Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 2nd, 2015
“Work that Is Not Work for Bread that Is Not Bread.”
Maybe somewhere in your life you've seen someone who has fallen on hard times, maybe at a busy intersection or by a Walmart parking lot – holding a sign. And scrawled on that cardboard sign with magic marker is the phrase, “Will work for food”. I suppose it's meant to indicate that this person isn't simply looking for a handout. There might be some pride involved, that even though I'm in a tough spot, I'm not looking for something for free. I'll earn my keep. I'll work for my food.
St. Paul told the Thessalonian church that work was important. And that even though they were expecting Christ to return soon, they should still go about their business, and not stop working. “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” 2 Thess. 3:10 Paul upholds the value of work, and would not have able-bodied Christians act like freeloaders, needlessly living off of the kindness of others, when they, too, can do their part. God gives us the ability to work for a reason. And it is good to work for your bread.
But today Jesus says some rather puzzling things about work and food. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” and “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Jesus had just miraculously fed the 5000+ who were attentive to his teaching. And in a day and age when one's next meal was often in question, someone who could provide bread for the crowds would certainly get some attention.
Like a flock of hungry birds, feed them once, and they ravenously follow you for more. But were they hungry for the right things? What should they have been looking for from Jesus? What did he really come to give them?
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you”
So a contrast is set between food that perishes, and food that endures to eternal life.
You and I are not only earthy, physical creatures, but we are too often fixated on the things of this earth. We set our mind on things below, not above. We think we can live by bread alone. We are just like our parents, who found the forbidden fruit enticing, and they ate. So we are drawn to all sorts of fruits of this world. Whether forbidden pleasures of an earthly nature, or permitted daily bread which we then make into an idol. We're not much different than the hungry mob following Jesus all around the sea of Galilee.
Nor are we unlike the grumbling, ungrateful Israelite rabble who griped and groaned about their food in the wilderness. God had miraculously, spectacularly freed them from slavery in Egypt. He performed 10 plagues, each one worse than the last. He parted the Red Sea with perfect timing for their escape. He led them in a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. He couldn't have done more for them. Yet still, they grumbled against Moses, and against God.
“At least in Egypt we had meat to eat!” Pining for the good old days of slavery, and despising the good gifts of God who brought them out of it.
Repentance is in order, friends. Repentance for every ungrateful, unthankful moment in which we take for granted God's gifts of daily bread. Repentance for coveting the daily bread of the next guy, whose bread seems so much fresher, and whose loaf smells so much better. Repentance for misusing and abusing the good gifts he gives us. Repentance for thinking we deserve these things, like God owes us this, and even more! Repentance for thinking we could do better if we were the one sitting up on that throne, that we know better what our needs are – better than even the one who designed and made us and gives us life. The audacity of humans. It's never enough. It's never good enough. Our appetites always grumbling for more and more and better and better.
Jesus sets the crowd straight, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you”
He's urging them toward the Gospel. The food that endures to eternal life. The food that he, himself will give to them. The food that is, in fact, himself – the very Bread of Life as he will reveal shortly.
There's something strange here already, though. He's telling them to work for something that he will give. He's shifting from an earning mentality to a gift mentality. He's moving from the law-minded, earthbound thinking of the typical human experience, where we must work for our bread and nothing comes for free. And he's moving them toward the grace of God, the undeserved, the free gift of bread that he himself will give. But they don't quite see it yet.
They're still stuck on work. “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Don't you get it people? You didn't work all day when he fed you and the 5000. You simply sat and heard his teaching. You were a recipient of the heavenly bread, and then he gave you earthly bread for good measure. You didn't deserve it. You didn't earn it. The disciples wanted to send you away to go buy your own meal. But the giver of all good things gave you good things, and still gives good things to sinners who don't earn them.
Christians, what do you think you must do to be doing the works of God? Do you think you're earning your bread from God by random acts of kindness? Do you suppose you are working for God by serving on church boards and committees? Do you think your money in the plate is the thing? Or that you're actually keeping the 10 commandments, or at least good enough to earn some consideration from the Almighty? Maybe coming to church today is the real sacrifice you think you're making to show God how much you really do deserve the goods... whatever the bread may be.
Jesus turns all this on its head, too. None of that is the work of God. The work of God is this. Believe in him whom he has sent.
And even this, is a gift.
So what we have is work that is not work, for bread that is not bread.
The work of God is simply to trust in Christ who gives salvation freely. And the Bread of Life that he gives, is no mere bread, but his own self, his own body, broken for you on the cross.
The cross. That's where the true work of God was accomplished. There, where Jesus did the only work that ever earned salvation for any sinner. God accepted this work, and showed his seal of approval by raising Jesus from the dead.
Your part, dear Christian, is to believe it. And even this faith itself, he has worked in you, and works to sustain by his Spirit. So you don't even get credit for your own faith as a good work, thanks be to God! It is his work in you. You don't get the pride of saying you'll work for food. He gives it to you for free. He works it in you, by his grace. And he who began a good work in you will one day bring it to completion...
In the meantime, that faith does produce works. This is a great mystery, for when we begin to measure our works they seem to evaporate before us into filthy rags. But faith doesn't look at our works, it looks to Christ, and it looks to the needs of the neighbor. How can I, who have received such good bread, serve my neighbor, and maybe even share my bread? I do it not to earn a thing, for the giver of the Bread of Life feeds me richly and freely.
The Israelites ate manna in the desert. And as miraculous and heavenly a food as it was, they ate it and still died anyway. But here is a bread that one may eat and live forever. Here is a meal that sustains us for eternity. It is the true body and blood of Christ, the holy sacrament of his altar, in which he gives himself for our forgiveness, life and salvation. The work of God is to believe... and to believe his words concerning his provision in this meal. This is my body and blood. Take and eat. Take and drink. And never hunger and thirst again.
We'll spend the next two Sundays in this same chapter, John 6. And we'll continue to hear from the Bread of Life who gave himself and still gives himself for us. Thanks be to God for his provision of bread, rained down from heaven on us, in the person of Jesus Christ, his Son our Lord.
So be about the work of God. That is, receive him. Believe in him. And live. In Jesus' Name. Amen.