|John is like a 2-story house.|
I come to today’s scripture humbly, especially after I listened to one distinguished commentator say, “If the preacher is not careful SHE could end up saying, “It’s too bad Jesus didn’t speak more clearly. Let ME tell you what he really meant to say...”
It is true that the Gospel of John presents us with a different kind of story. A famous writer called it “a veritable symphony of incomprehension’1 I know I agreed with him for a long time. Even still I have learned to approach scripture from THIS gospel .. Very carefully.
There’s always a hidden message in John. It’s like a 2-story house; with an upstairs and downstairs story. There are so many possible meanings in Jesus’ words that this gospel often leaves us wondering if we understand what Jesus really means.
And so, we approach the text expecting to be surprised by double meanings. (& that goes for sermon titles too)
First, we need to take a Bible Study ‘pop-up moment’ so we can see where John’s story is different from Matthew, Mark, & Luke.
In John, history is controlled by the purpose of the gospel. So, Jesus goes back and forth to Jerusalem for festivals and returns to his mission in Galilee, unlike the synoptic gospels where he doesn’t go to Jerusalem until the end of his life.
On these road trips He gives sermons, saying things like, “..the son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.” (5:19) Long sermons which few people around him understand.
The author’s pattern in John is to 1st give us a sign and then a discourse or you could say, “works then words.” (very brethren, isn’t it?)
Jumping forward now to today’s text in chapter 6, we find it begins with a sign; the Feeding of the 5,000. This means we can expect some words about feeding and bread next and that is what John gives us - plenty of words.
We can’t understand or learn from Jesus’ words without knowing about the sign, the miracle. So Here’s that story, as a refresher.
After this Jesus went across the Galilee Sea (that is, the Tiberius Sea). 2 A large crowd followed him, because they had seen the miraculous signs he had done among the sick. 3 Jesus went up a mountain and sat there with his disciples. 4 It was nearly time for Passover, the Jewish festival.
5 Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him. He asked Philip, “ Where will we buy food to feed these people? ” 6 Jesus said this to test him, for he already knew what he was going to do.
7 Philip replied, “ More than a half year’s salaryn worth of food wouldn’t be enough for each person to have even a little bit. ”
8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, 9 “ A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that for a crowd like this? ”
10 Jesus said, “ Have the people sit down. ” There was plenty of grass there. They sat down, about five thousand of them. 11 Then Jesus took the bread. When he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, each getting as much as they wanted. 12 When they had plenty to eat, he said to his disciples, “ Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing will be wasted. ” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves that had been left over by those who had eaten.
14 When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign, they said, “ This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world. ” 15 Jesus understood that they were about to come and force him to be their king, so he took refuge again, alone on a mountain. CEB
Since we’ve already had bread this morning (or chocolate), let’s put ourselves in with the crowd about the time that they find Jesus on other side of the lake and he confronts them saying, “You are only here because you are full of. . BREAD!”
(setting) Seriously, it’s Hard to blame us, it was pretty cool to listen to Jesus preach and then have him take a boy’s tiny loaves of bread and a couple fish and feed the whole hillside full of people. There were thousands of us! We are impressed and wouldn’t mind experiencing that again!
Naturally, we seek Jesus out, even all the way on the other side of lake Galilee. Naturally we are looking for him to hear another sermon, right? ....well to be honest, we COULD listen to him again, especially since we are not sure what he is really talking about.
BUT if he would do that bread thing again, that would be really cool, because it is a new day and we ARE hungry.
Can you relate to the feeling? As a member of the crowd, what are YOU hungering for?” . . .
Perhaps we humans are terribly simple creatures. We seek out what fills us and it begins with BREAD! (or chocolate...) Only when we are full, can we think of other things, like trying to figure out what Jesus is talking about and exploring what these miracles mean. We DO like to understand everything, that’s one of the benefits of coming to church regularly, isn’t it? We get a better understanding of Jesus and the whole Bible.
Yet there are still things we DON’T quite understand and miracles mixed in with complex sermons are right up there on the incomprehensible list.
quote “Signs [in John] point to the saving act of God in the Christ event.” said one commentator. (ok, we know that in the short form, ‘Jesus Saves’) But we don’t always know what to think about miraculous multiplying bread. Dr. Craddock says, “Believing in a particular miracle, that it ‘really happened’ means one has not really SEEN the sign, even if one’s stomach is full of miraculous bread.”2
I’m not sure if I’m reassured by that or not. Perhaps we stand accused, like the crowd around Jesus of only being full of bread.
All these years we tried to believe this miracle, or to understand some explanation as ‘the miracle of generous people.’
