This is not the life I Expected: John 6:22-40
I don’t know if you’ve been staying up late like me watching the Olympics every night for the past two weeks or not . . . but it has been so easy to do, even if I already knew who won the races. The drama, the personal narrative stories, the commercials about the athletes mothers that make me want to run for a box of Kleenex.
Throughout the games, no matter whom the athletes are and no matter from what country they’ve come, they’ve all seemed to share one emotion in common. And that is expectation. Benjamin Franklin once said this about expectations: “Blessed are those who expect nothing, for they will not be disappointed.” And this is true of some athletes. Yet for others, they come to the games, expecting just to enjoy the moment of being at the games—who cares if there is 0% chance that they’ll win a metal? Their expectation is just to compete and do their personal best. But, for some, they traveled to London with greater expectations of making it to the finals or the quarterfinals of their competition, getting their feet wet so to say in Olympic completion so to be on top in four more years. And for other well-trained and talented athletes they came expecting gold.
But what has happened when expectations have not been met? What has happened when swimmers have slow starts off the blocks, or gymnasts fall off the beam, or volleyball players miss a dig and nose dive into the sand? Disappointment and tears of “This is not the Olympic games I expected” have sent athletes home deeply unhappy.
Several nights ago, if you were up late watching gymnastics or have seen the countless replays since, vault specialist on the women’s team, McKayla Maroney won the silver metal for team USA. This is of course a wonderful feat, being second best in the world after all. But to McKayla, her actions after the fact spoke louder than any interview she could have given to reporters.
Though hailed as the best vaulter thin the world prior the Olympic games with a world championship title under her belt, she made a mistake on her second vault—a fall on her butt which went on to cost her the top finishing spot.
However, instead of displaying sportsmanship after the fact, hugging back the girl who beat her and at least putting a smile on her face at the metal ceremony, McKayla pouted. She seemed to want to get out of the hug position from her competitor as soon as possible. And, displayed what is now her famous “I’m not impressed look” when her competitor’s national anthem and flag were raised higher than her own.
She expected to win gold and simply did not. Life did not go for McKayla Maroney as she planned. And, we all knew it.
In our gospel lesson for this morning, we also find a group of people gathered who were dead set on getting what they expected—searchers full of determination that in Jesus they’d get exactly what they’d be hoping for too. Though I can imagine different from the Olympic athletes, these members of the crowd, weren’t well trained for their moment , as recorded in John 6. They just stumbled upon it and soon expected a lot.
As John 6 begins, while Jesus has just crossed over the Sea of Galilee to spend some quality down time with his disciples after a crazy couple of days, soon they the peace and quiet they sought would be interrupted this crazy crowd of searchers—a crowd as a fired up and motivated as a collection of athletes from the home country of an Olympic games feel about winning metals.
With these crowds, though, why all the fuzz? What did they expect from Jesus all of a sudden? Hadn’t he been around for a while? The reason revels itself when you hear the back story.
It’s a story you know—Jesus has been teaching on the hillside and the crowds simply won’t go home yet. The gospel writer tells us those gathered expected food and none is to be found except from one, a little boy who offers all that he has. A disciple connects with a little boy and brings him to Jesus. Jesus takes the simple lunch– bread and fish and presents the food both to the crowd and to God, blessings it and as a result of this miracle all gathered around (at least 5,000 or more) have enough to be full with baskets of leftovers to spare.
Like you and I might have felt if we had just experience such a miracle, the crowds were amazed and stunned at the sight of what Jesus did for them. They more than just had their stomachs filled– this Jesus whom they had encountered was something else and they were ready for more. Was this Jesus too good to be true?
As we know from community dynamics, when a speech, sermon or action happens in a group, or in this case a miracle, there are as many different perspectives of what is heard as there are people.
Look with me at one response of the crowd found in verse 34: “Give us that bread every day of our lives,” was the corporate cry of one sector. First, there were the folks gathered who really liked the food—they followed Jesus that next day because they liked the food he served (know anyone who feels that way about church here?)
For them, the bread tasted great. And not only this, but the means of its coming to them reminded these types of folks of the stories they heard from their grandmothers that their grandmothers had heard from their grandmothers and so on, about the manna that came from heaven. It was religious comfort food at best and practically speaking what they’d seen Jesus do the previous day was like food stamps of modern times without end. Who wouldn’t want that? If brother Jesus would just stick around and take care of them, they knew the expectations of their lives would be met.
And also among the crowd were those who complained. What’s a good communal gathering without a complainer or two, right? Well this group of complainers identified as “the Jews who began to complain about Jesus.” (What a way to be remembered, huh?).
