(Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15, Psalm 78: 23-29, Ephesians 4:1-16)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/TYkwLuyerhI)
24So 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. 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus 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. 27Do 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.”
28Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35Jesus 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, if anything, lasts forever? Ask yourself that question: is there anything that lasts forever? We know that everything in the natural world has a life span. All living things are born and eventually die. But what about nonliving things like rocks or ideas, can they last forever? Perhaps if left alone they might last a long time. But our world doesn’t allow for nonliving things to exist in bubbles. No, nonliving things are constantly being bombarded by living things. They’re constantly being forced to change and adapt to meet the demands of living things. Even nonliving things change over time and eventually “die off.” What about dynamic yet nonliving things like love and hope—do they last forever? Again, even love and hope are at the mercy of living beings. They, too, change along with life cycles of living things. Hope and love last as long as living things exist. So is there anything the lasts forever?
After pondering the question for a while myself, I decided to pose the question to the Great Mind that is “Google.” For those of us who are unfamiliar with what “Google” is, it is a popular, powerful search engine for the internet. You simply type questions into it and it will search its database of millions of articles to provide relevant answers. You ask and Google will answer or at least try to answer. So I thought I’d stump the Great Mind by asking it this difficult question: is there anything that lasts forever, Google? Not surprisingly, Google didn’t have much of an answer. It did, however, point me to some interesting discussions that people have had over the question. And yes, I found several pretty clever answers, perhaps some that you didn’t think of. On the website, www.quora.com, one person wrote, “the soul lasts forever. It is not slain. So in spite of running behind transient pleasures you must spend some time with yourself. Love yourself, pamper yourself, get to know more about yourself, make your soul happy! It’s as simple as that!” Another person wrote, “silence: although it seems quite boring initially, you would be surprised by its power when you go deeper into it.” Another wrote, “good deeds done to make someone happy or help others last forever.” Finally, someone wrote “plastic bags are forever…because diamonds are too mainstream!” Makes you wonder why we haven’t started giving more plastic rings over the last 50 years!
Nonetheless, pondering the question could result in an infinite number of possible answers. But the problem with pondering things like “eternity” and “forever” is that there’s no way of coming up with a definitive answer. Unfortunately, we are limited as finite, living beings. We can’t prove forever or eternity because we don’t live forever. We don’t live long enough to prove that good deeds or plastic bags live forever. We can’t prove that our souls last forever. We like to believe they do but where’s the proof? Where’s the tangible proof that our souls will last forever? Is there anything that truly lasts forever and how can we know?
Please hold that question in thought as we explore the readings assigned for this week. Last week, we began a 5-week reflection on the wisdom found in the gospel John’s 6th chapter. The chapter kicks off with the miracle of Jesus feeding 5000+ people with a mere 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. We reflected on how the miracle relied on the generosity of so many people and on God’s abundant grace and mercy. The people were fed and they were fed abundantly. God blesses us with more than enough to meet our needs. God is a God of abundance, not scarcity. Once they were fed from such abundance, the people tried to capture Jesus and make him their king. If they could only make him their king then they could expect and demand him to regularly provide for their needs. And though Jesus eagerly gives to those in need, he doesn’t do well with demands and expectations. God doesn’t answer demands…God sometimes answers pleas and even then we don’t know why. Indeed, God’s ways are not our ways! But that doesn’t mean we, like the crowd of people, don’t try and figure them out and put God in a box.
Jesus escapes the crowd and goes back up into the mountains. The disciples got in their boats and headed back across the Sea of Galilee where they have an encounter with Jesus walking on the water towards them. Meanwhile, the crowd left behind notices Jesus and the disciples are nowhere to be found. In our reading for today, we hear the crowd crossed the sea looking for Jesus and the disciples themselves. When they found Jesus, they again began questioning him: “Rabbi, when did you come here?” and “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus responds, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” This is all Jesus asks of us: to believe in him; to place our faith and trust in him. This is all we need to do. The crowd of people then claim the manna that God provided to the Israelites was the result of Moses’ plea and their complaints. They cried, “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus clarifies that it was God who gave the bread, not Moses. God’s abundant grace and mercy is what provided the manna, not Moses or the cries of the Israelites. It is God who provides and only God knows why and how and to whom He provides. Both our passage from Exodus and our psalm testify to the great and mighty providence of God.
Nestled in this encounter between Jesus and the crowd, we also heard that it is not only God who provides the true bread of life but that it is a non-perishing food. Jesus warned, “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.” God provides a food that is unlike any other food. Sure, there are meals packaged for astronauts and military personnel that have an extraordinarily long shelf life. But even they have an expiration date. Like the temporal, limited bodies they are meant to feed, all food lasts only so long. The foods of this world don’t last forever. But God’s food is not of this world. God’s food does last forever! And this is a good thing because it feeds not only our limited, temporal bodies but also our unlimited, non-temporal souls. God’s food feeds the part of our existence that lives outside of time, the part that does live forever, as that one writer suggested earlier. How do we know our souls live forever? Because Scripture tells us so. Paul tells us this in his letter to the Corinthians: “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”
Jesus told us, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” This is the food that our souls need to survive. We need to be affirmed that belief in Jesus is all we need for eternal life. Scripture helps us come to believe and, like our souls, it too has eternal life. Scripture, as the living, mighty Word of God, also lasts forever. The Word of God is both living and non-living. The Word of God is both within time and outside of time. The Word of God both changes and adapts yet isn’t affected by outside forces. The Word of God is eternal. Jesus is the Word of God. We heard Jesus boldly proclaim in our passage from John, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
In the weeks ahead, we will explore the different aspects of Jesus’ “bread of life.” This week we have focused on its imperishability. It is hard to come up with things, either living or nonliving, that last forever. Everything has a shelf life. Everything except Jesus’ words of life, his “bread of life.” Jesus’ words feed both our bodies and our souls. His words have rung true for nearly two thousand years and will ring true for thousands of years to come. Let us rejoice and be glad that, though our bodies and our foods may die off, Jesus graciously feeds us…the food that lasts.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.