Sunday, July 10, 2011

Will Work for Food (John 6.22-40)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
July 10, 2011
Some Music Used 

 Prelude: "When Morning Gilds the Skies" (Emma Lou Diemer)
Hymn of Praise: "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah" (CWM RHONDDA)
Song of Praise: "Break Thou the Bread of Life/Come Feed My Soul" 
(Lathbury/Groves, Sherwin; refrain, Youngblood)
The Word in Music: "Taste and See" (Helman)
Offering of Music: "O ?Bread of Life from Heaven" (Bourgeois/arr. Bender)
Song of Sending: "Hungry" (Scott)
Postlude: "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah" (Manz)

Will Work for Food
Text: John 6:22-40

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Two weeks ago, our middle school youth and three leaders went from this church to Chattanooga, TN, on a mission trip. I know that many of them experienced God in a real and meaningful way. God was definitely there. And then they came home…

I don’t know how many of you have ever been to a revival service, an evangelistic crusade, or a great Christian concert or conference. Those events have a way of really “firing you up” about Jesus. But however great they are, however special one feels by the end, they do end and we have to come home…

Volunteering at Crisis Assistance, walking in the CROP walk, visiting the men’s shelter at Rebound, sending Christmas boxes to Samaritan’s Purse - there's a feeling that we are doing something good in God's eyes. There is a rich and fulfilling feeling of living out God's love when we participate in these kinds of ministries. But most of us go back to our own homes and lives at night. We go back again and again to help others because we find God there and we want to be faithful to God.

Many of you have had a close experience of God at some time in your lives. God answered a specific prayer, or intervened in your life in a way you promised yourself you would never forget. For some, that miraculous encounter stimulated or began the faith that has held you in the church and in the Christian faith. But it's been many years. You were only a child, a young person. Was that God? Was He real? Did you imagine that? Maybe God would do it again… maybe God would show up just one more time…

On a hill on the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus fed 5000 men and their families from five small barley loaves and two small fish. The crowds reacted with amazement, naming Jesus as the Prophet come to be king. Their immediate hunger was taken care of, and they sensed that the promise of all their hopes for a kingly deliverer were about to be fulfilled as well! Then Jesus withdrew from them, first to be by himself on the mountain, then crossing the sea to the other side.

We may indeed know something of how the crowd felt! Many of us have experienced God in a close and personal way at some point in our lives. Or we have seen just enough of what that kind of experience can do in someone's life to want it for ourselves. So, like the crowd on the hillside, we chase after something and someone, not knowing for sure just who he is or what he offers, but sensing that it is something we desperately need in our lives!

The Chase and the Disappointment

Why did the crowd follow after Jesus that day? The obvious reason would be the miracle. Over 5000 people had been part of a gigantic miracle. Why wouldn't they want to see more of that?! Perhaps others were just curious or hoping to hear this man teach. And then there was an identified group who believed Jesus was the great kingly one who would deliver them from Roman rule. Jesus, himself, identified yet another reason: because "you ate of the loaves and were filled." (v. 26) He had responded to their need and satisfied it with bread. Perhaps they knew at some level that Jesus could satisfy the great needs of their lives.

What about that mission trip, that special revival service or retreat, that act of helping others, that close experience of God? Each touches something deep within us… each feeds a hunger in our soul. And even if we don't understand how or why, we want it again. And so we work hard for it - to find that feeling and experience of being near to God. For some it's a casual thing - we think God's at church and if we go there enough it will rub off on us. Others of us really dedicate our lives to feeling that closeness again and again. We come to church for various reasons: to find our own 'miracles,' social convention, to hear spiritual teaching, to hear good music, to see friends. Related to it all, though, must be the sense that if we keep at it we may encounter God.

Well, I won't save the punch line for the end of the sermon. Here it is: God is experienced and known only through the person of Jesus Christ! Yes, you can look at a sunset and learn something about God as Creator, but to know God the Father you must know Jesus the Son. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life… no one comes to the Father but through me.” That's also why Jesus persisted so hard with the crowds with teaching like "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life… the work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent." (vv. 28-29) The crowd resisted and questioned and grumbled - they wanted another miracle and proof of what Jesus was saying. And they really misunderstood, not grasping that a person whose parents and hometown they knew could give them what they were looking for. They became restive and disappointed when they realized Jesus was actually claiming to be sent from God.

