Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sermon, Proper 13B, John 6:24-35

As was mentioned last week, we've changed our focus from the Old Testament stories of Saul and David to the Gospel of John and Jesus' "Bread of Life" discourse. Last week we heard the story of the feeding of the 5000, and within that story were the themes of abundance (five loaves and two fish for 5000 people), Eucharist (giving thanks), Jesus as the source of a holy and imperishable food, and the gathering up of the unwanted leftovers so that none may be lost. These themes will be repeated throughout John 6.

Today Jesus tells the crowd that he is the bread of life. Today he tells them that he is the true bread of heaven and whoever comes to him shall never hunger or thirst. Today he tells them to work not for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.

"Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life . . ." It would be easy, I think, to misinterpret this. It would be easy to hear this and drop out or give up or wait for people to hand-deliver things to you. I'm willing to bet we all know people, are are aware of people, who do just that. I have a regular homeless guy who visits me whenever he's in town. He's always looking for a handout. He's always blaming others for his problems. He's always blaming somebody else for his situation.

It's true that people can find themselves homeless for a variety of reasons. And it's probably true that most Americans are only two or three paychecks from losing everything; and certainly this economy has shown us just how close many of us are to finding ourselves living in a tent. I don't know how this gentleman ended up in his situation, but I do know that he doesn't want to work. He refuses groceries because he doesn't want to make the effort to make his own meal; he would rather eat at a restaurant where the food is cooked for him and served to him. He's refused jobs that are beneath him. I could give you more examples, but you get the idea. He truly has taken the "do not work" aspect to a higher level than most.

But notice that Jesus isn't telling us that we are to ignore perishable food. It was with perishable food -- five loaves and two fish -- that he fed the crowd. And, taken a step further, it was in a perishable body that God chose to manifest himself. The issue is that we shouldn't work for it.

And there's that phrase again, don't work for it. How, then, do we not work for the food we need to survive? We work for things we want. We work towards retirement. We work for a good yard or garden. We work at our relationships. We work for political gains. We work for justice. In other words, we work for, we make the effort to obtain, the things that we desire and the things that are important to us. How much of what we desire, though, is perishable?

This is what Jesus is telling us. It's one thing to be self-sufficient and acquire food, shelter and clothing; but it's quite another if that is your entire focus, if those are the only things you work for. While we certainly need food, clothing and shelter, all of those things are perishable. All of those things will pass away in time. And if that is our focus, then we end up working for more and bigger and better things.

Instead, Jesus is telling to work for that which is imperishable, for that which endures eternally. And what is that imperishable food that endures? It is our relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is the gift of Jesus, given for us and sacrificed for us so that we might live. It is the free grace of God.

"But if it's free, how can we work for it?" people may ask. It is true that grace is free and there's nothing we can do to earn it or work for it. It's not about earning it or working for it; it's about working into it and working at becoming knowledgeable and aware and competent and fruitful in our relationship with God. It's about working for that imperishable food so that we will be continually nourished and strengthened. It's about working at becoming better disciples.

If this is something we really want, like that nice new car or house or retirement, then we will put forth the effort and really work at it. Still, the question remains, "How do we work for the food that endures for eternal life?"

There are a few ways to work for that eternal, imperishable food. We can work for it through our pledging. We can recognize that everything we have is a gift from God and we can present to God from his creation our first and best offerings. And not just our regular pledging, but we can plan for the long-term success and presence of the church. We can think about bequeathing gifts of money and property to the church after our own death. It will be through the actions of living parishioners that will ensure the continued presence of the church for future generations.

We can work for it through mission work. And while I'm not necessarily talking about trips to the African Congo or some other far-flung place, what do we have right her, right now, that we can offer the people of the Ruby Valley or of Montana? What sorts of outreach can we accomplish that gives us an external focus to balance against our internal focus?

We can work for it through study. We have a start with our TEC101, TEC200 and Soup & Scripture sessions. But how do we view these things? Are they available as a convenience? or will we decide that these are important events that we need to commit to in order to continually grow? If we were to say that a particular Sunday was some kind of class, would we commit to it, or would we see it as just another activity taking up our time?

And we can work for it through our worship. We can choose to view Sunday morning not as an optional activity to attend when everything is going right, but as a mandatory commitment to come closer to God, to be spiritually fed, and to build up this community. It's not only about attendance, because I know things come up, things happen, life sometimes pulls us away (like next week when I'll be out of town preparing to ship my daughter off to Germany). But it's about our attitude - which I recently preached on. Worship like we enjoy being here.

To not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, doesn't mean we give up. It doesn't mean that we wait for God to supply our every need. And it doesn't mean that we ignore those perishable items that we need to survive. What it does mean is that we reorder our lives so that our relationship with God comes first. It does mean that if we want to be spiritually and religiously satisfied, we need to make the effort. Because in the end, it's not what we get but what we give that will determine how satisfied we are.


Whit | 5:08 PM, August 04, 2009  

Love your new header and footer. Sorry I've been a stranger.

We were in Dillon a week or so ago and drove past. Sorry I didn't try to call or visit.


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