Seeking Fulfillment

John 6:24-35

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

Where do you seek Jesus?

Perhaps your faith is utilitarian.

A few weeks ago I mentioned a friend of mine who serves as a sort of missionary in Mexico: a consultant mainly to rural pastors and their congregations.  He tells of a curious problem confronting many of these rural pastors; a problem posed by—of all places—Muslim mosques.

Money is scarce in rural Mexico, as you know.  But kids there like gadgets just as much as kids here do.  And there’s also Wal-Mart.  So, the mosques know all this, and they put this all together; and since they can afford it they buy lots of kids’ bicycles from Wal-Mart.  And then they advertise: Come to our mosque and we’ll give your kid a bicycle.

And you know what?  It’s working.  Families are coming to mosques in remarkable numbers.  And they’re not filling the pews of the local churches; leaving the rural pastors to ask my missionary friend, “What’s to be done?”

Now, my point for today is that this is a picture of a very utilitarian approach to faith.  Whether you attend a mosque, a synagogue, a church, or any other house of worship, is your main question, “What’s in it for me?”

Where do you seek Jesus?

Perhaps yours is an expedient faith.

To illustrate what I mean by an expedient faith, recall with me the toppling of the Iron Curtain; or, more specifically, the events leading up to the toppling of the Wall.  Christian churches in the Eastern Block were growing in courage, speaking out against the evils of the Marxist regime that had reigned over them far too long.  And, like a wave, the Christian voice grew and gained momentum until finally it crested and whole nations suddenly found themselves free.

Why was the Christian voice able to strengthen at this time?  In large part because of the sheer numbers of people who flocked to churches—in order to be a part of this political movement!  By and large, these people saw an opportunity for political liberation through the church—theirs was a politically expedient faith—as evidenced by the large numbers of people who left these churches shortly after the Wall fell.

Where do you seek Jesus?

Perhaps, like the people of today’s Gospel, yours is a faith that looks for signs and wonders.

This is the approach of the so-called Pentecostal and Charismatic churches.  The message is, if only you have enough faith Jesus will heal you, or grant you special gifts of the Spirit—the ability to heal or speak in tongues, for example.  The so-called Prosperity Gospel is rooted here too: If only you have enough faith, it promises, God will bless you with wealth.

But did you catch Jesus’ response to the crowd in today’s Gospel?  “Show us another sign!” they beckoned; to which Jesus said, “I am the only sign you need; I am the bread of heaven.”  You see, signs and wonders are like the bread we eat.  They fill us, but only for a little while; they don’t fulfill us always.  Only bread from heaven can do that.

Where do you seek Jesus?

Or—one more—perhaps yours is an intellectual faith.

Jesus wants us to love him with our heart, soul, strength, and MIND!  So, the intellectual person reasons, I must know all the ins and outs of doctrine; I must understand God; I must wrestle mentally until I am sure and certain of my faith.  And then I must argue with anyone who disagrees.

Or, if this person can’t come to a mental comprehension of God, he or she claims Atheism as the only reasonable belief system.

Where do you seek Jesus?

Now, with this question in mind, let’s look at today’s passage.

A first observation: the crowd, and arguably the disciples too, seeks Jesus in each of these ways:

  • In utility—they want more food;
  • In political expedience—elsewhere in John the crowd tries to make Jesus king, or political savior; an attempt which he rejects;
  • In signs and wonders—they ask Jesus for another miraculous feeding;
  • And in intellectual logic—they are realizing he’s not what they thought; so who, or what, is he?

But—a second observation—the very beginning of today’s passage betrays the crowd: Jesus was not found where they were seeking him.  They were looking for him where he had fed the five thousand.  But he and his disciples weren’t there, so they got in boats and went looking for him.  In other words, they were seeking Jesus in the wrong places.

So—a third observation—when they do find him, they ask a question with a characteristically Johannine double-meaning: “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

  • On a smaller, more immediate scale, this question betrays that Jesus was there in their midst all along, able to be found easily—if only they would look in the right places;
  • And on a larger, more cosmic scale, it betrays that the Incarnation has been in their midst for an unknown time and only now are they beginning to realize it.

So let’s return to our question: where do you seek Jesus? But let’s change it up a bit.  Instead of asking do, let’s ask should: Where should you seek Jesus?

You see, we’re a lot like the crowd.  We seek Jesus in the wrong places.  Yet all along he is right here in our midst.  But where?

Well, I just gave the answer: in our midst!

He’s here:

  • In the breaking of the bread;
  • In the Word read and preached;
  • And in prayer.

But he’s also right in the midst of our daily lives:

  • In loving and serving others, especially those with whom we interact most closely;
  • In the “aha! moments” of our children and grandchildren;
  • In the movies we watch, the books we read, and the music we listen to;
  • In the stories we tell each other around the dinner table;
  • In the very foods we eat, given to us by Christ himself.

The Incarnation, the bread of life, is always around us and before us.

Are we missing what’s right under our noses, distracted by our felt needs for utility, expediency, signs and wonders, and intellect?

We don’t have to comprehend everything.

This same Gospel, John, tells us that in the beginning was the Word, the full revelation of God.

Yet throughout this Gospel, Jesus, the full revelation of God, is difficult to understand.  Even the disciples are often left scratching their heads!

Far be it from me, then, to say this Gospel’s easy, that all your answers are to be found in three easy steps!

Rather, we don’t have to comprehend everything about Jesus.  Savoring the bread of life, throughout our lives, is a time-consuming process!

So—fine and well!—we seek him.

But let’s not seek him on our terms.  Instead, seek Jesus, the bread of life, on his terms: where he wills to be found.

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