Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Bread of Life

2 Samuel 11:26—12:13a; Psalm 51:1-12; John 6:24-35

David wanted it all. He knew what other kings of his time had, and he wanted to be just like them. He wanted the wealth, the wives, the power, the alliances, the bowing-down-to-the-floor respect from others; he wanted it all.
Last week we read and talked about David claiming Bathsheba as his wife, even though she already had a husband – Uriah the Hittite, the foreign soldier in his army. In today’s reading, we learn of the consequences of David’s actions.
David had consulted the prophet Nathan about building a house for God – a temple – and at first, Nathan agreed with David. But then, God spoke to Nathan and told him that David was not the one to build God’s house. David must have had a lot of respect for Nathan, because David did not ignore him and build the temple anyway.
In today’s story, Nathan hears from God that God is angry about David’s behavior regarding Bathsheba and Uriah. Nathan begins, as many pastors do, by telling a story. Many of us are animal lovers so we can relate to the poor man who has a pet lamb. He has raised it from infancy, and the lamb is a member of the household, unlike the sheep raised strictly for the wool and the meat they will provide.
When the rich man in town gets a visitor, instead of taking one of his own sheep, he takes the pet lamb that belongs to the poor man and slaughters it to feed to his guest.
David is caught in the trap Nathan set, and becomes angry about this theft, swearing that the rich man will have to compensate the poor man fourfold. When Nathan tells David, “You are the man,” David recognizes the truth and confesses that he has sinned. Psalm 51, which we read today, is his prayer to God about his guilt.
God has given David so much: he’s been made king; he survived Saul’s attempts to kill him; he has Saul’s houses and wives; he rules over both Israel and Judah (Northern and Southern kingdoms). If there was anything else David needed, God would have provided it for him. Still David wanted more.
Nathan promises David that there will be consequences to his actions. His family will constantly be conflicted; his neighbors will lie with his wives. Our text does not include it, but Nathan says that the son born to Bathsheba will die, and indeed, the baby does die. We are repelled by this. We do not imagine that our God intentionally kills infants. Let us simply remember that there was a lot of infant mortality in those days. No one knows why this baby died, but it has forever been considered as punishment for David’s sin.
David is not so different from us. We want to have as much as we can possibly get: the biggest house, the fanciest car, the best schools for our children, the newest electronic gadgets. If we can’t afford such items, we are resentful of those who can; and we are resentful of those who can’t afford them but buy them anyway, by carrying thousands of dollars of credit card debt, which also has consequences.
The crowd looking for Jesus wanted it all, too. Last week we read the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people in the Gentile territory on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. The crowd traveled to Capernaum, hoping for another sight of Jesus. They ask him, what will you do for us today? Jesus knows they are not following him for spiritual reasons, but because he fed them until they were full the day before. “Moses fed the people every day,” they challenge him. “Why won’t you?”
The people in the crowd have in mind the opportunity to grab as much bread as they can get. It did not matter to them why there was bread, or that it might have come to them in a holy moment.
Jesus is quick to correct them. “It was not Moses who fed the people in the wilderness, but God. In the same way, it was not I who fed you so much bread yesterday; it was God.” The crowd wants to know what they have to do to get more of God’s bread, and Jesus explains that there is nothing they must do except believe in him. “I am the bread of life. If you believe in me, you will find that you are not hungry, because I will fill you up.”
This is the same kind of double-talk that Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well, who wanted to have Jesus give her all the water she ever needed. We humans want the physical stuff – bread, wine, water – and Jesus wants to give us something much better. Jesus wants to give us himself; he wants us to open ourselves wide enough to receive what he has to offer.
I imagine the people in the crowd are rather like the near-disaster I caused at church camp. After our communion service on Thursday evening, I mentioned that at Hope the youth like to finish the bread. In my mind was the image of Steve and Anthony going to the sacristy door and politely asking Margaret for the left-over bread.
I had no idea it might be different. No sooner had I said that the bread was available than about 5 middle-school boys swarmed the folding table we had used for an altar. Karen grabbed the chalices before they went flying, and I tried to hold onto the plates and keep the table from crashing to the floor. As I watched those boys scrabbling for every last crumb, I saw something ugly. I saw the human desire to have as much as we can possibly grab for ourselves.  
... Can we pay our bills without an income? Can we get to work or doctors or school or stores in Citrus County without a car? Can we feed ourselves or other hungry people without real food? Can we stay warm or cool and dry without a house? Of course not! We have real physical needs, but what Jesus has to offer goes beyond the practical, everyday needs we all have.
What Jesus has to offer fills our spirits, gives us a reason to get up each day, provides us with opportunities to give away some of what we have to others, and helps us stay connected to God.
There are people who grab whatever they can get, like the boys who scarfed down the bread at camp. They do not know that physical bread is not enough for them. They think that the more they have, the more they can control, the happier they will be. But they still feel empty, still seek something more.
We who believe in Jesus know what the something more is: it’s a relationship with the divine. A relationship with God is one in which we are not the focus, but in which God is the focus, in which God is the reason for all that we have and all that we do. Whether we have a lot or almost nothing, true fulfillment comes in having a relationship with Jesus, the bread of life.
Please pray with me: Jesus, you are the Bread of Life, the one who fills us up and satisfies our hunger. Help us to discover that having you is all that we really need. Amen