(John 6:24-35) It’s the Message, Not the Meal, that Counts

“do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life…”

“i am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”   

What powerful messages!

I believe that we are all born into this world with a hunger, a yearning: 

To be fed

To be comforted, held in the arms of one who loves us

I think we also long to be connected, to be one, with each other and with our source.and if we’re aware of our yearning, we spend the rest of our lives trying to find the nourishment, the comforting, and the oneness that lasts and distinguish it from things that may be a temporary “fix,” but aren’t lasting.

That’s not an easy task!

 one of my earliest opportunities to learn that lesson happened when i was 3 years old.

I was in my parents’ bedroom when i saw it, the most beautiful purple container—a deep purple with a curved shape. I dragged a chair over and climbed up to the dresser to get closer.  I saw the purple bottle, picked it up,

And took a deep drink of my mother’s evening in paris perfume.

 trust me, it did not fill me in the way i thought it would.

In fact, i’m still trying to figure out how something that looked and smelled so good could taste so bad!

The gospel passage we just heard speaks to our yearning, to our  hunger and thirst.

It also gives us some clues on how to find the nourishment that doesn’t end.  

The story deepens if we scroll back in the book of john and add a couple of things that happened the day before the part we just read.

On that day, jesus had taken a small amount of fish and bread and fed 5,000 people.

Later that night, he went to join his disciples who were in a boat caught up in stormy weather, and he walks on the water to reach them and reassures them that they are safe. 

In short, jesus has been pretty busy.

And now some of the people who had shared in the fish and bread have been searching for him.  Jesus is aware that they are basically looking for another meal, and he calls them on it. 

He says, you didn’t notice the signs i gave you.

Basically, they missed his message.

 and it’s the message, not the meal, that matters.

Javier, in his own message in the bulletin last sunday, and elizabeth, who preached that day, both suggested that part of what took place in feeding all those people might have been this:  when a boy in the crowd offered up the food he had brought for himself to be shared, then others began to do the same thing.

So, jesus’ message might have been this: 

There is “enough” for all of us, even when we are afraid that things are scarce.  But it only works if we are willing to share enough of what we have with those who have none.  “share what you have.”

And the story about jesus walking on water: i am not a scripture scholar by any means, but what strikes me about that event isn’t how jesus joined his disciples, through a miracle on the water.  It’s what he did—namely, he showed up at a frightening time and said, “i am.  Do not be afraid.”  Do not be afraid. He used that phrase so many times, that i have to think it’s one of his most important messages has for us.

I don’t know about you, but i have to admit that i identify with the folks who were trailing after jesus, those who didn’t take in his  message.

 so often i get my shoe laces tangled up chasing after something that i think will fill me or satisfy me, when i’m actually running in the wrong direction! 

I suspect that i’m not the only one here who struggles with that.

There are lots of things that can derail us, throw us off track so that we miss the things that matter most, things that are lasting.  Those derailers are unique to each of us. 

Believe me, i have many!

Like letting my “to do list” dictate how i should spend my time,   telling me that getting the dishes done beats out taking a walk to look at the sky and appreciate the flowers.  (the fact is that there probably won’t be headlines in the washington post announcing “messy kitchen at barb and kathy’s house”!)

Sometimes i miss what matters because i’m in too much of a hurry to take time to listen to someone.

Or when i keep feeding my anxiety about how something is going to turn out.  You know, i suspect that my family invented the concept of useless, unnecessary worrying.  As if we thought that by worrying hard enough over something, we could keep bad things from happening. 

So, i ask you, and i ask myself: 

What are the things that distract you from “food that lasts?”

What are the things that really matter to you?

What experiences, what people have brought you nourishment that has really stayed with you?

What fills you with light

With awe

With love

With a sense of peace

Wouldn’t it be good if we worked at choosing to be with those things?

 i re-learned 2 things in this past year, that i think we all know.       Kathy and i took many of the things we owned and gave some to family members, but mostly donated them as we got ready to move to a smaller place, a rental apartment.

First, i learned that our “stuff,” much as we may love it, really isn’t that important.  We knew that, but, once we started letting go of it, we realized how attached we can become to some things. 

The second is that what does matter is relationship, not just with family and people we know, but with total strangers.  A part of us hungers for being connected with other people.  Again, i knew that, but i never realized how many opportunities we have to do that with people we don’t know. 

We are living in an apartment building that has wonderful diversity.  And kathy and i have had a lot of special moments of what i would call “elevator connections.”

You never know who you’re going to find in an elevator, or who might get on with you at the next floor.

For instance, there was the “flower guy”

He was holding a huge bouquet of flowers, when we joined him on the elevator, and when we asked him, “who is the lucky person?” 

He said, “my wife,”

We asked “is it a special occasion?”

“no, it’s just that she didn’t feel good at all this morning.”

“boy are you ever good medicine!” We said. 

Weeks later, we got on the elevator, and i heard a male voice say, “i’m the guy with the flowers, and this is my wife.”  We had a conversation about how lucky each of them felt to have the other.  You know, you can get a lot done in an elevator, even if you’re together for just 3 floors!

Young couple

On another occasion, a young couple got on the elevator with us, and kathy (my beloved extrovert) said to the tall young man, “you look like my grandson.” (the grandson is 6’ 3”).   The woman standing next to him turned to kathy and said, “i was on the elevator with you once, and you said i looked like your granddaughter.” We all laughed, including kathy, and i told them, “she carries 9 grandchildren with her in her heart all the time, so she’s seeing people she loves in you!” And you know, i think that’s true!

And every time we have seen that couple, well,  it just feels good. 

The asian woman

Sometimes, you don’t even have to talk:  i was out walking one morning and saw an asian woman doing a walking tai chi with gentle, graceful movements.   She smiled at my frantic anglo power walk and imitated me.   And i followed suit with a fairly pitiful attempt at tai chi.  Neither of us could speak the other’s language, but there was a lot of smiling and laughing.   

Two days later, i saw her again, and, you know, we were both really delighted.   She waved me over, and the next thing i knew, she pulled out her iphone and we were taking selfies!

All of this without a word.  That moment held such a sense of surprising connectedness, that it made my day. 

I haven’t seen her since.  There’s a hampton inn nearby, so maybe she was a tourist here on a brief stay who wanted to get a picture of a crazy american.  But i don’t think so.

I prefer my version of the story, and i’m stickin’ with it, because

I think i have learned that if we really pay attention, we will recognize and appreciate the oneness that we already are with each other.


There is another part today’s gospel that really strikes me.

I have to confess here that, when it comes to the confusing idea of the trinity, i have always been a “holy spirit” kind of gal. 

I have had to struggle to “get jesus.”  In fact, when the people in the methodist church i grew up in asked me if i “got” jesus, i wanted to run as fast as i could in the opposite direction!

So, i was purplexed by part of this passage we heard today:

When the people in the crowd ask him:  how do we do god’s work,

Jesus says “believe in the one he sent” what does that mean?

What does it take to believe in him?

And what does it mean when he says “i am the bread of life.  Come to me, and i will give life to you.”

How do we “come” to him?

I think it means that we don’t only imitate him, by trying to live our lives the way he lived his.

But we take in his message.  We take him in.

To take in his message and absorb it in such a deep way that it becomes more than just words.

Hear some of his messages now:

Share what you have

Love and take care of one another

Don’t be afraid

Know that you are deeply loved

We “consume him” somehow—not literaly, but as a metaphor,

And it changes us.  It becomes part of us.

So, let us feast on his simple, but powerful message,

And we will feel fed, comforted and loved, and connected to each other, to our loving source, and to the rest of creation.

Because i think that’s how jesus gives us life.