Are you empty?
This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, August 5, 2012.
24 When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. 27 Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”
28 They asked, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?”
29 Jesus replied, “This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.”
30 They asked, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
32 Jesus told them, “I assure you, it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread from heaven to you, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 They said, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!”
35 Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear, that together we might learn and be inspired to live your Word in the world. Amen.
Today we continue our reading through the Gospel of John. To remind you of where we are in the story, Jesus’ fame has been steadily growing. At present there is a large crowd–some 5,000-10,000 people—following him. Jesus has just performed a miracle taking five loaves and two fish and feeding the entire crowd with enough left over that the disciples filled twelve baskets with leftover bread. The next day, Jesus and the disciples, under the guise of darkness, departed from that place and headed across the Sea of Tiberius to Capernaum. The disciples took a boat. Jesus made the journey on foot, walking across the water.
As people awoke that morning they noticed that Jesus and the disciples were gone. So they began searching for Jesus. They heard he had been spotted across the sea in the town of Capernaum. They traveled a great distance. They were surely tired from the journey, but they thirsted for more. They wanted to see more of Jesus’ great miracles: who knows, maybe they’d find him in time for lunch.
25When they found him back across the sea, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26Jesus 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.”
Don’t work for the food that does not last…
We have a cultural penchant for working for and consuming food that does not last. We love consuming empty calories: those things that immediately satisfy but offer little or no lasting nourishment. Cookies. Cake. Bacon. Sausage. Pizza. We love empty calories. We love the immediate satisfaction, so much so that, I think, we often see empty calories in other aspects of our lives: impulse purchases that keep us “up” on the latest fads. Some people seek immediate satisfaction in sex and drug. Regardless, I think, we often seek “empty calories” that seem to satisfy our immediate appetite. But, in the end, it simply leaves us hungry: offering little or no lasting nourishment. Receiving that immediate satisfaction, we become lazy and forget to pursue the things that really matter.
The crowd that day was looking for the immediate satisfaction of their hunger. They were seeking empty calories. They wanted Jesus to meet their needs in that moment. And in so doing they failed to see that Jesus was offering them “food that endures for eternal life.” They were looking for food for their bellies that would satisfy their appetites. Jesus was offering them food for their souls.
I think we can often be like the crowd, especially when it comes to our spiritual life. We are so busy pursuing our appetites that
…we forget how to pursue what really matters. We are accustomed to inviting people into the community of faith for all the wrong reasons: for the “right” kind of worship; for political engagement on behalf of the poor and downtrodden; for the sake of a Christian America [or to preserve the sanctity of marriage]; for a strong youth and family ministry; for the opportunity to practice mission…or to go on mission trips to Africa or Central America. Yet what we have to offer—in Christ and by Christ and because of Christ—first and foremost is “soul food,” which lasts forever and does not change with the changing circumstances of the church or the world. It is soul food that we desire, and soul food in which we will rejoice, long after our bellies are full…and our lives know justice…
Over the last several weeks we have talked a lot about new beginnings (1, 2, 3). We have talked about the things we should know about Culver and Marshall County. We have talked about the things we should be ready to do together, but we must resist the temptation to make it all about those things. Our purpose is not to simply attract young families, children and youth. Our purpose is not to simply love each other and our neighbors. What God wants us to offer is not a new program, ministry, or community event. God, and the world God came to save, is desperate for us to offer the world the “bread of life.”
It is incredibly unfortunate that “fewer and fewer people know of God’s plan to satisfy the hunger of our soul, and [its even more unfortunate that more and] more of them resort to filling their hearts and lives with things that supply only temporary satisfaction [empty calories]. Jesus declares himself to be the Bread of Life (verse 35), sent from heaven to satisfy the longings of the human soul (33).”
Are you empty this morning? Have you filled your body and soul with empty calories that have left you spiritually hungry? Then, start today. “Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food [that Jesus] provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last…[Believe in him. Come to know Christ.] Throw [all that you have and all that you are] in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.” That kind of commitment to Christ and his mission will nourish your soul and never leave you hungry.
How do you get this bread? Spend time with God: read Scripture, pray, spend time with Christian friends, worship…make time to be with God.
At Annual Conference, Kenda Dean explained it this way (using a pitcher, cup, and bowl). She said, many of us come to church feeling empty (empty cup). We come to church to be filled (fill cup with water from pitcher). Then, we go about the week, draining ourselves (slowly dump cup) of all the grace and Truth we’ve picked up on Sunday. So, we come back to church to be filled again. On the surface, this doesn’t seem all that bad. We come to church, we receive something (fill cup) and then we go out and give what we’ve received to the world (empty cup). The problem is that God never intended for us to be drained or empty. God, through Jesus Christ, intended for us to never go hungry. So the question is: how will you continually place yourself in Christ’s presence (fill cup and allow to overflow) such that you are always full and others are filled by you.
Are you empty? Then come to the Bread of Life. Believe in him. Set yourself continually in his presence and you will never, ever, ever find yourself (spiritually) hungry again. Amen.
 John 6:25-27, The Message.
 Bartlett, David L., and Barbara Brown Taylor, ed. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Feasting on the Word, Year B, vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p310.
 Adapted from John 6:27, 29 in The Messsage.