Bread, what bread?
John 6: 25-59.
This is a tough reading.
Most folk would think it is tough because it is long and seems to wander all over the place.
I think it is tough because it is pretty straight forward.
We make it tough because we don’t want to hear the message it gives.
Here is the question...what must I do to be content?
And I mean truly and completely content, at peace with myself and with others, not phased by anything that the world flings at me.
Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Most folk aren’t that content.
Most folk are the complete opposite.
Most folk are so distraught that it doesn’t take much for them to get angry and abusive and feel deep hurt and pain.
If you don't believe me go to a Supermarket, any supermarket, and just wait.
Give it a wee while and someone somewhere will start shouting and being angry because someone has done something trivial and they are so far away from being content that this trivial matter has pushed them over the edge and they have lost it.
Their child sees something that they want and puts it in the trolley and the parent does their nut.
Someone bumps into someone else because they are looking at the deals at the ends of the aisles instead of looking where they are going and someone explodes.
Be in a long queue waiting to get the messages scanned and you see people fidgeting and getting anxious. You can see them make comments about the stupid old lady at the front who is holding them back, or the young person who is chatting to their friend who is doing the scanning and soon the crowd are complaining that they have plenty of time to do that after their shift is done.
I will give you the perfect example of how bad things have gotten.
The last Presbytery.
Now consider the very people who would be there; ministers and elders. There to come together and discuss how to move the regional church forward in the ways of Christ. There to discern the peace of God and how to spread it in the local churches.
Yet at the very start of the night so many of them were complaining, they were far from content...and what was annoying them so much? What was taking them to the brink of anger? What was destroying their peace with God?
How long the communion service was taking.
Here is the problem.
Jesus sees what we want.
Deep down what we are looking for is contentment.
And Jesus has given us an answer, very clear cut.
The problem is that we don't want to hear it. We want another answer, and we are trying to demand from Jesus that he gives us another answer.
This is how it works with the people in Jesus day.
The people have witnessed the feeding of the five thousand.
This is the way that the people have interpreted it.
Jesus has fed the multitude in a desert region just in the same way that Moses fed the slave exiles in the desert.
As Moses then was to lead the people to the Promised Land, Jesus would lead the people to their Promised Land.
As Moses role was to clear the Promised Land of all the evil people already there and Gods’ Chosen People would inherit the land, so Jesus would clear the Promised Land of the Romans so that God's Chosen People could have the land to themselves.
Why would they think that way?
Because they wanted to be at peace, they wanted to be content, and to be content, so they thought, was to get rid of the Romans and have a free country.
So, according to the scripture we have read, this is how the conversation goes.
The people find Jesus after he has fed the five thousand.
Jesus realises that they have got things wrong and confronts them, ‘You are looking for me because you think I will give you peace by doing what you want me to do. I could do that but it wouldn't give you peace. To have real peace then you need to do something else.’
‘What do we need to do?’ ask the people.
‘Believe that I have been sent by God to show you what you need to do,’ replies Jesus.
‘But how can we believe you?’ ask the people. ‘The last time Moses freed us and we knew we could trust him because God looked after us, he showed it by feeding us in a desert. And that was the proof we needed that when Moses told us we needed to go to the Promised Land that we KNEW we needed to go to the Promised Land. What thing will you do to prove to us that we should give up the hope of a Promised Land and do something else.’
Jesus replies, ‘I am the bread of life. In the life I live you will find contentment, real peace, real hope, real joy. Follow me.’
And the people reply, ‘Who does he think he is? How can we trust him?’
Now to us it is obvious that the people were wrong.
All we need to do is look at their own history.
When the people took the Promised Land they didn't find peace, they struggled not to be fighting with the indigenous people there.
When they had a king they were never happy. The kings were usually rotten and oppressed them, making them little more than slaves to build their temples and palaces and using their young men to fight and die in wars.
