What sign will you give us?

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What sign will you give us?

John 6:24-35, Sermon 9, Question Mark? 

INTRODUCTION:  We had a fund raising card morning in July in Hook organised by Nikki: I found a card with these words: “The answer is chocolate - Who cares about the Question!”

 

We are talking today about the challenging questions around doubt & faith

 

John’s Gospel – the story. The crowd have followed Jesus to Capernaum and ask:

Question 1. When did you get here? (detailed non-essential)

Jesus Answer 1. ‘I tell you the truth’. ‘You are looking for me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  Do not work for food that spoils but work for food that endures to eternal life - that the Son of Man will give you; on him God the Father has set his seal of approval

 

Question 2. What must we do, to do the works that God requires?

Jesus Answer 2. The work of God is this: to believe in the One he has sent.

Question 3. What miraculous sign will you give that we may see it and believe you?  (Supplementary) What will you do? Our forefathers ate manna in the desert, as it is written ‘He gave them bread from heaven.’ [Ps 78:2; Ex 16:4,15; Neh 9:15; Ps 105:40]

Jesus Answer 3. ‘I tell you the truth. It is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’

 

Crowd: Sir, from now on give us this bread.

Jesus Answer 4. I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry. He who believes in me will never be thirsty.

 

What sign will you give that we may believe?

The crowd have followed Jesus around the Lake. They have eaten with the 5,000; and want more. Jesus challenges them, with the ‘I tell you the truth’ – speaking the truth in love, advocated by St Paul in Ephesians, 4 -  sometimes has an aggressive edge – the truth, dished up from an unkind or hard place can be singularly painful eg. of complements that are not!

On the other hand, would it not be kinder to know before going out?
eg. You can be sincere, but sincerely wrong – said to me by another Christian – and never forgotten. When I was struggling with faith questions as a student

Jesus wants the crowd to know 2 things (he says to them: ‘I tell you the truth’)

  1. Jesus is the Bread of Life – much more than the miracle worker they are following around
  2. To please God they need to believe in Jesus

So my 3 topics today are around doubt and faith, evidence for Jesus as God,

what is the bread of life, and what is it not

What does Jesus mean by being the Bread of Life?

If we believe that faith in Jesus will give us an easy life, and that is what he means by being bread of life, then we have believed in the wrong thing.

Biblical examples that teach us that the Christian journey is not necessarily an easy one:

Mary, chosen to be the mother of the Son of God, who rejoiced in the words we now call and sing ‘the Magnificat’, but the birth of her son – was that in a nice cosy maternity unit, and brought home to a colour-coordinated nursery? The answer to both: No!

John the Baptist was beheaded; James the apostle was beheaded; Paul was shipwrecked & Jesus said to those who would think of following him ‘Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has no-where to lay his head; and to follow me, you must take up your cross’. So Jesus is the Bread of Life. But that does not mean, the easy life.

The crowds had been given supper – they were looking for more. Jesus offers them himself, The Bread of Life. So what does Jesus mean? What it IS
The essential for life, life now, life eternal, life with God, life with others, the whole of life,

Bread – nourishment, sustaining, essential, without which we would fade and not survive. We could manage without other things – chocolate (or maybe not!), but not without bread.

One of the 7 Signs that Jesus was more than a human in Nazareth, one of the 7 ‘I AM’ sayings; I am the Bread of life

 

Other translations in other cultures – Wycliffe Bible translators. I am the porridge of life – ugali – in Tanzania – I wonder if Sophie is eating this? What is the staple diet – without which you do not survive. Jesus is the Bread of Life; Life – not death. John 3:16: God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life

 

So what is our part? What does Jesus say?

The work of God is this, to believe in the one he has sent. To believe in him as the one he claims to be. Then the crowds ask for a sign to help them believe. Come back to that later.

 

What do we need to believe?

a) Have a right understanding of what we are expecting – he is not a slot machine who will dispense treats all the time – when we first become followers of Jesus we often see all sorts of things happen, that encourage us – but as we become mature, as St Paul says in the letter to Ephesians, we no longer get tossed around … our faith in Jesus is more secure. He is the Bread of life but not the cream cake?

b)  Believe that he will provide– sustain us with what is essential

c)  Live by it – faith has two memorable phrases: ‘forsaking all I trust him’

‘taking God at his word and living by it’

 

The reasons people do not believe – as listed by John Pritchard (2014)

 

1)    Fairy tale – John agrees that we cannot prove God, so what should count as evidence?

2)    Religion is out of date - but this is not true around the world. Rise of Christianity in China, for example.

3)    God is a despot from the reading of the Bible – for example said by Richard Dawkins; but this is a misread of the Scriptures.  

4)    Faith is incompatible with science - many scientists do not agree, including myself! Science, about order and discovery, fits with our understanding of God who created the world with order.

5)    Faith has no answer to evil and suffering; indeed this is the hardest topic; but our Lord has suffered such intense depths of suffering,  and went to the cross for us

6)    Religion is evil and often leads to violence. This is true: there is an intolerant history, wars of religion, the inquisition, the Crusades; and we Christians agree that humans have the potential for an evil heart – but the answer is to pour in more of God’s light.  Is the truly secular society more tolerant and less prone to violence? What about the 20th Century - secular governance age has been the most savagely and sublimely violent period of history. The human heart is the problem according to Jesus.

