Sermon on John 6:26-35 for Palm UMC Dinuba CA by Pastor Michelle Magee
We return today to the story we first talked about 2 Sundays ago, Jesus feeding the multitude from 5 loaves and two fishes offered by a child, in John’s Gospel. As I said before, Jesus goes on to talk about this sign, or miracle that points to who Jesus is, for quite a long time in John chapter 6.
Jesus gave them the bread, but there has been some misunderstanding. The next day the crowd has followed Jesus back across the lake, looking for another handout. A repetition of the miracle.
Concentrating on their empty bellies and looking for the material. They thought it was about bread. Friends, it’s about more than bread.
Jesus giving the bread, and the whole set up of the first part of the story, crossing the water, going up a mountain, Jesus is physically cluing them in to think about Moses… which they do. You remember the story I bet, the Egyptians were slaves and God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and told him to lead the people to freedom, and once they were out of Egypt they were hungry and cried out to Moses and wanted to go back to Egypt so God sent the manna…God got them out of a place of oppression and hopelessness and then gave them strength to keep walking away. and on from there. And in a sense Jesus is doing Moses things, in the whole story of the gospel. Jesus is more than Moses for sure, but he is helping people “get” what a big thing God is doing in their midst with all of these parallels with the Moses story.
But then he brings in this important part – he emphasizes that it was not Moses who gave the bread, but it was God- he also changes the verb tense- no longer just bck then in long ago history, but now, still God gives bread.
But just like that first time, it wasn’t just about the manna. It was about God being in their midst, God acting to free them, God leading them, God wanting a relationship with them and God wanting them to have true, free, life.
So now, people are back, Asking for the miracle without understanding what’s going on. So I see Jesus trying to explain, this too is about an upheaval, a change in your life, a breaking in of God in your midst,
This is liberation too- not just a free meal. This is a movement, this is life-changing- this is God acting on your behalf.
Are you in?
Then in case there’s any doubt, Jesus says I AM- name of God from same Moses story, remember, from the burning bush…
I AM bread = but not the bread that comes like a handout that keeps you dependent, I am bread that satisfies because it means God is here with you.
What does it mean for Jesus to be manna?
So I talked, two weeks ago, about how, Yes God provides.
But not just to fill our tummies make us happy
God provides, as part of a way to know God, and As a tool to carry out a larger mission, just like in Exodus… Liberation from powers that destroy, from oppression, evil, everything that God despises, and leading towards real, free, life.
And in all that, God provides for those deeper hungers, for spiritual connection and purpose – as Jesus will say later in John’s gospel, Life in Abundance.
But we all have those spiritual hungers, those longings for God. I was a pastor on the south side of Los Angeles for a time, and while I was there we began a ministry of providing a free outside lunch once a week to whomever would want it. And this was really good food, cooked by Donia Emilia. Now I want to tell you the story of how Donia Emilia came to be a Lutheran. It wasn’t because of me. But another Lutheran church had a food pantry ministry, provided by the LA Food Bank and one of the volunteers there, is now a Pastor, Pastora Marta, well Marta as she was in that moment saw Emilia walking by and motioned her over- she said here, have some- Emilia protested that she didn’t need to ask for food but Marta insisted there was plenty and why didn’t she have some.
Then Marta went to visit Emilia at her home, and they would visit for an hour or so, that happened a few times. Now Emilia was originally from northern Mexico, and she was of the Roman Catholic faith and very much a believer in God. And in their conversations it came out that Emilia was divorced, and Marta knew that meant that she couldn’t take communion anymore. So she told Emilia, you know we believe in God over here too, the same Father Son and Holy Spirit, but the pastors can get married and have families, and people who get divorced are welcome at the communion table, and there’s a few other differences too… But to be able to participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion, well that was very appealing. So Emilia eventually gave the Lutheran church a try, and soon she was a force in ministry. Emilia loved to cook, and she cooked as her ministry. She would do a burrito ministry, make delicious burritos at home of meat and beans and rice, and go and hand them out with a bottle of water, to the day laborers who usually would be standing around Home Depot looking for work. All of that was before I ever met her.
So when I met Emilia, she had come with Pastora Marta because I was asking for help in my ministry and I needed some helpers. So Emilia put in the time and love for making Tuesday meals for the ministry for over a year with me. And the food was so good. I know you all love Martha’s restaurant, I’ve gotten to visit Martha’s in Orosi twice and Me and Martha’s here once, and I agree it is very good. But Emilia’s cooking is just as good, I swear to you and she would make something different every single time. She could make homemade in bulk. I don’t know how. She cooked for around 50-70 people a week, as a volunteer. The church reimbursed her for the ingredients but she did the shopping and the prepping and the cooking and then drove it over.
So I thought about Emilia also in conjunction to my sermon to you from last week- being ready to receive the gifts of the people around us.
But. The point of this story is not who makes the best beans. It is that after we started the lunch ministry and people started coming, I started having a Bible study right there at the tables on the sidewalk. And sometimes some of these ex- gang guys would come and they could tell really great stories, because they had been very low, and they knew it was God who rescued them. And some of those people started to say, yes the food is good, but I’m not coming for the food anymore, I’m coming for the spiritual nourishment. And that made Emilia really happy, because even though she loved to have people compliment her cooking, she loved God more. The way people were fed, yes their bellies, but also their souls, was what filled Emilia up and kept her cooking every week.
We as humans have needs, we have hungers. We have a hunger for food and thirst for water, but then we have other needs too- we have a need for human connection, we have a need for love, we have a need to know God is real. It’s about more than just bread.
We have a council meeting today, my first one with you. What I know about the business is that there’s a little bit of stress about money troubles. I like being financially responsible, doing our best to be good stewards of what God has given us. I want to understand the finances and work with the budget team that I understand will be coming together.
But what is important for me today is talking about how we will focus on our spiritual growth.
Bread can sometimes represent the material side of things, yes even finances. The material and the spiritual resources are both necessary. But I want to make sure that we have our priorities straight.
Money is necessary for a church’s ministry. But sometimes we can get it backwards, and worry a lot about the money, and forget about the ministry. Or even see people as a commodity that we need to attract, so we can keep the church going. Which is the chicken and which is the egg? Are we here for the sake of church, or is the church for the people?
What are we doing here? Why are we here? What is God doing in our midst?
Those are the questions I think Jesus was trying to get the crowds to ask. So they could see, is God who gave the manna, it is God who sent me (Jesus) –I AM- so catch on to what God is doing, right here with you. Freeing you from shackles, helping you see your purpose, helping you be in community with one another! Feeding you with bread, providing for you but also the true bread that satisfies those spiritual needs. To give you strength for the journey toward the true, free life, life in abundance, that God has for us.
It is sharing with one another, and others beyond, that fills us up.
So it’s not anything from out of this world that I have to bring up today, but one thing that I’m going to let you all know that I’m going to be focusing on, is building up our small groups, and encouraging all of them to that follow Wesley’s pattern, of yes studying Scirpture, yes praying together, but also asking one another, how is it with your soul? What is God doing in your life?
And in the small groups wonder, who else could we share with? Because I really believe that is a powerful way that we experience God, when we share like that with our brothers and sisters.
Because it is in the giving away that we receive. I know that that isn’t in this passage- but Jesus talks about God giving true bread, Jesus, and not being hungry. It’s the new life that we find when we give ourselves away, the true spiritual treasure that involves the human connection, the love, the creative sharing of ourselves with others, that makes it so we don’t hunger or thirst- but know that God is indeed with us. Yes Jesus is bread, but he’s so much more!