.Proper 13, Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; John 6:24-35
August 1, 2021
In this story from the book of Exodus, the Israelites are out in the middle of the desert with nothing to eat. God had promised to provide for them, but they are hungry…so hungry that they wished they were back in Egypt. It is better to live in slavery with full stomachs than to die of starvation, right? The Israelites don’t have the courage to confront God directly and accuse him of betraying them, but instead grumble to their leaders Moses and Aaron.
I’m not sure about you, but were I faced with being in the desert with no food, especially after God had promised to provide for me, I would likely feel resentful toward God. God had set them free from the evil yoke of slavery they had been under in Egypt, but they were still far from trusting him. They thought God would let them die of starvation. Faced with this deep fear , they didn’t seem to remember God’s loving promise to Abraham and his descendants to bring them safely into the Promised Land.
Despite their resentful attitude, God responds not in anger, but by generously fulfilling his original promise. He immediately commits to satisfying their physical hunger by giving them meat in the evening and bread in the morning. The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction.” Yes, God provided food to satisfy their physical hunger, but he does it in part to test their obedience and trust in his providence. This story is more about faith and trusting in God’s promise than it is about physical food.
Fast forward nearly 1,300 years to this scene from John’s gospel. As we heard last week, Jesus had just fed 5,000 people with five loves and a couple of fish, and he has literally walked on water to get to this scene. So the crowd’s first question is a bit strange: they ask him when he had arrived. Instead of answering their bizarre question, Jesus shows that he knows their true motive in seeking him out. He says, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” The crowd didn’t get the purpose of the loaves and the fish – they responded to that miracle by trying to kidnap him and make him king by force! Likewise, they don’t get it when he says to them, “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.”
Despite the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 – despite Jesus’ having walked on water – they still demand some greater miracle! They remind him that during the Exodus, God supplied their ancestors with daily bread from heaven, not only for one meal but for forty years. The crowd still doesn’t get it. They are looking for physical sustenance, like the manna God provided the Hebrews in the desert, to provide for their physical needs. They certainly didn’t expect to hear that God sent his son Jesus to provide the world with food that endures for eternal life.
The key to this passage is verse 29 when Jesus said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who has sent me.” Believe! John never uses the Greek noun for faith but always its verbal form which is translated here “to believe.” Biblical scholar Raymond Brown defines its use in John as denoting an active commitment to a person, especially Jesus. Significantly, 74 out of 98 uses of this verb in John are in the first thirteen chapters where Jesus invites people to have continuing and active trust in him.
Jesus finally corrects the crowd’s misunderstanding. They demand, “Sir, give us this bread always.” What they demand is what they already have in the presence of Jesus: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”.
Like the crowd, we too are far from trusting in God. No matter how many times God tells us, we still fall back into thinking that we can only receive God’s grace by working hard – by pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps. We often think that God loves good people and doesn’t love bad people, and since we often behave badly, God doesn’t love us. We often fear that God won’t provide for our physical or emotional needs. Like the ancient Israelites in the desert, we are far from trusting him.
When God reassured the Hebrews that he would indeed fulfil his promise to them, he told them only to take enough bread for that day. Later in Exodus chapter 16, we learn that despite Moses telling them to not “leave any of it over until morning,” not all of them listen, with some trying to store some of the bread until morning only to find the excess the next morning to be spoiled and foul.
Like the manna that fed the Hebrews in the desert, God’s grace cannot be stockpiled. We can’t build up reserves of grace to be used whenever we need it, but only receive it moment by moment as part the daily bread we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer.
The only way we can actively trust in God is to live in the present moment. We have no hold on the past – we can’t change the slightest bit of it. We often try to relive past events that we consider to be failures – “I should have done this, I should have done that” – but these imaginary scenarios are fantasies: it isn’t possible to change a thing that is past. Likewise, we have very little hold on the future. Despite all of our planning and foresight, everything can change in the blink of an eye. Who would have thought that we’d be in the situation we are in with COVID-19 in July 2021 with rising cases and a new mask mandate despite a nearly limitless supply of vaccine!?!? We can’t program our lives in advance, but can only receive it moment by moment. It is only in the present moment that we can actively trust God to provide for our every need.
Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who has sent me.” Dear friends, let us believe – let us actively trust our Lord, moment by moment, to provide for our every need. Let us ask God for our daily bread – for the grace we need in this moment, and when he provides it to us in the bread and wine at the communion rail, let us receive with joy and gladness this food that endures for eternal life. And let us recommit ourselves to trusting in him today and every day until we are brought at last to the Promised Land of heaven. Amen.
 John 6:26.
 John 6:14.
 John 6:27.
 https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-18-2/commentary-on-john-624-35-5, quoting Raymond Brown.
 John 6:35.
 Ex. 16:20
 Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom, trans. Helena Scott (New York, NY: Scepter, 2007), 88.
 Most of this paragraph is from Philippe 81-82.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!