“I Am the Bread of Life”
What do you long for?
The ancients were constantly thinking about and longing for food because food was not as readily available as it is today. There were no bulk grocery stores with the same foods year round, no instapots, no microwaves, no freezers full of ice cream or pantries full of beans and pasta. They had to labor long hours for their food from start to finish. As a result, they were often thinking about and planning around food. They planned out what they would grow, what might be available at the nearest market, how they would prepare it and how long it would take to make it. They longed for food.
This is not more poignant than in the story of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. The Israelites had become slaves in Egypt. Through Moses, God frees them from this slavery and brings them on a journey through the wilderness. God promises them that at the end of this long journey they would arrive in a land where they would be free from slavery and not only that… the land would be flowing with milk and honey… it would be a land abundant with the best kind of food.
So the Israelites follow Moses away from their slave masters into the wilderness. But not long after they begin their journey, the Israelites grow weary and begin to complain. There were no food trucks, no pit stops along the way. Every direction they looked was void of any source of food. They were so afraid they might starve to death that they thought it would be better to go back to Egypt and return to slavery because at least there, they had three meals.
God heard their complaints and provided manna, bread from heaven for the Israelites to eat and live on as they made their way to the land that God had promised them.
In the Gospel reading this morning, we hear that a crowd has similarly gathered around Jesus in a deserted place and there was no food in sight. The people longed for food, so Jesus miraculously multiplies five loaves of barley bread and two fish to feed thousands of people almost instantaneously and the crowd is amazed. As soon as they receive their share of bread and fish, they sit down to enjoy the luxury of eating an abundance of food that no one had to endlessly work for. I imagine them sitting in groups eating and laughing and talking with one another through the night. As they woke up the next day they noticed that Jesus and his disciples had left and so, the text tells us, that “they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.”
Just like the ancient Israelites, these folks longed for food. And Jesus gave it to them miraculously and abundantly… so they ran after Jesus. They wanted to be near this man who would free them from the need to constantly think and plan around their next meal. They wanted to be near this man who could ensure that they would never go hungry, never die from starvation, their bellies would always be full.
They wanted to be near this man who would give them what they needed, who would give them what they longed for, so they ran and chased after Jesus.
I wonder what do you long for? And how has God provided for you? What makes you run after Jesus?
When I was young I had a very scary experience on a flight from Hawaii. We hit such bad turbulence that I remember one stewardess being thrown up and against the wall and adult passengers around me in tears. When that plane landed, the passengers erupted in applause.
I have learned to tolerate some turbulence, but on our way back from Chicago this past week, our plane took a big leap down and then began to rock around for about 20 minutes as we made our way down to the runway at Bradley. As soon as the plane made such a huge jump I began earnestly praying. At that moment I longed for safety, for my own safety, the safety of my children and husband, the safety of everyone on the flight, the safety of those who live in homes under the airplanes flight path.
I am so happy to say that we clearly all made it through the flight. As we landed I felt this huge relief and gratitude. I thanked God over and over for our safety. I was urgently longing for and in need of safety and God gave us safety, so I went through the rest of our day in awe and wonder at God. I wanted to be near God. I repeatedly paused to reflect on God’s goodness. In my modern way, you might say I was like the people who got in their boats and chased after Jesus. God had provided for me and my family, so I ran after him, I wanted to be near him.
Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fish. Jesus guided our plane to safety. He gave us what we longed for, he gave us what we needed, so we chased after God.
But Jesus warns us today, do not believe because I gave you bread. Believe because I am the bread. Do not believe because I brought you safely through those flights, believe because I am your safety.
Do not believe because I give you what you need, believe because I am what you need.
So, what do you long for?
So much of what we long for, so much of what we pray for will fade… a job, a house, even our health… will fade, but Jesus will never fade. He says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”
Do not get in your boats and sail across the sea… do not chase after me because I am giving you bread, and safety and everything you long for… chase me down because I am what you long for.
When you chase after me not because of what I can give you but because of who I am, you will never be hungry, never thirsty, never in need.
As our plane was thrown around at 20,000 feet, I watched the horizon bounce around outside our tiny window. When I was most scared and the drops and bumps were the biggest, my prayers turned from “God bring us home safely” to “God I trust you,” “God our lives are in your hands.” And in those moments I experience this incredible relief from fear and deep peace for me and my family. Truly no matter what lie ahead for me and my family, which sounds absolutely crazy. I may pray and meditate a lot, but no amount of prayer and meditation could have brought me that peace, that peace came from none other than my presence in Christ and Christ’s presence in me.
I prayed for safety, which God provided, but ultimately the greater gift I received that morning was the safety I felt in the Lord.
Jesus tells us today that faith is not about what we can get from God, but it is about our presence in God and God’s presence in us.
He says, “I am the bread of life” “I am your safety and peace” “I am what you long for.”
So, what do you long for…?
Do you believe mostly because of what you get from God?
Jesus encourages us today to fix our minds, our hearts and our souls on him because he is everything we need, everything we long for, he is the bread we hunger for.
So in the week ahead… pay attention to your prayers…
Pray for the things you need. Give thanks for what you receive. But also pray simply for more of Jesus in your life. Pray – God bring me closer to you. Help me to be in you Christ and Christ please be in me. And give thanks for who Jesus is. Give thanks for who God is.
Because when we chase after God for who he is, we will never grow hungry, we will never grow thirsty, we will never be in need.