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Fed by Christ
by Philip Van Dam
John 6:1-21; also: 2 Kings 4:42-44 Psalm 145:10-19 Ephesians 3:14-21

What are our lessons about today? Are they about miracles of feeding many people with very meager resources? That would certainly be the answer of some people. Are they about God physically caring for us, with physical means? I don't think so. I think that the meaning lies somewhat deeper, and I think that there is a clear reason for this. When we look at the gospel lesson we see that the people who have been fed have a very clear response to this miracle, and a miracle it was. The people respond within the context of the day.

At the time the Roman Empire was the major power. In Rome the citizens would vote for the Senate. In order to get people to vote for them Senators would provide what has been called bread and circuses. What this meant was that Senators would buy votes by giving people food, and free admission to the coliseum. If a candidate fed you, you would vote for that candidate. Isn't this the same today? People are said to vote their pocket book" meaning that those people do not vote on whether they believe the candidate will be the best for the country, nor whether the candidate is moral, nor whether the candidate respects God's creation. These people vote precisely on whether they believe the candidate will help or hurt them individually as far as their finances.

I think that actually there are fewer people who do this today than say thirty years ago, but it is the same as in the times of Rome. If you can benefit me financially, if you can feed me, then I will vote for you. Well, this was the thinking of the five thousand whom Jesus had just fed. They had just been fed, and they wanted to give their vote to Jesus. In fact they had been fed by an obvious miracle. Jesus was the obvious candidate for King. If he could feed these people, then he could do away with poverty and hunger completely. And they knew that he was a wise person, they had been listening to him. And they also knew that he was able to attract a following. What better candidate could there be? But these people were only seeing the surface. They only saw the bread. They only saw the physical side of what Jesus was doing. They did not see the meaning of what Jesus was doing. They had been fed with a physical food, and they did not realize that they needed more substantial food. They saw only the bread and fish. They saw only the physical miracle.

But if this is not all there is then what else is there? What more is there to see? I think that the answer is in the second lesson. Paul says in Ephesians "pray that according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in faith." Paul is praying that the Ephesians have Christ within them, and that the Holy Spirit strengthen them. These two concepts are very closely related. The Holy Spirit strengthens us BY bringing making Christ present in us. Indeed Christ is always present by the power of the Holy Spirit. And this is what the five thousand people failed to see. Even the disciples failed on an ongoing basis to see this.

Christ did not come to Earth to be just a supernatural food bank, handing out physical food whenever we wish. Jesus is not a supernatural Santa Claus, who is just here to grant our wishes. Jesus came to bring us to a new understanding of God. Jesus came to put us in a right relationship with God. Jesus came so that we might be new beings, new people. How does God do this? How does Jesus come to us? There are two clear ways in which Jesus comes to us. The first is in a permanent way. Jesus comes to us in Baptism, and is born inside us. In baptism each of us gives birth to Christ, and each of us becomes part of Christ. The best analogy is how in a wedding two people are joined into one relationship.

But there is another way in which Christ comes to us. This is in Communion or the Eucharist. In the bread and the wine Jesus is physically present. In this way Christ constantly renews our relationship with him and nourishes us. Just as the people who were fed by Christ were hungry again, we need to return to the Lord's Table on a regular basis to be fed in a way that we cannot be fed by mere physical food. We need to be fed in a way that brings us closer to God on a continuing basis. When we get married, we do not just say after the wedding that there is nothing more to do. The marriage has to be constantly renewed and recreated. It is the same with our relationship with Jesus.

But how do we feed this relationship? How do we care for this relationship? I think that there are parallels with both how people care for marriages, and how they care for their bodies. I think that there are many people who try to maintain a marriage without ever really connecting with the other person. They may ask, or tell the other person to take out the trash, or to pick up the kids, they may complain about what the other person has done or not done, but they never really tell the other person their feelings, nor do they listen to the other person's feelings. They also never show appreciation for the other person, or go out of their way to do special things for their partner.

Marriages can endure a long time with such patterns, but they are not really good relationships. This is like how some of us treat our bodies some or all of the time. We try to get by, giving our bodies poor food, not enough rest, and little exercise. The body does not react well to this, but we tell ourselves that we just don't have enough time. We don't have enough time to care for our bodies. We don't have enough time to care for our marriages. And all too often we don't have enough time to care for our relationship with Jesus.

Of course the beginning of this is proper nutrition. And that of course means taking communion. But part of nutrition with our bodies is not just what we eat, but how we eat. I remember when I was in seminary hearing about a new style of communion that some churches had adopted. They would have individual little containers, like those little plastic coffee creamers that you get in restaurants. Inside these individual containers was wine, and then in a blister seal on the top was a wafer. One church I heard of would give these out for communion during Christmas at the curbside. They had drive up communion.

Instead of feasting on our Lord, they had just a little snack on Christ. Instead of being fed with the bread and the word, they just had Mac Jesus. In our age of consumerism, they had not presented an alternative to the fallen world; they had given in and just had a fast food savior. As Luther said we are fed on the bread and the word, not just the bread, not just the word, but both. We need both. We have been given both. In worship we are fed in a way that goes beyond just our normal food. We are fed by Christ himself. In the Eucharist we are given the gift of Christ by Christ.