By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 1, 2021
John 6:24–35 (ESV)
24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
It is good to be back from our 2021 EFC-MAYM Ministry Conference. I hope we enjoyed the live stream from Wichita last week, and I hope we are looking forward to the year to come. I do want to mention a couple of things from the conference that I feel are important. The first is that next year I hope all of us can attend because it will be the closing of the 150th year of our Yearly Meeting. We will be celebrating that momentous occasion by meeting in the city where our Yearly Meeting was first formed, Lawrence, Kansas. To celebrate our Yearly Meeting hopes to start the next 150 years by revitalizing and expanding our churches, both in currently established meetings and planting new locations to meet for worship. This dream comes with some cooperation on our part, to do this the yearly meeting hopes to raise $150,000 of support.
This sounds like a huge number, but I think it is something we can achieve. We are already starting the process, in our own area we have three new Friends’ ministry points: Friends of Lawrence, the Hispanic Friends of Emporia, and the Friends Church in Raymore. And the newest Friends Meeting to reach full church status, St. Paul Friends Church in St. Paul Minnesota, is in our area. Our little area of small churches is right in the middle. We are right where we need to be. I am excited to see what will happen next.
This great work is going on all around us. But often we do not see it. This happens often among people of faith. We get excited for a bit. Then we fall back into a state of indifference. We have, what many call, mountain top experiences, and then we have what the mistics of old would call dark nights of the soul or we get engulfed in clouds of unknowing.
We love those mountain top times. We can feel God moving among us, we can sense the Spirit of God working. We try to capture those mountaintop experiences and make them last. That is not the point of faith or worship. When George Fox first began his ministry one of the statements, he made was that he knew God experimentally. That statement seems odd today, it sounds cold and clinical. Fox lived near the beginning of the age of reason in Western Civilization. During this age our ancestors began to systematically move away from superstitious ideas and began trying to explain things using the scientific method. Fox said that he knew God experimentally, he sensed God’s Spirit working and moving, and he could see the results. Some may translate the use of experimentally into experientially but it was more than that. Fox did not build his faith on experiences, but observation. When he was in one of his darkest moments, he was seeking God hoping to find answers to build his life upon, but as he sought those answer, he met only platitudes. In despair he took his book of scripture into a field and sat there alone, and in the silence, He heard a voice that spoke to him, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to your condition.” From that point on George began to develop a lifestyle around stillness where he would hear the voice, and then respond in ministry. He would gather people together to meet in the stillness and then out of those meetings people would find their calling in life and begin to minister as they were lead. From the outside it might seem as if these people are being led by experiences, and at times it is true that they were often emotionally based, but there is more to it. There was advice and counsel, speaking to those that sensed a calling, there were meetings of clearness where people would gather to discuss personal or corporate decisions. These meetings were a mix of pray, study, and constructive criticism.
The Society of Friends has been around since the 1650’s. We have been involved in some of the greatest moments in history yet often remain as a footnote. We have worked to provide humane treatment to those in prisons, we were instrumental in the formation of what would become the United States, we promoted the abolition of slavery and equal rights for all humanity, and we have been a firm voice in equal access to education. All these monumental works, and if you were to go to any history class in school if Friends are mentioned at all they are referred to as extinct. No longer in existence. I find that interesting, distressing, as well as refreshing.
Today, in the passage of scripture, we see Jesus once again with a crowd. Since I did not bring a message last week, we missed part of the story, the feeding of the multitude. The crowds that came to Jesus were great in number, they were in a desolate place, and it was getting late. The disciples urged Jesus to send the crowds home, but instead Jesus told the disciples to feed the people. If you have ever had to obtain food for a large gathering you are aware that it is no small feat. Even today with the modern conveniences it takes a great amount of logistics to get the right amount of food at the right time. We have industrial ovens and vehicles that can travel great distances in a short amount of time. They had stone ovens, heated with a flame, and the majority traveled by foot. To get enough food for a multitude of 5000 men plus women and children, would have needed weeks of planning and a caravan to transport it. Yet, Jesus, straight faced looked at them and said you feed them.
I want us to just imagine the mission that Jesus set them on. To call it overwhelming is to be charitable. It was not possible. Not only were they in the middle of nowhere, but even if they were in an urban setting with enough money, there was not enough time to accomplish the task. The average loaf of bread requires approximately thirty minutes to bake. Even if the average oven could hold ten loaves of bread it would take 500 hours to bake one loaf for the estimated amount of people that were likely at the gathering. They are in an isolated place, meaning there would not be that many ovens around and many of these rural communities would have had a shared oven among an extended family group. There might have been around twenty ovens available to bake bread, which would mean it would take the disciples twenty-five hours to provide the needed loaf.
This was not an easy task; it was not even a possible task to accomplish at that moment. Yet when Jesus made that statement, he was showing them what their ministry would be. There will always be too many mouths to feed and not enough resources to accomplish the task.
