So Many Reasons!
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: “Crazy Grace”
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
November 24, 2019
John 6:24-35 NRSV
24So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
28Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35Jesus 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.
We all have so many reasons to be thankful, right? You don’t need me to make your list for you, do you? But I want to give you another reason, to at least think about, consider as a reason for thanks this morning. So before we all pig out on our wonderful Thanksgiving feast here, and before we all double our trouble later this week, I want to offer you a diet plan. Yes, that’s right, a diet plan to be thankful for. I know, I know, hard to imagine a diet plan to give thanks for, but there are so many reasons to be thankful for this diet, I am sure you will agree.
I want to invite you to try the “Jesus diet.” That’s right, the “Jesus diet.” You carb lovers will be happy – it is all bread. Those of you who didn’t sleep through the reading of the Scripture can guess where I am headed with this. Yes, Jesus is the “Bread of Life,” and anyone who eats of this bread, he claims, will never hunger – or thirst, for that matter. So let’s explore what this “Jesus diet” is all about.
In our Scripture lesson Jesus not only says he is the “bread of life” - and that if we eat of him we will neither hunger or thirst, he reminds us that no other bread from any other source is as satisfying as the bread that comes from God. What is he talking about? It certainly sounds like the ideal diet.
This idea of the “Jesus diet,” comes from a writer who said, “There are basically two kinds of diets: the ones that work and the ones that don’t.” We call diets that don’t work ‘fad’ diets. They all promise fast results with little effort. In January our televisions will be inundated with every diet company “promising to make you a slim sensation by summer.” The problem, and I can testify to this personally, is that the “results, if any, are almost always temporary and pretty soon you’re right back where you started from,” or worse.
He reminds us that, “Diets that work promise gradual results from a real commitment over a lifetime.” A diet that works is not based on losing as much as it is based on gaining “good nutrition based on … healthy choices. The goal is not to transform chubby couch potatoes into skinny couch potatoes. The goal is to transform unhealthy bodies into healthy ones. And to get there, you must put your good nutrition to work. That means having the discipline to faithfully follow up with exercise.” When Jesus offers this diet of his they ask about what “works” they must do. What exercise is required on this “Jesus diet?” Jesus says it all comes down to believing in him as the source of that life God intends for us all.
Our writer says “It’s all about healthy choices… making a lifetime commitment - that guarantees results.” Even better I like that he says this diet works because “because it comes with a personal trainer. Jesus is with us every step of the way. Feeding us; leading us; getting us in shape for a life of [meaning and purpose and] eternity. In this week’s gospel, it’s the day after Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. The crowd thinks they’ve caught the gravy train and they don’t want this party to end. After some probing, they put in their order: Give us a sign to believe in you. How about a regular diet of manna raining from heaven? Jesus seizes on their opening to explain who he is and why he’s here: ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.’
“To the disappointment of the idlers, Jesus is not promising an endless buffet of material goodies. He is offering himself as the spiritual food that will fill our deepest needs. We are to consume him… as the Bread of Life. He wants to become part of us, to shape us to his purpose, to live in all that we do.” He is the nourishment we need more than rye, wheat, or even English muffins or French croissants.
“Jesus is The Bread of Life, the manifestation of God’s love in human form,” he writes. Then he says something very powerful: “In Christ we are not separate individuals experiencing something that is strictly private and unique to us. The Bread of Life is not an individual a la carte offering that we get to pick and choose. It is a common feast that unites us. That is what makes us Church, no matter what our … differences. We are not Christians because we call ourselves Christians. We are Christians because we are baptized into grace; nourished and strengthened, body and soul, fully committed, fully absorbed in the love of Christ.”
The writer reminds us too, that, this bread “has a transformational purpose. We are here to do God’s work in the world. We are here to share the Bread of Life with a world that is stuffed with sin and starving for love. It’s a tall order. But we have a personal trainer to show us the way.”
