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Relief From Soul-Killing Rules

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TITLE:  Relief from Soul-Killing Rules      SCRIPTURE:  John 6:24-35

In the Last week or two, our text contained the Feeding of the Five Thousand.  That was quite a story.  A great crowd gathered to hear Jesus -- five thousand people -- maybe ten thousand with women and children.

Jesus told his disciples to give the people something to eat, and they said, "Whadda you mean, Jesus?  Look at the size of this crowd!  It would cost us a fortune to feed them!"

That barely scratched the surface.  If they had the money, where would they buy food for thousands of people?  If you could buy it, how would you transport it?  Where would you get water for that many people -- and Porta-potties?

But Jesus fed those thousands with five loaves and two fish -- a little boy's lunch.  And there were leftovers -- twelve baskets of leftovers!

The people were impressed.  When Jesus and his disciples left the area, the crowd tracked them down.  They had eaten Jesus' cooking, and they wanted more.

But when they found Jesus, he didn't seem very receptive.  He said:


     "Very truly, I tell you,

     you are looking for me, not because you saw signs,

     but because you ate your fill of the loaves.


     "Do not work for the food that perishes,

     but for the food that endures for eternal life,

     which the Son of Man will give you" (vv. 26-27).

I was amused when I read that, because it was clear that Jesus had their number.  Once again, he said:

     "You are looking for me, not because you saw signs,

     but because you ate your fill of the loaves."


In other words, Jesus was saying, "You don't care about me.  You're just looking for what I can give you."  Meister Eckhart said it well seven hundred years ago.  He said:

     "There are people who want to see God

     with the same eyes with which they look at a cow,

     and they want to love God

     the same way they love a cow --

     for the milk and the cheese."

That's so often true.  We want to love for what he can give us.  Think about your prayers.  Do you pray, "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name"?  Probably not!  Do you ask, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done"?  Probably not! 

But there is one line in the Lord's Prayer that covers most of our prayers -- and it is this:  "Give us this day our daily bread."  We pray that petition, in one form or another, over and over again.  "Lord, give me this and give me that."  Doesn't that pretty well summarize most of our prayers? 

Maybe we toss in a little "Thanks for this or thanks for that" -- in other words, "Thanks for what you gave me yesterday -- but now let's talk about today." 

That's what was happening with the crowd that came seeking Jesus.  They weren't looking for Jesus, the Son of God.  They weren't looking for Jesus, the Savior.  They weren't looking for Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  They were looking for another free lunch. 

And so Jesus said:

     "Do not work for the food that perishes,

     but for the food that endures for eternal life,

     which the Son of Man will give you"

Jesus was not saying that food is unimportant.  At another time and place, he taught his disciples to pray for daily bread.  But now he is challenging these people to lift their eyes beyond the physical bread that he fed them on that mountainside.  He is challenging them to join him on his spiritual journey.  He is calling them to acknowledge their need for "the food that endures for eternal life" -- spiritual food -- and he offers to give them that food -- "the food that endures for eternal life."

We are always tempted to make too little of life -- to live as if there were nothing better than money and the things money can buy -- to treat God as if he were nothing more than our personal bellboy, waiting for us to ring the bell so he can bring us dinner.  We are tempted to treat our personal life as if it were nothing more than food and sex. 

Jesus wants more for us.  It isn't that money is bad -- or food, or clothing, or sex.  They are all good when we treat them as gifts from God -- to be used in ways that honor God.

But Jesus called those people two thousand years ago to something more than bread.  He called them to seek "the food that endures for eternal life."  And then he offered to give it to them. 

Jesus offers to give that "food that endures" to us as well.  If we follow Jesus -- if we fix our eyes on him and allow him to lead us -- he will help us to find treasures that we can scarcely imagine -- treasures much greater than money and the things money can buy. 

Since Jesus shifted their thinking to spiritual things, the people responded by asking:

     "What must we do

     to perform the works of God?"


As you know, the Jewish people were living under Jewish law.  Over the years, that law became a nightmare.  We talk about the Ten Commandments, but those were just the beginning.  Rabbis counted 613 commandments -- 248 "thou shalts" and 365 "thou shalt nots" -- and then they expanded those into thousands of rules that the Jewish people had to live by.  It was mind-boggling.

So when these people asked


     "What must we do

     to perform the works of God?"

they were really asking Jesus to guide them through the maze -- to identify the really important commandments -- to simplify the rules -- because the rules were soul-killing. 

In his book, Keep Your Head Down, Doug Anderson tells about his father -- a really lousy father -- seldom home -- usually drunk -- married three times -- children by two wives.  Doug seldom saw his father.  He comments:

     "Growing up without my father had certain advantages.

