Feeding Ourselves

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John 6:24-35  

Last week we talked about feeding the people… Looking to those in our community and in our world who are in need, and finding a way to meet those needs… using the resources that God has blessed us with to further his kingdom… and having faith that God would provide enough to sustain us as we blessed others through this giving. But in light of speaking about feeding others and all of the things that go along with that, I think we would be remiss if we neglected to recognize that before we can be able to feed others, there’s one very important step we have to take… We have to feed ourselves. But the type of feeding we are going to be talking about this morning isn’t the same kind of feeding we discussed last week when we talked about providing for the needs of those around us. When we talk about feeding ourselves, I’m not talking about making sure that we have food on our tables, or that we are eating a healthy diet. I’m talking about feeding ourselves spiritually.

Much like last weeks scripture, our scripture this morning begins with a group of people pursuing Jesus. Many, if not most, of the people in this group, were the same people who had been there when Jesus fed the 5000 with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. But you see, even though this crowd had witnessed Jesus perform one of his greatest miracles, they were following him for the wrong reasons. As Jesus himself acknowledged in verse 26, “you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs.” As I read and re-read this scripture this week, I was deeply convicted in my heart. Because as I contemplated my relationship with Jesus, I came to a humbling realization. Far too often in my own walk with Christ, I find myself following him, not because I recognize and appreciate what he has done for me… But because I am constantly looking for what the next thing that I can ask him for is. And this has been especially true as I have gone through hard times and difficult struggles in my life. Jesus, please heal my knee. Oh Lord, please help me to preach a good sermon this week. Dear God, please let people accept and embrace me because they associate me with you. But that’s not what Jesus has called us for. And it is not what he was prepared to provide for the group of people in this scripture either. Jesus recognized that, not only did the crowd not understand the power he had shown when he fed them the day before… But he recognized also that, that miracle was completely lost on this group of people. In just one day they had completely forgotten the power that he had shown. And instead, they continued to seek him out solely because he had given them food to eat.

If you have spent any time in the state park or in other “wilderness” settings, you have probably come across the sign that says “Do not feed the animals.” And there is a reason for that sign. First of all, it is for your protection, so that the animals don’t get close enough to you to cause you harm or injury as you try to feed them. But more importantly than that, the sign is there because the park rangers know that if the animals are fed by humans enough, they will quit trying to forage for food for themselves, and instead will become dependent on the handouts that the park guests provide for them. In the same way, these people had found their meal ticket! They had found someone who would provide food for them… Food that they wouldn’t have to work for or prepare for themselves. But you see, the crowd had totally missed the mark of what Jesus was trying to show them when he fed them with the bread and the fish. And that is why in verse 27, Jesus tells the crowd “don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you.”

The crowd found themselves in kind of an awkward situation at that point. Here, they have been following this man, knowing that he is capable of providing food for them, when suddenly, Jesus turns and says to them stop worrying about food! Stop focusing on things that don’t last! Spend your energy seeking eternal life, that’s the true gift that I want to give to you!… Realizing that they had been admonished by Jesus, the crowd tried to save face… They tried to make it look like they hadn’t been waiting for another handout, and instead were devoted to doing what Jesus was asking of them. “We want to perform God’s work too”, they said. “What should be do?” Jesus’ response to that question was so simple, and so straight forward. He tells the crowd in verse 29 “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”

It seems so easy, right? The only thing God wants from us is to believe in Jesus. The only thing we have to do is to have faith in the Son of God. If we can just do that, we have fulfilled EVERYTHING that God demands from us in order to do his work… Only, it wasn’t that easy for the people in the crowd. And in the same way, though it seems so easy, we ourselves often make it harder than it has to be. So many times in our lives, we become this same crowd, and our response to Jesus when all he asks from us is to trust and believe in him is… “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate mana from heaven while they journeyed through the wilderness. The scriptures say ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.” The crowd was literally saying to Jesus, never mind the miracle we just saw, or the countless miracles we overlook every day… Never mind the gift of life, and the breath in our lungs, and the beauty of creation… Never mind the houses that shelter us or the food that we have on our tables… Never mind the sunrise or the sunset, or the word of God that you have provided as a guide for us. Never mind the fact that you fed all 5000 of us with 5 loavesof bread and 2 fish. Never mind any of that! If you want us to believe in you, show us a sign!