This second group expected from Jesus the answers to life’s deepest questions that they did not understand. They were rational and so they wanted rational nourishment and rational teaching that they could take back to the synagogue and teach with three points and poem about what they had seen and experienced with this up and coming Rabbi.
And, they expected a Savior that they could rationalize. And in this expectation, they were very concerned that Jesus, “claiming to be the one coming down from heaven, was merely the “son of Joseph whose father and mother they knew.” It seems from how the narrator describes this scene to us, we recognize the possibility of this sector of the crowd believing in Jesus as God’s Son after the miracle took place, but it wouldn’t come blindly or without clear scholarship about how the divinity of Jesus could be proven and proven in words they understood. Without such “proof” they’d be in search of Jesus no longer.
And, last, there were those that day who expected from Jesus exactly what they’d had in the past. These were the realists among the crowds—they were ready to believe, but only if what Jesus was saying or doing clearly lined up with what they knew.
These were the folks who reminded Jesus that Moses made sure their ancestors had manna in the wilderness, so more than looking for spiritual comfort food, they were looking for history. They wanted Jesus’ ministry going forward to look, taste and to feel like the stories of faith they’d been told happened in the past.
These were the folks who soon would be throwing the childish tantrums—either literally or just in their heads, asking why couldn’t Jesus produce for them the security and dependability in ways they could wrap their minds around? It would be nice.
The bread falling from the sky had worked well once before—when the children of Israel were wondering in the dessert—so why wouldn’t this same miracle work again every day.
But, in each of these types of expectations, problems would soon emerge. Problems would emerge because each expected for what could potentially fill them in the moment, what made sense and could be counted on in the short-term, but what could not always satisfy.
And we too in our modern context know how the folks gathered around Jesus that day felt. For we’d been there too—there have been countless times in each of our lives when we’ve wanted to throw up our hands too and say, “This is what I expected. . . . But why God did you not give me exactly what I wanted.” And we use our lack of met expectations as excuses—excuses that keep us from intimacy with God.
Remember Jesus said to them here, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believe in me will never be thirsty.”
Which was another way of Jesus reversing the expectation list of the crowd by telling them: “I’m glad you are here. But, in following me, remember that there is no gold and the end of the rainbow, win every gold metal when you compete in the Olympics or meet the man of your dreams the moment after you pray to meet him and live happily ever after scenario that you can demand of me, or work up on your own. Instead, come and taste and see that I am good. Know me. As you get to know me, you are going to be fulfilled.
For no, I am simply not some hand-out bread kind of God.
Nor, I am not nor never will be rational or explainable nourishment for you.
Nor, am I nourishment like what you’ve ever tasted before, even at your finest spreads or most glorious spiritual moments in your history.
I AM the bread of Life.
But, why would you and I accept such nourishment from Christ? You might be saying, “Pastor, your sermon today seems kind vague to me.” But this is exactly the point!
For the more you and I live the more we realize that the best laid plans of ours are often fleeting moments. Life is in fact never full of “always” guarantees, even if every sports commentator says on paper, you’re going to win the gold. Not that having expectations is bad or that we shouldn’t have them—but if we are going to move forward in our lives in the ways of Jesus, then OUR expectations for our life must come under the banner of what God has already prepare for us, and where our God-given life seeks to take us, instead of what we think we want first.
For as much as we want to be folks who think we can get life together enough for ourselves, for as much as we think that our approach IS the way that will fix what is broken and as much as we want to rely on what seems like quick fixes, Jesus says, I am your living bread. And, I gave you a meal to remember me.
I know that last Sunday was communion day, according to the tradition of our church. And this is the second Sunday which means it is not communion Sunday. But, I couldn’t preach a sermon this morning about the Bread that gives Life and not give all of us an opportunity to receive our nourishment from Christ. Because maybe just maybe as we receive it today, we can each participate by offering back our expectations to God for our lives. So that more of God’s expectations can be made known to us as we eat and drink together, and, as we take it:
It’s a meal that can give us the “I’m full” feeling like nothing else could . . .
It’s a meal that causes us to sit and hear this mystery of faith, each into our own ears. The mystery of “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.
It’s a meal that says lay aside your struggles and your need for security for answer is here when Christ says to us, “This is MY body broken for YOU.”
So come my friends, the table is set, let the feasting begin. No matter if you are here today because you just are excited about the food after the service, or you are at a place in your journey that you are in need of some assurance and security in your faith, or even if this church is what has been a part of your past and you want to honor this but aren’t really sure to the Jesus talk we are up to here, the invitation to feast is still the same. Come just as you are. Keep asking your questions, but leave your expectations here with our Lord. For today, you are offered the bread, the bread that gives life.