Jesus does not leave the disciples in that place of despair. He tells them to feed the people, they inform Jesus its impossible. Jesus then asks what do we have? They ask around and bring to Jesus something insignificant, a boy’s lunch of five loaves and a couple of fish. And miraculously everyone ate their fill on that meager ration. We do not know exactly how this happened, some will say that the boy’s offering inspired everyone else to share and others will say that Jesus literally multiplied the food. That does not matter. God was able to do something remarkable with something so inadequate.
After this amazing feat, the disciples are told to set sail to the other side of the sea, and Jesus remained behind. The crowds knew that Jesus remained behind and when morning came Jesus was not where the crowd expected him to be. They then began to search for Jesus. They got into boats and began looking for Jesus in places they anticipated him to be. They looked in the area they ate the bread, they looked in Capernaum, but did not find him. The then went across the sea to the other side. These people were frantically searching for Jesus.
I do not know if we fully grasp the intensity of this search. They did not want to lose Jesus; they would do whatever it took to say near his camp. They would follow him wherever he went even if it meant going to the other side of the sea, into the part of that region shrouded in the darkness of the Gentiles. When they finally found Jesus they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” John told us that Jesus walked across the sea, and it is a story that John remembered well because it caused grown men to cry out in fear. But those that were not part of the group of disciples we unaware of this event. To them Jesus just disappeared.
We might look at this passage and think that it is a great sign of devotion of these people, but that is not the response that Jesus gives. Jesus tells them that they are there not because of the signs but because they ate their fill of loaves. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
They had followed Jesus across the sea, they had entered the valley of the shadow of death and yet Jesus tells them that they are only there because they ate their fill of loaves. They are only there for selfish material reasons. They are there for perishable food not the nourishment that endures to eternal life. The crowd takes offense to what Jesus had just said. What more do they have to do to prove their worth?
Jesus answers simply. The only work is to believe in him.
I want us to stop right here. This seems ridiculous on the surface. They had just crossed the sea they believed that Jesus could give them what they needed. They would not be on that opposite shore if they did not believe. And this is the problem. We have different levels of belief in our language, but what Jesus is speaking about is a type of belief that goes beyond knowledge, or even assurance. He is speaking of what I call entrusting faith. This is a level of belief or trust that is obedient even if it does not make sense. It is to continue to endure even if the food does not come.
They listen to those words that Jesus says and they respond, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?” They are turning this belief around on Jesus and revealing exactly what Jesus had said to begin with. The only reason they are there is to get more food. They do not want to have to work, they do not want to have to struggle. They want to go back to the good old days, where God just gave them everything they needed and they did not have to worry about anything.
They are looking at their history with rosy glasses. God did provide manna from heaven every morning. He did provide quail while they traversed the desert. In their minds the people of Israel were trusting God during that time and they received the food because of that trust. That was not trust. That was survival. Every day they had to gather the bread, and if they gathered too much and tried to save some for later it would spoil. They were bound to God because their lives depended on it. Eventually they entered the promised land, and the bread stopped coming. God was no longer providing the bread in the same way. They trusted that God would provide, but once they were in the land they had to move to a different level of trust or belief. They had to live that trust out and believe that God would in some way provide for their daily bread.
In the desert their faith was given to them. When they entered the land, they had to live their faith. They had to entrust themselves to God even when it did not make sense. This is what Fox meant by Experimentally. He listened to the voice of God that he sensed in his life, and when he entrusted everything in obedience to the Word, he observed that through the times of plenty and famine God still provided. The people that followed Jesus after eating their fill did not want to entrust their lives to God. They did not want to have to do anything themselves. They wanted it done for them.
There is a fine line between signs and faith. Between looking for a reason to believe, and just looking for our personal needs to be met. I struggle with this as much as anyone else. I want to fully believe and I hesitate because I have needs. I have a folder on my computer that has documents about the dreams that I have had as to the future of the ministry of Friends in this community. I have not fully expressed those dreams in public and I wonder why.
Friends have historically been very active at the beginnings of many great reforms in culture since our inception. But that comes with a cost. We love to speak about the work of Levi Coffin and the underground railroad, but we do not like to mention that his Meeting threw him out when he first began to push them to reform. We like to mention that we have always been supportive of equality for all people but in the year 2021 we still have inequality language in our faith and practice. Thankfully we are in the process of revising that. We like to think we are doing great things, but are we? Are we willing to entrust our lives to God like Fox, and others? Are we willing to walk in obediently? We like those people of Israel like things done for us, that is why we often have the polarizing political cycles in our nation. We want things and we think this or that person will give us what we need. That is not the faith God wants us to have. We are not supposed to live enslaved to the whims of mankind, but we are to entrust our lives to the King of kings and Lord of Lords. And we know that we can do this because he did give us a sign: he went to the cross, carrying our shame with him and died on that tree. He was buried in the ground enduring separation from life in death. And he came out of that grave restored to life on the third day and now sits at the right hand of God in paradise. We have the signs recorded in scripture. We also have them experimentally in the lives of those around us. Each of us can testify to God’s goodness, and grace even through the struggles we endure in life. We will all struggle, we will all wonder where our daily bread will come from at some point. Maybe within our business, or maybe in our personal life. But are we willing to entrust what we have to God and for his glory? Are we willing to believe in him whom he has sent? Will we seek more signs or live by faith?
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