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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

Bread That is Always Fresh

John 6:24-35

New Revised Standard Version

24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which[a] comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

I imagine most of you have watched some of the Olympics by now. You may be bleary-eyed and have learned more about gymnastics, swimming, handball, weightlifting, badminton, and beach volleyball than you ever wanted to know. Some of you may even be Olympic junkies by now. You have the website bookmarked, the app on your phone, and have watched all 5 channels (6 if you count the Golf channel) that are showing events. In case you haven’t guessed, I am one of the Olympic junkies! I even have notifications set up on my phone to tell me the results of events.

The Olympics are an exciting event. Not only do we see promotions for a year or two in advance, but we also see begin to see more and more ads featuring Olympic athletes, both present and past, as the Games get closer (even more so during the Games themselves). Advertisers recognize that we want to connect with the athletes we see. To, in some sense, be in the moment with them.

When we watch the Olympics, what is it we are looking for? Maybe it’s the medal count – who has the most or how many gold, silver, and bronze medals the United States has earned. Or to watch the outstanding swimmers – Caleb Dressel who can swim faster than anyone else in the 50 meters; others who can swim long distances in the pool.

I really like the up close and personal segments, interviews, and views of family members at watch parties that share a behind-the-scenes look at the athletes and their families. Through these we learn more about the athletes – who they are not just what they do. I particularly like those that are about athletes that aren’t expected to win lots of medals. Those that are excited that they even got to come to the Olympics at all or, like the women divers who surprisingly, did well enough to qualify for the final. Those who are running in the heats as track and field begins – that they can just be on the track with athletes they have watched and admired from afar. These alone are major achievements.

One of my favorites is when you see after a race or event those who have been competitors a few seconds before coming together and hug and congratulate each other and are excited for everyone else who was in the race.

When you hear their back stories, even more meaning is brought to life in these scenes. Suni Lee’s father who is in a wheelchair after being paralyzed in an accident and how much of an inspiration he is for her. Seeing the students in the gym in Seward, Alaska when Lydia Jacoby surprised everyone by winning the gold medal in her race. We learn about who these people are, what is important to them rather than only the athlete who wins the medal or competes for their country.

The crowd in our story today have questions about the person in front of them. What are you doing Jesus? What are you doing for us now? What can we get from you? After all we have experience with God – God who gave our ancestors manna in the desert so they would have food to fill their stomachs. Kind of like what you, Jesus, just did as you fed us all with those few loaves. What are we going to get from you next? Who they see is what matters to them, not who Jesus is.

N.T. Wright tells the story of a historian who is working on his PhD. He has one chapter left in his dissertation. This last chapter is to be about how painting had been important and the influence of the artists on the wider thought and culture during the period he is focusing on.

Because the deadline for submitting his dissertation is fast approaching, he runs to the art museum. He hastily goes from gallery to gallery taking detailed notes from the printed information under each painting. He writes down the names of the artists and paintings, important dates, information about where the artist lived, his friends, influential people and places, and those he may have influenced.

The historian finished his dissertation on time and received his PhD. But never once, in all the galleries he went through, did he stop, stand back, and look at the paintings. He never took the time to allow the paintings to speak to him in their own language. He never took the time to see what was right in front of him. He didn’t realize that the notes under each painting were there to lead the eye, mind, and heart to appreciate the painting not to use only to learn about it. They were meant to draw you, pique your interest, so that you would take the time to admire the work itself. To see a little something in that painting that would touch your heart or get your mind thinking in a different way.

How often do we look for signs that are already right in front of us? We look for what we want rather than what is there. The signs that obscure what is behind them.

In a way, that’s what the people were doing at this encounter with Jesus as they had gone to the other side of the sea looking for him. They were amazed that Jesus was already there with the disciples. They scratched their heads thinking, “This is a long way, how did they get there already?” They were focused on what did Jesus do, what he did for them – feeding us -, how he got there so fast. What they saw was what they wanted to see. The details, almost like reading those descriptions under the paintings. They missed the bigger picture.

The bread and the fish they had been given on the other side of the sea were Jesus’ way of leading the eye, the mind, and the heart to the true gift of God. The gift, like the manna their ancestors received in the desert, that bread from heaven, was meant to draw them to who God is and what God would really be doing for them. The sign of the feeding was intended to lead them to the true food, the true bread that God was offering. The bread from heaven that only came from the Lord.

In a sense what we are asked to look at, just as they were, is not what Jesus can do for us – how Jesus will answer our prayers in the way that we want, fix what is wrong, remind us of where we left our keys, get us a parking place close to the store when it is hot, and we don’t want to walk very far. We look for that Jesus. The one that says, “Yes, I care about you. Let me show you how,” but in the ways we want to be shown. What we miss is who Jesus really is.

Do we ever stop and ask what those sign we see are for; what it is they are meant to show us.

Sometimes we miss what is happening because we are busy with other things. We often expect bread on demand. Almost like putting our money in a candy machine, select D3 and asking the Lord for rye bread today. Or selecting F2 tomorrow and asking for pumpernickel that day. Just give me the one that I want, not the one you have selected for me.

I think Jesus is asking for is for us to develop a new expectation. Instead of expecting what we think we need, to look at who Jesus is and what Jesus is providing for us. What Jesus really does for us beyond just fulfill our perceived needs.

We are looking at the difference between being filled and fulfilled. Filled for us means our stomachs are full, we have bread every day, and our prayers are answered as we want. Jesus has done what we want him to do for us. We are okay with that. We ask what we must do so Jesus will keep doing these things for us. We want to earn what we get from you. We want to do the right things to make sure we haven’t messed up so don’t get what we want.

What Jesus wants is for us to know is for us to know what it means to have fulfillment in our lives. To have, as he calls himself, the Bread of Life. That bread that is always there inside us and fills us so we will never be spiritually hungry or thirsty. We will always be full of God’s Spirit. That is what Jesus is pointing to in this passage – what it means to see who Jesus is not what he does.

The message for us today is to step back. To take time to look at the paintings on the wall. To allow our eye, our mind, and our heart to be drawn to the Jesus that is actually there rather than the one we want to be there. Amen.

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