11th Sunday after Pentecost
"Spiritually Hungry people believe, and eat!"
St. Paul and Christ Lutheran Churches
Cortland & Interlaken, NY
John 6: 35-51
"35 Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."
41 At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." 42 They said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, 'I came down from heaven'?"
43 "Stop grumbling among yourselves," Jesus answered. 44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.'[a] Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."
Over the course of the year we have a chance to meet and visit with all kinds of people. Some family, some friends, hopefully those two adjectives describe each other all the time! But, just in case our family and friends aren't always that friendly. Or worse, our family forgets they're family and act like a bunch of strangers, God offers something different in a life with Jesus Christ that bridges the fractures and brokenness that our sinful ways create.
Grumbling is something we hear about today in the text. People are responding to something Jesus said that they felt should not be true. This happened frequently in the Bible. Complaining, whether it's by silent-thought grumbling or actual out loud muttering, human beings complain at least daily, if not hourly, given the chance. Have you ever these? "Well, I don't want to say anything but…" "I want to tell you something, but I don't want you to get mad..." "Well, it is just so frustrating - let me tell you all about it!"
Ever wonder who's more frustrating, the person doing something wrong or the people reacting to it? I hope makes you stop and think. Jesus is in the midst of teaching a long lesson on comparing the bread that fills the stomach and the bread of heaven which comes down from heaven, also for us to eat, but, not for bodily hunger's sake. It is because people are starving to death spiritually, and they would rather complain rather than believe on the One person, Jesus our Savior, who could relieve them of that problem.
I visited a person one time who very concerned that a parent had stopped eating. They had an illness that affected the body's ability to feel hunger and respond to it. They were concerned the parent had decided to stop eating because they were waiting to feel hungry. I explained to them to encourage their parent to eat anyway because their hunger switch is now broken. A new daily life habit would need to be cultivated; eating without the body telling you it's time to eat.
Strange, right? Yet, spiritually speaking we church members see evidence of broken hunger switches every Sunday. Would you be concerned if a person they only ate once a week, or once a month? Would you even believe it? Every time someone comes to church and doesn't listen or pay attention, they grow more hungry. Some people listen, just for a minute, and don't like what they hear so they go somewhere else or stop going altogether. People who stop behaving and believing as Christians have broken "hunger-for-God" switches and well on their way to losing their faith.
Jesus' message is clear: if you eat of the bread of life, you will have life and you won't hunger spiritually because you will have what you've been looking for. If you refuse to eat, you won't enjoy the benefits of eternal life and you'll be among the walking dead. The Word of God, made flesh, who dwells among us, is giving Himself to feed us. We need that food; we couldn't purchase that kind of bread. Earthly food is all we can buy; God gives freely eternal life and I pray we never lose the hunger for that.
How do we "get" more people in church? Simple. We don't. No amount of planning, programs, money, arm-twisting, or guilt-creating family pressures can change someone or force them to do the right thing in God's eyes. Verse 44 says "the Father who sent me draws them."
It doesn't matter if they were baptized and confirmed, if they haven't been in church for a long time, their faith has become as Scriptures describes, choked by weeds, burnt out in thin rocky soil, or gone, "eaten by birds" before it even had a chance to grow. Church leaders come to expect the lives of the non-attendees to be like those who do not believe. We start over again with them. Did God's power save them in baptism? Absolutely! And they cling to that with confidence. Faith naturally wants to be in church and to grow. Clinging to baptism and refusing obey God commands to go to Bible study, attend worship, and teach others about God? Ridiculous! Scriptures describe those people "who, when they look in a mirror, as soon as they turn away, forget what they look like." They walk away from those promises and must learn them again if they are to be saved.
Here's another statement of Jesus: "I will raise them up on the last day." We don't work our way to heaven and get there by being good or leading mostly good lives. We know we don't ever belong there on our merits, but God invites us to believe in Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. We shouldn't follow Christ, acting like our lives might go better if we follow Him. If anything, we can expect challenges to our faith to increase. We do not follow our next meal of loaves of bread to fill the stomach for one day, but to believe in Jesus as the very bread of life Himself. All other things in our lives are unimportant! Think twice about anything that draws you away from contact with God and our Savior in His church and being fed by Him is from the Devil! The Devil wants to isolate you to starve. The world would have you believe you're too religious if you believe that you need to be in church regularly and be a vibrant part of a Christian community. Our own sinful natures listen to our wants of tiredness and rest and "vacation." A vacation from God and the work he's called you to is a mark of certain spiritual death.
Jesus Christ came to this earth to die on a cross for people like you and me who struggle in believing this Jesus and His gift of faith to us. He died for those outside the Church who are lost. He wants His church and His servants to be prepared for those whom He sends to us in our lives and in our church.
You need the church that God gave you to be part of, because He says you need it. You may not even feel the need anymore. You might have slipped into the habit of just going through the motions. You might even feel you're doing just fine without so much….of …..what? God? His Son? Forgiveness? You can't sit at home and forgive your own sins…it's impossible! That's why the people were so angry with Jesus when said He came from heaven to be the bread of life, to forgive our personal sins, and to bring eternal life.
So, what happened to our spiritual hunger switch? With our sinning, it gets shut off & broken; unusable. We need to have Jesus feed us again and heal us, resetting that switch again where it belongs. Our hearts need to understand again, but not just a desire to sit for an hour and go home. That too, is not an example of growing faith. That's stagnant and dying faith that looks alive, but it's really not.
Don't believe the lies. Don't just show up, help contribute to an active plan and help see it through in His church. Believe in the church Jesus gave to you with the responsibility to be stewards. Be amazed again at the greatness of Christ and the miracles He did and continues to do today. Obey the command of Christ to believe, and while believing, encourage & teach the children about the faith and everything else He commands. Have a plan and follow it. What you've dropped, pick it up again. Challenge yourself by the leading of the Spirit to wake up and get involved again. No over-involvement or worrying needed, just do it. Even the strongest believer can remember a church that thrives, not just on warm bodies showing up, but a caring community that learns from God even today. By the Spirit, living and moving, and having His Being in you, continue to love God and your neighbor as yourself, without the real distraction of spiritual hunger. You'll be surprised how fulfilling it to serve Him & others without being starving to death in the process. Amen!
Lord, this is a challenging life often filled with doubts, laziness, and worry, things you have clearly told not to trifle with. Please lead us Your people away from selfishness and remind us that we will not be tested beyond what we can bear, Lord help us to see the ways out of temptation so we can stand up under them.
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