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John 6_35, 41-51

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TITLE:  Bread for Our Souls                      SCRIPTURE:    John 6:35, 41-51

Jesus said, "I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

That sounds pretty good, doesn't it!  Never hungry!  Never thirsty!  That ranks right up there with Jesus' promise, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

The big difference is that we have been weary and have felt the weight of heavy burdens -- but most of us can't remember the last time that we were hungry or thirsty.

When my wife asks, "Are you hungry?" she isn't asking if I am suffering from hunger.  She is asking only if I am hungry enough to eat.  Being willing to eat is a far cry from being really hungry.

Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."  The people to whom he was talking knew what it meant to be hungry.  They knew what it meant to be thirsty.  Some of them raised sheep in land too marginal to farm.  They knew how it felt to depend on a water hole -- and then to find that it had gone dry.  They knew what it was like to hunger and thirst.

So Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."  He had just fed five thousand people with a few loaves and fishes.  The people knew that he enjoyed a kind of Godly power.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if he would use that power to feed them -- to give them food and water in abundance -- to make their lives easier?

Jesus sometimes does that.  Jesus sometimes helps us to prosper materially.  You probably know the story of the wedding at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine.  I remember hearing of a recovering alcoholic who said, "In my home, Jesus turned beer into furniture!" -- meaning, of course, that he could now support his family because Jesus had helped him to quit drinking. 

But when Jesus said that those who come to him will never hunger or thirst, he was talking about something even more important than physical bread and water.  He was talking about that which nourishes the soul as well as the body. 

We need food for the soul.  Not many of us can remember the last time that we were really hungry or thirsty, but we can remember the last time that our hearts cried out in pain.  There are people here today whose hearts are crying out in pain.  We get a glimpse of that when we ask for prayer requests.  We hear requests for people in need -- for people with serious illnesses -- for families of those who have died. 

Whenever we ask for prayer requests, I am happy to be able to pray for those whose needs have been mentioned, but I also think about those whose needs were not mentioned -- people afraid of losing their jobs -- or people searching for a sense of purpose -- or lonely people.  There is a good deal of pain in this congregation that never gets mentioned during the prayer requests -- pain too private to reveal in public -- the hunger and thirst of our souls.

When Jesus promises relief from hunger and thirst, I believe that he is addressing the hunger and thirst of our souls as well as the hunger and thirst of our stomachs.  He is offering to help us with our deepest needs -- with our most personal hurts.  He is offering to show us a new direction in life -- and to give us strength to pursue it.

That doesn't mean that Jesus is promising us a bed of roses.  It will help keep things in perspective if we will remember Jesus' cross -- and his challenge to us to take up our cross.  Jesus never intended to give us lives free from trouble.  He came to dwell among us, full of grace and truth.  To do so, he endured hunger and thirst -- and blistering heat and cold rainy nights.  He endured playmates who hit -- and cheated -- and called him names.  Later he endured adults who tried to trap him with trick questions -- and throw him off a cliff.  Ultimately, he endured the cross.

Jesus didn't intend to transform our world into a heavenly paradise by fiat -- shazamm.  Instead, he planned to experience all the problems that we experience -- but to rise above those problems -- to transform them -- to make Easter out of Good Friday.

Likewise, Jesus doesn't intend to hand us paradise on a platter -- shazamm.  Instead, he asks us to carry him into our world -- to carry him in our hearts -- to give the people around us a glimpse of Jesus through our lives.  He asks us to love them as he loves them -- and to trust him that he will use our small contributions in great ways.

They say that God works in mysterious ways, and that is true.  They are also wonderful ways -- but we have to have our eyes open to see them.

I read somewhere about Dr. Lauren Artress, a psychotherapist and Episcopal priest in San Francisco.  Inspired by the sacred labyrinth embedded in the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France, Dr. Artress replicated that design in canvas as a floor tapestry.  Her labyrinth, more than 500 yards (450 meters) in length, invites visitors to walk and meditate.  One woman, struggling in crisis with a drug-addicted son, recalled her experience.  She said:

      I removed my shoes and hesitated,
      feeling self-conscious as I walked through the first section..
      As I approached the center
      I realized that I had entered the labyrinth with some expectations,
      and they didn't seem to be happening.
      I wanted answers to my problems.
      I wanted some sign that everything would be okay with my family.
      I wanted guidance as to how to handle my son.. 

      I began to feel desperate, almost in tears.. 
      As I came to the center of the labyrinth
      I realized that I would not get the solutions to my problems today.

      I did, however, feel a sense of peace.,
      and I felt the presence of love.

Someone commented, "The grace of God is like that -- not a map, but the unexpected gift of peace in the midst of the maze.

I like that phrase, "the unexpected gift of peace in the midst of the maze."  That's what Jesus has come to give us.  He did not come to excuse us from the maze, but he did come to give us "the unexpected gift of peace" as we make our way through it.

Today, I know that many of you are struggling with problems great and small -- problems of health -- worries about loved ones -- relationship problems -- and a host of others too numerous to mention.  Today, I invite you to make Christ your companion as you make your way through the maze.  Ask him to guide you and to strengthen you and to make you wise for the journey.  Ask him to help you lest you stumble and fall.  Ask him to lead you through the darkness into the sunlight beyond -- and ask him to give you patience while you wait for the sunlight to be unveiled.

And let us pray for each other that Jesus will give us "the unexpected gift of peace in the midst of the maze." 


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