18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Proper 13 – August 2, 2015

Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

Some of the crowd who were fed on the mountainside search for Jesus. They are seekers. People who want to know more. Attracted to Jesus but uncertain about who he is and what he is about. Have you encountered some of these in your ministry? Perhaps some of these folks have come with a friend to church, told you at the door they appreciated worship, asked if they could talk to you for a minute. Maybe they have made it so far as to come to a new members’ class or been brave enough to attend a Bible study. It could be a young adult who has been in the pew for years but is just now searching for a faith of his own. If you are open to them, these seekers ask wonderful questions. Some are brand new to Christianity, others went to church years ago, many have been wounded by a faith tradition and it takes all they have to try again.

Do you know the people I am talking about? Jesus does. They are seekers who’ve had a glimpse of the gospel and who now are hungry for more. When they come our way, how do we receive them? How do we answer them? What do we feed them?

Today’s reading from John is about questions from the crowd and paying attention to their questions. Jesus’ answers offer a critical lesson in evangelism for us.

First of all, those who’ve sought out Jesus ask a basic question of logistics: “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Such seemingly pedestrian questions are the beginnings of relationship and faith. They are safe and straight forward. Seekers today ask these kinds of questions, too. Often they are asking them of our website or Facebook page. They look for worship times, directions, where to park and whether or not there is a nursery. Answering these questions is critical because if these questions aren’t answered, the relationship ends before it even begins.

We have to go further than this, however.

Once Jesus has been found, he acknowledges what they are looking for: bread. The basics. He doesn’t criticize them for this. He states it matter-of-factly. We need to do that, too. It is fine if people come to Vacation Bible School because it is a week of free child care. It is OK if people come only on Wednesday nights for an inexpensive supper and not the Bible study. It is faithful to welcome kids to our youth group even if they have not been to worship in weeks. Or ever.

Jesus doesn’t lament that the crowd has come to him for more to eat. He doesn’t fault them for not getting the magnitude of his ministry. He meets them where they are and then gives them more than they’d hoped for or expected. Could we do this, too?

Could you wonder with your congregation what people are seeking, what many of those in the sanctuary are seeking, name it and then tell them Jesus wants to do more for them than they can ask or imagine?

You’ve come for an hour of quiet while your kids are safe in someone else’s care down the hall. God proclaims you as beloved children and promises to never let you go.

You’ve come to get in out of the cold or the heat and to have a cup of coffee. Jesus welcomes you as his brother or sister and has prepared a place for you in this community of faith and for eternity in his heavenly mansion.

You’ve come because you are visiting your aging parent and it will make them happy for you to sit together in the pew. The Triune God through Christ’s body, the church, will make sure neither one of you ever has to sit alone.

Wonder together what people are hungry for and what even greater nourishment Jesus offers.

When you do, those attracted to the Living God will wonder: What’s next? What must we do? Everything is an exchange, right?

Those seeking Jesus may not know about grace and those of us who found and were found by Jesus long ago still need to be reminded of it.

Jesus answers the question from the crowd by saying you don’t have to do anything, just believe. Believe in me. That’s it and that’s everything. The rest will follow as you follow.

This is a tough one for those of us who’ve been church insiders for a while or forever. We want those newbies to earn their keep. We want the time and talent card filled out, turned in and acted upon. I am so guilty of this. I want them to pledge, teach Sunday school and bring a casserole, darn it! This is a commitment!

But Jesus doesn’t tell these would-be-followers to do anything. Don’t you wish he had? Instead he says: Believe in the One the Father has sent. Period. Stop.

Could you wonder about that a little with your flock this Sunday? What if that is what we shared with those seeking Jesus? What if we really meant it? What if that was what we emphasized in our own faith journey? I wonder what would happen next? I wonder if what followed would be joyful service instead of guilt-ridden obligation? I wonder if we’d have not only fewer nones but fewer dones, too.

But the crowd has one more question. They want a sign. Don’t we all?

Jesus’ answer is interesting. He tells them that all that has ever nourished them and has nourished those who came before them has come from God. He helps them understand that even though they are seeking Jesus now, God sought them long ago. He assures them God has been on the journey with them and now, through Jesus, they will be with God forever.

The crowd begins to see the transformative magnitude of Jesus Christ and they want this life-giving bread and Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.”

Do we proclaim this every Sunday? Do we offer it?

Pope Francis writes, “Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty, and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction’ ” (The Joy of the Gospel, #14).

The text from John demonstrates this truth. People are hungry for all kinds of things: bread, clothing, purpose, community, worth, compassion, care. Jesus – and his body, the church – offer all of this and more. God wants for those who seek, for all of us, more than we can desire or imagine. Read through today’s text from Ephesians. God wants us to live a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called – and what a rich and abundant life that is! It is a life of love, unity, faith and peace, one in which we are joined and knit together into Christ himself. Could there be anything more joyous and beautiful than that?

As we seek to live a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called, people will be attracted to us. Through the power of the Holy Spirit they will come to us seeking to find Jesus Christ. With just a hint of opportunity they will start asking questions.

How will we answer them? Will we meet them where they are? Tell them that belief is all that is required? Offer them the bread they seek but also so much more?

May your preaching be bread for the journey for those gathered in your sanctuary this week. May it be even the Bread of Life.

This week:

  1. Take a look at your website, Facebook page, signage on the church property, information in the pews and elsewhere as if you had never been to your church before. Look at all these things as if you’d never been to any church before. What do you discover? Ask others to do this and then talk about it. Better yet, ask someone who has never been to church to take a look and share with you their thoughts.
  2. Invite people to submit questions about issues of faith (the Bible, worship, baptism, communion, etc.) anonymously either in paper or digitally. Find ways to share those questions and offer answers.
  3. Pope Francis talks about evangelism in terms of encounter, attraction and accompaniment. Read more about it here.  Do you see that in this text? Is this an approach to evangelism that you could emulate?
  4. Take a look at the Ephesians 4 text. Make note of all the “ones” and all the “alls.” Notice the “each” section. What do we all share and what is different about us? How do we live out this diversity within our unity?
  5. How do we “speak the truth in love” to one another? Are there ways to practice this? Have you seen examples? (Or counter examples?)
  6. Pray the following prayer this week: “We offer our prayers for all those with whom we share the Journey: those who have been given to us, and to whom we have been given, those to whom we promised our faithfulness and prayers… especially… . We entrust all who are dear to us to Your never-failing care, for this life and for the life to come; knowing that you will do for them far more than we can desire or pray for. Amen.” (Robert Benson, Daily )

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