Robert L. Getty, Ph.D - August 2, 2015
Getting or Giving
10th Sunday after Pentecost
Robert L. Getty, Ph.D.
First Presbyterian Church of Waverly
211 Schmitt Dr., Waverly, Ohio 45690 + 740.947.2905
What are you seeking for in life? We all seek happiness, but where are you looking for that happiness? Some think that they will find it in financial success or a satisfying career, and so they devote themselves to those pursuits. Some seek happiness through marriage and children. While a happy family is a blessing from God, it should never become our main source for happiness, because we can easily lose it in many number of ways. And often our families can be the source of great pain. The reasons people give for not believing God often boil down to something they want God to do to prove Himself. Sadly, in making “to do” lists for God, we miss seeing the countless things He has already done.
The gospel reading tells of people who are looking for their own interest. I am sometimes impatient with the crowd chasing after Jesus. How can people bother Jesus for another round of loaves and fishes, when Jesus is going to serve up his very life on a cross to draw all people to himself and take away our sin and the sin of the world? In the conversation with Jesus the people ask three questions. But Jesus didn’t answer their questions. Instead, He confronted them because even though they had gone to a good bit of trouble to seek Him, they were seeking him wrongly. They sought him because they wanted a political Messiah to bring peace and prosperity. By reversing their negative example into a positive one, we can learn rightly how to seek and serve Jesus.
The first question was, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” They only wanted to know when he had arrived. Like many modern North Americans, they displayed materialistic and greedy attitudes, working for food that spoils but not for food that endures to eternal life. Their words and their behavior portrayed a misunderstanding of God’s plan. Like some believers today, they followed Jesus for what they could get out of him—to justify their own prejudice, to support their own politics, to confirm their own culture. Jesus is none too welcoming to these seekers. He begins by insulting the reason they came: “You’re seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you ate from the bread and got full.” Jesus was saying to them, “It’s about whether you “get it, about who Jesus is and what’s happening in the world now that he has come.” Jesus is saying, “You’re not here because you get it.”
How common in our day do we see Christians attempting to substitute spiritual power with some false and useless modern ideal? We look for spiritual power in politics, signs and wonders, size and influence, spiritual warfare, or even the popularity of celebrities. John points us to the cross and to the one who died there, of whom he says, “On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” We should not miss the focus on motive in these verses. They were not wrong to be hungry, and perhaps not even wrong to look for Jesus. But they wanted Jesus for their own purposes, to serve their own ends. Then, I reflect on this story through the realities of our world. As long lines for humanitarian aid demonstrate, eating your fill one day does not mean that you will not be hungry the next. When there is no food, and you do not know how you will sustain your life today, what is the point of working for eternity?
Think about parents whisking their children out of their beds in Egypt — or Central America — on the promise of a better life, only to watch their kids starve to death in the desert. Some things are worth complaining to God about. Sometimes, asking God for assurance that God is still with us is understandable, even appropriate. Jesus answered the crowd, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted.” I do not think Jesus was scolding the crowd for seeking bread because they were hungry. I think Jesus was disappointed that the crowd did not expect more, not more bread but something more.
The crowd began to listen and asked, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?” This second question suggested an explanation of salvation. The only spiritual work that pleases God is to allow him to work in us through the Holy Spirit. The people were looking for more understanding. These people were from Missouri, the “show me” state. They agreed with the old adage, “Seeing is believing,” but could not grasp the message of Jesus finely tuned in this Gospel—”Believing is seeing.” But wait. Were not these the same people who ate the bread just a few hours earlier? Sure. But that was then and this is now. The audience was a people of great tradition steeped in religion but not faith.
Even after they just witnessed one of the greatest of miracles the people ask one more question, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you?” In this third question the people wanted even more miraculous signs, and the Lord refocused their thinking. He points to the real source of the manna they received in the wilderness. As Jesus revealed more of who he is, their understanding now gives way to one of the great statements of the Bible, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!” What a wonderful response, if it had been sincerely spoken.
