by Rev’d Dr Helen Svoboda-Barber
Today’s Gospel from the 6th chapter of John’s gospel picks up after Jesus fed more than 5,000 people with a young child’s offering of 5 loaves and 2 fish. That night, the disciples are on a boat in a rough sea, and Jesus walks on water to them and calms the storm.
Here we are, a new day dawns in today’s gospel reading. It takes the crowd a little while to find Jesus, but they do, and they begin gathering around and asking him questions.
As Jesus often does, he speaks in metaphors and imagery.
The crowd asks what is theirs to do, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”
In my mind, I wonder if they are asking how they, too, can stretch 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed 5,000. Or maybe how to move unusually quickly from one place to another. Or how to heal or cast out demons. I think it is likely that the crowd is asking Jesus how they can do the flashy, showy parts of his ministry.
If so, the reply that Jesus gives must be pretty disappointing: Your job is to believe in me. The work you have to do is not the flashy, miracle sorts of things. But rather the task at hand for you is to believe — to give your heart to the idea — that Jesus is God’s work enfleshed.
That is our work to do today as well. Our work is not about the flashy, glamorous, big-splash events and parades and miracles. Our job is simply to give our heart to Jesus. To believe that we all are created in God’s good image. To live as if we knew all that has been created and all that we have comes from our loving God. To hold the truth that we-in-ourselves cannot be good enough to earn our own salvation and redemption — but to know that we are so deeply loved by our God that Jesus earned salvation and redemption for us, already.
Our work is to daily remember that God is God and we are not. To repeatedly surrender our desire for control into God’s gracious hands. To remember again and again and again that we are loved more than we can ask or imagine, and that there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from that love. And to daily live as if this were true.
That is our work to do.
Not the flashy, glitzy stuff.
Our work is day-to-day remembering that we are God’s beloved and so is everyone we encounter. Day-to-day remembering that this fragile earth our island home is God’s creation and is to be tended and cared for as a gift entrusted to us.
Our work is to believe, by giving our heart to the idea, that Jesus has covered all our sins and will love us through and beyond our brokenness.
That is our work to do.
In today’s gospel, the crowd and Jesus move into a conversation about manna, that bread which God provided every day to the community wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.
Every morning, manna would show up on the rocks and the people would harvest and eat what they needed for the day. When they tried to harvest extra to have a supply on hand for later, the very next day the manna would rot and grow maggots. So the people learned, over time, that there would be sufficient manna for the day, and it was useless trying to store any up for later.
God’s people got really bored with the manna. They missed their feasts and festivals. They wanted something different from time to time. But the manna was enough. The manna sustained them. The manna was there, every morning, to nourish their bodies for the day ahead.
Our expectations about our spiritual life can sometimes be similar to God’s people and their relationship with manna. When we think about a rich spiritual life, we often think of “mountain top experiences” — those really great moments when we feel so close to God and understand deeply how beloved we all are. And we might imagine that a rich, full spiritual life is full of these mountain top experiences.
But in every life, those mountain top experiences are rare. Even for the very faithful.
For most faithful people, most of our spiritual lives are much more like manna. Nothing thrilling day-to-day, but consistent. And if–or as–we participate in a daily prayer time, it is like God’s people daily gathering their manna.
Daily prayer may not be flashy or exciting, but it is nourishing. Regular prayer does provide what we need for our day. It is a time to remember again and again that God is God and we are not. A time to acknowledge that our lives depend on more than our own power or initiative. A time for us to hold up to God those things which are on our hearts, and listen for what God might be saying to us about today.
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.”
Having Jesus as our constant companion is not flashy like feeding 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish, or regularly walking on water, or having a full schedule of casting out demons and feeding the sick.
Having Jesus as our constant companion is like receiving manna each day. It may not be thrilling day to day, but it provides us what we need to make it through that day.
Like gathering manna, we don’t have to do much to make daily prayer happen. God is so close–within reach–all the time. Our job, our work to do, is to notice God. To daily be in relationship with God. To believe that God loves us in and through our brokenness. To believe that Jesus can heal and transform everything that is broken in our own lives and in the world. To believe that for today, God has given me enough. And that knowledge is enough.
This is our work to do.