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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost - August 6, 2006

Starting last Sunday and through the month of August, the lectionary takes us through chapter 6 of John’s gospel.  It starts with the story of Jesus feeding the crowd of 5000 and continues with Jesus walking on the water.  That was last week’s lesson.  Today we get into what is known as the Bread of Life discourse.  In many ways this discourse is similar to other conversations Jesus has in John.  By that I mean these conversations often don’t make sense in the way we would like them to make sense. The answers Jesus gives often add confusion rather than clarification as they seem unrelated to the questions that are posed to him, sometimes his answers are new questions which are also confusing.  It makes reading John something of a challenge because it’s easy to get bogged down by the fact that the conversations don’t seem to resolve much.

One of the things that I have found helpful in reading John is to remember that one of the purposes of this gospel is to teach its readers what real faith in Jesus is and to help them move in the direction of such faith. There is a lot that is not known about who John was originally written for, but many of the scholars think that the first audience must have been a group who were already worshiping Jesus in some fashion, people who had some kind of faith and who would identify themselves as Christians, which means they were kind of like us, people already on the journey.   

The object then is to move these people along in their faith journey, move them toward faith for the right reasons.  In John, movement toward such faith seems related to asking the right kinds of questions.  Throughout John, people Jesus converses with consistently ask the wrong kinds of questions and Jesus tries to get them past that, but frequently he does so by essentially ignoring the questions they do ask which is why the conversations seem disjointed. 

So I find it helpful to remember that many of the conversations in John are not intended to follow a logical progression and trying to make them follow such a progression just becomes an exercise in frustration.  It’s better to keep reading, thinking about what is being said about faith in Jesus, what is being said about your faith journey.

Today’s lesson starts with the crowd, the crowd following Jesus.  They had been there for the feeding of the 5000 and they had seen Jesus get in a boat with his disciples heading across the Sea of Galilee for Capernaum.  Now Jesus more than likely was probably looking for a little rest, some time away, but like celebrities of today, he couldn’t go anywhere without being followed.  The crowd who follows this time couldn’t have known about him walking on the water; that was a private event between him and the disciples.  But they did know he had given away a bunch of free meals, some of them were probably recipients and they were probably following in the hope that he’d do it again.

Jesus was on to them though.  Their first question seems relatively innocent, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”  Or were they playing innocent, trying to pretend that they weren’t following, they weren’t looking for Jesus?  “Oh, what a coincidence!  I didn’t think I’d find you here.”  It doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that Jesus lets them know they are following for the wrong reasons.  “You’re not really looking for me,” he tells them.  You ate your fill and you think there might be more where that came from.  You’re not looking for me, you’re looking for how you might use me to your advantage.”

This is perhaps our point of entry into this text.  People trying to use Jesus to their own advantage is nothing new.  I think it’s safe to assume that among those crowds of people who followed Jesus from place to place there were many who were hoping that he was the cure they been looking for.  He’d done it for others, maybe he’d do it for them.  They were looking for him to do their bidding.  But you know these people too…that person who prayed for something and lo and behold they got what they prayed for.  So they jump on the Jesus bandwagon in a big way sometimes becoming the most enthusiastic members of the church, Jesus’ most vocal supporters, until some subsequent prayer doesn’t get answered quite the way they wanted.  Then they may drift off never to be heard from again.

The disciples weren’t looking for healing, but the stories about them indicate that their reasons for following Jesus were mixed at best.  To be fair to them, they were called and did follow knowing very little about Jesus.  But they pretty consistently failed to understand what his life was really about and so they saw him as the means by which they might move up the ladder in terms of status and influence.  “Grant that we might sit one at your right hand and one at your left when you come into your kingdom.”  They didn’t get it.

But you know these people too or know of them anyway.  It’s pretty common these days for politicians to wrap themselves in Christianity, to claim that their faith is important to them, but then enact and support and bless policies that are blatantly unjust and pretty far from the teachings of Jesus.  They want those “Christian” votes though.  They know which Christian buzz words to use.  They’re trying to use Jesus to their advantage.

Jesus will have none of it though, from any of us.  What a text like this should do is not cause us to point fingers at the less than perfect faith of others (as I have just done), but instead cause us to examine our own reasons for following Jesus.  The chances are that we’ll find that none of us has completely pure motives.  We want something from Jesus even if it’s just hoping that if we go to church and give generously and do the right things then we’ll be blessed with health and prosperity and safety.  Even though we see plenty of examples where it doesn’t work that way, isn’t there a part of most of us that hopes that it does?  If we’re honest, isn’t that part of our motivation for following?

If this isn’t real faith, what is Jesus pointing to?  Back to the text:  “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”  Here, and in other places in John, Jesus is trying to move people from their faith being about immediate physical needs and sustenance and toward more enduring spiritual needs.  Having said that, remember that eternal life in John is not only life after death.  Eternal life begins now, so this food that endures for eternal life is not just pointed to the hereafter.  It redefines the present.

Real faith in John’s gospel recognizes Jesus as the one who is God, the one who speaks and embodies the word of God.  Real faith recognizes Jesus as the center of reality.  It’s a reality that refuses to believe that all there is is what we can see and manage on our own.   It’s a reality that tells us that we are not on our own, but that we are part of the life of Jesus and that Jesus is part of our life, not as someone who will necessarily fix every trouble, but someone who is present in every trouble.

In this discourse, the people are still stuck on themselves.  “What must we do?” they ask, and Jesus just says, “Believe.”  Faith is believing that Jesus is the center of life.  It’s believing that in Jesus we are changed, that we are forgiven children of God.  That belief changes everything.  It changes how we see God, how we see ourselves, how we see others, how we see the world and that in turn changes what we do.  Doing though starts with imagining and believing this different reality so that what we do becomes a life of repentance, a life patterned on the teachings of Jesus, a call to radical holiness.  It’s worship of God and service to God, self giving acts on behalf of others, not self serving acts that try to manipulate God to our own advantage.

Faith is following Jesus because he is God, following because we believe that he is the center of a different reality and that we are part of it!  It’s faith motivated only by love of God, not by what’s in it for me.  When Jesus says, I am the Bread of Life, this is the life he is talking about, where he comes to us as we believe in him, and follow him, where his own life, his own body and blood sustain us.  It is eternal life which is not just a heavenly reward but is where we live right now.     


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
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not me
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one who
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