Today's message is a question: What do you want?
A few years back a regular visitor to our worship services came to me saying, "I did not get it this Sunday like I got it last Sunday. You missed me." Admittedly, my young pastoral naivetÃ© was about to get the best of me. I was about to go there thinking that my preaching was supposed to do it every Sunday for everybody, that I was supposed to somehow hit holy homeruns every time at the lectern. "What do you want?" screamed in my mind and heart for her. "What do you want? Yes, you feasted last Sunday, but will worship always be a banquet meal? Will service always have to serve you and your diet for the deity? What do you want, the meal or the message?"
This text today becomes water in the desert for me. It reminds me that the crowds then are not much different than the crowds now--all wanting more, still thirsty, still hungry. Augustine did say that our souls are restless until they find their rest in God. What a powerful observation. We are a hungry and thirsty people. We hunger to be seen, to be known, to matter, to have meaning and purpose. We are thirsty for recognition and affirmation that we are here. We are thirsty for 15 minutes of fame. John's Gospel tells us that they came looking for Jesus again.
Why did they come? We know that earlier in the chapter Jesus fed 5,000 with 12 baskets of leftovers. Because they sat down to eat what Jesus offered, they were filled with more than enough. Moreover, Jesus reads their motives in verse 26, "Very truly, I tell you, you are coming for me not because you saw signs but because you ate your fill of the loaves." They wanted full stomachs instead of fulfilled lives. They missed out that Jesus provides in times of hunger and thirst, not what he provides but that he provides. They ate the food but missed the meal and the message. A message that still says: "Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." They missed the message that little does become much when given to the Master. A life offered to Christ can feed Gospel to the world. A life offered to Jesus won't be subject to the hunger pains of materialism or the stomach growls of self-indulgence. Jesus offers the alternative to food that's fast. He offers food that lasts.
He tells them and us in verse 27, "Don't sweat yourself with food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you." In other words, the things of this world have a shelf life, but the fruits of the word have eternal life. They last long after the service, after the marriage, after the celebration. This food lasts during the storms of life. This food sustains us from generation to generation. I believe that there is no expiration date on God's "let there be." If we believe in God and that God sent God's Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life, if we believe that, why are we still hungry? What do we really want? What do you want?
I believe this text leaps out to tell us God provides through Jesus not what we want but what we need. We may want to be seen, but we need to know that we are seen. David said in Psalm 139, "O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You discern my thoughts from far away." How's that for being seen? How's that for being known? Who else could handle knowing that much about us and still love us?
There was a young man and his sister who went to visit their grandmother during the summer, and they were playing in the back yard under the watchful eyes of his grandmother, and he was playing with a slingshot and shot his grandmother's only duck. The duck died. His sister noticed, but his grandmother didn't or he thought she didn't. And after that, the grandmother called them in for lunch, and they ate a nice, healthy lunch Grandma fixed; and at the end of lunch his grandmother said to his sister, "Why don't you wash the dishes?" And she said, "Oh, no, my brother will gladly wash the dishes!" And he said, "I didn't say that!" She said, "Don't forget the duck. Don't forget the duck!" And so he went on to wash the dishes. And after washing the dishes, Grandmother said, "Sadie, why don't you sweep up the kitchen?" And Sadie said, "Ohhh, I don't want to do that right now. My brother will be glad to do that, Grandmother." He said, "I didn't say I would do that." She said, "Don't forget the duck!" And, finally, the young fellow had had enough, and he went to Grandma and said, "Grandma, I want to confess something. I shot your duck today with my slingshot, and she has been blackmailing me with this 'don't forget the duck.'" She said, "Baby, Baby, I saw it. I was just wondering how long you were going to allow her to make a fool out of you about the duck."
And so it is with some of us. We allow the past and other things to make us forget that God provides through Jesus when we are in need, not what we want but what we need.
Secondly, the text also tells us that God's promise can sustain us through all times. David again comes to tell us in Psalm 34, "I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth." The people tell Jesus in verse 31, "Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness as it is written." Then 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, for the bread of heaven is that which comes down and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."
Looking out at my backyard during the fall, I noticed the leaves falling while the tree branches remained stretching heavenward--not only did they remain that way after the leaves were gone, but when the snows came and the often brutal winds of Chicago seemed to bend them into submission. But in the spring the trees seemed to speak to me saying, "Notice that we kept our branches lifted towards where our help comes from." To me it seemed that they praised God with or without leaves, as if they knew that keeping their branches up was a means of patient waiting faith, and it was in the spring when the buds appeared on their branches that those trees seemed to say to me, "We told you. We told you that our help comes from above."
So not only does this text tell us that God provides through Jesus not what we want but what we need and that God's promise can sustain us through all times, but, finally, the text tells us God's presence through Jesus allows us room to grow in grace.
A friend of mine called to tell me that she received a letter from one of her junior high teachers. My friend had done reasonably well in corporate America while still being in touch with God. She said the teacher wrote one line that was unforgettable, saying, "Thanks for being such a good student. You made me a good teacher, and for that, I'm thankful." Now it's one thing to write the teacher, but when the teacher writes the student--now that's quite another thing.
Yet God writes us each morning with a sunrise greeting and each evening with a sunset closing. Knowing that makes us teachable students aware of an all-knowing God. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
What do you want?
God, we thank you for your amazing, abundant grace that supplies us in times of need. Help us to know that you are always watching and always providing. Let your word go forth and find fertile souls, listening ears, and hearing hearts. And we'll be careful always to praise you. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, we pray with thanksgiving. Amen.