St Barnabas 26th September
Reading – John 6:25-40
Well, may I once again extend a warm welcome to all those who are visiting this morning for the baptism of B and L’s child, C. It’s been a real privilege to be able to support B and L over the past eighteen months or so, and to accompany them on their journey into that strange and wonderful new world called parenthood, as they have experienced both the joy and – dare I say it? – the shock of suddenly being responsible for this amazing bundle of life we are baptising today.
Now I am sure there are many things that B and L have learnt about C since he was born. One of the most basic and obvious things any parent quickly learns about their child is when they are hungry, and my guess is, that as a boy, there are times when it must seem like C has hollow legs. Boys like their food, and plenty of it, and when they are hungry, there is nothing else you can do than feed them.
But there are other ways in which C is hungry as well. Sometimes, I am sure, he is quite simply hungry for attention, and no matter what else you want to get on with, he is quite insistent that you focus all your time and energy on him. And I am also quite sure there are times when he is hungry for affection, when all he wants is a cuddle and a kiss and to know he is safe and loved.
And it’s on this theme of hunger I want to focus this morning. Because I am going to put it to you there is a sense in which all of us one way or another are hungry. Not just hungry in a physical sense – “Mum, I’m starving, can I have something to eat” – but hungry for other things that we can’t perhaps eat or touch or feel, but which are nonetheless basic human needs that one way or another we have to satisfy. Things, for example, like friendship or happiness or success. After all, we all want to have friends or to be happy or to do well, don’t we? Unless, of course, you are going through the miserable teenage phase when all you want to do is live in your bedroom with the walls painted black and, like Gollum, think dark thoughts to yourself.
So where are we going to find satisfaction for these hungers, these basic human longings that we all know and feel? That sounds like quite a deep, quite an abstract kind of question but actually it is a very relevant one as C is brought to baptism this morning.
To begin with, if he hasn’t noticed it already, he will soon discover there is this box in the corner of the room with all kinds of bright and colourful pictures that produces wonderful sounds and music. As he grows up, he will realise the pictures are of places and people, and sounds are speech and birdsong and noises. And before long, he will find some of these pictures and these sounds will tell him that if he really wants to be happy, he has to have this particular toy or watch this cartoon, or eat this particular snack. Right from the earliest age, it seems, children are bombarded with advert after advert that all have the same message – if you want a happy and fulfilled life, go out and buy this now! And if you don’t have the money yourself, pester your parents or your grandparents to buy it instead.
You may be interested/horrified to know that an American researcher came up with the finding that in that country the average child watches 20,000 TV commercials not in a lifetime, or in the first eighteen years, but in a year. (Link) And while the figures may not be as bad in this country, there is no doubt we are under siege from a culture which says that if we want to be happy we need to keep on having more and more and more.
Later on, as C grows up and starts to make decisions for himself, he will no doubt told there are other ways to be happy. For example, someone may tell him all he needs to do is find a decent job, earn loads and loads of money, and buy the home of his dreams. Because, if you’re rich, you have no worries. Look after number one, and everything else will take care of itself. At least, that’s the theory.
Or again, he may well be told, “Why worry about life’s big questions? Why not simply go out and live for the moment?” You can’t always have what you want, so just enjoy yourself as much as you can. Eat, drink and be merry, and don’t worry about the future. Live for the present, because the present’s all you’ve got.
But Jesus says in our passage this morning, I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. That’s some claim, isn’t it? I was doing some research for this sermon, and I found a list of the six most common words that appear in adverts, excluding pronouns. Can anyone guess what they were? The answer in order is “world, best, more, good, better, new” Link Jesus’ promise is that if you want more, if you want a world that is the best, if you want to find a new way of living that is not only good, but better than anything you have ever experienced before, come to Him. And this is not the hollow promise of the advertiser, or the politician, or the TV presenter. This is a genuine, real promise that meets all our longings, our hungers, all our needs. For my Father’s will – Jesus goes on to say – is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
Of course I realise that in the past preachers have been guilty as anyone of throwing out slogans and soundbites and not really explaining what they mean. I guess it’s no surprise to you that my message this morning is “Come to Jesus” – after all, that’s what I would say, isn’t it? But you may well be wondering what coming to Jesus actually means in the cold light of day and how it relates to our baptism service today.
So let me explain. First of all, coming to Jesus involves believing in Him.
Now I know that many people find the idea of faith and belief difficult. We live in an age of science and technology. We like hard facts and figures. Before we open our cereal in the morning, we run down all the information printed on the side, to see what’s in it, and whether it’s good for us (and then we eat it anyway!). We go to school or work, and every piece of work we do is measured and monitored so there is hard data which shows how well we are doing. We catch a bus, or we drive home, and if we so wish, we can instantly calculate the amount of carbon dioxide we are pumping into the atmosphere. Isn’t the idea of faith and belief simply a hangover from a bygone age, an age before computers and space travel and all that stuff to do with the worldwide web?
