Day by Day
Ok, so now how are you going to respond?
We’ve gotten to the place in this sixth chapter of John, what we often call the “bread of life” discourse, where the focus shifts to us and our response. Let’s recap what we heard the last two Sundays: Jesus has fed the thousands in the wilderness with a few loaves and fishes. It’s what John the gospel writer calls a sign, something that points us towards a bigger reality. Jesus has taken us up a level, he’s showed us that this is about a lot more than physical hunger, it’s about our spiritual hunger, our deepest needs and longings. And then he makes an audacious claim: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”
It’s a doubly audacious claim. First because Jesus takes the divine name “I am” for himself; and secondly because he claims that by entering into a relationship of trust with God, who is made known in himself, all our deepest hungers will be satisfied.
And now it’s your turn. How are you going to respond?
Jesus tells us how God wants us to respond. What God wants is for us to see Jesus, to see what he is doing, to hear what he says, and to believe, to faith, to trust him.
That sounds straightforward. But trust isn’t easy, and these are big promises. To really trust in someone, you can’t just flick a switch. It isn’t something that you can do all of a sudden. Trust is a relationship that is built up over time. To have a relationship of trust, to be in a relationship where you can be totally open, and completely vulnerable and have real faith in each other, well that might be something we aspire to and work towards, but let’s not kid ourselves, we’re talking about the sort of trust that sometimes takes an entire lifetime to learn. Trust is not a switch you can turn on and off. It takes commitment, it takes work.
In today’s text, the opposite of trust is to complain. Now I don’t know about you, but for me complaining is pretty easy. It doesn’t take a lifetime to perfect, I don’t need to practice, I can pretty much complain just about any time I want. When the religious authorities see Jesus, when they see the signs that Jesus is doing, when they hear his audacious claims and promises, how do they respond? They complain. And not to him, but about him, among themselves.
“He said he is the bread that came down from heaven. But we know his mother and father! He didn’t come from heaven, he came from Nazareth!”
It’s easy to pick apart someone else’s story, to ridicule them, to take them out of context. Complaining is easy. It’s a posture of superiority, the posture of a know-it-all.
It’s much harder to really listen to what Jesus is saying and to consider it from a posture of humility and trust. But that’s how God wants us to respond. See Jesus and trust in him. So that you can live, really live, live abundantly, live the life that Jesus calls eternal life, a way of living that begins here and now and is so full that in time it will even burst the constraints of time and space as we know them.
It starts with trust. So how do we learn to trust Jesus? The answer is deceptively simple. We learn to trust by practicing it day-by-day.
I think that’s why Jesus brings up the Exodus story about the manna in the wilderness again. When the people of God had been liberated from slavery and had passed through the sea, they found themselves in the desert, and they were hungry and they complained. So God provided them with bread from heaven, a fine, flaky substance that appeared with the dew each morning in the wilderness. They called it manna, which literally means “What is it?” God gave them what they needed. But there was a catch. They were only allowed to collect as much as they needed each day, they couldn’t pick up any extra to save for the next day. That is, they had to learn to trust that the next day, God would again provide what they needed.
Moses, near the end of his life, when he reflected on the manna that God provided, said the following:
“God humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which you were not acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
You see, the ancient manna story is really about the struggle of learning to trust God in the midst of challenging circumstances. And gathering manna was a daily practice, undertaken in a posture of humility, which helped the people learn to trust God. It’s a practice we still reference when we pray, each day, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
In the bread of life discourse that we have been reading, Jesus is inviting us into a trusting relationship with God. God wants us to see Jesus and to respond with trust. And trust is something that we learn and build up day by day, just as the Hebrew people gathered manna in the wilderness, just as Jesus would spend time every day with his father in prayer.
But this is not just an ancient story, and the focus has now shifted to us. How are you going to respond?
If we are to learn to trust God and to grow in our trust of God, we need to develop some sort of daily practice that will help us. Sometimes people call these spiritual practices or disciplines. There is no one-size fits all. A daily practice may involve prayer or the reading of scripture. It may involve practices of gratitude and generosity. It might be spent in nature or in service, alone or with others. But whatever your practice, it is something that we enter into intentionally as a response to God’s gracious invitation to enter into and grow in our relationship of trust with him.
For me, it starts when I wake up in the morning. The first thing I do each day is pull on my clothes from the day before and head outside for a walk along the river. I have a little podcast that I listen to, an app called pray-as-you go which provides some music, some scripture, some reflection and some prayer suggestions. By the time I get back home, I’m in a better place to start the rest of my day, and hopefully I’ve learned to trust God just a little bit more.
That’s just one example, I’m sure many of you have your own daily routines. But whatever our practices are, we spend time acknowledging that God is with us, teaching us, and drawing us closer. We listen and we learn, and day by day we build up the trust that makes our relationship with God deeper and stronger and more meaningful.
Today’s text is all about how we’re going to respond. We have options. We can respond with complaints like the religious authorities. We can grumble, and pick apart what we see and hear, and find various reasons not to engage.
Or we can respond by doing the hard work of relationship, by asking our questions, expressing our doubts, drawing nourishment from the bread of life, listening, learning and exploring where Jesus leads us, all the while building up that sacred trust which is at the core of all good relationships.
See and trust. Day by day, for a lifetime, for eternal life.
Homily Yr B Proper 19, August 8 2021, Trinity Ottawa
Image by Daria Shevtsova