Saturday, August 1, 2009

Filling the Jesus-Shaped Hole

Trinity Lutheran Church, Pelican Rapids, MN
August 2, 2009
John 6:24-35
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
It’s been said that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world up into two kinds of people….and those who don’t!
Reducing anything to just two choices—either this or that—is always dangerous. Life is always more complex than that. Where some see just two options, others easily perceive four, five, six or more possibilities.
And yet here in this gospel text from John, chapter 6, Jesus declares that when all is said and done, there are just two kinds of food in the world.
In verse 27 Jesus says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life…”
Did you catch that? Two food options—just two—take your pick: there’s the “food that perishes” and the “food that endures for eternal life.” What are you hungry for? What kind of grub can I rustle up for you?
At first glance the choice seems deceptively easy: who would ever choose the “food that perishes” if your other choice is the “food that endures for eternal life?” The choice is obvious, isn’t it?
But not so fast. Earlier in John 6, Jesus provided a whole boatload of “food that perishes.” Jesus multiplied a little boy’s lunch into a gigantic picnic that filled 5,000 growling stomachs--with twelve baskets of leftovers, to boot!
And every last morsel of that picnic, was (by Jesus’ own definition) “food that perishes”—that is, the stuff we think of as food, the sustenance we consume every 24 hours, just to keep body and soul together.
Don’t be too quick to write off this first kind of food, dear friends. We need some of it every day. People die when they’re perpetually short on the “food that perishes,” the carbs and fats and proteins that vitalize us and keep us on the move.
Jesus cares about the “food that perishes.” Jesus knows that all God’s children need such food, at regular intervals, or else we die. Jesus would have us care about this real food in a real world filled with real hunger! Just last week, youth from Trinity got up to their elbows in providing that sort of “food” down in New Orleans—12,000 youth and adults heading out on each oft here days, launched out into post-Katrina service projects among folks hungering for the “food that perishes.”
But even the finest cuisine, the tastiest banquet fare, the most sumptuous delicacies—it all ends up in those little Tupperware containers…tucked toward the back of the fridge…with green mold on it, after about a week. This is the short-shelf-life food that will not keep, will not last long enough to get us where we’re going…to the full, free, rich, eternal life God created us to live.
That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread…”
Jesus differentiates between “food that perishes” and “food that endures for eternal life,” never denying, though, that we need BOTH kinds of food.
For you see the “food that perishes” is necessary, absolutely necessary for this life…
….even though it is never sufficient for the full, rich, free eternal life that God created us for!
So Jesus whets our appetite for the “food that endures for eternal life.” That’s what’s so great about this sixth chapter of St. John’s gospel. Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us the wondrous, eye-popping, ear-opening story of the Feeding of the 5000….
But only John’s gospel draws deeper into what the Feeding tells us, how the Feeding addresses our deeper hunger, our hunger to have that “Jesus-shaped hole” inside of us filled up!
Here’s the kicker: it’s as if the Feeding of the 5000 in John six is actually the appetizer—not the meal itself—but the hors d’ouvres that get our mouths watering for the Good Stuff, the Banquet that is yet to come…
….and here in today’s gospel lesson Jesus describes what that real Banquet is: the “food that endures for eternal life.” Loaves and fishes, carbs and proteins, take us only so far…get us through one more day….but Jesus offers something far richer, more hunger-satisfying, more thirst-quenching….and he doesn’t dangle it out there, just beyond our reach, either. No, John tells us that the “food that endures for eternal life” is the precisely the food that “the Son of Man will give you.”
And as this tantalizing promise unfolds before us we realize that this “food that endures for eternal life” is none other than Jesus himself. “I gave you loaves and fishes yesterday,” Jesus tells the crowd, “but today I’m serving up the Main Course: myself.”
And here, dear friends, we encounter the question, the crisis, the tipping point. Is anybody hungry for what Jesus most wants to give us, this “food that endures for eternal life?”
Our dilemma, our sin, is this: we’re almost always ready to settle for less! The immediate reaction of the crowd here in John chapter 6 reflects human nature down to its core. Jesus feeds 5000 folks, and they want Jesus to get into politics! “Let’s make him our king, so he can keep the good times rolling.”
And when Jesus catches wind of their earth-bound plan, he flees—heads for the hills! (John 6:15) He gets out of Dodge as fast as his feet will carry him!
Because while the “food that perishes” is necessary for life, it is never sufficient for the full, free, rich, eternal life we were created for….and THAT’s what Jesus aches to share with you and me and all people!
That’s what, as followers of Jesus, we have to offer our neighbors, near and far. Fill their bellies, look after their immediate needs, to be sure….but don’t forget to serve up the Good Stuff, the only “food” that will stick to their ribs and “carry” them forever! Give them carbs and proteins and vitamins and minerals….but, whatever you do, give them Jesus, too!
At this critical moment in our church’s life, as we take this “missional turn” in the 21st century church…is our golden opportunity to get this stuff straight, to never short-sell what God gives the world through you and me who bear Christ wherever we go.
You and I and everyone else on this old ball of mud are always ready to settle for something less—to settle for “empty calories,” junk food that leaves us hungry. If our tummies aren’t growling and our pantries are full and our 401Ks are growing again, all is well, we think….
…..even though Jesus aptly calls all of that good and necessary stuff the “food that perishes.”
Five seconds after your heart stops beating it all gets tossed into probate court and your heirs fight over the leftovers.
The “food that perishes” takes us only so far, it’s never sufficient for the whole journey God is taking us on.
And that’s why our most joyful task, our highest calling is to whet our appetites and tempt our neighbors with the savory aroma of the Good Stuff, the “food that endures for eternal life.” And so we name the ache inside of us, and God uses us to fill that emptiness with the only food that lasts, the food that is Jesus—his serving life, his sin-forgiving death, his death-defying resurrection.
So, where does that leave us? Where has God placed us in this aching, hungry world….filled with folks who all have a Jesus-shaped hole inside themselves?
In many respects you here at Trinity are right in the thick of it. You don’t need to pack your bags and head somewhere else in the world to be about God’s mission.
You can just walk out your doors—because the whole world has come to you. The world in all its multi-colored, variegated splendor has moved into Pelican Rapids. Whoever imagined that this quiet, lovely community would be welcoming new neighbors from all over the globe?
By bringing into your town so many immigrants, new friends and neighbors like the hundreds who showed up here for last evening’s “At the River” concert….by plopping down, right under your noses, this sea of humanity….God is pitching you a slow ball, right over home-plate, in the hope that you’ll knock that ball right out of the park!
And, thank God, you’re responding to this amazing missional opportunity, offering not only the “food that perishes” but serving up the “food that endures to eternal life,” serving up Jesus, the Sin-Bearer, Death-Defeater, Future-Opener…Jesus!
Your neighbors, old and new, are hungry. Fill their growling stomachs—oh yes—but that’s just the appetizer, the hors d’ouvres that prepare the way for the Good Stuff. Give them Jesus. Fill the Jesus-shaped hole in their souls with “the food that endures to eternal life.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. The food for eating, and the food for life has some many parallels. I look at next week, we need the same gender folks to be full participants within the body of Christ, we also need the more conservative ELCA members, just as we need our friends in the LCMS and WELS, and even those who we are in communion with, and those who we are working towards being so.

    Yet, the old adam in us divides, and leaves us with this Jesus shaped hole. The challenge then is to whet all's appetite, for the food which is eternal. In the big scheme of things next week I guess is somewhat a step towards the preparation of food for the 5000, albeit you only have some tidbits to start with.

    Prayer and God's wisdom for yall.