Well, the short answer is no. If you think about it, we actually exercise belief and trust all the time. If no-one believed the claims of the advertising agent, then I assume companies would not pay to advertise their product. If no-one believed the claims of the politicians, then I assume no-one would vote for them.
And in fact believing and trusting is something we do from the earliest age. Young C here certainly does not know everything there is to know about his parents. He is still too young even to say what he knows about them. But there is no doubt that he believes and trust in B and L, and looks to them to protect and to provide for him.
And this I find is a helpful picture of what God expects us to do. We cannot of course know all there is to know about God. If we did, He would not be God. But God has given us enough evidence through the life, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ that we can believe and trust in Him. So that, when Jesus says come, we come, trusting Jesus with our very lives in the expectation that He will protect and provide for us. Because that in essence is what faith is all about. Not making a leap into the dark, and ignoring the facts. Not leaving behind your ability to think and to make rational decisions. But making a commitment of love because Jesus has first loved us and through dying on the cross has given life to the world (verse 33).
But there is so much more to coming to Jesus than making just an initial act of commitment. Let’s think for a moment what Jesus means when He says I am the bread of life. Wouldn’t it be good if someone invented a food that meant we didn’t have to eat again, at least not for a long time? OK, it might put the slimming clubs out of business, but it would save so much hassle and inconvenience. No more waiting in the supermarket queue, or if you shop online, losing your order as the system crashes. No more large grocery bills that swallow up your monthly pay packet. No more plastic bags littering the streets and polluting the world’s oceans. Unfortunately, such a food hasn’t been invented and it isn’t likely to be any time soon. We need to eat and drink at regular intervals to stay healthy and fit.
And isn’t that true also of our spiritual life? If Jesus is our bread of life, then presumably we need to feed off Him regularly. We can’t simply stand up at a baptism service to declare our faith in Christ and then simply go on living as before. Just as we need regular meals where we eat and drink, so we need regular times where we can read the Bible and pray and find out more about the one who promises us eternal life.
Of course this isn’t always easy. Being a Christian still means living in the real world. We still have to get up and live our busy lives, and I don’t need to remind you of the jobs you have to do this week. And if we’re not careful we can so easily get distracted away from the faith we claim to follow, or find that other priorities become more important than doing Jesus’ will. So coming to Jesus also involves a change of lifestyle, of making space and time each day where we spend maybe even just a few minutes discovering more about our wonderful Saviour who longs for us to discover fullness of life in Him.
And there’s just one more point about coming to Jesus, the bread of life. In theory, it is possible to spend all our time eating alone. We would get all the nutrients we need to stay healthy and we would remain fit and active. But food is so much more than vitamins and proteins all the rest. You see, food is meant for sharing. Meals should be social occasions where we share news and enjoy company, where we have a good time together.
It should be no different really when it comes to following Jesus. Of course, it is just about possible to have some kind of private faith where we never meet with other Christians, or share in fellowship. But Jesus never meant our faith to be a solitary, private affair. He meant us to live our life together, sharing with one another the joys and sorrows of each day, showing one another genuine Christ-like love and compassion, and, yes, sometimes simply just having a good time together – like we did on Friday at the quiz night.
Now today is Back to Church Sunday, and across the country there are hundreds of churches taking part welcoming back many people who have for whatever reason drifted away from church, but still would say they believe and follow Jesus. I for one think it’s a great idea. But I do have a slight worry, that if Back to Church Sunday is not explained or promoted properly, it becomes an invitation to rejoin an institution, to renew membership of a spiritual club that has lapsed over the years. Jesus didn’t come to found an institution or a club. He came to form a living, growing community of people who show by their life together the love of Jesus and the power of Jesus to change lives for good.
And this takes me right back to C’s baptism this morning. Because, although rightly the focus is on the parents and the godparents, all of us here at St Barnabas have a part to play this morning. In a world where so many people offer so many different promises of happiness of a full and contented life, we are called to show C as he grows up a different way of life, a life centred on faith and trust in Jesus, a life that has a rhythm and a pattern of prayer and worship, a life that is lived and shared together as the people of God feeding from the word of God. So that one day C will himself declare that Jesus is the bread of life, and find his deepest hunger met in Him.
So Jesus’ words represent a challenge for all us. I am the bread of life. Am I, are we regularly feeding off Jesus? He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. Do we know that kind of fulfilled life lived in a right relationship with Christ? Let’s spend some time reflecting on these words of Jesus, and let’s ask that we might know Jesus as our bread of life – not just for our own sake, but for the sake of those who like C join our church also discover Him as their Lord and Saviour.