God-with-us offers eternal life – a meeting and filling of all human needs in this world, an abundant life for you and for all God’s children.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 18 B
Text: John 6:(15-23) 22-35 (36-40)
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
My mother taught me the wisdom of trusting my own body.
When we had the stomach flu, at some point we’d begin to be hungry again. My mother believed our body knows what it can handle. So, if we felt hungry for any particular thing, she said we’d likely be able to keep it down. And she was right.
But somehow, in much of our lives, we’ve lost the ability to listen to our body, our spirit, our mind, and know what is needed. We eat things we know aren’t good for us. We do things we know are harmful. We ignore pains and warnings – mental, physical, spiritual – and pretend we’re fine.
So, instead of listening to what we need, we fill the hole inside with other things.
We long for something deep and true, but instead we try to acquire more things, or seek financial security, hoping that will answer. We need wholeness and peace but fall into addictions that promise peace while leading us deeper into suffering. We feel loneliness and ache for connection, but fill our lives with distractions like phones and computers and podcasts and work, even sitting with others we love while remaining inside our own bubbles.
Today Jesus once again offers us the deepest filling of what we need. God-with-us says “I am your eternal bread. I can fill you so you’re never hungry.” But how can we know that kind of satisfaction?
Well, to start with, we do know what the main human needs are.
All human beings have certain physical needs that are basic and critical. We need food, we need shelter, we need clothing appropriate to our climate, we need safety in all its dimensions. Without these, it’s hard to tend to the others.
Beyond such physical needs, to be whole and well, all human beings also need to know we are loved. We need to be able to love. And we need a purpose for our lives.
Today Jesus promises to give God’s children a life that meets those needs.
Jesus calls this gift “eternal life.” Over the centuries Christians mostly have confused this gift with another gift, resurrection life after we die. So we hear Jesus today and think he’s talking about life after death.
But in the few extra verses we read today at the end of our Gospel Jesus says this: God’s will is that “all who see the Son and trust in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.” (John 6:40)
God-with-us offers us eternal life. And a promise that we’ll be raised from our death into the resurrection life. Two gifts. Maybe Christians are so often spiritually starving, struggling with fear and anxiety, chasing addictions, seeking comfort in wealth and distractions because we’re convinced the whole point of God coming in Christ is only to ensure our resurrection life and has little to do with today.
But God-with-us wants you to have eternal life. Abundant life. Life now, where your deep human longings and needs are met. Could you try to learn to trust the second gift – trust you will live after you die – so instead you can focus on this other gift that you and the world need, and God longs to give?
In this eternal life, God’s first desire is to meet the physical needs of God’s children.
From Moses and the prophets to Jesus, the Triune God’s will is that all God’s children are fed, and sheltered, and clothed, and safe. God’s consistent calls for justice and the end to poverty and oppression and violence all show this desire. Jesus fed the crowds before any of his talk of eternal food.
Jesus’ call to his followers to feed his lambs gives this work to those who follow Christ. We experience God’s eternal life when we participate in God’s justice and peace, ensure that all are filled and sheltered, that systems of oppression and injustice are dismantled, and that the society and structures we build protect the physical well-being of all God’s creatures.
In fact, God-with-us reminds us that we can’t be filled or satisfied, if any of our siblings in our city and world aren’t cared for. Our place of privilege means most of us here don’t struggle with most of these physical needs. But abundant, eternal life only happens when all share that privilege.
Once physical needs are met, it’s easier to see the other blessings in God’s eternal life.
God-with-us comes to all God’s children, and offers the life of God for the sake of the world. In Christ, God is clear: you are loved, you are worthy of being loved. Whatever anxiety you have over your brokenness or your sins, whatever grief or shame or fear you have, all are washed away in the self-giving love of God for you in the cross and resurrection. Eternal life with Christ answers your ultimate question: you are God’s beloved, always.
And knowing that love, swimming in it, breathing it, means you become someone who can love. God’s love restores your heart and makes loving relationships with others possible. In Christ’s abundant life, loving relationships grow and thrive, overcoming brokenness with forgiveness, hardships with compassion, distance with embrace.
And eternal life in Christ means you have a purpose in this world, a meaning to your existence. No matter how old or young you are, no matter how competent or useless you feel, every day this is your reason to get up: you are needed. At home alone, or living with family, or at work, or meeting neighbors, God needs you to be God’s love and healing in the world. Even the the systems of oppression and violence we’ve built that separate and divide, that crush millions for arbitrary and cruel reasons while blessing others, can be broken down by your love and mine, by the love of all who follow Christ.
Christ Jesus is the eternal bread that fills you with this eternal life.
In Christ you are loved, and you can love, and you have a purpose in this world, to be a part of God’s eternal life for others.
If you are hungry or naked or oppressed; or . . . if you are anxious, or lonely, or sick, or depressed, or frightened, or ashamed, or lost, or confused, good news: God can fill you up with what will truly answer those pains and sufferings, and give you what you need to find abundant, whole life in whatever circumstance you find yourself.
Whoever comes to me, God-with-us says, will never be hungry. Whoever trusts in me will never be thirsty.
That means you. And we work and pray that soon all God’s children will know it means them, too.
In the name of Jesus. Amen