Vicar Emily Beckering; Day of Thanksgiving, year C; text: John 6:25-35
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Some followed him across the Sea of Galilee because they had heard of what he and done: of the people he had healed and fed. Others had actually seen him feed 5,000 people, and were eager to eat again. They were all attracted to Jesus because of his “signs,” but their faith went no deeper.
“Show us a sign!” they say, “Moses gave our ancestors manna in the wilderness. What can you do?”
They want signs, but they are not really interested in what the sign actually tells them about who Jesus is: the Messiah, the One whom they have been waiting for, the Son of God, who brings the very light and life of God.
All they know is that they are hungry. And so they follow the whispers and the stories about him. They follow Jesus perhaps in attempt to witness the next great miracle, to hear the next great speaker, to eat the magic bread that they have heard so much about.
But Jesus tells them that they are following him for the wrong reasons. They are looking for meaning and hope in the wrong places. The crowds are following him for entertainment, for a good story to share with the people back home, for a piece of bread.
But all of this is temporary. Their wandering in the wilderness will only bring short-term gain. They are hungry, but they are seeking experiences that will not satisfy their longing and food that will not fill them.
The crowd in this story reveals truths about ourselves: we too are hungry and too often, we like the crowds find ourselves wandering through our lives attempting to find happiness and fulfillment and meaning in ways—in so many ways—other than in God.
How often we seek life in our relationships, expecting—even demanding—our families and friends to meet all of our needs.
Or, we seek fulfillment in our work, in our hobbies, in our careers: convinced that if we just earn one more promotion or award of recognition or A on a term paper, then we will finally have arrived.
We try to fill our longing with things, with comforts, or experiences: certain that if we can just move to the bigger, better apartment, or finish the new edition on our home, or buy the newest model phone or car, or see the new opera, or visit that country that we have been waiting to see—then we will finally be happy.
We fill our days with events and projects to accomplish, our nights with parties or TV in order to fight off our loneliness, to distract us from the disappointment that we feel with ourselves or others, to escape reality.
We numb ourselves by ignoring and shoving our feelings down within us so that we don’t have to feel any pain, any hurt, any fear, but we are left feeling nothing at all.
And when these tactics don’t deliver—when we don’t find the happiness that we thought we would—we try again and make more to-do lists to mark down our accomplishments, keep purchasing the new models as advertised, and store up more things in search of something—anything—that will give us a purpose, meaning, life again.
But the truth is that none of this is ultimately satisfying. None of this is the answer to our problem. And none if it will ease the pain or the fear or the emptiness that we feel. Instead, we are left feeling lonely, dissatisfied with our relationships, disconnected from those who we want to care about, frustrated with ourselves, purposeless, and indifferent to the world. This kind of living leaves us exhausted and finally, empty.
In John’s gospel for today, we are told that this kind of life is no life at all: and it is certainly not the life that our God hopes for us. Jesus came so that we might have life and have it abundantly. Abundant life, true life, is life that only comes from God.
This is what Jesus is telling the crowds who have come to see his miracles: They came to hear a great speaker, someone to impress them with his words. They need true words. True words are those from God, words that Jesus the Son speaks.
They came to see signs, but they need true signs that will point them to God. True signs are given so that they might believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
They came seeking bread, what they need is true bread. True bread brings eternal life, and it is a life that only God can give. The true bread that Jesus is offering them is himself, for he alone can bring them this eternal life, he alone can fill their emptiness and satisfy their longing.
He alone is the bread of life, the living water, the light of the world.
Bread. Water. Light. These are all things that humans need to live, and yet, Jesus says that these things are not enough. All the bread and water and light in the world will not satisfy their deepest longings. What the people in the crowd really yearn for—what they have been created for—is true life, real life, abundant life and this can only come from God. And this is exactly what Jesus offers! God’s will according to the gospel of John is that no one may be lost, but everyone who sees Jesus will believe in him and have this eternal life.
Life after death, yes, but if we were to read ahead in to chapter 17 and listen in on Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, we would hear what eternal life really is: it is knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ whom he sent. God is concerned not only with life in the future but with true life now—abundant life is life lived in the joy of relationship with God.
This relationship is what the crowd hungers for and what they most need—this relationship is what we most need.
So when Jesus speaks to the crowds and tells them not to seek bread that perishes but the bread that gives life, he is speaking to us, calling us back from the empty ways that we have been living. Calling us to come back from our wilderness and our wandering, to come back from our restlessness and our loneliness and our longing. We don’t have to live those ways anymore because Jesus is giving us exactly what we need: himself.
Christ—our true bread—is the only one who can fill the emptiness that we carry, the only One who can bring lasting healing, the only One who can satisfy our deepest hunger. We have been hungering and searching for this relationship because it is for this that we have been created. And now, we need look no further, for thanks be to God on this day that this is precisely what we are given! Real life, true life: life filled with joy and abundance because it is life with our God.
And this life is eternal because God will never let us go, because Christ our bread will give himself to us bite by bite week after week. As God provided manna in the wilderness for the Israelites morning by morning, so too does God bring us life by drawing us into the very life of the Triune God here at this table week after week to remind us that what we need at our core—we already have—and we can stop searching for this relationship with God is given freely. In this lifelong relationship, we need not be hungry or thirsty because God will continually give us what we need: God’s own self.
But this relationship is not offered to us alone. We live in a hungry, tired world, a world that also hungers for this life, for this joy of living in relationship with God. And so our work does not end here at this table. From this table, from Christ our true bread, we are sent out to share how this God of love and light and life offers true life—his life—to all.
This is why we give thanks today because our God meets the needs of the whole world and calls us all back from our wandering and our loneliness to this table where no one leaves hungry or thirsty.