Or maybe we, like Thomas Jefferson, just cut out this hard-to-accept miracle from our Bible.
Or maybe we’ve accepted the miracle on ‘faith’ thinking that believing in miracles is part of what a Christian has to believe.
|Thomas Jefferson Bible|
If any of this is true, then we may need to look at what we mean by the word, ‘faith’.
Will Willimon says, “Faith here means more than clarity about the facts of what happened, or belief in a set of propositions. Faith in John’s gospel, is an encounter with a PERSON, THE person, who IS the way, the truth, and the life.”3
Do you think the crowd is hungering for an encounter, or more interested in being fed?
We’ve placed ourselves in the crowd, what is your answer?
Jesus know us, then and now. He wants us to be fed - - - -with him.
Our understanding of the phrase, “I am the bread of life” - won’t come in this sermon. It takes a full encounter with Jesus, perhaps a whole lifetime of encountering him to “get it”.
Maybe we need a new banner out on the street.
“Come on in for an ‘encounter’? (Sounds like a 90s meditation center.)
Instead, What we, the church, do is ask people what they like to eat. ?
We even offer options, bread or chocolate, or if you’d like something else, maybe we can run up to Safeway and get it.
And people respond to our question. They want,
programs for all ages, (they say) classes for their children, small groups where they can make friends, they want good quality music, and good preaching.
Read any survey and you’ll find similar answers to SIMILAR QUESTIONS.
Maybe we aren’t asking the right questions OR answering people’s hungers.
Maybe...we need to return to the text and see how Jesus answered questions from a hungry crowd.
Professor Ginger Barfield4 pointed out a series of Questions and Answers in Chapter 6:
First, 25-27 the Crowd wants to know “WHEN Jesus came to the other side of Lake.”
Jesus’ answer is the accusation that they are full of BREAD and that’s all they really care about. Not an answer, but certainly true.
“Crowd wants to know what they can DO to work God’s work?” They’ve moved onto a more spiritual topic it seems. He says, ‘the work of God is belief.’
Ok, that’s almost an answer, but they don’t understand it any more than we do.
The “Crowd wants a sign, to help them believe.” (This seems reasonable, after all the whole history of Israel is full of special ‘signs’ where Moses does some pretty miraculous things. One of them being the production of manna in the wilderness. Manna being the ‘bread from heaven’.
Jesus answers the question about a sign with a “proclamation about “My Father” and the bread that gives life.
(Reminds me of all those essay tests in school which you get back saying the equivalent of, “Dear nancy, You are full of....knowledge, but you didn’t answer the question.”)
|But you didn't answer the question.|
It is most interesting, don’t you think, that Jesus rarely answers their questions. He isn’t giving them what they are asking for. . .but he DOES offer them what they need.
He wants them to drop the focus on getting filled up and realize who he is.
. . .
I think we fit into the confused crowd better than we first thought.
What kind ‘bread’ did you come for today? For what are YOU hungering?
the right kind of worship? Or maybe you came,
because you like being challenged to lobby and work for the poor
because you want to be part of a group of like=minded people
because you want to give your life in service to others
These all sound like pretty good reasons to be here, to me.
but then I’m the one whose work involves
creating diverse worship
planning services that include good music
designing programs that engage people of all ages
supporting service projects that reach out to the world
This all sounds like VERY GOOD work to me.
Then I hear Jesus’ answer to the question I didn’t ask, saying, “stop working for food that perishes and instead perform the works of God that lead to eternal life.” . . .
and I’m left looking at bread baskets wondering what I DO next. ? ?
. . .
Confused? This scripture is unsettling - and its supposed to be.
It is full of hidden meaning and levels of intent. In fact, the lectionary of the church stays in John Chapter 6 for the rest of the month to help us ‘get it’.
I’m not the only preacher moaning about 4 weeks of bread? and looking to the epistle reading or the OT story, or even the psalm to break the pattern in the weeks ahead.
Maybe because the last thing we want to hear is Jesus’ accusation that we are full of . . BREAD and that ALL we care about is getting filled again.
If our faith is more than the facts we BELIEVE today, about this story or any other in the Bible.
If faith is something we live, if faith is REALLY an encounter with Jesus, then What comes next?
If Jesus isn’t asking us to ‘think’ about him, but to FEED on him, what do we do when we leave here today?
. . .
“I am the Bread of Life” aren’t words that we will ever ‘get’ in terms of understanding. “Intellectual assent is inadequate to the truth of Jesus the Christ.”5 . .
The only thing we can do with the bread of life is.. .. eat it.