How much seeing does your faith require? Our youth live as we do, too often in a place of absolutes so when we engage in service, do mission work, our focus sometimes needs to be re-calibrated. Jesus reminds us to not work for food that perishes “but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” Come hear what we experienced on the 2018 Mission trip to San Diego!
So 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. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus 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. 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. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So 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? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 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 God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus 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.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Bread used to be one of those simple things. It was the staff of life, it built your body in 12 amazing way according to Wonder bread and found its way to the table for every meal in one form or another.
Now, however, it is a more complicated thing. If you have issues with gluten, allergies, trying to lose weight, it is something you go out of your way to avoid.
When you gather a large group of young people in a room and are required to not only feed them but feed them well, it makes for a complicated thing. Veganism, lactose issues, gluten and the general idea that young people are sometimes picky eaters, you make for a complicated table.
On this year’s mission trip to San Diego or more specifically Imperial Beach we had a large group. Phil Dion, Alison Faison and myself along with pastors Theresa Cho (St. John’s Pres) and Maggi Henderson (Old First Pres) led a disparate group of middle and high schoolers: young people that represented the full spectrum of God’s kingdom on a long journey. One that was physically demanding, emotionally charged and spiritually uplifting and confusing and yes, sometimes our spirituality tugs us in both of those directions at the same time.
The typical work day included carpentry, painting, mixing cement, using power tools. We sang, prayed, danced, talked and listened. We met the mayor of Imperial Beach, some of our group went to a city council meeting and if you are surprised by the totality of all of those things then you have probably already surmised that our days were lon. Grace-filled, powerful but demanding of these bodies. I truly felt my age and know that is not only true of the adults but also for all of our kids.
In Henri Nouwen’s “Bread for the Journey”, this morning’s passage speaks to sharing the abundant love. Nouwen says “we must go out because we want to share with all people the abundant love and hope, joy and peace that Jesus brought to us.” He goes on to say “what we have received is so beautiful and so rich that we cannot hold it for ourselves but feel compelled to bring it to every human being we meet”.
Our reading this morning from John talks about bread but not so much about the bread that we see here. I think about the Samaritan woman at the well and the crowds that share in fish and loaves (more bread) and wonder why how we process these stories individually. Water that once imbibed means never being thirsty again? Two small baskets of food that somehow feed a host of hungry people? How are we to receive stories like these without being skeptical?
Our big day this week was Adventure Wednesday where some of our group crossed the border while a second group, the one that I was a part of went to the Tijuana Estuary to work and then to meet up with two Border Patrol agents named Robbie and Ron.
They were patient, forthcoming, honest about their work and all in all, seemed like decent people. People that you would not be surprised to see at Calvary. They then escorted us up to the wall where we came face to face or more precisely, face to fence and we saw our friends. Unfortunately, the fence is so constructed that it’s hard to see someone, even harder to touch them. There is a space large enough to get a pinkie through so that’s what we did. Touched pinkies. Don’t think about that too much but please, take a moment to turn to a neighbor and do a pinkie touch. How did that feel? Was it emotionally satisfying? At that fence, at that moment, that small touch seemed so important. After all, small touching is still touching. Our conversation that night and going forward kept that fence and the pinkie touch on our minds for the rest of the trip. Back to that…
I led a group of six hard working youth who quickly developed a bond. One of our youth seemed different right from the start but not in a bad way. We thought he was maybe shy or introverted and so we really tried to find a way to get him comfortable with us. Day by day we made progress but unbeknownst to us, he was acting out in some very troubling ways with some of the other, younger campers. Even with some of our group. In the end the decision was made to send him home and that broke our hearts. Our last working day we spent a good hour and a half talking about this lonely young man and trying to better understand and empathize with what he was doing and why. In the end, we decided that this young man was someone in our group that we saw quite differently than the others. We saw a lonely frightened young man who did not only not know how to give love but how to receive it. We have made a decision as a group to find a way to reach out to him and perhaps through the courage of our love for him we will find a way to connect and perhaps even provide him with the sort of love that he has not previously experienced.
Courageous love is boundless, endless and truly unconditional.
When Jesus talks about the bread of heaven, he is not talking about this, but this.
If we look at the water that Jesus offered to the woman at the well or the bread and fish that fed a host of people or bread that fills one up forever as miracles or metaphors, we are denying the power that lies in each of these things and the actions that propel them forward. If we don’t take the time to find the underlying power of these seemingly mundane things, we are missing something incredibly important to us as children of God. These might be gifts of God for God’s people, but they feed us in a way that sustains our faith and moves us forward as Christians.
The table is set and ready to welcome all who hunger or thirst.