Sermon for August 1, 2021 from Pastor John

Sermon for August 1, 2021


     The summer Olympics are riveting to watch, whether it is swimming races, track and field, gymnastics, soccer, basketball or other favorite events. Sports offer a lot of drama because of the skill of well-trained athletes competing for coveted medals. A great deal of media hype was placed on Simone Biles, perhaps the most decorated gymnast in the world. A great weight of expectation was placed upon her to win gold for the United States. But then she left the competition no longer sure of herself. She talked about concern for her mental health. She said joy was taken away since she was no longer doing gymnastics for her love of the sport but to please other people. An article in the newspaper spoke of the pressure and anxiety she felt and that now she realized there is more to life than gymnastics. After her courageous decision to defy the expectation to be perfect and leave the games, other sports figures have offered their support saying they understand the pressure of performance. All of these concerns about the mental health of athletes challenge us to pause and change from cheering fans to understanding the athletes as human beings. Another challenge is to think of what is truly important for life. Not all of us can be famous in the world of sports, but we all have times of wondering about our lives, just what is “more than” the pursuit of a paycheck, a promotion, or popularity.

Jesus wants us to be focused on what is important for life when he said “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Jesus was speaking to people who enjoyed a bounteous meal of fish and bread from his gracious and generous hand. If you remember Jesus was given a boy’s simple lunch of five loaves and some dried fish, and after saying grace, fed the group of 5000 people. They ate as much as they wanted. The food did not run out, in fact twelve baskets of leftovers were picked so others could eat another day. But as the people were leaving, Jesus soon realized it was time for him to leave. In a stunning development the well-fed people decided to take Jesus by force if necessary and declare him King.

So Jesus escaped. In a kind of at-and-mouse game the people looked for Jesus until they finally found him in the town of Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus knew what they were looking for: more bread. So Jesus said “Very truly I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw the signs but because you stuffed yourselves with bread, you ate your fill. In the gospel of John miracles or deeds of power are called ‘signs’, designed to help the people identify Jesus as more than a rabbi or revered teacher, but the Son of God sent to the world. The people saw the sign of Jesus healing the sick and said ‘awesome’. They enjoyed the sign of a banquet of a Galilean fish-fry, enough bread and fish for all, and they said “delicious”. But these signs were not done to enhance Jesus’ popularity, like let us endorse him to run for the office of King. The goal was faith. In the gospel of John, as your study Bible with notes would point out, faith is always a verb. Faith is not boring, but a blessing, assuring you God loves the world, God loves you. In the gospel of John faith is not static, but the Spirit’s work helping one to know and grow in this love. In the gospel of John faith is not so much from the mouth but from the heart, a heartfelt trust in Jesus for one’s life. So Jesus said “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

The words of Jesus echo some key passages in the Scriptures. Psalm 127 reads “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain….It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for the God gives sleep to his beloved.” Vain refers to an emptiness within that remains unless we know we are God’s beloved. It is so easy to forget the grace and help of God and think it is all up to me and my efforts which results in “eating the bread of anxious toil”. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy. Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread….why are you spending your money as if money has some kind of power to fill an emptiness within one’s soul, within one’s life.

There is that expression that if you say something foolish or say something that proves to be false you will end up eating those words. It can be an expression of shame or embarrassment. But in the Bible we are encouraged to eat God’s word, God’s word of promise: the word of forgiveness of sin, the word of never to forsake us, the words of eternal life. This is what Jesus is teaching in the gospel reading today: listen to him for Jesus is the Word speaking salvation, forgiveness, pardon, and peace to you and me.

Jesus told the people do not work for the food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life. The people picked up on the word “work” and wondered ‘what must we do to perform the works of God?” As you heard Jesus did not give a list of works to be performed to reserve a place for eternal life or curry divine favor. Instead Jesus put the emphasis on God’s grace, the work of God: “This is the work of God, that you may believe in him whom he has sent.” The healing of the sick, the feeding of the 5000 are signs pointing to the work of God: sending Jesus into the world not to condemn the world but that the world be saved through Jesus. Jesus came to complete the work of God on the cross for when he died he said “It is finished, the work of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It is the work of God to raise Jesus from the dead so we live confident of God’s peace that neither sin nor death can take away. It is the work of God to gather us to Jesus with an active faith living in his love.

In the gospel of John Jesus is telling us not to look up to heaven to find God, but to look down: look to the Savior who has come down from heaven. In the 3rd chapter Jesus told the teacher Nicodemus, “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man,…that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” In today’s reading Jesus said “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.”

Jesus’ original hearers would have thought of the miracle of the manna, the food God provided for Israel as they journeyed to the Promised Land. This bread, new every morning, was provided for Israel throughout their forty year trek. The word ‘manna”, from a Hebrew phrase “what is it?” or “whatchamacallit” was a great gift of God’s provision. But now a greater provision was present. This bread from heaven was not temporary but endures to eternal life. The people reached out to Jesus and said, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus responded with the important gift of himself, for the Son of God who came down from heaven is Bread for the world, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Come to Jesus who replaces the bread of anxious toil with God’s presence and peace. Come to Jesus who replaces the bread that does not satisfy with the love of God that fills the soul with joy and hope. Come to Jesus who is not a figment of the imagination but your friend who will not abandon you. Come to Jesus who is bread that endures, love, forgiveness, salvation that never runs out but is eternal life.

There was an Olympic athlete upon whom there was great expectation to win gold in skate-boarding, but he did not. He said he was sorry if he disappointed anyone, but I am only human.” We can place high expectations on people, high expectations upon ourselves. But what a wonderful thing to say to Jesus as we come to worship: “I am human. I am hungry. I am empty. I am not perfect. I need peace. Jesus does not give us the bread that perishes, but the bread that remains, eternal life, the wonderful assurance of his love and uplifting presence every day.