Sermon preached at Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church for the Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time.
The next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the lake realized that only one boat had been there. They knew Jesus hadn’t gone with his disciples, but that the disciples had gone alone. Some boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they had eaten the bread over which the Lord had given thanks.When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”
They asked, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?”
Jesus replied, “This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.”
They asked, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
Jesus told them, “I assure you, it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread from heaven to you, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
They said, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!”
Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
This week we are picking up, more or less, where we left off last week. Jesus has just fed 5000 people with two loaves of bread and five fish, with leftovers to spare. It’s a showstopping number, as miracles go.
And the people want more.
It’s a bit tricky to find Jesus, because his boat is still in the garage, so to speak, but it turns out he’s just walked across the lake, no big deal, and eventually they find him, in Capernaum. They can’t let their living breadmaker get away.
It’s understandable, that the crowd wants more food, wants this miracle man to stay with them and keep doing this same miracle. The Gallilean region under Roman occupation knew scarcity. It knew hunger. And if you can just keep this guy around, then the bread can keep flowing and wouldn’t that just be the most amazing thing ever?
Only Jesus doesn’t want to play ball. He knows what they’re thinking and he’s not impressed. “I assure you,” he says, “that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life.”
Something has caught Jesus’ attention. The bread that he has shared with them, that they loved, that they want more of, that turned a restless crowd into a joyful dinner party—it has made him think of his own mission on earth. To share God’s word with the people, to encourage them to love, to turn strangers into a joyful community. And so he takes this metaphor, of himself as the Bread of Life.
And runs with it. Like, really, really far.
The Bread of Life discourse, as it’s known, lasts nearly 40 verses. Something about this metaphor just works for Jesus, and he really hammers it home.
Jesus is human. He knows that we need food. But Jesus is also human, and so he knows that we need more than food. We need to be full, but we also need to be fulfilled.
Jesus wants to take this crowd to the next level. He wants them to understand that something more is happening here than sideshow miracles. That there is another kind of life for them, full and eternal.
Through the son of man, Jesus says, God will give them life. And then he lets that sink in a bit.
The people’s next question is a powerful one. “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?”
“What must we do?”
In some ways, it’s the obvious question. Almost everything we want in life, we have to do something to achieve. Want good grades? Study. Want a promotion? Put in the hours. Want to master an instrument? Practice.
How do we earn this? The people ask. How do we make ourselves worthy of this life?
In my pastoral care classes in seminary, we often talked about hearing under the question, which is another way of saying that we were taught to listen for the questions that people were too afraid to explicitly ask. And in the crowd’s question I hear another, smaller, more frightened question: Am I enough for you, Jesus?
The crowd does not believe they are enough as they are. Surely they must do something, something extra, something impressive, something that will make them worthy. They must be braver, bolder, more generous, more rigorous, more righteous, holier, heartier. They must be more than they are, for Jesus to want to give them the life they crave.
And it’s funny, in a way, because they didn’t ask this question the day before, when Jesus fed them with real food. They didn’t ask if they were worthy then, if they were good enough to deserve it. Yesterday they were okay with simply receiving a gift, and rejoicing in it. But up the stakes, and suddenly all their anxieties come out to play.
And Jesus does have an answer for them. But it’s maybe not the answer they were hoping for.
Just believe, Jesus says. “Believe in him whom God sent.”
Jesus doesn’t ask them to do. He asks them to be.
Now, I know believe can be a verb, and so can trust, its better meaning from the Greek. But it’s the kind of verb that rooted not in what our hands or feet or mouths do, but in who we are.
Believing taps into who we are as people. It is a capacity we have within us. I can’t teach you to believe, the way I could teach you to read or drive or play tennis. I can only encourage you to find ways to dwell within your own sense of trust. To let go of all your shoulds and your lists and your plans and simply be, be and know God is there. That Christ is there, with you.
Some in the crowd that day probably heard Jesus’ words as a relief. You don’t have to do more, pray more, give more, work more. Just be. Just believe.
But some probably heard it and struggled. What do you mean, just believe? Can’t you give us a list of things to do? Some concrete way of knowing we’ve earned your gift of life?
Some of us are better at being than doing. But some—I expect most—of us are better at doing than being. We want something concrete, something we can check off a list and prove we’re on the right track.
I was on a church website this week that listed five steps to eternal life. And for a second, I wanted so badly to be that kind of Christian. The kind where you do x and you get y and it’s all so clean and simple, like a transaction on a holy ATM. But God didn’t come to us as an ATM. God came as a person, as a human be-ing, to show us that who we could be, in him.
What’s funny, of course, is that as soon as Jesus tells the people that they don’t have to earn God’s gift of life with what they do, their immediate response is to ask Jesus to do something. Another miracle. Something to prove himself to them, so that they can believe. As if having proof wasn’t the very opposite of believing.
Jesus’s response gently redirects them to the idea that it is not what Jesus can do—not even the miracles, as impressive as they are—that makes him worth trusting. It’s who he is. “I am the bread of life,” and he really punches the I AM. In Greek, you don’t need pronouns, there are verb endings that will do that work for you, but Jesus uses them anyway, spelling out for the people how important this is. It’s not about what Jesus can do. It’s about who he is.
And who he is is the bread of heaven, sent down to give life to the people, not because of what they have done or what they can do (because heaven knows they would never deserve it that way), but because of who they are.
God’s beloved. Enough for God, just as they are. Worthy of their daily bread and eternal life, full stop.
Today we blessed our kids’ backpacks, and I think it’s so important that we do that, because school can be a rough place, and it’s so easy for our kids to hear that they’re not good enough, not smart enough, not athletic enough, not pretty enough, not big enough, not cool enough, not likable enough, not talented enough.
And they need to hear the opposite from us. They are enough. They are enough. The way God made them is enough. Right now. Full stop.
Of course we hope they will grow. Of course we hope they will mature. Of course we hope they will study, and practice, and go the extra mile. But none of that will make them more worthy of our love. None of it will make them more worthy of God’s love.
Because they are already worthy.
And sometimes, I think us adults need to hear that too.
Because some of us worry that we are not smart enough, or strong enough, or good enough, or healthy enough, or old enough, or young enough, or knowledgeable enough, or loved enough, or funny enough, or any of the other not enoughs that trample through our brain.
And we need to hear the opposite too. You are enough. You are enough. The way God made you in enough, right now, full stop.
You have everything you need inside you, you who are beautifully and wonderfully made. You have the capacity to trust and believe and house the very spirit of God. You do not have to be somebody else. God made you you for a reason. God fed you with the bread of life for a reason.
And you don’t waste the bread of life on just anybody. That’s the good stuff.
I want you to take a minute, and just take stock of who you are, who God has created you to be. Are you kind? Are you thoughtful? Are you bold? Are you curious?
Take a minute, and think about who you are, right now, today. I’ll watch the clock.
Whatever you thought about, good or bad, I want you to hear: as you are, you are enough.
To God be the glory. Amen.