Summary: A sermon about seeking Christ in order to be transformed.
I have read that in 19th Century China, and perhaps all over Asia, there was a name given for people who came to church for one reason and one reason only—because they were hungry for material food.
They converted to Christianity, were baptized, joined the Church, and were active members as long as their physical needs were met through the generosity of the congregation.
But once their socio-economic situations improved and they and their families no longer needed rice, they drifted away from the Church.
Hence the reason they were called “rice Christians.”
That’s also kind of similar to what happened in East Germany and Romania just before the liberation of eastern Europe—when the pastors were speaking out against Communist regimes.
The people came to cheer the church on, and to join the congregation.
But after the liberation from the heel of the Soviet boot and local dictators, the crowds went home and the churches started to look as bedraggled and abandoned as they had before.
The crowd on our Gospel Lesson for this morning are, evidently, the same group who had been fed the day before when Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people from five loaves of bread and two fish.
Apparently, they had eaten their fill and then took a good old snooze.
The next morning, when they woke up, they realized that Jesus and His disciples had quietly left town.
So, “they got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.”
When they finally found Jesus, He said to them, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted.”
It seems that the crowd was hungry for breakfast.
They were chasing after Jesus, not because they were interested in having a relationship with Jesus; they merely wanted another free meal.
They are after Jesus because they want to fill their tummies, not so they can have the fulfillment of their lives.
And so, we see that what happened in 19th Century China, in East Germany and Romania is nothing new.
It’s as old as the Gospel itself.
Are we any different?
Do we follow Jesus because of something material that we get in return?
Are we simply running after food that perishes?
If so, Jesus invites us to seek “food that endures for eternal life” which is offered by the Son of God in order to satisfy our deepest hungers.
And those hungers are hungers for meaning…
…hungers for relationships…
…hungers for love—to be loved and to love…
…to give our lives for something other than ourselves…
…to help to feed the world, heal the sick, care for the broken hearted...
…to be changed and transformed from the inside out.
I’d rather have that than a Big Mac any day; how about you?
Jesus tells the crowds, “Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last…”
It’s fascinating to watch children as they make new discoveries and uncover new truths about life.
The other week, on our car ride home from vacation, Mary Ellen noted: “You know, yesterday I wanted some ice cream.
But I don’t care whether I had the ice cream or not.
It doesn’t make any difference to me now.”
In our Gospel lesson, the people who had listened to Jesus’ teaching were still hung up on the loaves and fishes.
But the loaves and fishes had, in a sense, perished.
The people were hungry again.
As they would be again and again and again.
This is why they asked Jesus for another sign.
“They asked, ‘What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?’
Jesus replied, ‘This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.’”
Then, they “asked, ‘What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you?
What will you do?’”
If you have seen Jesus Christ Superstar you are most likely familiar with the Herod’s song when he sings, “So, you are the Christ, you’re the great Jesus Christ.
Prove to me that you’re divine; change my water into wine…
…prove to me that your no fool; walk across my swimming pool…
…feed my household with this bread. You can do it on your head.”
And when Jesus does not do what Herod asks, he screams: “Get out of here! Get out of here you, Get out of my life!”
“Christ does not reply to the question [s] put to him,” John Calvin writes, when we seek, “in Christ something other than Christ himself.”
What matters in life is not what Jesus can do for us; what matters is Who Jesus is.
And if we are prepared to be confronted with this in a new way we can then begin to understand what Jesus can really do for us—what Jesus really wants for us!