Q & A with Jesus PDF Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 05 August 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — August 5, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Texts:  John 6:22-35

“What do we do than to get in on God’s works?” — John 6:28 [The Message]

I love questions.  In my all-time favorite Peanuts cartoon, Peppermint Patty says, “The way I see it there seem to be more questions than there are answers… So try to be the one who asks the questions.”  We here at Indianola value questions, hence our “tag line” where we call ourselves “a community of inquiry, prayer, and action”—with “inquiry” listed first.  But one thing about questions is that they can have so many levels, and we’re not always aware of them.  So sometimes we end up asking deeper questions than we thought.  It’s like the little boy who asked his dad where he came from.  Then in the middle of his dad’s long response about the “birds and the bees” he says, “No, Dad.  Jimmy’s dad told him he came from Cleveland.  Where do I come from?”

This morning’s reading starts immediately after John’s stories of the feeding of the 5000 and then Jesus walking on the water.  And it’s full of people in the crowd asking questions.  Of course they do have a lot to be puzzled about.    They were left behind when Jesus went up the mountain to be by himself and the disciples got into a boat to head across the Sea of Galilee.  The next morning the crowd wakes up hungry and goes looking for Jesus.  Eventually they cross the sea themselves, and, lo and behold, there he is.  But wait, he wasn’t in the boat.  So here comes the first question as someone in the crowd waves her hand to get Jesus’ attention and asks, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 

It’s a straightforward question, but they’re all left scratching their heads when Jesus’ answer seems has nothing to do with what she asked.  Instead of saying something like, “last night late,” or “about breakfast time this morning,” Jesus goes off on a tangent about the crowd’s motives in looking for him.  He says something about them doing so not because they saw God in action yesterday but because they got a free meal.  Now they’re hungry again, but they should be looking for imperishable food that “nourishes them for lasting life,” for zoé aionios in Greek, for “life eternal.”  Wait, what?  The question was about today.   But here’s Jesus talking about imperishable food for God’s time.

So someone else in the crowd gets up enough nerve to ask, “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?”  That’s certainly a deeper question than “When did you get here?”  OK, Jesus, what do we have to do?  We know how this works:  you get what you pay for.  So what will it be?  Perhaps, “Sell all you have and give to the poor”?  Or, “Those with two coats give to those who have none”?  Or maybe we need to go and get “born again”?  How about we go all out with:  “Love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself"?  But no!  Instead, Jesus says, “Throw in your lot with the One that God has sent.  That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.”  Trust and commitment, huh.

Well, just as in Jaws where they’re “gonna need a bigger boat,” the crowd regroups to go with a bigger question.  “Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on?  When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves.  Show us what you can do.  Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert.”  They want proof—some kind of “holy ta-da!’ like Moses did.  What?  Are these people deaf and blind?  Didn’t they all just see five loaves and two fish turned into a feast for more than 5000 people with leftovers? 

“Oh yes, there was manna in the wilderness,” says Jesus, “but Moses wasn’t the one doing it; God was.  That was then; but this is now.  And what’s important right now is that God once again offers you the true bread, bread from heaven to give life to the whole world.  “In fact,” says Jesus, “I am that bread.  And whoever aligns with me can say good-bye to hunger and thirst.”  More trust, more commitment.  I can only begin to imagine the questions this raises that begin to run through the minds of that crowd.

Q & A with Jesus is about a lot more than just posing questions.  There are no easy answers here—just as there are few if any easy answers to all the questions we might have.  Even straightforward questions like “Rabbi, when did you get here?” have all kinds of answers.  John says, “In the beginning was the Word.”  So when did Jesus get here?  Jesus’ answer could point to so many times after that beginning—from Gabrielle’s announcement to Mary, to his birth in a stable, to his baptism by John, to the beginning of his ministry, to “I walked over to this side of the sea late last night.”  But Jesus hears those deeper, unspoken, even unrecognized questions of this crowd struggling with life’s most basic and profound needs.  They are hungry—physically and spiritually.  So of course they come seeking bread for their bellies.  And who can blame them?  Who can think of anything else when they are physically hungry, exhausted, beaten down?

Jesus knows the crowd’s needs, their yearnings for sustenance and rest… and meaning.  Remember how he had compassion for them as he taught—gut-wrenching compassion when he saw their hunger—and he moved to meet their needs.  He is not putting them down for coming seeking bread.  (That’s something more like what we might do.)  No, he is telling them he has so much more to give to them.  This is no “name it and claim it” prosperity gospel that seduces by promising that if you believe enough you will be blessed with material things—and conversely, if you are poor and suffering, it’s your own fault.  Jesus tells the crowd of people hungry for food and yearning to be valued that he offers “lasting life,” zoé aionion, life eternal; and in John’s gospel this is abundant life that starts here and now and never ends.  This is what Jesus came for.

