John 6: 24 – 35   What Are We Looking For? preached August 1, 2021


What Are We Looking For?

John 6: 24 – 35


(preached August 1, 2021)


As followers of Jesus, you and I know that we can turn to him in prayer at any time.  But here’s a question: when we turn to Jesus in prayer, what are we looking for?  A little girl asked a question like that one day when she attended a wedding with her grandmother.  She was just five years old and it was her very first time in a church service.  At one point in the ceremony, the minister said, “Let us pray.”  All the people bowed their heads in prayer.  The little girl looked around.  She saw all the heads bowed and eyes turned toward the floor.  She turned to her grandmother and whispered, “Grammie, what are they all looking for?”


The people in our our gospel passage for today, from the gospel of John, are also looking for something.  They have followed Jesus from across the Sea of Galilee, to the town of Capernaum.  They’ve followed because they know he is a worker of miracles.  Fresh in their minds is the miracle of the day before, where Jesus took some bread and fish and in some marvelous, mysterious way, multiplied them.  In his hands that bread and fish were enough to feed everyone, about five thousand people.


Jesus knows why they have followed him.  As he tells them, they’ve followed him because they had a good meal, and now they want more.  He says, “You’ve come looking for me, not because you saw God at work in me, but because I fed you, filled your stomachs…”  They were looking for him because he had given them food.  But Jesus tells them that the food he offers is not just food for their bodies.  He says, “Don’t waste your time looking for food that perishes.  Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes you for eternal life” (Eugene Peterson translation).


What are you and I looking for, when we come looking for Jesus? I think that sometimes, like the people in that crowd, we come looking for Jesus for the wrong reasons.  We come looking for a miracle, something like five thousand hungry people fed by a couple of fish and some bread.  We come looking for a miracle that will meet our needs. We come looking for Jesus to meet our needs as we define them.  But when we do that, we miss out on something even more wonderful.


In his book, John for Everyone, Tom Wright tells about an art historian who was in a big hurry to finish his PhD.  He had one chapter to go.  It was about the style of painting that had been very important during the period he was studying, and the influence the artists had on the culture of the time.  The historian rushed from gallery to gallery.  In every room, he walked from painting to painting, scribbling in his notebook, taking down all the details from the printed notes beneath each one.


He wrote down lots of information: the artists’ names, their dates, where they lived, the names of their important paintings, and so on.  As soon as he finished in one room he hurried to the next.  At no time, in any of the galleries, did he take a minute to stand back and look at the paintings themselves.  He never took the time to look long enough to see their true beauty.


Jesus sees something similar happening with the people in the crowd that day.  The people he has fed with loaves and fishes might end up like that unfortunate historian.  The man finished his PhD, but he missed a deeper enjoyment.  The printed notes he so carefully copied were never intended to be simply processed mentally as information.  They were intended to lead the eye, mind, and heart deeper into the beauty of the artist’s work.  In the same way, Jesus intended the miracle of the loaves and fishes to lead the people to the true gift of life in God, what Jesus calls eternal life: the life they can find in him.  But the people don’t get it.  Instead of eternal life, they’re thinking about their next meal.


He tells them, “Don’t work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” So they ask, “Well, what can we do then, to get in on that eternal life?” They remind him about the manna that Moses gave their ancestors in the wilderness.  They say, “Moses fed our forbears with bread in the desert.”  But Jesus replies, “Yes, Moses did give you bread from heaven, but look at what’s happening right here, right now!  Something much more wonderful is happening here and now!”  God is giving you real bread.  The wonderful bread that is life in God, eternal life, is here right now.


Sometimes, when you and I turn to Jesus, we’re like those people who came to him by the sea that day.  We want him to meet our needs as we define them.  But the trouble is, as long as we keep looking to him to meet our needs as we define them – to give us what we think we need – we miss out on something even better: the life in God that he can give us, what he calls eternal life.  If we look to him only to, so to speak, fill our stomachs, we’ll keep getting hungry again, keep coming back, hoping he will give us the help we think we need.  We’ll miss out on the amazing reality that he brings, the amazing reality he shared with the crowd that day: that he is the bread of life; in other words, that he is the one who brings to the world life in God.


Life in God is life where crippled limbs can walk, blind eyes can see, broken spirits are made whole again.  When we have life in God, even death is nothing to fear.  Life in God is bread that really satisfies, and satisfies deep down inside; not just till we get hungry again, but for all time.  When we are ready to receive it, life in God, what Jesus calls eternal life, begins right now.


So often you and I are looking for Jesus to fix something in our lives, to give us what we think we need.  We miss out on the delicious, deeply satisfying bread of life he comes to offer.  We miss the amazing reality that waits for us when we receive the food that really satisfies, the life in God that has come in him.  That life in God, eternal life, can begin right now, as soon as we’re ready to receive it.

Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost 10