He ends by urging us to, “Stay close to Jesus. He’ll help you make healthy choices. Keep pace with him in prayer and in scripture. Workout with him in ministries of worship, outreach and fellowship. Get on the Jesus Diet. It’s not about losing; it’s about gaining… gaining serenity, purpose and direction in this life… gaining the joy of eternal salvation in the next.”
So we do have a lot of reasons to be thankful and our faith is truly the most important one. But the fact is this is more than just a religious holiday. Yes, it has deep roots in our faith as well as in the source of our religion, the Jewish faith. Thanksgiving, in the Jewish religion, started some 4500 years ago, in about 2500 BC. Yes, four thousand, five hundred years ago. In the book of Leviticus, it says, “When you have gathered in the fruit of the land in the fall, you shall have a feast unto the Lord, and you should rejoice and be happy for seven days.” How about that? Could you handle that, a seven-day party?
The jaded among you might say, does that include my family being here for seven days? Family can try our patience at times, let’s be honest. Most of us have rather diverse families, even with our common connections. It’s true of families of origin, faith families, and even our national family. As a church we believe diversity of family is a good thing: “no matter who you are… you are welcome here.” But that diversity has become a difficult thing for our national family. We see our national tension and conflict playing out every day in the news.
I fear we stand at a teetering point as a nation. We seem to be teetering on the edge of sliding away from basic common civility toward one another and sliding toward civil war with one another. I believe that this is being fomented not just by our differences of opinion politically, religiously, and otherwise. I think it is being fomented by adversaries of democracy both within and without. I believe there are nations, including Russia, whose leaders seek to benefit by weakening o our democracy. I believe they have and will even seek to cause us to destroy ourselves from within so that they need not use an army or guns or bombs to conquer us. And within our nation there are voices that seem to benefit in some perverse way by emphasizing and exaggerating our differences and projecting our diversity as a problem rather than an asset and a mark of our national character, our national DNA.
See if you can complete this Presidential speech made in the last century: “we can make the world safe for….” Most of us would assume the answer is “democracy.” But in fact, on June 10, 1963 at a Commencement speech at American University, President John F. Kennedy said, “we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity.” Some would recoil from the word diversity, as if it is somehow un-American. Yet our strongest asset as a nation has always been our diversity.
Rev. Edward Markquart, pastor of a Lutheran church in Seattle puts it this way, asking the rhetorical question, “what are some of those great, unseen qualities found in our nation? There are several we could mention, but the one I most want to highlight is the unseen quality of the complexity of colors of the many races within our nation. Our nation has become … a merging and blending of nationalities which once despised each other: French and Germans, the English and Irish, the Laotians and Vietnamese; warring nationalities who become friendly neighbors who mow their lawns side by side.” He adds it isn’t just nationalities but a diversity of colors that make us a nation, and stronger for it, saying “blacks and whites and yellows and browns and every other color under heaven. We all eventually intermarry and there has become such a diversity of racial characteristics within our one land….” And he goes on to add, a nation of “political conservatives and political liberals, and pluralism of religions and denominations, nearly three hundred denominations.”
For me he brings home the incredible value of this diversity with this reminder, that all these differences are not things to be despised but they are in essence like “All the types of bread – so many to be thankful for.” Can we start being thankful for our diversity of perspectives and learn to listen and learn from one another? Let us live up to our highest ideals not our lowest or pettiest. Let us live up to God’s priorities that value every life - equal value for the poor, the outcast, the foreigner, the aged and the weak and the differently-abled. How a nation treats these is the true measure of its greatness. That I believe is part of the Jesus diet. The Jesus diet ultimately means that we live off the love of Jesus Christ, and he continually challenged and tore down the barriers between people that were based on religion, race, nationality, gender, or economic status.
We have so many reasons to be thankful. This Thanksgiving lets start finding ways to feed ourselves on the love of Jesus, the bread of life. Let us let that love turn our hatred and fear into love and a commitment to work with others, for the good of others. That is the common thread between our civic reason for Thanksgiving and our religious reason – a commitment to a better life for all! Let us do that in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! AMEN.