Summary: Like Jesus' followers of old, we sometimes fall in love with the gift and forget the giver.
Remember that old country western song, “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places”? The song was about a down and out cowboy, looking for love in bars and shallow relationships. “Looking for love in all the wrong places”.
Today we have a text that might go by a similar title, only instead of “love”, people were “Looking for God, in all the wrong places.”
God's people in our lesson for today were reacting to Jesus' miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Last Sunday's reading from John recalled how Jesus fed a crowd of some five thousand people with just five loaves of bread and a few fish. Quite the miracle! In response to that feeding, the whole crowd went looking for Jesus and more of that miraculous bread that he provided for them.
And why stop with just bread? If Jesus could make a meal for five thousand people, then surely he could provide them with health, wealth, and material prosperity above and beyond their wildest imaginings! Just follow Jesus and you can have all your earthly dreams fulfilled!
But you see, that was just the problem. God's people were looking too low. They were looking for earthly treasures and earthly bread, when they should have been looking heavenly treasure and heavenly bread. They were seeking the gifts, but missing out on the giver.
“Give us more of this bread,” they said to Jesus. In response, Jesus gave them an answer they were not expecting. “Why toil for bread that does not satisfy? Why work for bread that will only perish?” He redirected their searching. He encouraged them to set their sights higher. He told them to look not just for earthly bread which will perish, but for the giver of all good gifts, the one who is the very “bread of life”, God himself.
Looking for love in all the wrong places. Looking for God in all the wrong places. Isn't that what happens to us all when we fall in love with the gifts, but forget about the giver?
Bread is a pretty good gift. And we could think of a lot of other amazing things. Just imagine a first century Biblical person being transported to our day and age, and all the material blessings, he or she might marvel at. Can you imagine a first century person watching television for the first time? How amazed and awestruck they would be by the images and sounds, coming from a box? And not just a little box, but a wide screen “mega TV” covering an entire wall? Or maybe it would be a tiny TV found in someone's cell phone. Now days, you can watch Tom Hanks, not just in the movie theater, but also on your “smart phone”!
And that would be only the beginning of all the marvels that first century person would behold. They would also see trains, planes, and automobiles. Food from all corners of the world almost instantly available in the food court of your local shopping mall. There would be sporting events to attend, dances, plays, and endless entertainment.
After such a feast of material blessings, what would that first century person say? “Give us more of this bread!” And who could blame them?
Earthly bread is good. Earthly bread is a gift from God. Earthly bread is a blessing meant to be enjoyed. How can we not like such blessings? How can we not love them? Yet what if there was something much better right around the corner? Something better than a new cell phone or DVD player. Something better than a blockbuster movie or even the best seats at the Super Bowl. And what if that one more “thing” was not a “thing” at all, but a “person” to enter into relationship with. A person who loves us with a love that is eternal, and absolutely inexhaustible.
Wouldn't we want to set our sights just a little bit higher? Wouldn't we want to pursue not just the gifts, but also the giver?
“Give us more bread.” How easy it is, to love the gifts but forget about the giver. No generation has been more materially blessed than this one. We have so much bread to marvel to at. And sometimes, we take such delight in our material “bread” that we become like little kids in a candy shop. We become mesmerized by all that surrounds us. Hypnotized by all the color, sounds, smells, and tastes. “More, more, more!” we cry, “Give us more of this bread!”
But here's the problem with this earthly bread. In our lesson for today, Jesus said, that earthly bread perishes. It only lasts so long.
I recently heard about a very rare bottle of wine that was being auctioned off for over $60,000! As the bottle was being handled, it slipped from the holder's hands and fell to the floor. The bottle shattered, spilling the $60,000 wine. Was the wine still worth $60,000 now that it had been mixed with the dust of a 1,000 shoes? I don't think so! But that's the problem with earthly bread. It perishes. It turns into trash in the twinkling of an eye.