Our Gospel lesson this morning picks up right where we left off last week.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” But when the religious leaders heard Jesus say these words, they complained, not about the words, but because it was Jesus saying them. “Is this not Jesus, Joseph’s son, whose parents we know? How can he say he came down from heaven?”
Jesus responded: “It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.” Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’
I think a key point in these words is “It is written in the prophets”. There are a lot of people outside these four walls who do not know Jesus. Some have heard of Jesus but organized religion has soured their perception of the Lord. Some have been rejected by the Church or have friends who have been rejected by the Church. Some read what others say in unreliable sources, perhaps on the internet, reading not facts, but someone’s opinion and making their decisions based on those opinions instead of finding out the truth.
Some have grown up in the Church and have been taught all the do’s and don’ts, but never learned the Gospel, the good news of Jesus’ love for them. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
We know that Jesus loves us, we know that Jesus willingly gave his life for us and for humankind, that we humans could be set free from our sins, so they no longer control our lives, that we can be forgiven and be in relationship with God, who is love.
It is written in the prophets. But who is going to tell them? Who is going to tell those outside the Church walls about how God loves them so much, that he sent God’s own Son to come and be one of us, a human being? Who is going to tell them how Jesus was born and what the real meaning of Christmas is? Who is going to tell them about Jesus’ ministry, about how he called twelve ordinary people to spread the good news throughout the world? Who is going to tell them about how Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples, how he was arrested, how he was crucified, and how he was raised from the dead and what Easter really means? Who is going to tell them how much Jesus loves them? Who is going to tell them that their sins can be forgiven or about how people in a faith community can become lifelong friends or perhaps, more like an extended family?
There is really only one place people will hear these things, and that is Church. Even with most denominations losing members, being broken, divided, and filled with unending squabbles, the Church remains the place where the Gospel is taught, where God’s Word is proclaimed, and where people do their best to live their lives following Jesus.
Jesus chose twelve people to help him. They spent three years with Jesus, learning from him, seeing him perform miracles, praying with him, and ultimately witnessing his death and resurrection. Those twelve disciples went throughout the countryside telling those who would listen about Jesus and how Jesus died for us, to free us from sin, to reconcile us with God and allow us to be in relation with God and experience God’s love.
That calling to tell others about the Gospel has been passed down through the generations to every Christian since, including us. The problem is and always has been, how do we get the message of God’s love to those who don’t come to Church? I recently read an interesting story that may help illuminate this. The story was written by Heidi Husted Armstrong, who is an Interim Pastor in the Pacific Northwest. She wrote an article about a boat she and her husband purchased. She said one of the earliest symbols for the Church was a picture of a hull of a boat with a cross for the mast.
Centuries later the part of the sanctuary where people sit was named the “nave” which comes from the Latin word “navis” which means ship. Many Churches are built so the ceiling resembles an upside down hull of a ship. Take a look up, it’s easy to imagine you’re looking into the hull of a ship with the exposed bracing.
The Church has been compared to a boat, a very special boat, Noah’s Ark, because, as theologian Frederick Buechner pointed out, both have “just about everything imaginable on board, the clean and the unclean, resulting in messes everywhere. But even at its worst, there is one thing that makes it bearable within, and that is the storm without.” Just as the Ark provided shelter against the storm, the Church often provides shelter against life’s storms.
In our Scripture readings the past couple of weeks, the boat has been more than just a mode of transportation for Jesus and his disciples. It has also been a metaphor for their community of faith. When the disciples get in the boat they find it a place where they are tested and afraid, and a place of safety and protection from storms. It is a place where the disciples faith is built and they are challenged to trust Jesus, although most of the time they continue to not understand him.
The Gospel also shows us that Jesus is larger than the faith community. When Jesus is in the boat, they head for the other side. He sets out towards the less familiar places, he crosses boundaries and takes his disciples outside of their comfort zones. The boat is a means to a greater end, Jesus’ ministry. Jesus intends for the faith community, represented by the boat to get somewhere, to do something, to search for opportunities to respond to the needs of others, and to get out of the boat.
Perhaps this is the model Jesus intends for his disciples to follow, even in this present day. We are called to share the good news of God’s love when we leave these four walls. We are that faith community, represented by the boat. We are called to get somewhere, to do something, to search for opportunities to respond to the needs of others, and to get out of the boat. We are called to be a means to a greater end, to spread the knowledge God has given us about the love of Jesus to others.
Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
What an incredible promise, and what a joy it would be for those struggling with life issues to know this. It is not necessarily a promise to take literally, for even people who come to Jesus, who follow Jesus, still need food and drink to sustain their physical bodies. But their spiritual hunger and thirst become fully satisfied by Jesus. Their search for meaning in their lives becomes complete. Their sense of hope is renewed. They know they are loved, in a way that far exceeds any love another person could give them, for they are loved by God, with God’s love, agape love. They are renewed, their old life dies and they begin a new life, a life with and in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It is written in the Prophets.
But, who’s going to tell them?
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