'Jesus said to them: 'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'
What are you hungry for?
Olympic gold medals is the answer uppermost in Team GB's mind at the moment. (And we netted two in a short space of time this morning at the Dorney Lake rowing finals...SMILE).
Hunger comes in many guises.
It may be that addiction (to alcohol, drugs or approval) is a result of unmet hungers.
There's plenty about hunger in the gospels. Hunger for signs, hunger for proof that Jesus was Messiah, hunger for acceptance, for love and forgiveness, for healing, for blood.
Some hunger is legitimate (we all hunger for wholeness) but some is identified by Jesus as misdirected.
In John 6 we follow on from the feeding of the 5000 and the miracle of the walking on the water. And everyone has heard about the amazing miracles. They're hunting for Jesus. Jesus rightly says that they are searching for him because they ate their fill of the miraculous loaves and fishes and they're thinking along the lines of his first temptation: 'If this man can feed the world, all our problems are over...'
However, 'man does not live by bread alone...' This he points out to them in his allusion to the manna their ancestors ate in the wilderness. It was not that Moses was a super hero; the manna pointed to the faithful provision of God for his people. Messiah is the ultimate fulfilment of this.
The misdirected hunger of the people highlights the age old debate between evangelism and social action. What is the gospel? How wide is its remit? Is it about feeding the hungry with bread or pointing them to heavenly sustenance? We would surely be hailed as saviours if we could multiply bread the world over and solve for ever the problem of hunger. But even if it were possible, would it be responsible?
In the heavenly/earthly feeding debate Jesus appears to come down on the side of heavenly feeding at first: 'do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you' (John 6: 27a).
But we set this alongside Christian activists like Mother Theresa and Dorothy Day who devoted their lives to direct action for the poor. To them being totally alongside the poor was not just a prerequisite to preaching the gospel but was the absolute heart of it.
As John 6 progresses miraculous 'works' are still on the mind of the crowd. 'What must we do to perform the works of God?' (verse 28). Jesus' answer seems so simple: the main 'work' is belief: 'Jesus answered them, 'this is the work of God, that you believe in him who he has sent.'
So is Jesus finally coming down on the side of belief over action?
Yes, but belief is the same word in Greek as faith. To believe in the Son of Man is to have faith in him, to trust him, to build your life upon him. If we truly believed in Jesus we would very soon be the church he wants us to be. Belief leads to action. If the people of God are not totally tied up with Jesus, building their whole lives upon him, the outside world will never recognise him. All hungers we encounter - for authenticity, for meaning, for love, for acceptance, for status, are an expression of the human hunger for the eternal and incorruptible.
As it says in the liturgy, Jesus is the 'living bread, in whom all our hungers are satisfied' (Prayer G.) Jesus, always a master at the symbolic, tells would be followers that the bread of God is 'that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' Teetering on the brink of a final answer to their questions, Jesus' hearers have been led expertly through the dialogue to a similar point as the Samaritan woman by the well...'Sir give me this water...'
'Sir, give us this bread always...' (verse 34).
And so...'I am the bread of life...' ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς
Another 'ego eimi' (I Am) saying, pointing to his oneness with the Father, the God of the Old Testament, the God of the Messiah.
What are the hungers in our lives?
What do we hunger for in the church?
More people, yes. More money, yes. More events perhaps, so people can say 'That's a lively church.'
It's good to want these things, but let's refocus by hungering for Jesus.
If we're hungry for Jesus we will put everything aside to spend time with him, to try and listen to his voice and read his word. We will love those whom he loves and we will be drawn to others who are not like us, for his sake. Imagine the kind of person who is least like you in the church family...that is the person Christ is calling you to love. And that's just in the church...
This will involve some sacrifice. Generally our lives are filled with such good things, none of them wrong in themselves, that we only really want Jesus as the icing on the cake.
But he's not the icing. Icing is sweet at first, but then sickly and unsatisfying. Bread on the other hand is wholesome, filling, necessary every day, and smells wonderful
It's only when we recognise that we do tend to use other things to satisfy our hunger, that we realise he is not at the centre. The centre of the Christian church is not the perfect Chrsitian family, or perfect liturgy, or rousing music, or social programmes or even mission. It's Jesus Christ, broken for us and raised to life again.
In Jesus all our hungers are satisfied. We feed on him today and together we encourage each other to put him back at the centre of everything.