     My father's presence would have been worse than his absence,

     because he would have tried to kill in me what he'd killed in himself.

     "My father had turned away from his own talent.

     He was a gifted artist and photographer....

     But after the war, with my mother's help,

     he went to night school to get his CPA certificate,

     which could be had without a college degree in those days.

     "He became appallingly responsible after that.

     When...I would ask him for money... he would say things like,

     'You've got champagne taste and a beer pocketbook, son.'

     He became the practical man,

     and his considerable talent fell into shadow" (pages 32-33).

Isn't that a sad commentary!  "Growing up without my father had certain advantages..., because he would have tried to kill in me what he'd killed in himself."  A soul-killing father!  How terrible!  Fathers aren't the only ones though.  Warren Buffet's biography, Snowball, reveals his mother as a soul-killing mother.

The Jewish law could be like that.  The burden of so many rules could be soul-killing.  So the people asked Jesus:

     "What must we do

     to perform the works of God?"

In other words, help us to find our way through the maze.  Pare down the rules to something manageable.

So Jesus gave them a remarkable answer.  He didn't give them one rule to follow -- or two, as he did elsewhere.  Instead, he said:


     "This is the work of God,

     that you believe in him whom (God) has sent" (v. 29).

In other words, "Throw away the rule book.  Just believe in me."  In those few words, he took the burden of the law from their shoulders.  Instead of trying to remember hundreds of laws or thousands of rules -- all they had to do was to follow Jesus -- because, if they really tried to follow Jesus, however imperfectly, they would please God.

That reminds me of a friend who was trying to learn how to use his computer.  He bought a book on computers, but couldn't make sense of it.  The book left things out.  The authors assumed that the reader would know the basics, so they didn't mention them.  But my friend didn't know the basics.  When he came to a step that they left out, he didn't know what to do.  He was stumped. 

I showed him a few simple things.  We went step by step through those simple things.  Now he can use a computer for the things that he needs to do.  He was so grateful.  He said, "The books never tell you the little things -- like the fact that you cannot use a colon in a filename.  Thanks for telling me that."

But believing in Jesus is even better than having a friend teach you how to use a computer.  When we believe in Jesus, we can just do our best and trust Jesus to do the rest.  We no longer need a "how to do it" book -- or a rulebook.  We just need Jesus.

Are you still living by the rulebook?  Do you imagine that God is always looking over your shoulder, waiting for you to make a mistake -- keeping track of all the bad things that you have ever done?   Do you think that your cause is hopeless?

God isn't that way at all.  God isn't standing over you, hoping that you will fail.  God is waiting at the doorstep, hoping to see you coming down the lane -- hoping to welcome you to his table once again.

The people wanted to know what they had to do to please God.  Jesus told them that all they had to do was to believe in him.  That's all we need to do too.  If we believe in Jesus and truly try to follow him, the rest will fall into place. 

So remember "that life is more than food, and the body more than clothing" (Luke 12:23).  And remember that God loves you.  And remember that all you need to do to please God is to believe in Jesus and to follow him as best you can.  Look to Jesus, and receive God's blessings

All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name  UMH #154-155

The Church's One Foundation  UMH #545

Break Thou the Bread of Life  UMH #599

Just as I Am, Without One Plea  UMH #357

HYMN STORY:  Break Thou the Bread of Life

The hymn, "Break Thou the Bread of Life," came out of the Chautauqua Movement of the late 1800s.  While the Chautauqua Institution still enrolls some 8,000 students a year in various summer courses, most people know nothing about it.  That was hardly the case in its heyday.  Theodore Roosevelt called Chautauqua "the most American thing in America."  During World War I, Woodrow Wilson deemed it an "integral part of the national defense."

The Chautauqua Movement was founded in 1874 on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in New York State by a Methodist layman, Lewis Miller, and a Methodist pastor (later bishop), John Vincent.  Known originally as the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly, it was intended to be a summer training program for Sunday school teachers, but quickly expanded to include a wide variety of classes and entertainments -- even Broadway plays, operas, and (gasp!) movies.

Mary Lathbury, a commercial artist, enjoyed visiting Chautauqua during the summer.  John Vincent asked her to write a hymn to be sung at Chautauqua Bible studies.  While "Break Thou the Bread of Life" is often used as a communion hymn today, Mary wrote it originally to honor Jesus as the "bread of life" and the "living Word" of God (verse 1).  It is a fitting accompaniment to Bible studies, because it prays that we will be able to move "beyond the sacred page" -- meaning the Bible -- to the "living Word" -- Christ himself.  It prays for Christ's blessing (verse 2) so that we might be freed from everything that would bind us so that we might find peace.  Even though this hymn was written more than a century ago, the peace to which it aspired is a peace that we still need today.

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