Show and Tell

Here is my driver’s license. What does it say, and who says it? How do you know it’s real? Well, it’s got some nifty technical features and “the great seal of the state of Minnesota.” A seal means that this object carries the authority of the person or entity who sealed it.

In our scripture reading, Jesus will talk about having a “mark of approval,” a seal of God’s authority. It’s not a visible mark or a cool holographic loon like on my license, but it’s something harder to see. Let’s listen and see if we can hear what Jesus gives as a sign of God’s authority.

Scripture Reading

John 6:24-35

Meditation

Did you hear it? How does Jesus claim to be “sealed” with God’s authority? He gives “food that lasts for eternal life,” whatever exactly that means. So, what does God’s seal of approval look like in our world?

Today’s story makes me think about my own journey (and of course my story will only get longer). I always knew I belonged in church, where I was surrounded by people who loved me. Many people walked with me, supported my questions and the answers I tried on, even when they disagreed with what I came up with. Now I’m finding myself in an accomplishment-driven stage of life, when I want to make some kind of mark on the world and leave it a better place. I want that because I genuinely care about people in all kinds of need, and because my ego assigns myself value based on how impressive I can seem. That’s me in verse 28, asking: “what can I do to say that I’ve done what God wants from me?” I’m beginning to learn what I know I may never truly grasp on this side of the veil: that God’s grace is beyond anything I can do or not do.

I read my journey, and many of ours, in this story from John. The people seek Jesus, he feeds them, they ask some questions, and then Jesus will talk for a while. That’s a pattern throughout John’s gospel. There’s a grace and a challenge in that pattern: the grace is that Jesus is already caring for us; the challenge is that we may not get it for a long time. I’m probably one and a half big steps away from really getting it – I’m somewhere between asking questions and trying to do it right – but I trust that we will eventually find what we’ve been seeking (and talking to) all along.

If you compare that pattern to today’s service, you find that we have communion way at the wrong end. Communion should happen first, then we talk about it. (Our order is biblical too, but it’s from Isaiah, not John.) Our order of worship might suggest that we know what we’re looking for, then we learn something more about it, and then we share and have our needs met. John’s story goes the other way: the people find Jesus, receive, learn, and only then recognize and share. That’s more like my experience. I wonder how we might tell that story in worship. I wonder how we might acknowledge that God is already mysteriously present – meeting our needs, hearing our questions, and opening our eyes eventually.

Of course, what’s more important than how we worship is to live that way, to dwell in a world that is mysteriously full of God’s presence and let the knowledge come as it may. John’s story invites us to be seekers again, to take seriously that Christ’s presence is already in the world, but that it’s more than we can contain. That last part matters: Christ is more than we can contain, more than we can consume. How many of us come to church because it “feeds us”? Jesus ask us to think twice about how we’re trying to be fed. Jesus says, be careful you’re not just looking for full bellies, because they’ll go empty again. Instead, look for something more enduring.

And here come the questions, the discussion of what truly endures. What exactly do we work for when we believe? To what end do we trust in Christ? Jesus keeps rejecting answers – or pushing deeper, as a good teacher – not because our honest answers are wrong, but because they’re routinely too small. Jesus’ central question is, “what are you really after?” Are we after “eternal life,” a promise that when we die, heaven will be like we imagine it? Sure, as long as “like we imagine it” is “bigger than we can dream.” But a promise of “my salvation” tends to leave many of us hungry. It leaves the crowd hungry for assurance, leaves them asking, “what can we do so we know we’ve got it?” Or, “what can Jesus do so we know it’s real?” In response, Jesus pulls farther out. The enduring bread gives life to the world, not just to us when we leave it. He invites us to be hungry for life, not just for food.

Ultimately, Jesus offers the authentic sign of a life that is promised and sealed by God who gave life to the whole world, a realm where no one hungers or thirsts. There are two things about that. First, there’s a big difference between having your hunger satisfied and having all you want. One of those is possible, and the other finally isn’t. The second thing is that God has no interest in feeding you all by yourself (we all know this, but it bears repeating) – the bread of life is for everyone. That’s Christ’s seal, the mark of God’s authenticity: people who live as if God has enough for everyone. Enough food, enough work, enough hope, enough life.

I’m just beginning to imagine what this might mean. I suspect many of us are. The world is still becoming the realm of this kind of life. There’s something there for us to keep discovering. Discovery is part of this new and eternal life. The story is not over because we said the right magic words. The story just begins when we come to the bread of life, practice setting a table where everyone can be fed, and prayerfully share our bread. The story begins when we imagine what life can look like when we open ourselves to share with everyone.

So your assignment for the week is to give something away. Not just to do it, because I know you’re already doing that, but to really experience it. To practice the difference between having all you want and having all you need. To mindfully, prayerfully, open that space in your life and really watch what blooms there. You can give to the church if you’re led that way, or you can give elsewhere. But do it with a prayer that our giving can teach us again what true satisfaction is. So may you find it in Jesus’ name.

Amen

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