ode on a Grecian Urn" in the bulletin for you all to look at and think about. John Keats died early in life of tuberculosis, and he wrote this poem shortly after being given the news that he was going to die. He was looking at an urn, an ancient Athenian urn, and it had a picture crafted into it, and he is describing the picture, and thinking about immortality, and inspiration, and art, and beauty. He looks at the inspiration of the artist, and sees a moment like I was just describing for the artist who created the urn, and he has a moment like I was just describing as he writes the poem, and he tries to capture in that moment exactly what that kind of moment is like, and tries to freeze it in time, he wants to freeze time just like the artist does with the picture on the urn so he can experience again and again, that perfect moment of human creation. Look at one of the images in the poem. . . I thought it was appropriate today, with harp here and all of the gathered muscians. . . look at what it says about the "melodist"
For ever piping songs for ever new
So this "melodist" is a figure on the side of the urn, and it is playing music. . . and it is always new. . . always original, always inspired. . . never repeating a measure or a phrase just forever piping. . . for Keats he must have been thinking, or at least I was as a poet, how amazing it would be to be able to write constantly, new and original lines, always inspired, no writers block, no revisions, no repetitions, never tiring, no cramps in your hand, or pain in your wrist from typing, just writing, writing, writing. . . man it would be amazing and so fulfilling. . . you would make king anyone who could sustain that moment, so that you could count on it and control it and it would be for you, but that is not the way it works. . .
God works differently than that. . . the people assembled there following Jesus think about their full bellies and they think about their ancestors, and they think about how Jesus just fed them, and they want a sign from Jesus. . . Jesus says you believe because of your full bellies and not because of a sign, and they say, Jesus give me a sign. . . and they say, "Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness, he gave it for them. . .," and Jesus says that he is that bread sent down from heaven. Now Paula read for us from Exodus the story of the manna. . . and how God gave them exactly what they needed, but they could not gather and more than they would eat on that one day, they couldn't hoard, and they couldn't be in control, instead they had to walk in faith, believing, each morning that the sun would rise and that they would have their fill. . . Jesus says I am that Bread of Life, if you come to me you will never be hungry, and if you come to me you will never thirst. . . but you will also never get to be in control. . . because you can't be in control of me. . . one thing that I know from teaching world literature, especially that of the middle ages is that kings have power, but king makers have more power. . . this country is consumed by watching HBO's Game of Thrones. . . because of the political intrigue. . . sitting on the throne is the most dangerous chair you can have. . . and the kingmaker who sits in the shadows really wields the power. . . This mob wants to make Jesus king because they want to be in control of it. . . they want to hoard up the manna, just like John Keats wants to freeze time, just like I wanted to teach that lesson again. . . but Jesus' miracles move on across the sea, even without a boat. They want a sign, but are blind to that one staring them in the face. They don't want to know about how Jesus got over there, because it doesn't fit into their conception of the world.
Why does Jesus not want to be made king? Why does Jesus constantly push people to see him as more? Why is just a little Jesus not enough? It is the same reason why Jesus didn't let Satan make him king in the desert, and why God didn't let David make him a temple, or have a name that was pronounceable, it is because idolatry is destructive. Human beings cannot wield God, though we have tried again and again. . . almost constantly. . . we cannot bend God to our will. . . we can't own God. . . we can't bottle God up to pour a little out when we need Him. . . we can't put a crown on His head and relegate him to a throne. . . we can't stay still in our moments of peace, we can't wait at the Red Sea for it to part again. . . we can't sell tickets to the next 5 loaves and 2 fish barbecue by the river. . . and when we Jesus tells us to fish our nets to the other side of the boat, and they come up teeming with fish, we can't dip them in again and expect fish. . . instead we need to follow. . . . and walk . . . and take the journey of faith, not where we want to go, but where he leads. They ask what are the works of God, how do we do them? Simply to believe in the one he has sent. . . and believing in the one he has sent means following wherever he goes, to the cross. . . but don't expect him to be trapped in that tomb. . . instead he'll be running free and loose very much alive in this world.
Man it seems so simple doesn't it. . . but the Jews murmured because he said he was the bread sent down from heaven. . . and the 5000 followers he gained, who wanted to make him king, and followed him across the sea, and asked who asked him to give them this bread always. . . yeah by the end of chapter 6, that number 5000 was back down to 12, and it points out that even one of those 12 would end up betraying. Were they stuck on that simple word, always? Don't think for a minute that it is easy to follow. . . the numbers are staggering. . . how many of the problems that Christianity faces today are rooted in only taking a little bit of Jesus. . . and trying to hold it in your pocket?
I’ve always loved John Keats, and the Romantic Poets, but they are lost in this one thing. . . . Keats closes his poem with the statement, and he says it is what art like the urn says to us in our moments of doubt, fear, worry, and sadness. . . Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know. . . Christ would press him further, and presses us further. . . there is more on Heaven and Earth, and Christ came down and invites us to that more, which is Himself.