by Reverend Amber Neuroth
August 6, 2006
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35
These days, I usually think of the scripture readings in terms of what would make a good “Children’s Time.” So, I wish we had a children’s time today because I would have liked to ask them about how they get what they want or how they TRY to get what they want. I would have asked them to whine in their best possible whiny voices- “Mom, Dad,” “I want that…. Can you buy me that?” We’ve probably heard this kind of thing from kids before and we may even have been guilty of it ourselves. Children express so well many of our innate human drives without the politeness and socialization that we learn later. We all hide it better now, but let’s face it, sometimes there’s a pouting, whining child deep down inside all of us. When I read today’s story in Exodus, I can just hear that whiny childlike tone in the voices of the Israelites. They are out in the desert, wandering around with no end in sight. They’re tired, hot, and hungry. There is definitely a clear “Are we there yet?” just beneath the surface of their pleas toward God. They sound like children, desperate for God’s attention and provision. They don’t trust that God will provide for them, so they start begging for more. The story shows the human potential to doubt, to misjudge our own needs, and consequently to desire things that we don’t need. And even when God does provide the manna and quail, it’s only enough for one day. They probably still wondered if that would be enough. Maybe they should whine to God for a safe stockpile. Then, what would be next?
Thousands of years later, Jesus faced the same human doubt and he added further depth to the story. In the Gospel of John, just before our scripture reading today, Jesus miraculously fed the estimated 5000 people on a couple loaves and fish, in the same way his Father gave them manna and quail long ago. He showed that he was God’s son in the same tradition of feeding the needy, hungry, and sometimes whiny, people. Unfortunately, the people he fed didn’t understand this connection right away. They weren’t satisfied and went looking for Jesus again. They persisted that the first sign wasn’t enough- they asked Jesus, “what are you going to do to prove yourself?” Will you be like Moses and give manna in the desert? Now, this is extremely ironic given the fact that Jesus had just fed them and they missed the connection. They like their ancestors only wanted to be fed- they didn’t see who gave them the bread. Jesus tries to tell them that they are whining for the wrong thing. He says “if you eat that bread, you will be hungry again…” He means that if we seek only the bread, only the material satisfaction, then we will be hungry again because we missed the opportunity for deeper sustenance. We need the source of the bread to be fulfilled. But those people were still a little slow, so they just asked for the better bread, that filling kind please. They didn’t see that the fulfillment of Christ was standing right in front of them.
The people seem like children again unable to understand what’s happening….chasing after the instant gratification and expecting someone to provide it if they just whine well enough. Here, again we see a childish desire that really gets to the heart of what it means to be human. In both of these stories, the people didn’t trust God to provide for their needs and so they may turn toward other things to provide some tangible sense of security.
In both of these stories, bread represents fulfillment, it’s what the people are seeking after. It doesn’t mean literal nourishment. Christ is challenging when we seek after things that don’t really nourish us. Now, if it were my story, I wouldn’t really be seeking bread to fulfill my childish desires- it definitely would be any kind of dessert, probably cookies! Loving to eat food that can’t nourish us, makes me think of the cookie monster on Sesame Street. I used to love to watch that cookie monster. He is the epitome of that desire- he grabs the cookies and smashes them into his face, not a crumb making it into his puppet belly. So many of them spill out, but he seeks more and more, saying “Me want cookie!” We all love cookie monster and identify with him because he is a part of us, he is a part of human nature- to seek that which satisfies only for a moment. We see in him our potential to literally and figuratively fill ourselves up with things that won’t satisfy, but then we turn to them again and again with an insatiable desire. Jesus is addressing a serious issue that doesn’t always involve bread or food. We probably all would pick something different to be our temporary satistfaction. Some of us would pick a gourmet meal, an expensive car, or a lavish house. Or maybe we would pick a top job, or an advanced degree. Or, maybe we’d chose seeking after the perfect body, clothes, or appearance. But the point is, whatever we are seeking after, does it satisfy? Or, as Jesus says, will we be hungry again? So, the point is not to deny that we feel cravings and desires, it’s how we fill them that matters. Christ is challenging us to take that cookie monster inside each of us and turn it toward God, to live passionately and aggressively in God’s grace.
The real challenge here is not that we shouldn’t seek to meet our physical needs, it’s that we shouldn’t seek to meet our spiritual needs with physical things. This is a complicated distinction that the church has sometimes missed in the past. For example, the church has sometimes labeled our desires and physical drives as sin in and of themselves. But, all that did was create lots of unnecessary guilt and shame when we still felt those cravings. Jesus is saying the sin comes in the objects that we choose to fulfill our desires, not the desire itself. Are we intentional about what we seek for fulfillment or do we haphazardly throw cookies in our face? We need to remember that true fulfillment comes from God. If we try to fill our spiritual needs with material things instead God, we pretty much get what Jesus warned against, our current culture of consumption. We try to get the next biggest and best thing, only to feel empty and hungry again. Even in our church, I hear from you that this is a tough problem in your lives and in your families. One of our parents here told me that no matter how much their family has, it seems like their child is always looking at those who have more, newer, and flashier things. The child doesn’t seem content, but rather continues to seek more material satisfaction. Just like the cookie monster, that’s appropriate for a child, but it’s that same childish part of us as adults that Jesus wants to challenge. Jesus is asking us to grow up. We need to acknowledge that desire and turn it toward the true bread of life. Jesus is begging us to seek him instead.
So, in the story, Jesus finally tells the people that he is the bread. He gives up that the people will figure it on their own, so he just comes out and tells them that God is what they need. But, even if we know that, can we make the sacrifice to turn away from all of our other “breads” to seek him? This scripture challenges each of us to face that, and to think about what bread we are really seeking in the place of God. All of us have different ones, but it’s those weaknesses that we need to bring to God! That’s what we bring to this communion table. And the good news is that Jesus promises that we will never be driven away- ever, no matter how weak we are. Jesus knew that the crowd couldn’t be fulfilled until he revealed himself to them. So, Christ offers the same to us.
Jesus wants us to have that fulfillment both as individuals and as a community of God’s people. Today, we will meet Christ at this table, not only as individuals coming forward but more importantly as a church community. So before we approach this table, we need to ask, Is Christ really at the center of our lives and of our church? What things do we put above Christ in the life of our community? Sometimes we may put mundane things like meetings and bottom lines above God. Sometimes we may even put noble things like social justice and political causes above Christ. All those pursuits in and of themselves are not bad, in fact they are all good and necessary, but if we seek them apart from God, even just causes become empty. God wants be the foundation of all that we do. God will sustain us and inform everything else that we do. All of our action will then have meaning because it flows from the true life-giving bread of Christ.
We all fall down from time to time and need that reminder that Christ is the center, and I hope that this communion table can be that today. So, if we have things that are standing between us and the true glorious love of God, then now is the time. Christ has an invitation for us. Come to this table. If there is anything that has frustrated or exhausted you about your lives or this church, bring it to this table. If you have been chasing after the wrong breads to fulfill you, bring it to this table. This table is for you to come and drop the stresses, tasks, and squabbles. This is a chance to reorient our priorities and be filled with grace. This table is a chance to be healed again and again. This is a table where we make a commitment to make Christ’s vision a reality. This is the table represents the loving arms of God that will never turn us away. So, as we come forward, let us affirm as a church who is our Lord, and who is our center. Let us show that we have heard Jesus when he said “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry. Whoever comes to me, I will never drive away.” Amen.