Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 18, year B
texts: John 6:(15-21)(22-23)24-35; Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
How can you make someone king who’s already ruler of the universe?
The crowds want Jesus to be their king, or a new Moses, and take care of all their needs. Jesus already is the Son of God, ruler of all things. He doesn’t need or want the role they would give him.
What of us? Do we want a ruler of this world who will take care of all human problems? It’s a moot question; there is no leader who could do that job. So we, too, are faced with understanding the kind of ruler the one true God is for us and the world.
We can’t make God be what we want. So we need to know who God really is, and if that’s enough.
That’s not easy to do.
In the wilderness and Galilee we see the usual approach.
The Israelites were happy to follow Moses when things looked great: leaving slavery, moving to a new land promised by God, life will be good. Until Pharaoh heard and increased their suffering. They finally got out, and again it was good, until they realized they were in the middle of a wilderness with no food. Now they hate and revile Moses, and the God he represents. They complain, and God provides manna and quails.
Jesus faces lesser expectations, as the crowds weren’t journeying to a promised land. But they brought him all of their needs, and he fed them, did healing, taught them about God. Now, on day two, they want more signs. After all, satisfied hunger returns the next day if there still is no food.
We do this. When things are good, we’re happy and we trust God. When things get difficult, we begin to ask the questions about God’s true intention, God’s ability to help us. We start to complain in the wilderness, asking for signs that prove we can trust God.
It’s easy to understand why.
The human needs on this planet are tremendous; just a short list includes war, hunger, poverty, illness, oppression, prejudice, injustice.
After that list, our needs almost seem unmentionable, but they’re ours and they’re real. People we love get sick, every week we pray for new people. We’ve just faced the death of loved ones in our community; that will keep happening. Some of us struggle with illnesses like depression, some of us legitimately worry about making ends meet, some of us fear a threatening world. We don’t have to compare our needs to a starving family to recognize we have needs that on any given day can seem overwhelming, painful, frightening.
If the Triune God isn’t going to meet those needs, it’s normal to wonder if we can trust such a God. If we don’t get our answers, if things don’t improve, if we struggle day after day, how can we trust God?
What sign will you give us so we can believe in you, God?
Wouldn’t it be more sensible to look for an earthly ruler who could actually take care of things?
Jesus says we’re not thinking big enough.
The Israelites are only worried about the lack of food. Despite all God has done for them, they fret that it doesn’t include a plan for feeding them on the journey. They’re following the One God to a place they’ve never seen in the belief it will be their land, and they think somehow God forgot to pack lunch. They’re not thinking big enough.
The crowds compare Jesus to human leaders. Could he be our king? Are there signs he’s at least as powerful as Moses was for our ancestors?
They’re not thinking big enough, Jesus says. First, it was God who gave them manna, not Moses. Also, that God is “my Father,” Jesus says. Then he lays it out: “I am . . . the bread of life.”
You don’t say “I am” in a way like that to people who know the proper name of the God who brought them out of Egypt is “I am,” and not expect them to make that connection. Jesus’ great I Am statements in John are drumbeats of identification of Jesus with the one, true God, and this is the first clear one.
So Jesus is saying, “forget for a moment about another lunch, or even the little bit with the missing boats and walking on water. Forget about comparing me to Moses. In me, in my presence, God is here. I am. I am the bread you need. The life you need.”
In fact, he tells them the only “work” they have to do for God is believe in the One God sent. Believe in me. Because I am.
And Jesus says that’s enough for them and for us.
If we can believe in him, trust he is sent by God, trust him when he says, “I am enough,” it will be, he says.
John tells us later that these signs – water into wine, multiplied bread and fish, walking on water, and more – are given us so we can believe “that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing, have life in his name.” John 20:31
The signs aren’t the point, they point to the real thing, so we can believe, and have life in his name. We don’t stand at sign posts on the road and wait for another, we go where they point.
Jesus says that he is what we need, that this relationship with the one, true God he is bringing to us and the world will be life for us, in spite of our needs and fears and struggles. He calls us to trust that when we come to him, believe in him, our hunger and our thirst will go away.
That sounds great. At some point, though, what difference does that really make? For the world’s problems? For our problems? Do we have enough to go on to not only believe in God-with-us but trust that will be enough?
In this place we have learned that we do.
I’ve been away from you for three months and have had time to think and ponder what it is God has made in this place. I had the privilege of spending some time with a long-time member on Friday where we talked about the same thing. This is a truth about this community of faith: here in this place we gather because we believe in the promise that the one true God, the Triune God who made us and saves us, will meet us here. And we will find life.
We are comfortable with mystery here. We have lots of good theologians here, lots of faithful disciples who might not call themselves theologians (even if they are) but have come here for years to meet God. We have people who are seeking, questioning, we have people who come here and find a safe place, find peace. What joins us all is that in this place we don’t fret about getting all the answers.
We come here because we meet God here, in Word and song and prayer and silence and beauty, and we are filled with the forgiving love and grace of God. We have signs, too: bread and wine, water, the physical grace and presence of brothers and sisters who care for us and surround us as Christ by their lives.
And that’s enough to satisfy us.
We know we are called to do things, and here we find guidance. We know there are problems in the world and our lives, and here we find paths to answers, people who help, promises that God is working to make a difference.
But ultimately, we gather here comfortable with not knowing all, open to mystery, not needing answers because we know and expect God will be with us. And God is. And it’s enough.
In this place a great gift that is passed down is this invitation to trust, not complain.
Here we meet people who have walked this path enough to know that a relationship with the Triune God based on God’s undying love and transforming forgiveness, a life with God’s life flowing in us through the Spirit, is enough to handle any circumstances, enough to challenge any to deeper discipleship and work in the world, enough to calm anxiety and bring peace, even in the face of death.
At any given time some of us forget this, because life happens. We gather here because there is always someone in this place who will remind us that in the life Christ gives us we have food and drink enough to satisfy all our needs. There is always someone here who will help whichever of us is inevitably struggling like the crowds and the Israelites.
Jesus says it’s enough for us to believe in him, to come to him, and if we trust him, we’ll find our hunger satisfied, our thirst quenched.
So, Christ Jesus, we are here. Come to us now and fill us with your life. It will be enough.
In the name of Jesus. Amen