It’s obvious at this point that Jesus possesses a patience that is not of this world. I can imagine if I were Jesus in this situation, I would have said “What about the 5 loaves and 2 fish that I fed you with yesterday? Was that not miraculous enough of a sign for you? What about when I walked on water last night? What about the lepers you’ve seen me heal, or the blind that you saw me return sight to, what about those miracles?” But that wasn’t how Jesus responded. In his typical straight forward, calm, and level headed fashion, Jesus simply explained to the people… “I tell you the truth. Moses didn’t give you the bread from heaven. My father did. And now, he offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Friends, this is the kind of spiritual nourishment that we need. Just as we need physical food to nourish our bodies if we are to survive and thrive and be able to carry out our day to day tasks, so too do we need spiritual nourishment if we are to survive and thrive in our relationship with Jesus Christ! Just as we need physical food for our bodies to grow and for our minds to continue functioning, so too do we require spiritual nourishment if we are to grow and to mature in our spiritual lives. Jesus Christ, the son of God, the word made flesh, he IS that spiritual nourishment! He has already been given to us. We have already been provided with everything we need to not only survive, but to flourish in our spiritual walks with Jesus. We can spend out whole lives worrying about if we will have enough money to pay our bills, or to put clothes on our backs… if we can work enough hours to make the kind of pay check we need to live a happy life, and what we will do with that money once we get it. But Jesus himself tells us that without seeking spiritual nourishment, none of that matters! Without being filled with the Holy Spirit, and accepting the gift of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, no amount of food or clothing or entertainment will ever be able to satisfy us. It is only through accepting the free gift of Jesus Christ that was so graciously give to us that we can begin to position ourselves in such a way that we can begin to enjoy the fruits of what life truly has to offer us.

I’m going to try to make this comparison, and I hope I don’t completely butcher it. But since we have been talking about the difference between physical nourishment and spiritual nourishment, lets think about it like this. We can go to the store and we can buy bread and cheese and meet and lettuce… We can take it all home and put it in our refrigerators. But has that satisfied our needs for physical nourishment? Just by having food available to us, has it fed our hunger, and provided our bodies with the proteins and nutrients that we need to survive? NO! If that meet and cheese and lettuce sits in the fridge, and that bread stays in the pantry, we will starve to death, even though we have food available to us. The same is true in our spiritual lives. Jesus Christ is all that we need to become spiritually nourished. And unlike the food at the grocery store, he has been given to us freely! But if we just allow him to sit on the outskirts of our lives, then we can’t reap the benefits of the spiritual nourishment that comes with having a personal relationship with Jesus. Just as we would starve if we allowed that food to stay in our fridge, if we are not partaking of Jesus daily, we are starving spiritually.

The food that we buy will not cook itself. That sandwich will not magically make itself just because we have bought the ingredients necessary. And in the same way, once we have accepted the gift of Jesus Christ in our lives, the work isn’t over! The job isn’t done! We still have to do something with that gift we have been given if we expect to be nourished spiritually. That bread from heaven that Jesus talks about does us no good if we don’t do anything with it. So what must we do in order to be nourished spiritually? We must partake of that bread of life. Well how do we do that? There are so many answers to that question. The two most obvious are by praying, and by spending time studying the word of God. When we pray, we invite our creator, our Lord and savior, to draw close to us. We give over all of our hurts and our pains and our frustrations to him, and we have faith that he will handle them. And at the same time, we thank him for all of the things he has blessed us with, knowing that everything we have now and will ever have in the future is because God has provided it for us. We begin to develop a personal relationship with God. Just like you get to know someone by talking to them, we gain a deeper understanding of who God is by spending time in prayer with him. Because prayer is just a conversation with God! It’s a two way street. Later on we will talk about the misconceptions of what prayer is and what it means to pray, but prayer is not just talking AT God, it is talking TO God, and listening for his responses. And in addition to spending time in prayer with God, we have been given this book. This Holy, divine, inspired word of God. And it has been given to us, not so that it can sit on our bookshelves or on the corners of our desks collecting dust. But so that we can seek knowledge and wisdom, and we can learn the things that God himself has deemed important enough to impart unto us.

Now trust me, this next part I am saying to myself, just as much as I am saying it to each of you. But we have to do these things DAILY! Just as we must eat daily if we expect to grow and be nourished, we must get our spiritual nourishment daily as well! Coming to church one day a week and expecting that to be enough nourishment is the same thing as deciding that you only need to eat one meal a week to stay healthy. It just doesn’t work that way! And it is hard to do! It takes dedication and devotion. It takes a conscious effort and a concerted decision to make reading the Bible and spending time in prayer a priority in your life. But if we expect to grow in our relationship with Jesus, those are the things we HAVE to do!

As we prepare to take Holy Communion this morning, let us really consider what this bread and this juice represents for us. The body and the blood of Jesus Christ. The elements of spiritual nourishment. And as you come to the alter to receive your portion, I encourage you to make a commitment to nourishing your spirit each day as you go through this next week. Begin with a prayer and a short bible verse. And then watch as your spiritual health begins to improve.

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