In this passage we see the crowds are trying SO HARD to get everything right. When did you come here, Jesus? What must we do to do what you do? What are the signs? How will we know? They want to get it all right. They want to know who Jesus is, where he’s been, what the right way is to do things. The crowds are people with lots of questions, who really, really, really want to do a good job.
But Jesus is tricky. He doesn’t provide checklists to the overachieving crowds; he invites them on a journey, he calls them to trust. As John’s Gospel begins the Word becomes flesh, disciples called, Jesus turns water to wine at a wedding, the first of seven signs. The Temple is cleansed, Jesus heals a royal official’s son (sign 2), and heals a paralytic (sign 3). After a longer teaching section, John writes in 6:1, Jesus went over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. WE, John’s readers, have been a part of the journey on the sea overnight – that happens between Jesus feeding the 5000 that Betty preached on last week and Jesus walking on water with the disciples right after. In verse 24 – really 22 – the scene shifts back to the crowds, back on the other side of the sea, who have gone to sleep and don’t know the water-walking happened. They just know that the guy who fed them yesterday is gone. As they rub the sleep from their eyes, they get in the boat to figure it out, and when they find him they ask what he is doing. Jesus is wary: you’re here because your stomach’s growling. You didn’t understand what these signs were for. He steps back to make the point: “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.”
But instead of breathing in that good news, the questions keep coming. This is what thoughtful people do. They go, “Thank you for that, Jesus, but I have other questions. How does all this work? When? What must I do? Most importantly, how will I know when I’ve gotten it right?
“It is the bread,” Jesus says. “Not the bread you ate yesterday, but the bread of life, which comes from God.” And again, because the answer isn’t concrete and measurable enough – you can feel their anxiety – Sir, give us this bread always. Now, would be great. Give us what we need and we’ll stick it in our pocket and go back to being productive. Jesus, in his own, unique, wonderful, and slightly infuriating way, says. It’s me. I am the bread of life. Come to me. Lean in. Trust and you’ll never be hungry again.
Jesus’ answer is not entirely satisfying. In my more honest moments – and I wonder if you might share this – I realize that my trouble with Jesus’ answer might be more about me than about Jesus. I recognize, and I’m sure projecting here, I recognize a lot of Presbyterians in the crowd that day, or at least in their questions. Most Presbyterians I know, and maybe a few of you, pride yourselves in having the right answer. You’ve made a good career of it. A good many folks I know, and maybe folks you know, are people who have worked the work, made project plans and spreadsheet-ed and power-pointed their way to worldly success. We deal in our intellect. We deal in our competence. We deal in being thoughtful and deliberate and figuring out how stuff works. We are the people who solve the problems. That’s who we are as a church, too. We handle things, wrangle the schedule into place, like ‘ole Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” We kid, but not really. There are resumes and college applications to polish.
People like this also, in times of anxiety or stress or strain tend to be even more themselves. If we try to function at a high level on a good day, when things get tough we do even more! I’ve been holding my anxiety by planning the heck out of things, as it was clear these departures were settling into the same time frame, with campaign moving and construction projects. I have functioned and drawn some of you into that functioning, and we have made transition plans and others have picking up the ball on CE and on youth and will on congregational care and others have worked on worship and planned the new carpet and coordinated with the painters and cleaners and dozens of other people. So many of you have pitched, more of you will, I am confident of it. That is a gift. And I am so grateful. We’re going to wrestle all this into place and handle it all. That’s what competent folks like us do, right?
YET. A little space – I was on vacation for two weeks, and had the joy of being with our youth around Durham these past three days. There’s not much like focused time with young people doing work that matters to help you feel just a little better about things. I had just a little time to reflect and be reminded of what was in my heart, but I had forgotten in all of the functioning. Maybe you forget sometimes in our work and busyness and scheduling, in our achievement and planning, in all of the things we’ll surely do quite successfully. In our lives. In our careers. With our families. In a world that feels pretty out of control at the moment. That all of this, ultimately, is not our work. It’s not mine. It’s not the sessions’. It’s only slightly ours as a congregation. In it all we MUST look to Jesus, offering every bit of this work and our lives to Jesus. “I am the bread of life,” he says. That’s how you get fed, he says. Bring it to me. Reminding us that on our best days it’s only in part because we made some good choices. And on our worst it is not all on us. In our questions, in our planning, in our wanting to do all the things, and do them extraordinarily well, we must look to Christ, listen to him, breathe, breathe, breathe, and trust. Please, Jesus, make it yours. When it is great and when it is barely mediocre, make it matter. Even more, make it yours.
We’ll come to the table here in a moment – we’ll do it a touch differently coming up your aisles, and we’ll figure it out as we wind our way up. But as you do so I want you to think about all of the stuff that perishes, all of the things we try and do, the people we try and be, all of the striving, the exhausting striving. When we act like the crowds with so many questions, even when we’re sure they are pretty good questions. Jesus says, you are enough. You are loved. And Jesus calls us to lean in, and to try. Follow me, He says. Figure out what you need to figure out, but then, hand it all to me, and let me handle it from there. Every bit of it. And here in a minute, we’ll come to the table that consists of regular, plain old bread. It’s not much, really. But I promise you that it will also fill you, fill us, with everything we need. May it be so. May it be so. Amen.