Sermons

"Work for the food that endures for eternal life," Sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13, Year B

"Work for the food that endures for eternal life," Sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13, Year B

Aug 02, 2015

Passage:John 6:22-35

Preacher: The Rev. Claire Cowden

Series: Season After Pentecost

Category: Hope, Discipleship, Faith

Keywords: bounty, feeding, need, relationship, yearning

Summary:

"Work for the food that endures for eternal life which the Son of Man will give you." This work is not about productivity. This work is about receiving a gift, God's gift of the Christ, the only Son of the Father. Pursue your yearning for this gift of knowing the Christ. Let the physical stuff of this life, such as bread, be a gateway to the more vast reality which it reveals and in which it participates.

Detail:

In the name of God: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

Today’s gospel reading from John continues the story of the “great picnic in the wilderness” which we heard about last week. (1) In this picnic, Jesus feeds to their complete satisfaction a great crowd of 5,000 from the seemingly meager offerings of a small boy’s five loaves of barley & two fish.

The vast, well-fed crowd yearns for more of Jesus, yearns for more from Jesus, so they make the significant effort to follow him across the Sea of Galilee in search of more.

I love this about the crowd: they have been well fed, but they don’t stop there. Now they pursue Jesus with their questions about the great event that just happened.

So Jesus and the crowd have a dialogue, a conversation.

The crowd begins the conversation with what seems like a silly question, “Teacher, when did you get here?” The question seems so small and inconsequential in comparison to the vast feeding which happened only the day before.

You may remember and note from today’s text that John uses the term “sign” for this great feeding. In this sign Jesus is revealed as the one who creates bounty from scarcity & meagerness.
What sense does it make to ask the one who has created & distributed such bounty “when did you get here?”

Jesus’ response is typical: he does not respond to the small question, but to the great need which he sees behind it,
a need which they neither seem to perceive nor can articulate themselves.

They know they have a yearning, but they don’t know the totality of what they yearn for. Which is why they ask Jesus the rather silly question, “When did you get here?”

Jesus’ priority is to lead the crowd deeper into the faith which the great feeding evoked in them, the faith that led them to pursue him across the waters.

Jesus tells the crowd, “Work for the food that does not perish. Work for the food that endures for eternal life which the Son of Man will give you.”

 

Jesus tells them this work is unlike any they have ever done, because this work is not about productivity.

Working for the food that endures for eternal life is about receiving a gift, about “believing in him whom God has sent.” To believe is to receive God’s gift of the Christ, the only Son of the Father.

Belief in John is not the same as our contemporary idea of belief as a mental assent to something, whether that something is a fact or some other kind of truth.

Belief in John is about coming to know God through the revelation of God in Christ and then living one’s life in response to and out of that relational kind of knowing. (2)


The crowd, at this point in the conversation, models one important way of doing the work of belief - they seek & enter into a relationship with Jesus, they do not rest their faith upon one miraculous event, but seek further conversation which unfolds the truth that great event relates.

They stick with Jesus, they do their best to keep up, they ask more questions, and their faith grows. At the beginning of the conversation, they address Jesus as Teacher. By the end of this part of the conversation, they address Jesus as Sir, which is perhaps better translated Lord.

We will come to see over the next several weeks, that this crowd will not be able to accept all that Jesus has to reveal as he continues to unpack in dialogue & sermon, the meaning of the great picnic in the wilderness. But that inability is not pre-determined. For now, it is enough to learn from this crowd about how to begin to go deeper into spiritual truth.

  • When you experience miraculous provision, don’t stop there. Let the miraculous be a gateway for further spiritual growth. As Paul puts it in today’s excerpt from Ephesians, “grow up in every way into Christ.” Pursue your yearning. Don’t worry, if like the crowd, your initial questions are clumsy or your yearning for more cannot be articulated by smart speech.

  • Let the physical stuff of life be a gateway to the more vast reality which it reveals and in which it participates. After all, the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. God uses the physical as a means of sustenance, of joy, AND of revelation. As you eat bread, wonder about the Bread of Life. As you break bread, know the salvation of God “which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

 

(1) Picnic in the wilderness is Cynthia Brigg’s Kittredge’s term for what is traditionally known as “the feeding of the five thousand,” Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of John, Morehouse: 2007, chapter 3.

(2) Alan Culpepper, The Gospel and Letters of John in the series Interpreting Biblical Texts, Abingdon:1998, p. 94.

The image which accompanies this sermon is Artoklasia service, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http:// diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55902 [retrieved August 1, 2015]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2013-08-14-- Artoklasia_during_Feast_of_the_Dormition_of_the_Virgin_Mary.JPG