Fear and Grumbling in Capernaum

This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached this morning, August 5, 2018. The gospel text was John 6:24-35.

Did you ever wonder how we’re supposed to behave as a congregation? Luckily, scripture gives us several models for how to do that. In fact, two of those models are in today’s readings. The first model is in our second reading from Ephesians. Paul writes this:

Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)

That would work. That would make for a nice congregation, don’t you think? Here’s the second model. It comes from the first reading from Exodus:

The whole congregation of the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. They said, “If only we had died in Egypt; for you have brought us out here to kill us with hunger.” (Exodus 16:2-3)

Two very different models of how to be the church! Which one would you rather be part of?

Would you rather be part of Congregation #1, that tries to live in humility, gentleness and patience, striving to bear with one another in love and maintain unity? Or would you rather be part of Congregation #2, that grumbles all the time?

Personally, I like #1. I bet most people would say the same. So why isn’t that reality? Why do people grumble so often, not just in church but everywhere? Look at our country today! It’s nothing but grumbling, on all sides! Well, I think sometimes we grumble because we’re angry; and I think sometimes, maybe more than sometimes, that anger actually comes from fear.

Why were the Israelites grumbling against Moses and Aaron? Because they were hungry. And they were scared they would soon starve to death.

Why do so many people grumble about the government? Well, maybe they’re angry that government is doing things they disagree with, and maybe they’re scared that very bad things will happen on account of it.

Why do people grumble in church? Well, maybe they’re angry about the way things are going, and maybe they’re scared the church will never again be what it should be. Maybe they’re even scared the church is dying.

And maybe all these grumblings are really about trust. Perhaps people grumble in church because they don’t trust the pastor, or other leaders. Perhaps people grumble in America, because they don’t trust the president, or other politicians. Perhaps the Israelites grumbled, because they didn’t trust Moses, or God. People everywhere grumbling, because they don’t trust their leaders. And without trust, all that’s left is fear.

Okay, enough about grumbling. Let’s look at the gospel. I think there’s fear here as well. Today’s gospel reading follows directly on from last week’s gospel. Last week, Jesus fed a crowd of five thousand people with just a little bread and fish. Well, it seems as though the people liked that, and they wanted to experience it again! But they noticed that Jesus and his disciples were gone, and perhaps that frightened them. Perhaps they were scared that they might never see him again. They might not receive this food again. So they searched for him. And when they found him, Jesus told them that they had completely missed the point. When he fed them all, he didn’t do it because they had missed lunch. He did it to show them a sign of God. To show them that God’s grace is extraordinary. To show them that God provides what we need, and in fact God provides so much for us it’s absurd.

Well, the crowd heard this, and now knew that their fears had come true: they weren’t getting this food again from Jesus. But they liked what he was saying about eternal food from heaven. Maybe if they were really good, they could earn that. But were they good enough? This scared them. So they asked Jesus, “What works do we have to do to please God?” Jesus said, “The only work God demands from you is that you trust in me.” Then they got scared again. How do they know if they can trust him? So they asked, “Oh, yeah? Well, what sign can you show us? A sign like Moses did, when he fed us all with bread from heaven?” And that didn’t even make sense. These people demanded that Jesus give them a sign like bread from heaven? This was the same crowd he just fed yesterday! It didn’t make sense. But that’s because they were scared. Our words and actions don’t always make sense when we’re scared.

But the good news is that they didn’t have to be scared. Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is the Bread of Life, the true bread from heaven, and he was there. They had nothing to fear. And the good news is we don’t have to be scared either. Jesus is the Bread of Life, and he is here.

We don’t have to fear if we’re good enough. Because it’s not about what we do – it’s about what God has already done, and is still doing. God is still giving us this living bread.

We don’t have to fear if there will be enough. Because there will be, enough of everything to go around, because God provides everything.

And we don’t have to fear anything. Which means we don’t have to grumble. Even if we don’t trust our leaders, we can trust God, trust that God will provide even with imperfect leaders. Trust that God will either give us a way to change the circumstance, or to accept it. We’re not stuck, and we don’t need to fear, or get angry, or grumble.

Easier said than done, I know. But it is possible. Because Christ has won the victory. And he continues to provide, no matter what. God continued to provide for the Israelites, all the way until they reached the Promised Land. God continued to provide for that crowd in Capernaum. And God continues to provide for you. Every one of you. Every day.

Jesus is the bread of life. And he feeds you and nourishes you every day. You can trust in that.

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