Jesus doesn’t need people to do something to earn that grace.  It’s a gift.  He only asks that they trust and throw their lot in with the One that God has sent, to make a commitment.  In a world where, then as now, it’s all about transactions and quid pro quo and working the system as best you can or be crushed by it, Jesus says to the crowd (and to us), “Trust in me.  You cannot earn what I offer.  You can only trust and receive.” 

Jesus tells that needy crowd for whom he has compassion, “I will care for you now and forever.  You are God’s beloved with whom God is well pleased.  God knows you need bread, but life is more than bread.  Trust and receive what God is offering, the real bread that gives life, and never be hungry again.”

John’s story tells us that the people in the crowd “jumped at that: [crying]  ‘Master, give us this bread, now and forever!”  They say ‘Yes’ to Jesus, then and there.  But we also know from the rest of the gospel story how they waver (to put it kindly) in their trust and commitment.  We do the same.  We echo the words of the crowd, but waver in our trust, our faith, our belief—whichever you choose to call it.  In his first book some sixty years ago, Frederick Buechner wrote:
If you tell me Christian commitment is a kind of thing that has happened to you once and for all like some kind of spiritual plastic surgery, I say go to, go to, you’re either pulling the wool over your own eyes or trying to pull it over mine.  Every morning you should wake up in your bed and ask yourself:  “Can I believe it all again today?  No, better yet, don’t ask it till after you’ve read The New York Times, till after you’ve studied the daily record of the world’s brokenness and corruption, which should always stand side by side with your Bible.  Then ask yourself if you can believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ again for that particular day.  If your answer’s always Yes, then you probably don’t know what believing means.  At least five times out of ten the answer should be No, because the No is as important as the Yes, and maybe more so.  The No is what proves you’re human in case you should ever doubt it.  And then if some morning the answer happens to be really Yes, it should be a Yes that’s choked with confession and tears and… great laughter.  Not a beatific smile, but the laughter of wonderful incredulity.  [The Return of Ansel Gibbs (1958), pp. 304-305]
Jesus didn’t fault the crowds for being human and needing that ordinary bread that perishes.  He cared about their hunger and had compassion on them.  Then he offered them so much more than bread and fish.  Jesus offers us so much more than bread and fish.  And he wants us to throw our lot in with him as best we can, trusting that God has a place for us in the Holy Kin-dom, even with all our wavering, all our Yeses and Noes, and all our questions.

In our own Q & A with Jesus, we often don’t know just what we are asking, because what Jesus wants to give us is so far beyond anything we can hope, dream, or imagine.  And it’s not about what we have to do or signs that guarantee proof.  It’s a matter of trust.  Do put on your “circus glasses” and respond with awe and joy to the wondrous signs of God’s “circus kingdom” (to use some terms from last week’s sermon).  But trust and align yourself with the One who does them.  Trust that God so loved the world that God sent the Son to save it, not condemn it.  Trust that Jesus came so that all people might have abundant life that starts here and now and never ends.  And trust that God has a life-giving task for you—for us all in all of our humanness—in the Kin-dom, whether as apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, preachers, or witnesses.

The Table of Our Lord and the meal we will share shortly remind us that as we bring all our questions, Jesus doesn’t answer them directly.  Instead he gives us his very self.  We hunger and want bread that perishes, of course.  But Jesus gives us his body, the bread or life.  We thirst and want water, of course.  But Jesus gives us his life poured out for all.  And as for answers—for answers he gives us life, abundant and eternal.  Oh, that we may trust!  Amen and amen.


John 6:22-35  [The Message]

22-24 The next day the crowd that was left behind realized that there had been only one boat, and that Jesus had not gotten into it with his disciples.  They had seen them go off without him.  By now boats from Tiberias had pulled up near where they had eaten the bread blessed by the Master.  So when the crowd realized he was gone and wasn’t coming back, they piled into the Tiberias boats and headed for Capernaum, looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him back across the sea, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

26 Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.

27 “Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides.  He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.”

28 To that they said, “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?”

29 Jesus said, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent.  That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.”

30-31 They waffled: “Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on?  When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves.  Show us what you can do.  Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert.  It says so in the Scriptures: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

32-33 Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread.  The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.”

34 They jumped at that: “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!”

35 Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life.  The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.

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