7)    Faith is negative. I agree that it can be - or lived in full colour – John 10:10, ‘I have come that you may have life in all its abundance’…

8)    Faith is for weak people who need a crutch. Yes, we all need compassion, and we are celebrating that in this series of sermons; but belief in Jesus Christ has led many people to lives of service and courage.

9)    The Church is regressive. Some history would agree – but also has been the foundation for so many good things, including pastoral care, eg. Mother Teresa; Hospitals – founded by monks; Schools – founded in this country, for example

10) All faiths are the same. They are not – more in another sermon

 

We may all have our reasons for personal doubt & struggling to believe in Jesus,

My personal history - of sitting on the fence – the more questions I found answers, the more questions I added to the list – it was for me, an attitude of mind, a lack of commitment, religion was interesting, but Jesus was definitely not the bread of life, the stuff that was essential – he was a hobby maybe – and I was tinkering with questions, and holding off being a disciple… a place for many of us… and so I am not being judgemental.

 

What are our reasons for doubting?

Os Guinness, how to understand and resolve the dilemmas of doubt: called ‘God in the Dark’ (published in 1988/1996)

 

Our faith does not begin well with gratitude for what God has done for us – our dilemma of life without Him is not uppermost in the mind; we are self-sufficient; and we doubt him

 

Maybe we have a faulty view of God – ‘you tell me the god you don’t believe in, and I will tell you why I don’t believe in him either’ – we have mentioned this already. We have to ask, ‘what is our real picture of God?’ Perhaps we have adopted all sorts of pre-suppositions about God that are not true of Him? Let God be God – and maybe we will find our doubts fade

 

Thirdly, maybe we don’t understand WHY we believe in God… we have not thought about it thoroughly – maybe adopted someone else’s thinking, rather than coming to God for ourselves? Jesus said ‘I tell you the truth’ – there is an important element in our belief which is about rational thinking

 

We may find it hard to believe because we have never really tested our faith, not truly put our trust in God, not really fully committed to our belief in God, and seen it through to action, therefore we are still doubting (chicken and egg). We don’t ask, does it work? but how do I feel about it? Which is not the same at all. In our reading from Ephesians, Paul speaks of the winds and the waves, and the rising and falling, the blowing in and out, which is not the full maturity of Christian faith.

Fifthly, we have failed to grow in our faith and so may find doubt easier than belief. We have not experienced the fullness of new life, we have not discovered the fullness of truth, we have not put our belief into practice. We are indecisive, and we find doubt creeps in. A living faith is like a living relationship – we need to cherish it, nourish it, or it will grow stale.

 

Sixthly, our emotions may let us down, and we lose faith. In an OT Bible story, Elijah was seriously low after an intense spiritual battle (1 Kings 19). Our beliefs can be affected by our moods, our hormones, our level of exhaustion …

 

Finally, we may doubt because we fear being hurt, if what we believe turns out not to work. A really deep concern, which holds us back from trusting in God.

 

There are serious questions that we ask of God when awful things happen in our lives – when a child is sick, when our prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling…I have found the book called ‘God on Mute’ by Pete Grieg to be really helpful. When his wife has a brain tumour, he has deep struggles with faith. He speaks of prayer being like falling down the stairs. Many of us have been there, myself included.

 

So we have covered a lot of ground this morning.

Jesus is the Bread of life – essential, nourishing, is outside of us, but requires us to take him in, in order for the bread to be of benefit. Jesus tells the truth as it is. Jesus invites the followers to believe in him – and that this is what God wants to see – not just followers looking out for something to meet their bodily needs. To believe in the one he has sent – the Lord Jesus

 

We have thought about why people find faith difficult, we have listed the reasons why people doubt.  I want to end on a positive note.  To acknowledge that we all have times when our belief in God is really tested: Jesus himself seems at his most challenging moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, to be struggling with trusting God for the time ahead of him. He understands our struggles.

 

Jesus offers us all – the Bread of Life

Life – everlasting

Life – abundant which begins now

Life – to be taken every day – Our Father in heaven… give us this day our daily bread

Bread – for nourishing us

Bread – that we cannot live without

Bread – of heaven –

 

Let’s take him at his words – he offers to each of us

 

What sign will you give us? Ask the crowds

The bread of life – the bread has been broken in front of them, the crowds have been fed, the evidence is there of his power, of God’s Kingdom breaking into human life.  So they are to take what they have experienced already – and act on it. A definition of faith is:

‘Faith is taking God at his word and living by it’

 

As we finish

Please do not go away feeling hurt or rejected if this is hard – because Jesus did not push people away.  If I have said anything that you would like to explore further – come and chat! I would enjoy a trip to Rosie’s Tea Room – we can talk over tea. Let’s approach Communion today with a new spirit – of looking to Jesus to be our bread of life – right now

Come with a prayer

‘Help us Lord Jesus, to unpick the struggles of belief; Help us to move forward; for our sake, for your sake, for the sake of God’s world. Amen’

 

Marion de Quidt, 2nd August 2015, St Michael’s church, Heckfield

 

With grateful thanks for the following resources

John Pritchard – TEN: why Christianity makes sense (2014)

Os Guinness – God in the Dark (1988/1996)

Pete Greig – God on Mute (2007)