Bread of Life #2 of 5: The Work God Wants

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
August 2, 2015
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin

“Bread of Life #2 of 5: The Work God Wants”

John 6:16-29

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Last week, we started a five-week sermon series on the Bread of Life, based on the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John.

In that first sermon, titled “Crusts and Crumbs,” we noticed that John—and only John among all the Gospel writers—tells us two things about the bread on that day when Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes and fed the multitude. John tells us that the bread that Jesus fed the crowd that day was made from what grain? <<barley>> And John alone tells us that it was whose idea to gather up the leftovers (the klasma, the fragments) so all could be saved? <<Jesus>> And what do you think? If Jesus feels that way about common, everyday barley bread, how does he feel about us? … That’s right. It’s good news, any way you slice it. J … It’s the best news since … sliced bread, amen? J Plain, sweet, simple, barley-ish, good news. Jesus loves me, as crusty as I get sometimes. Such a life-changing truth to cling to.

Today we move from “Crusts and Crumbs” to “The Work God Wants.”

What is “The Work God Wants”—t he work God wants us to do? In short, it’s the same simple message we saw over and over in Mark’s Gospel: Do not fear, but have faith. Fear not; only believe. John, though, takes the idea a step further than Mark. John says we don’t have to muster up that faith ourselves. John (here, and later in this chapter; and later Paul, in several of his writings) says that God will give us the faith to believe. And all we have to do is receive it. Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So “the work of God”—the work God wants us to do—is really the work that God wants to do for us. All we have to do is receive it.

And that just bends the 21st-century brain, doesn’t it? I was thinking about this yesterday evening when I attended the Tri-Lakes Relay for Life. Our church’s team did a great job of raising money to fight cancer—$2,370 when I checked online at 7:00 this morning—and I had the honor of presenting the invocation for the opening ceremony—altogether a wonderful opportunity for our church to be out there in the community and become more well-known and trusted.

But when Nathan and I were out there, walking the first lap with the team, it occurred to me that all of the money raised by all of the teams was money that had already been given. It was already a done deal. Yet all those people—200 altogether, maybe—were out there in the crazy windy weather to take turns walking that track for 12 hours. (I didn’t stay that long; I had a sermon to finish writing!)

The money had already been given. So why the walk? Because it’s in our nature: we have to be doing something. It’s difficult for us to just receive! Of course, there are other intrinsic benefits to walking a track all night long—like team building and making memories, and the Simonoff family did a great job of heading all of that up. (Rumor has it that they’re heading up the entire event next year.) But the possibly oversimplified truth is that the gifts had already been given. They just needed to be received. Kind of like faith. Kind of like God’s love.

Our Hymn of Response today expresses this same thought. “Eat this bread, drink this cup. Come to me and never be hungry. Eat this bread, drink this cup, trust in me and you will not thirst.”

The gift has already been given. All we have to do is receive. We receive the bread (a symbol of Jesus’ body), we receive the cup (a symbol of Jesus’ lifeblood)—and we receive the gift of no more hunger, no more thirst. Gift upon gift. Un-worked-for, undeserved. Spiritual food, spiritual drink. Food for eternity. Bread of life.

After Jesus fed the people that day, and later they got into the boats and followed him and his disciples to Capernaum, he chided them. He said, “So you’re hungry already, and looking for another meal, are you? Well, I could give you another meal—more bread from heaven to fill your bellies—that’s really small potatoes for me. You know I was there with the Father when he created the world, don’t you? And I was there when the Father fed your ancestors in the wilderness. But do you remember what happened to the manna if they didn’t eat it right away? That’s right. It spoiled. It was filled with worms. So I have a different kind of ‘bread’ to offer you—bread that doesn’t spoil—eternal bread—bread that feeds your soul. And all you have to do is receive it.”

And they answered pretty much like I’m sure most of us would: “But surely, Lord, there’s something I can do—some way I can earn it—some work you need done around the place. A picture hung, a hinge tightened, a window cleaned. Give me something to do!”

And Jesus replied, “Yes, come to think of it, there is some work for you to do. ‘The work God wants’ is for you to believe—in me, in God’s gift of grace that brings eternal life. That’s all: only believe. In fact, God will help you believe. How does that sound?” (Pretty good, I’d say!)

The bread and wine of Communion that we will receive in a few minutes is the same way. We come forward and freely receive the bread and “wine,” symbols and reminders of Jesus’ gift to us of eternal life. All we have to do is receive. That can be so difficult, can’t it? But Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent. Believe in me! That’s all God asks of you.”

I know—this is starting to sound a little redundant. It’s so simple; there aren’t many ways to say it. And I can think of only two appropriate responses to such a generous offer: Accept the gift, and be grateful.

And there are a million ways to express gratitude. It is, after all, out of gratitude to God for the free gift of salvation that we do the millions of things we do to keep this church afloat. And those things may involve hanging a picture, tightening a hinge, and cleaning a window. It could be … well, it could be any of a number of things that we see people doing around here all the time, out of the goodness of their own hearts, out of gratitude for God’s free gift of love and acceptance and forgiveness and fellowship.

In fact, let’s take a few minutes right now and lift up some of those things. I’ve got the handheld mic here. Stand up or raise your hand, and I’ll bring it to you. Share something you’ve seen someone doing here at Black Forest Community Church—not because they had to, but because they wanted to, out of gratitude for God’s free gift—and feel free to mention their names! … … …

One other way we demonstrate our gratitude is, of course, giving of our finances in the offering. We do this after Communion for that very symbolism. We freely receive, and then, in gratitude, we freely give. You may have noticed in your bulletin that our offerings are nearly $10,000 below what we budgeted for by this time this year. You may be aware that in the last several months, a few people, for various reasons, have chosen to suspend their personal and financial involvement with this church. That is their choice, and we will welcome them back if they choose to return. Or, we wish them all the best as they seek a new church home that better meets their spiritual needs. We pray for them, and we ask God to bless them. What that means, though, is that the rest of us must step up just a little bit more to fill the gap. Out of gratitude for this church—for its past, for its present, and for its future.

When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the gospel, he instructed them, “Freely you have received; now freely give.” And they came back amazed, for through them God had done wonderful things!

Freely we have received, and freely we are about to receive again—the bread of life, the cup of blessing, and the faith to believe it. That’s the work God wants—the work God wants to do in us. And, in response, in gratitude, freely may we give. Amen.