Tolpuddle and Puddletown

Sunday 5th August 2018

Exodus 16.2-4, 9-15; John 6.24-35

 

Does the grass look greener somewhere else?

 

The Israelites were struggling massively with their slavery in Egypt. Life wasn’t good. They cried out to God for rescue. As the oppression became graver, the desire for freedom grew.

 

Eventually they gained that freedom. God used Moses and Aaron to lead the people away from their bondage and into freedom. The grass for so long had seemed greener somewhere else, now there were great hopes for a new future.

 

But it doesn’t take long before the people are having a good old moan at Moses and Aaron. Suddenly the grass isn’t looking so green, and they hark back to the old days. At least we had food when we were in Egypt. We’d have stayed alive rather than dying in this desert.

 

I feel rather sorry for Moses and Aaron at this point - they’re clearly getting a right ear-bashing. It’s so easy to complain about things, especially if we can pin the blame on someone else.

 

But Moses and Aaron are not the only ones who hear the moans and groans. God too has heard. They’ve previously recognised that it is the Lord who holds the power of life and death – look back at the second verse of our Old Testament reading. As they hark back to the days in Egypt with their if onlys, it is “if only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt . . .”

 

In one breath they attribute the power of life and death to God, a few words later they are completely ignoring that when they blame Moses for starving them. Their faith in God’s provision is pretty flakey.

 

But the God we worship is not a flakey God. God hears their complaints, listens to their groaning, and responds, not in anger at their unhappiness, but with compassion.

Manna and quails are to be provided for food. Enough for everyone’s need.

 

We know from elsewhere that once a week, they could collect two days’ worth to tide them over the sabbath, but every other day they were to gather just what they needed – stockpiling wouldn’t do. If they tried taking more than they needed, they would discover it rotting. Greed is not God’s way to live.

 

At the beginning of our first reading today, the Israelites are expecting death; by the end of the reading God has surpassed those expectations.

 

Moving forward in life, whether that be something specific like a new job or new home, coping with a new situation in life, can test our faith.

 

In the face of struggles, we can waver.

 

We can focus on the difficulties, on how much better things were before x or y happened.

 

Leaving the life we know behind and facing the future can be a time when we have to let go of what has supported us previously.

 

The Israelites began to appreciate what they’d had in Egypt once they’d left. Yes – life was hard and oppressive, but at least they’d been fed. It is only after they have moved on from that, that they recognise it hadn’t been completely bad.

 

They’d missed the signs of God in the wilderness. God turned bitter water into sweetness for them. God provided the manna and quail. God is always there waiting to be discovered, if only we open our eyes to the right thing.

 

How do we recognise what is good in our lives? Even in the worst situations, God remains with us. It can be hard to remember that; it’s all too easy to focus on what isn’t right. But when the people ask Jesus in our New Testament reading what they need to do to perform the works of God, his response is: believe in the one he has sent. Believe in me. Believe in Jesus Christ.

Believe, in this context, doesn’t mean believe that I exist, believe that a man named Jesus from Nazareth lived. Believe means trust in. Trust in Jesus of Nazareth. Trust in me.

 

If we are going to trust, our eyes need to be on the right thing.

 

The people who followed Jesus round the lake had been part of the feeding of the 5000. At the start today’s reading, they are confused about how Jesus is now on the other side of the lake, as after the great meal, he had withdrawn into the mountains. The readers of John’s Gospel know, for we are told that the previous night Jesus had walked across the water to join his disciples in a boat. The crowd had seen the disciples leave; there had only been one boat; they couldn’t work out how Jesus had got to the other side of the lake. We know better.

 

But Jesus gets to the heart of things – you’re looking for me for the wrong reasons.

 

You’re trying to find me because I gave you a good meal, but the really important thing is not food for your bodies but food for your souls.

 

They still miss the point – Moses gave us bread in the wilderness; that made us believe. What are you going to do so that we can believe in you too? They are still looking for nourishment for their bodies.

 

It wasn’t Moses who gave your ancestors the bread – it was God, says Jesus; it was God’s provision for his people. And now God’s provision comes in a different form. It comes through me. I am the bread of life.

 

What does true life mean? It means to trust in Jesus.

 

We in this church this morning are fortunate. Unlike many of those who followed Jesus, most of us don’t need to worry about how we are going to get our next meal.

 

But in many ways that makes trusting in Jesus harder for us, because we can still eat without dependence on him. We have the power to manage our physical lives without him. It isn’t prayer that brings us our daily bread but our pension, our wages, our savings and so on.

 

Except that all things come from God.

 

What does trusting Jesus look like for you, today, right this moment, here in church?

 

What does trusting Jesus look like for you when you walk out of this church door? For the other hours of your life.

 

We’re in church for a comparatively short while each week, but if what we do here on a Sunday morning has no bearing on how we trust Jesus for the rest of our lives, what are we doing here?

 

What will you be doing this time tomorrow? How will Jesus be a part of that?

 

When the people heard about the bread God was offering they wanted it “always”. How were they to get it? How are we to get it?

 

By trusting in the one who is the bread of life.

 

God’s grace is given to us in abundance. That is a given. There is nothing we can do to earn that or change that. God is love, and God loves us and gives us all that we need for eternal life.

 

But we have to be willing to receive it.

 

I wonder how many of you have had post or emails promising you great riches, if you only send back this form, or mail £100 to unlock the thousands you are promised. Or what about those mail shots promising you offers that sound too good to be true.

 

The experts remind us time and again that things that sound too good to be true usually are. Lloyds Bank, for instance, has a page entitled “Offers that sound too good to be true.”

It offers warnings against fraudsters and scammers. When George Osborne opened up freedoms on what people could do with their pension pots, lots of people were caught out by responding to offers of high-returning investments – they sounded good, but the organisation Action Fraud revealed that the average loss of those who were caught up in these scams was £165,000.[1] Certainly not the good investment returns they were offered.

 

Too good to be true doesn’t however apply to Jesus. What we’re offered – eternal life – is not too good to be true, it’s so good it’s true.

 

It is a gift freely offered to absolutely everybody. The gift of God’s love, the gift of eternity, the gift of the kingdom, the gift of Jesus Christ, the bread of life.

 

That is what God shares with us, and all that is needed is our response, our desire to take in the bread of life to our lives more fully each day.

 

Our Gospel reading is so simple and yet it is hard for us to understand.

 

But love is not about knowing everything there is to know about someone from the length of their nose to what they did on 23rd April 1972, for instance.

 

If I asked you to describe why you love someone, it’s not because of what your head knows about them but about what your hearts tells you.

 

Loving is experience not knowledge. We are asked not to understand God fully but to be loved fully by God. There is a difference.

 

As we grow, we will, of course, come to learn and understand more about God, but the starting-point for all of us is love and trust in Christ.

 

That’s what the people didn’t get – they wanted to trust in a never-ending meal-ticket.

 

That’s not what was offered but something so much better than that.

 

Where can this better thing make a difference in how you live your life this coming week?

 

[1] Based on data shared by Action Fraud with the Citizens’ Advice Bureau of the average loss per report of pension fraud against pensioners (i.e. not including liberation scams) between April 2015 and September 2015.

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