Trust and Feed on Jesus for True Satisfaction
A sermon on John 6: 35, 41-51 by Jill Friebel, 10 August 2003

Anyone who trusts his or her life to Jesus and feeds on the “Bread of Life” will never be hungry or unsatisfied.

While we were on holidays we picked up a “whodunit” book among others called “Absolution by Murder”. It is set in North England 7th Century and is a fiction novel about the factual Council of Whitby in 664 AD. It was a heated council with high stakes between the Celtic churches and the Roman churches but the debate centred on the hairstyle of the monks and whether the Roman tonsure was more spiritual than the Celtic monks and over the correct dates for Easter. David read it first and I started reading it on the plane home. The details of a whodunit are designed to lead you in all directions to keep you in suspense and nothing is there by accident. David guessed who the murderer was from the beginning. I am half way through and still haven’t guessed. He was able to pick up the sign that was hidden in the middle of the details. Frustratingly I have missed it and will have to wait until the end of the book when all will be revealed, or turn to the last page.

Now tonight’s reading from John’s gospel is a little like reading one page from the middle of the book. We began at the point where Jesus is declaring to the crowd that he is the bread of life. Anyone who comes to him will never be hungry or thirsty again. The people begin to grumble that he would say such a thing. Who does he think he is? He’s just Joe’s lad, we know where he’s from. We know who he is. How can we take him seriously that he is bread from heaven? Jesus responds to the crowd not to get worked up about where they think he is from, but to listen and look and observe for themselves what is happening in front of their eyes. To put away their prejudice and hear this new thing that God is doing right in their midst.

God wants to do new things for us. We hear words we have heard before and they become familiar and we lose the wonder and mystery. We think we know what God means, but we have hardly begun to grasp the truth and meaning and hardly know who he really is. Come with an open expectant repentant heart which will free and liberate you from the past and open up to you all kinds of new possibilities. A life that is so satisfying and fulfilling you will never long for anything. Is that really possible? Jesus says it is.

The crowd that Jesus first declared these words to were Jews. John begins chapter 6 by telling us exactly who they were. These people had heard of Jesus working miracles and they were flocking to him from all over to see and hear for themselves. So eager were they that they kept following him even when he tried to get away by himself. Consequently they ended a long way from home with no food and were extremely tired and hungry. Rather than turning them away Jesus has compassion on them and miraculously feeds them with bread. Now John tells us that this happened right before Passover.

What a coincidence. A crowd of people longing for freedom from slavery and oppression, following Jesus into the wilderness, tired hungry and needy. They are wondering and hoping that this just might be the One promised to come and liberate them again. And right in front of them Jesus feeds them with bread from heaven. It’s the Exodus being reenacted. Jesus is feeding them just as his Father fed their fathers in the wilderness and right at the time when they celebrate it. Is this some sort of a sign? The penny drops and the crowd recognise him as the long awaited prophet. They immediately want to make him King. At this Jesus escapes up the mountain alone. Their agenda is not his agenda. Their hopes and aspirations for liberation are not what God has in mind.

John tells us they come looking for Jesus again and in no time are asking for another sign to prove that he is the prophet. Jesus never worked miracles to prove who he was, but always in response to human need. They were hungry and he fed them. Their ancestors would have starved in the desert but God fed them because he loved and cared for them. Jesus is anxious that the people will see and understand this miracle as a sign that will lead their eye, their minds and hearts to the true gift of God to his people. That this is the New Exodus.

It was more important that they not see what Jesus could do for them, but understand who he really is. By being confronted with Jesus in this new way opens up deeper and more wonderful ways of what Jesus can really do for you and what he really wants to do for you. Jesus still provides for us and meets our needs. He comes to us offering himself as the bread of life, he invites us to eat him and feed from him and see what he can really do for us, to discover what he really wants to do for us. What might this mean for you? It may mean giving up something you desperately want, or making some changes that will cost you your pride, or your security, or your rights. Each one of us has our hopes and aspirations of God just like the Jews, but some of them are our own agendas, and Jesus wants us to be open to receiving him in deeper and more satisfying ways.

The Jews were terribly unhappy when Jesus told them he was the bread from heaven and that they should trust him. John tells us they began to grumble, “who does he think he is – we know his mum and dad, he’s just Joe’s lad”. Their grumbling and objecting is another ‘coincidence’ from the original Passover story. It didn’t long for those people to object to the way God was dealing with them either. Both of them had to learn that God was not at their beck and call, nor was he obliged to them. He would act and save his people in his way not what they wanted. God had not chosen them because they were special or a particularly moral and godly people. He chose them because he loved them and desired to show his grace and mercy to them, in order to fulfil his purposes through them and to bring healing and salvation to them first and then the whole world.

What’s your response to Jesus when he doesn’t act in the way you so much want him to in your life? To be disappointed is perfectly normal. There would be something wrong if we didn’t feel times when God just seems so remote from us. That’s how a lot of the Jews were feeling. When the things we are sure will make us better just don’t happen. Where is God when life is like this? It is right at this point we too can begin to grumble. Our grumbling and disappointments can result in attempts to manipulate God and those around us to satisfy our own needs. He is not at our beck and call but he comes to us in Jesus himself. Jesus says to us that he is the bread of life, trust him and we will never be hungry or thirsty again. Bring your disappointments and sadness and grief to him and be open to discovering Jesus in new and deeper ways.

He hasn’t chosen you or me because we’re special or particularly moral or even godly, but simply because he loves us and wants to fulfil his purposes through us. His purposes for the world are still liberation from sin and slavery, freedom from self-absorption and greed. He has come to us and poured out his life so that we can gain from his death and resurrection.

Jesus has made strong connections for the Jews about how God fed their fathers with manna from heaven and now he has fed them in the wilderness with bread. There is a strong theme and reference to the physical eating of bread in this passage. John doesn’t record the Last Supper as such anywhere in his gospel not because he doesn’t think it is important, but because he thinks it is so important that it should be seen as affecting the whole gospel story. So it is important that we don’t just spiritualise the language of eating and drinking so that it only means an inner non-physical event, of meditation, prayer, commitment and celebration and so on. The language that is used in the story of the feeding in the wilderness is described in words that are very similar the Lord’s Supper itself. John understands the language that Jesus uses here to refer to the Eucharist. That when Jesus speaks of the bread being his own flesh being given for the life of the world He is being offered as a sacrament in a mysterious way to believers to be eaten and drunk. One of the words used to eat his flesh means to “munch on his flesh”. No, we are not cannibals but Jesus is speaking of his own flesh being offered in this sacrament, there is mystery in the eating and the drinking.
Jesus then goes on to declare that in order to be truly united with his believing followers it is necessary for them to eat his flesh and drink his blood.

As we come together, come expectantly to receive grace as you eat and be changed. As we receive the body of Christ, let us become the body of Christ. We are the people of the new and true Exodus, the ones through who he desires to fulfil his purposes. The ancestors of the original Exodus ate the bread but they still died. This bread, this-bread-of-life which is Jesus himself is given, and given to be broken in death, so that those who eat of it may not die, but have eternal life in the present and the future and be raised up on the last day. Put your whole trust in Jesus and always be satisfied.