The Correction and the Confusion

With their grumbling, what the crowd really was saying was "we'll just go with what we want and need - you know, miracles like you did before. You mentioned bread from heaven. Will you call down manna like Moses did in the desert?"

And we want God to just prove Himself. "Just answer this prayer or heal this person or make this deal come through - and I'll know for sure that you are there." Or more generously, "I'll go back to Chattanooga or camp or the retreat weekend or conference. Maybe you could show up there again so I'll be reminded that you are real."
And Jesus insists, "I am what you need."
And we keep on looking where we want and how we want.
And Jesus insists, "I am what you need - come and believe."
The effect of his words that day with the crowd was to say, "Believe in me or turn away from me; I am the only way and the only source for what you need." It was too much for most of those there. And Jesus never backed down or simplified or compromised. He could have done another miracle. He could have explained that he wasn't promoting cannibalism (as they shortly accuse him of doing). He did make the connection for them between the miracle of the feeding and who he was. He did make the connection between Moses and the manna and who he was. He did explain that God was using those events and miracles to draw people to Himself. He did explain that he was the completion and perfection of miracles like those. But they were looking for something else.

Let me illustrate in a way I have done before. In the world of music and concerts and such, there is a treasure known as a backstage pass. If you can get your hands on one of these, you have access behind the stage to meet the performer and see where he or she hangs out with the band. You may have heard recently that Taylor Swift had to postpone her concert in Charlotte due to illness. Imagine that you had not only a ticket but a backstage pass to see Taylor Swift. And imagine if you and your friends (or parents) were at the concert venue trying to get a refund and somehow on the way into the building from the car a teenage girl with blonde curly hair comes running out to the parking lot and runs into you. She says, "You don't need to go in there; we can just spend some time together right now." But you ignore the stranger, saying "You don't realize what has happened; Taylor Swift postponed and I have to get a good ticket for the makeup concert!" And so it goes… we miss the real thing in pursuit of the real thing.

Jesus never belittles or dismisses miracles or the need for earthly sustenance and work. But the people are just blind to the truth of who it is there with them! And just as you can imagine eventually thinking some crazy girl in the parking lot is playing a sick joke on you, Jesus' claims begin to sound crazier and more farfetched. When he starts talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood - the TRUE food and drink, it's just too much for those listening.

Is there anything comparable for us? Is there anything about Jesus that would shock us or sound so alien or disgusting that we would turn away? Perhaps…

It's hard to see outside ourselves. It's hard to know when we are part of the crowd missing the point when we are so sincere about what we are looking for. Let's take a shot at it though…

Why do we come to church and do all the work that we do in the name of religion? I believe we do so because we find some need being fulfilled. We love the beauty of the service and the music. We like to see our friends. We value the acceptance of a culture that still values religious affiliation. We feel good when we help people. We feel spiritual when we pray and we feel happy when we sing.

But how do we respond when Jesus Christ makes this claim:
I am Beauty.
I am true Fellowship and Love.
I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Hopefully, all that we do in Church and in the name of Christ is faithful to God's will and teaching. But - and this is Jesus' point in John 6 - none of it is to take the place of belief and trust in Jesus Christ as God's direct provision for humanity. If we miss Jesus Christ, we have missed it all!

Conclusion

God has blessed us with personal experiences of His nearness and events that we cherish as being from him. And we continue to worship, serve, go on retreats and mission trips, and gather that we might experience God in our daily lives. But Jesus made a claim that demands to be at the heart of our faith: that he is God's Word of truth and life for us and for the world. Christianity is not a religion - it is not us working our way into God's presence. Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God. Jesus is the source of life and hope and is the author and perfecter of our faith.

Do you know this Jesus? Have you tasted the true Bread of Life? I urge you not to miss the message and carry on business-as-usual. Hear the words of Jesus:
I am the way, the truth, and the life… I am the bread of life... The work of God is to believe in the one He has sent.
The work of God is for us to believe and trust in Jesus Christ in faith. From that place, we can understand the place of worship, service, fellowship, obedience, and all the other ways we respond to and obey God in life. Only out of personal faith in Jesus Christ will our hearts be satisfied. Feed on him in your hearts, and be thankful! Amen.


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