The spiritual bread that the Lord can provide is necessary for life, suited for everyone, must be eaten daily, and produces spiritual growth in those who believe it. How appropriate and essential for us to pray daily, “Give us this bread.” Not all of Jesus’ teachings in the Bible could be called “sermons,” but this one certainly falls into that category. Its title is simple: “I Am the Bread of Life.” This crowd insisted on speaking only of physical bread until Jesus told them plainly, “I am the bread of life.” This is easy to see and even easier to say because we know the end of God’s story, for us and for the world, as well as for the people in the Bible. Why do we, with the crowd, assume that the key question when we encounter God is, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Then we might add, “How much is enough?” and “How do we make sure we do it right?” These questions press even harder when the stakes are war and peace, safety and security, food, water, and health care, the economy and the environment. “What must we do to perform the works of God?”
This leads to the question for us, “What is the goal of the church?” Paul sees it as the healing of humanity through Jesus Christ, the gathering of people into one body, where the gifts of the highly gifted together with those of the modestly gifted, are equally prized and used for the building up of all. Paul makes it clear, oneness is central. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all. By using our gifts to assist one another, we are enabled to make progress. We are meant to be growing and maturing both as separate souls and as congregations. Unless we do continue to grow and mature, we will be of little use to the world. In the Ephesians verses considered here, believers are called to a unity that is created by and grows in love. The unity is based not in similarity of gifts, but in connections created by the Spirit given and shared in baptism.
Note that Paul does not say all five gifts are present in the pastor or in any one person. Quite the opposite! The people are the gifts! Some are apostles. Some are prophets. Some are evangelists. Some are shepherds. Some are teachers. Persons exercising these gifts in the community equip the followers of Jesus for their hands-on ministries and build up the body of Christ.
So what kind of congregation are we here in Waverly? Paul describes the cultivation of unity. Each of us received a spiritual gift by the grace of God. That grace has not been apportioned equally. Rather Christ has chosen how to divide grace to each member. Each is distinct and different. Spiritual gifts are at the heart of Christ’s strategy for building his church. The gifts are ministers (or ministries) for the church. It is not the task of a few gifted people to do all the work of the ministry. Each member of the body of Christ has the task to prepare all of God’s people for works of service. When believers are equipped and people accept the adventure of ministering to others, then the whole body is built up, matured, strengthened, and flourishes.
Let me tell a short story to illustrate our mutual dependency on one another. It’s not the most pleasant story because for me, it was rather intense. When I was a crew member on the B-52, it was my responsibility to ensure a successful dropping of the bombs. When we were over what at the time was called enemy territory, we were under fire from surface to air missiles. The co-pilot could see out the window and relayed the narrative of when the missiles were coming to our altitude. The pilot was taking evasive action meaning that he would bank the aircraft in fairly steep turns left and right. I was below looking into a radar screen with my crosshairs on the aiming point. As the pilot turned the airplane I had to keep a steady aim, which took some intense concentration. I, to say it mildly, was somewhat distracted by the co-pilot telling us a missile was nearby. When we came up to 20 seconds to the target, I was to open the bomb bay doors or the bombs would not be released. But, due to my concentration I did not reach for the door switch at the 20 second point. So the pilot who was busy flying and evading, yelled over the intercom, “doors!” I quickly reached for the switch and opened the doors and we had a successful bomb run. If the pilot was not aware of the requirements or only took care of his role, we would have failed the mission. This to me is a clear illustration of the dependency that we have on one another. We all need to do our part for a successful ministry that God has assigned us.
Each of us should take a moment and think about our role in the ministry here in Waverly. You have at least one spiritual gift given to you to employ within the context of our church’s mission. So, ask yourself, “What talents, abilities, and desires has God given me to edify the people of God and how can I put them to good use?”
In the words of A. W. Tozer,
Someone may fear that we are magnifying private religion out of all proportion, that the “us” of the New Testament is being displaced by a selfish “I.” Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other [than they could possibly be alone.]
Let us look to our one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and serve him as one body. Amen.