If Jesus became the warrior messiah they wanted then they would be in a constant war with the Romans, millions would die. How would that bring contentment and peace in their hearts?
In fact years after Jesus was crucified they got a warrior messiah that promised to raise the people up against the Romans and create a new Israel; and the Romans decimated them, destroyed the temple and scattered what was left of the people.
What makes this passage troubling is that we are no different from the people then.
This is still a battle that Jesus is fighting with us today,.
We are still looking for peace and contentment.
We are still looking for a life where we can feel joy and hope and have the inner confidence that no matter what life hits us with, that we can cope.
And Jesus still says, ‘I can give you that.’
And we still say, ‘That is not what I want to do.’
Because the mistake we still make, is the mistake that those Jews made so long ago. Their mistake, our mistake, is thinking that we know what will make us content.
Now they were so wrong about that, what they thought would make them happy was so far from the truth it was unbelievable. But they were not will to give it up.
And we are so wrong in what we think will make us happy, what will bring us contentment, and whatever it is that we think will bring peace is so far from the truth, but it’s in our head and we are not willing to give that up either.
Yes we want to be content, we want to be at peace with ourselves and with others, but WE know what will give us that.
If Jesus gets rid of these terrible neighbours then we will be fine.
Or if we get that new wonderful house, then we will be at peace.
If we get a more stable job then we will be at peace.
If we could retire then we will be at peace.
If we could have a child then we would be at peace.
If the child we had could sort themselves out then we would be at peace.
If that tumour wasn't growing then we would be at peace.
If I could find a spouse then I would be at peace.
If I could only get a divorce I would be at peace.
The list goes on and on and on.
And the truth is that as long as we are chasing that list we will never be at peace.
But we don’t want to give it up.
So much so that when Jesus comes along and says, ‘I can give you peace.’
We say, ‘Great...give me a child, get rid of my spouse, help me retire.’
And Jesus still says to us, ‘Peace is never gained by me changing the world. Peace is gained by you letting me change your heart.’
And we are still tempted to say, ‘Agnes down the road won the bingo, £20,000 and she’s happy. Moses changed their world, gave them bread to eat and they were happy. What proof do you have that changing my world won’t make me happy?’
I would love to tell you that it gets easier.
I would love to say that once you make this decision to follow Jesus then that is it and everything is simple.
But it isn't that simple.
This is a decision that we have to make all the time.
Every day is a day of battle. Are we going to trust changes in the world to make us happy, or trust that following Jesus will bring us true contentment?
I can give you two proofs.
The first is myself.
There are times when my world is perfect. It is working just the way I think it should. But then it gets ruined, usually by someone else; someone bumps into my car, one of my children decide to get in a crisis, some other church gets in a mess and Presbytery wonders if I can help out, this church gets dry rot or the heating doesn’t work upstairs and it is always my fault and what am I going to do about it.
Trust me, if we think changing the world will make us content, it won’t, because there is always something wrong with the world. There will always be something else that is that thing that will truly make us happy.
Then there is Netta. I took her funeral a few weeks back. Netta had been stuck in her house for decades. When she wasn’t in her house she was in a hospital. Her mobility was so poor that she needed people coming in each day to get her out of bed, dress her, move her to the living room, take her to the toilet and put her back in bed at night.
By so many standards she had a terrible life. And yet she was content.
She watched her western videos and waited to see if friends would visit...and she was content.
She was so content that people visited her to share that contentment.
The hall was packed with carers that had looked after her over the decades, many of which had retired and still visited her.
Because to be in her presence was to be in the presence of contentment.
That hadn’t come by changing the world to be the way she wanted it to be.
That had come by changing her heart to see the world the way God wanted her to see it.
So there we have it. Change the world, or change our heart.
That is the choice Jesus gives us.
What makes it really amazing though is the weird thing.
And the weird thing is...if we change our heart, if we follow the path that Jesus wants us to follow, then that might actually change the world.