Saturday, July 25, 2015

Hunger Free

At the end of the gospel lesson for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, John 6:24-35, Jesus says this:  "I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."  This text follows the story of the feeding of the 5,000, and begs the question, "What does it mean to be hunger-free, or thirst-free?"  We might ponder this as we reflect on the questions this text raises.

(The following questions are a small sample of reflection questions taken from my guide on Law and Gospel preaching.  They are meant to be conversation starters, not an exhaustive list.  I hope that they spur your imagination, and I welcome your comments.)

1. How does the Word function in the text?  Jesus is giving us the whole package today.  First, he is reminding us of our propensity to seek only the food that does not 'endure'.   To the crowd that experienced the feeding of the 5,000 he says, "You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves."  This is a word of Law, showing us how often we seek Jesus - or anyone else, for that matter - merely because they fill our needs temporarily.  There is a word of Gospel here too, however, as Jesus announces that he is the bread of life which gives life to the world, and he announces that is given to all.  Finally, a call to obedience is also present in this text implicitly, as we, who are fed by the bread of life, are invited to tell others where this bread can be found.  These are the three functions of the Word - Law, Gospel, and the call to obedience.

2.  With whom are you identifying in this text? Preachers might be tempted here to identify with Jesus, but we should once again resist this temptation.  We preachers, and our listeners as well, are undoubtedly the crowds - the ones who seek Jesus because we have eaten of the loaves, the ones who demand signs of Jesus, and the ones who resist Jesus' claim to be the One who will satisfy our hunger and thirst for good.

3.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Obviously hungry/filled or thirsty/satisfied are two couplets that come to mind immediately, but we might expand those two by thinking in terms of other sorts of hunger and thirst:  lost/found, lonely/loved, despairing/hopeful.  These couplets and others can broaden our thinking about what this One called Bread of Life gives to us.

4.  Exegetical insights:  In Greek grammar we encounter the construction called "strong future denial."  This is a common form which is often translated, "this will never, by no means happen" or something like that.  In verse 35 we have this construction twice, and it literally means:  "Whoever comes to me will by no means ever be hungry, and whoever believes in me will by no means ever be thirsty."  This is striking and brings to mind the question, "Well then, if I continue to experience hunger and thirst - which I certainly do, in many ways -  does it follow then that I have not ever come to or believed in Jesus?  And furthermore, if hunger and thirst are common to the human condition, is this hunger/thirst-free condition then just as far beyond me as being sin-free?"

An excellent source for insights into John's gospel is Craig Koester's Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel.  Koester points out that the crowd that lifts up the giving of manna in the wilderness as something they'd like to see again has forgotten one obvious fact:  manna only lasted for a day; then it spoiled.  Was this really the kind of miracle they wanted?  Koester's discussion (p. 99f) has a number of important insights into this text.

5. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  As usual, I would direct your attention to to learn more about this model, and also read in my book a thorough discussion of how this model can lead you into a full Law and Gospel sermon.  This text is a good one for illustrating this model.  I might suggest:

Diagnosis:  1) We seek to satisfy our hunger and thirst in many unhelpful ways.
                   2)  We trust in that which only appears to satisfy us.
                   3)  We are dying of starvation spiritually.

Prognosis:  4)  God gives us the bread of life to save us from starvation.
                   5)  We trust in Christ who does satisfy our hunger and thirst.
                   6)  We point others to Christ who will satisfy their hunger and thirst.

6.  Insights from the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  Fred Craddock would remind us that the listener must experience the text, not just understand it.  It is the task of the preacher here to help our listeners nod in recognition, as we preach about hunger and thirst.  And then it is our joyful task to give them the bread of life.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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