John 6:35, 41-51
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John 6:35, 41-51
Richard Niell Donovan
“The young people are very hungry.” Thus said Bernadette Mulholland, the school chaplain in Yeppoon, a coastal Australian town. Mulholland organized an evangelistic outreach in Yeppoon. More than 250 people became Christians in one month because of that outreach. Some of the conversions seemed unlikely. A 15-year-old boy with ponytail and pierced eyebrows gave up alcohol and drugs. Now he reads the Bible every day. He asked his father, “Dad, you taught me how to pray when I was younger. How come you don’t still pray?”
“The people are very hungry.” Guideposts magazine had a story (Mary Ann O’Roark, “Come Fly With Me,” Guideposts, August, 2000) about Dolores Hart, a beautiful young actress who had been nominated for a Tony and had co-starred with Elvis Presley in the movie, King Creole. Not long thereafter, she abandoned her Hollywood career and entered a convent. Today she is Mother Dolores at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut. Her life as an actress was glamorous, but there was something missing. She found in the convent that which she had not found in Hollywood. “The people are very hungry.”
“The people are very hungry.” USA Today had an article about the things that very wealthy people are buying (“Experience is luxury’s new standard,” Barry Horovitz, USA Today, July 6, 1999). Once they get their McMansion and their Lexus and their lifetime supply of money, you would think they would be happy. Wouldn’t you be happy with a beautiful home and a new car and a pile of money? However, once people get those things, they find themselves still searching. They are booking trips on a spacecraft. They are booking passage on a deep-sea submersible to visit the Titanic. They are hiring A.J. Foyt to teach them to drive a race car. “The people are very hungry.”
That article closed with a short piece about Patrick Bishop, a massage therapist. Earlier in the year, Bishop was hired to spend two weeks on a yacht. He gave two or three massages a day, and spent the rest of the time swimming, eating, and enjoying himself. They paid him $1,000 a day. The most interesting part of the article was Bishop’s comment at the end. He said, “But luxury isn’t the key to happiness. True luxury is living a spiritual life.”
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“The people are very hungry.” We are living right now in the midst of the greatest affluence the world has ever known. Everywhere you look, people are building luxury homes. A few months ago, there was a wallboard shortage. Factories could not keep up with the requirement. But we are not only setting records for luxury homes. We are also setting records for divorce—and fatherless children—and crime—and a host of other problems. Nearly a century ago, Charles Lindbergh’s father said, “Under the rule of the ‘Dollar,’ human life has fallen to its lowest value.” We can certainly say that money does not solve all of life’s problems. We live among great wealth, but “the people are very hungry.”
There are millions of people in church this morning. They come for various reasons. Some come out of habit. That isn’t a bad habit to have. It beats smoking, doesn’t it! Some people believe that Christians come to church to show off their fancy clothes, but I doubt that. People come to church to be fed. We come because we have a need that nobody else fills for us. We come to dwell in the Lord’s presence—to seek the Lord’s blessing—to commune at the Lord’s Table. We come because we are hungry.
Jesus knew something about hungry people. When he saw the hungry crowd on the mountainside, he fed them. He had only a little boy’s lunch, but in his hands the little lunch became food for thousands. He fed the crowd. Jesus knew that we need food. He taught us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).
But Jesus also knew that that we can fill our stomachs and still be hungry. We can eat in the finest restaurant and not be satisfied. We can live in the most finely appointed home and not know love. We can drive the most finely engineered car, and find ourselves going in the wrong direction.
There is an interesting verse in the Old Testament. Moses had called all the Israelites together. He said, “(God) humbled you, and allowed you to be hungry, and fed you with manna, which you didn’t know, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
That is interesting, isn’t it! “Man does not live by bread only, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh.” Is that really true? We know that we need bread to live, but do we also need a word from the Lord. We don’t really have that kind of regard for words. “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” we say. Anything that can’t hurt us probably can’t help us either. If words can’t hurt us, they surely have no power.
But words do hurt us. A father told me that his son ran away from home because he lost his job. He was afraid to face his father. When the boy finally came home, the father said, “That’s crazy! I never hit you. I might shout at you, but I never hit you!” The father was really saying, “My fists could break your bones, but my words can never hurt you.” Does anyone here believe that? Of course not! The boy was afraid of his father, because he knew his father was going to hurt him. The father was going to shout at him and make him feel bad. The father was going to cut him down to size. The boy was already miserable, and the father was going to grind his face into the misery. Some of our greatest pain comes from words. The truth is that, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can REALLY hurt me.”
If words can hurt us, they can also help us. There are countless stories of people whose lives were turned around by the right word from the right person at the right time. We have experienced the power of words. Gentle words soothe us. Forgiving words heal us. Encouraging words motivate us. If a word from a friend or loved one can save us, just imagine what a word from the Lord can do. “Man does not live by bread only, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh.” It was by a word from God that the world was created. It is by the Word of God that the world is fed.
Jesus is the Word of God. “The Word became flesh, and lived among us…” (John 1:14). Jesus is the WORD that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus is God’s gentle Word. Jesus is God’s forgiving Word. Jesus is God’s encouraging Word. Jesus is God’s saving Word. One does not live by bread alone, but by Jesus, who is God’s gentle, forgiving, encouraging, saving Word.
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus puts it this way. He says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not be hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (6:35). Just as we make bread from wheat to fill our bellies, God made bread from flesh to fill our souls.
In his book, The Power of Holy Habits, Bill Hinson says that, in the Middle East, bread is the heart of a meal. People don’t use forks. They feel that putting an object in their mouth defiles them, and they would eat by repeatedly defiling themselves. Instead, they break off a piece of bread, use the bread to pick up their meat, and put bread and meat in their mouth. Without bread, they could not eat. Bread is the way to life. When Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” he was saying, I am the way—the only way—by which you can receive spiritual nourishment.
Four hundred years ago, Edmund Campion put it this way:
Christ is rich, who will maintain you:
He is a king, who will provide you:
He is a sumptuous entertainer, who will feast you:
He is beautiful, who will give you in abundance
all that can make you happy.
Come to Christ. Feed on him, and let him enrich your life.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2000, Richard Niell Donovan.