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Worship and Sermons
August 12, 2018

“The Christian Diet” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, August 12, 2018 –  2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33  •  Psalm 130  •  Ephesians 4:25-5:2  •  John 6:35, 41-51

FOCUS:  Trust Jesus to bring us life lived in God’s constant presence.

 

      Have you ever tried to persuade someone to do what you know is best for them, but, no matter what you say, they’re just not willing to trust you? 

      Maybe they think they know better than you, or they just don’t get it at all. It’s frustrating, isn’t it?  Those of you who have teenagers are nodding your heads about now. 

      Well, I have to imagine that Jesus feels that very same way in this morning’s scripture passage from John.

      The crowd he addresses has no grasp of the significance of who he is, what he’s already done for them, and what he’s promising them. 

      Just the day before, they were there when he fed 5,000 people with just a few loaves and fish – and then, this very morning, they’ve just realized that he must have walked clear across the Sea of Galilee the previous night. 

      And, yet nevertheless, they ask him for signs so that they might believe in him. 

      They say with skeptical sneers, “Moses gave our forefathers bread to sustain them in the wilderness.  What are you giving us to make us believe you?”

      His answer baffles them. 

      First, he reminds them it wasn’t Moses who gave their ancestors bread – it was God.  God is the only source of bread that gives life to the world.

      And, he - Jesus - is that Bread, the bread of heaven sent from God, his father.    

      If you’ll excuse the pun, that’s too much for the crowd to swallow.  They say, “Wait a minute. Isn’t this the son of Joseph and Mary?  And don’t we know his brothers and sisters, too?  How can he say he’s sent from Heaven?

      And off they go complaining, just like their ancestors did in the wilderness. And, as they do, they miss the whole point of God’s gift of the bread of life. 

      Their ancestors in the wilderness missed it too. If you remember, the manna was only good for one day.  It melted when the sun rose.  With the exception of the Sabbath, if you tried to gather up some extra, it was no good – by the next day, it was full of worms.

      God’s message to the Israelites was, “Trust me.  Trust me day-in and day-out to provide all you need to sustain your lives.”

      And that is exactly what Jesus is saying as well.  He is the Bread of Life.

      When he encourages the crowd to feed on his flesh, he’s not suggesting cannibalism.  That’s what the Roman authorities accused the early Christians of doing, BTW.  Rather, he’s speaking metaphorically.  He means they should trust in him.

      The result will be eternal life, which is life lived in the constant, abiding, providing and loving presence of God.  Not only after they die, but now – in the present day, and in the present moment.  No more hunger, no more thirst.

      What Jesus has in mind is the satisfaction of more than just the physical needs of our bodies, but all our higher needs as well.

      This concept of a hierarchy of human needs was something that we rediscovered in the 20th century.  In the 1940s and ‘50s, a psychology professor at Brandeis University named Abraham Maslow became famous by exploring these higher needs and their relationship to human motivation. 

      Maslow published a famous paper proposing five different levels.  This system was a pyramid of needs that human beings would seek to satisfy from the bottom to the top. It became known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

      According to Maslow, human beings first work to satisfy our most basic needs – things like food, water, clothing and shelter.  Next, we seek safety – personal, emotional and financial security. 

      Third, we seek social belonging – love, family and friendship.  The fourth level is esteem – self-esteem and the respect of others.  The fifth and highest level is what he called self-actualization – the fulfillment of our individual potential.

      For years, this system was accepted as the definitive categorization of human desires and the progressive way we seek to satisfy them, one level after another. 

      But that’s not to say there’s been no criticism of his model.  Far from it, in fact.  And the most important critique of all came from Maslow himself.

      After he died in 1970, scholars had the chance to examine his unpublished papers. They were startled to find that Maslow had become dissatisfied with his own model, specifically with the concept of the very highest level of human need, what he called self-actualization. 

