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John 6: 24-35 July 31, 2021
Winslow Homer – The Gulf Stream When I stand in front of an oil painting, I am amazed at how the brush strokes add a depth to the colors and composition of what the artist painted. The closer I stand, the more pronounced the strokes, the texture, the separation of colors, the edges of the shapes and images. But to grasp the entire view of an oil painting, it is good to step back, to pull away and see the picture in its entirety, to allow the skill of the artist’s use of the pigments and brush strokes, working together, and impress upon you the beauty portrayed.
Reading the Bible can be similar to viewing a piece of artwork. You move close to the text, seeking to enter the text, drawing closer to the meaning of the words, the inspired intent of the writer, seeking the edges of the narrative that will shape your response to the acts of God. Such particulars in Bible study excite me, and I try to share that excitement with you. To appreciate the full grandeur of a Bible story, there is a time to hold the Bible at arm’s length so to speak, to see the big picture, to allow the whole of the story to impress upon you the majesty of the moment captured in time by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The frame that captures Jesus’ proclamation that he is the Bread of Life is the miracle of the feeding of the 5000.
I think we are familiar with the story of Jesus feeding a large crowd, 5000 or more, with 5 barley loaves of bread and 2 fish; this report of this miracle appears in all 4 Gospels. Everyone was fed, and leftovers were so abundant that they filled 12 baskets. It made no difference to Jesus if you were a young family or had no family at all; if you were Jewish, a Samaritan, an Egyptian, whatever; if you were of the Zealots’ political party, a member of Herod’s royal court, a Roman soldier, a fanatical Essene responsible for the Dead Sea scrolls. You ate well. There was no dissension, no bickering, no greed or gluttony, no hoarding; no one was afraid. Jesus as Lord and Savior nourished God’s people like a servant, helped by his closest and dearest friends, the disciples who moved among the crowd with grace sharing God’s overwhelming abundance. Can you imagine the laughter, the relaxed conversation, the delight and wonder of the people in the presence of the Lord fed as if from God’s own hand?
It is no wonder that they wanted more and more and more from Jesus; they had tasted a bit of heaven on earth, and in the semi-arid, empty, primitive Judean wilderness of all places. When they thought it couldn’t get any better, they heard the best was yet to come. Jesus said, “That bread you ate will perish; work for the bread that never perishes,” said Jesus. “What must we do?” They asked. “Give us a list, a blueprint, a spreadsheet. I can hear the Presbyterians in the crowd! Give us a plan! What is the process? What is it, Jesus?” And he answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (6:29) Wow!
Let’s move a little closer to the scene, drawing nearer “I am the bread of life” moment which is the key verse, the unique brush stroke in the text as if this were an oil painting. The work of God, Jesus said, is to believe in him whom God has sent. It is the verse that surrounds us with God’s love on the outside (for Jesus was flesh and blood and miracle worker multiplying loaves and fishes) and forms us on the inside (for he is the creative Word made flesh, and by faith is alive within us) Jesus said, This is God’s work, that we believe in the Son whom he sent. We are doing God’s work ourselves when we believe in the Son whom God has sent. The work of God in Christ becomes our doing the work of God in Christ when we believe. No list. No printout. Just trusting, loving, honoring, serving the Lord.
There is a holy mystery here about faith. The depth of the gospel is not measured when we contrast our own working with our own believing. The “work of God” is our belief, which is made possible only by receiving the Son, the bread from Heaven. Faith is always the gracious and surprising accomplishment of God, and in order to believe, God sent us Jesus to believe in.
I believe that your life when Jesus Christ is in you becomes a work of art – and in the hands of the Master Painter, each brush stroke of every day contributes to your beauty. When you believe, then your faith is revealed in the choices of the day. The beauty of your faith flow naturally in your conversations as you meet your friends, your family, the UPS driver, the pharmacist, the server. You may not give it a thought, but the kindness you give touches other people. You have a gut feeling that justice needs to be fair, that might does not make right, and that a choice to help another – to hold open the door, to smile at a stranger, to make sandwiches in the kitchen, to serve a meal – is polite, of course, but also borders on the holy.
It is the little things each day that are the brush strokes of Christ’s life in your life. You and I stand too close to ourselves to see the whole picture, the real intention of the artist revealed as the brush strokes reveal color and form and beauty of holiness. But God who above all and over all and sees it all enjoys the loveliness of Christ in us. I want to draw upon two Scriptures to illustrate our lives in response to God, and God’s reaction to us. The first is Micah 6: 8: God has told you, O man, woman and child, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? These lofty ideals are not meant to be chiseled into marble and hung on the walls of City Hall; they are meant to be inscribed on our hearts. The second is from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 25, verse 31 – 40 . It is the Great Judgment scene where goats are separated from the sheep, and those who lived faithfully, righteously is Matthew’s word, enter into the joy prepared from the foundation of time because they fed the hungry, nourished the thirsty, welcomed the stranger and clothed the naked, visiting the prisoner. They are surprised, stunned even, and ask when? When did we do these things? We know how the Good Shepherd answers; when you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me. Brush stroke after brush stroke after brush stroke, the choices we make, and the beauty of the Lord in us will be seen by our God in Heaven. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom God has sent.” (John 6: 29)