To walk past Winkler Bakery in Old Salem, N.C. when the wood ovens are fired and Moravian sugar cakes, cookies, or Lovefeast buns are coming out of those ovens is like stumbling upon heaven on earth. The aroma draws you in the door. A short time later you leave carrying either a bag of goodies, and likely an extra pound or two – just from the smells.
In North Carolina bakeries abounded. Moms also, knew how to use yeast, butter, sugar, flour and eggs. Did you ever eat sliced Wonder Bread – which leads me to Jesus – and the crowd who had just feasted on fish and the original Wonder Bread. Jesus’ fans wonder how he could take a kid’s lunch pail and feed 5000 of them and have loads of leftovers for later. Seeing the disciples go sailing across the lake, minus Jesus, they run around the lake to catch up. Lo and behold Jesus has magically appeared. How did he get there? What’s up with this guy?
Jesus knows they’ve tailed him. And he realizes they’ve come because they like his miracle – a free meal, or “sign” as John calls it. But then Jesus nails them – not in a bad way, but to open their hearts: “You’re looking for me because I fed you. Forget that – peanuts! I have other bread for you – one won’t go stale and moldy – eternal, from heaven. Work for the bread the Son of Man gives.” They want food – he wants to give them God. They are religious. They already have God – now they’ll take Jesus, too – if he’s a never ending meal ticket.
“So what must we do?” Do – isn’t that just human nature. We can’t be still – must be busy – nothing comes free. “How do we do God’s works? Give us an assignment, a checklist. What does God want?” In other words, they want to be in charge of their futures and lives. Here’s what to do Jesus says, “believe in the one God sends.”
Believe in Jesus – that’s it? That doesn’t have a lot of sizzle. We’d rather rely on our work, coming to church, saying the Creed, asking forgiveness, eating bread and drinking wine, being nice to poor people. No – Jesus is quite plain – “Believe in me, not what you do.” “In” is the operative word – believe in a person, not propositions, ideas, deeds or rules. It’s a relationship. Relationships begin slowly, take time, desire and effort – more than just knowing each other’s names. You get to know and value each other. Jesus already knows us and still wants to be friends. Do we really believe “in” him? Believing in Jesus means we first desire to believe in him. Desire opens our hearts to faith and trust. If we decide we don’t want to believe in him, or follow him, we won’t. To paraphrase philosopher Jeff Cook: “Belief in Jesus begins in our hearts, not our heads.”
They want proof – before they sign a contract – guarantees, warranties. “So give us a sign. Speaking of bread, Moses gave us heaven’s bread. Now you show us some heavenly bread.” Faith’s opposite is proof, certainty. Reason and logic don’t transform our hearts – only faith, desire and trust. People know cigarette smoking kills them, but that doesn’t stop them from smoking. More knowledge won’t change us or necessarily help us believe in Jesus. We choose to believe in him, because we desire a relationship with him who reveals the God we’ll find we most desire. And it’s not just deciding once and for all to believe in Jesus. Our relationship and faith deepen and grow – through our work of prayer, formation, worship, living lives of love and humility, and serving God in the world. If we first trust Jesus, then we’ll be able to see God in Jesus.
The bread we eat and wine we drink at this table at one level is worldly stuff that perishes. Those who trust Jesus, find more – the very presence of the Imperishable God who meets us in physical stuff, bread and wine, and mysteriously feeds us with such gifts as love, new and everlasting life, welcomes us home, and satisfies our deepest hungers. One day God will fulfill his plan from the beginning – changing everyone and everything into what is imperishable – eternal, a new creation. Until that day comes, Jesus is still concerned no one goes hungry. God’s children do have physical hunger and needs. He did feed a hungry crowd that day – a sign that God will be present in our physical needs and desires – places God comes to fill our spiritual hungers.
Life is more than feeding on our Wonder Bread and fish sticks. Hunger draws us to a lot of things we hope will fill us – and they do, for a while. But we hunger again. Knowing what we want is just part of the battle. Wanting the right thing is what finally matters.