      In his later years, Maslow realized that self-actualization is only attainable by giving one's self to some higher good beyond the self.  He recognized this as spirituality:  the human need for God’s presence.

      As the great Christian writer, Max Lucado. put it, “When our deepest desire is not the things of God, or a favor from God, but God Himself, we cross a threshold.”

      This is exactly what Jesus is offering the crowd.  He’s asking them to trust him as the one and only way to satisfy their deepest hunger for life lived in and with God.

      But the crowd is having trouble with that. 

They’re only willing to trust Jesus as the means to satisfy their lowest, most basic level of need – physical hunger.  And even when he’s done that in miraculous fashion by feeding the 5,000, they’re still not willing to believe in him.

      It’s a bit like what many of us do when we’re hungry.  The first things we reach for are carbohydrates and sweets, things loaded with white flour and sugar – muffins, pastries, cake, cookies.

      They sure taste good.  They do indeed satisfy our hunger for a little while.  The spike in blood sugar even gives us a quick jolt of energy. 

      But then, just as quickly, our insulin levels plunge and we feel tired and weak. And remarkably soon we’re hungry again.  And what do we reach for?  You got it - more carbs and more sugar.

      If we keep it up, this dietary cycle leads to lethargy, obesity, diabetes, even cancer and premature death.  

      But there’s another diet that is infinitely better for us.  It’s the classic Mediterranean diet.  Lots of fresh fruit and green vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil, a little bit of wine. 

      It’s more than just the food we eat.  It’s a way of living.  It means eating slower and, whenever we can, with family and friends. And, of course, daily exercise.

      This so-called miracle diet not only satisfies our hunger, it also has a profoundly positive affect on just about every aspect of our lives.  It prevents heart disease and stroke.  It reduces our chance of developing Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.  It keeps our muscles agile and our minds sharp.

      If we trust it and embrace it, it’s a diet that will do a lot more than just fill our stomachs.  It will give us longer, healthier, happier lives.

      But rather than embracing this rich, tasty, life-giving diet, more often than we’d care to admit, we just let ourselves get stuck in the junk food cycle.   

      On a spiritual level, that’s exactly where the crowds are stuck, too.  They’re only willing to trust Jesus to meet their most basic, immediate needs.   As a result, they miss the full, joyous life with God that Jesus makes possible for those who trust him with their whole lives.

      Friends, that is the same choice that you and I confront.

      Are we only willing to trust God a little bit, or are we willing to trust him with our whole lives, day to day, moment to moment?

      Maybe the better question is, “Are we willing to trust ourselves less, and God more?”

      I don’t know about you, but for me that’s a challenge. 

      I’d like to believe that I have the ability to control my own life, to satisfy my own needs and achieve my own goals, without having to rely on anyone else.  Aren’t we all like that?  Wouldn’t we all rather rely on ourselves, run our own show?

      What I’ve come to realize is that this is a fool’s errand.  Relying on ourselves is the spiritual equivalent of trying to subsist on a diet of junk food.  We can do it for a little while, but eventually we realize that we’re not healthy, we’ve become tired and weak.  It does not fulfill our deepest desire.

      And God has an annoying habit of reminding us that we are dependent on him, whether we like it or not.  What we really need is what Jesus offers us:  the bread of life, the true nourishment that satisfies mind, body and soul.

      Where in your life have you had that experience of an unmet need, one that, no matter how hard you tried, you simply could not fulfill on your own?

      Maybe when you thought you were in complete control of your own health?  Of your family’s well-being?  Your career?  We can deceive ourselves that we control these things for a long time - until we can’t. 

      Whatever it was that brought you up short, it may have felt like failure to you, but in truth it’s the beginning of true wisdom. 

      It’s the realization that we do indeed need the Bread of Life.  We need Jesus to bring us into God’s presence, because that’s the only place where we can have true life, eternal life – a life where even our deepest needs are met.

      May we all trust in him, and may we all have that life.

Last Published: August 13, 2018 10:57 AM
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