Text: John 6:24-35
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Aug. 5, 2018
Have you ever decided to go on a diet? What was the result? I have tried enough of them over the years to conclude that they come basically in two sizes: the kind that works and the those that don’t. Diets that don’t work are the ones that promise fast results and take little effort. If you live in the north, you will find a dozen of these in your local book store every spring promising to make you a slim sensation by the time your ready to hit the beach that summer. For those of us living in Naples, we will find them in the fall claiming to help us reach our goal by the time we take our mid-winter cruise. The results, if any, are always temporary and soon you find yourself right back where you started.
Diets that work promise gradual results with considerable commitment over a lifetime. Their premise is not to lose anything. Rather they seek to help you gain good nutrition based on making healthy choices. Their objective is not to change chubby couch potatoes into skinny ones. Instead, they seek to transform unhealthy bodies into healthy ones. And to get there, you must put your good nutrition to work. That means having the discipline to faithfully follow up with an appropriately rigorous program of exercise.
I got to thinking about diets when I read today’s Gospel in preparation for today’s sermon. This is the second of five Sundays when the Gospel is taken from the sixth chapter of John. In each of these readings, Jesus talks a lot about food. Those of you who were here will remember that in last week’s reading Jesus fed the 5,000 in the wilderness. After the meal was over they had seen the disciples get into their boat and head back to Capernaum and Jesus go on up the mountain to pray.
It is now the next day. Some of the crowd had decided to camp for the night and hoped to see Jesus when he came back down the mountain. They obviously missed him when he walked across the lake. When it became clear to them that he was no longer on the mountain they headed around the lake and finally found him back in Capernaum.
They ask Jesus how he got there since he arrived there without any visible means of transportation. Jesus’s answer confuses them still further and our reading is characterized by a series of misunderstandings and misperceptions. If we had been taking our readings this year from John rather than Mark, we would have noticed this is how John often presents our Lord’s interaction with people.
Remember, for example, when Jesus told Nicodemus that “he must be born again,” he asked, “How is this possible, can I enter my mother’s womb a second time?” Or remember the series of exchanges he with the woman at the well when he told her that if she drank from the living water he would give her, she would never be thirsty again.
Rather than attempting to sort out this puzzling dialog we have in the Gospel reading this morning, I have decided to give you my take on what Jesus is telling them.
“Guys and gals let me tell you about the special I am promoting this week. It is ‘The Jesus Diet.’
It is all about healthy choices. It is about making a lifetime commitment that guarantees results. That is become it comes with a personal trainer, namely me. I will be with you every step of the way. I will be there to feed you. I will instruct you. I will get you into shape. I will get you ready for eternity.”
The crowd of course, was looking for another kind of diet. They had just been fed with loaves and fish. They thought they had jumped on the gravy train and they don’t want the party to end. After some probing they put in their order. Give us a sign so that we can believe in you. How about a regular diet of manna raining down from heaven?
Jesus seizes on their opening to explain who He is and why He is here. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” The crowd is disappointed. They realize that Jesus is not promising an endless buffet of material goodies. He is offering himself as the spiritual food that will fill they deepest needs.
In his opening chapter, John tells us that Jesus is the Word made flesh. Now the metaphor used in today’s gospel calls for an ever more intimate relationship with Jesus. Not only are we to follow Him as the Word of God. We are to consume Him as the Bread of Life. He wants to become part of us. He wants to shape us to His purpose. He wants to live in us in all that we do.
He tells us that as the Bread of Life, He is the manifestation of God’s love in human form. He is the vessel of God’s redeeming grace. But he also tells us that we are not separate individuals experiencing something that is strictly private and unique to us.
The Bread of Life is not an individual a la carte offering that we get to pick and choose. It is a common feast that unites us. We are fed and fueled by the same bread, the same faith. That is what makes us the Church. We are not Christians because we call ourselves Christian. We are Christians because we are baptized into grace; nourished and strengthen by His word and sacrament; and fully absorbed in His love. In that context we start each day, we live each day, we end each day.
The Father did not send us Jesus, the Bread of Life, to work wonders, to preach, to teach, to heal, and to die for our sins so that we could become a race of spiritual free-loaders. While it is true that grace is a free gift from God, it is also true that it is unlike any other gift we have ever been given. It is a gift that has a transformational purpose. We are here to do God’s work in the world. We are here to share the Bread of Life with a world that is stuffed with sin and starving for love. It's a tall order. But we have a personal trainer to show us the way.
Stay close to Jesus. He will help you make healthy choices. Keep pace with him in prayer and in reading His word. Workout with him in ministries of worship, outreach and fellowship. Get on the Jesus Diet. It is not about losing. It is about gaining. It is about gaining serenity, purpose and direction in this life. It is about gaining the joy of eternal salvation in the next.