12 Pentecost B; John 6:51-58
Has anyone here held game nights with family or friends? Anyone still play some of the classic games, like Monopoly, or checkers, or Scrabble?
When I was growing up, we played board games a lot. And one of the games we used to play was a classic-- “The Game of Life.” Does anyone remember it or play it now?
For those who may not know, The Game of Life basically tries to mimic real life, in a board game format. You start with a game piece that’s a car, and some money, and you make your way around the board. Anyone who’s played before, what’s the goal of the game?? Right, to make the most money. So every decision you make is geared towards winning, by accumulating cash and “winning” at Life.
So during the game, you get to choose whether to go to University or not—which is a longer path, but you get paid more later. You want to become a professional—doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc. because you’ll make more money. You get paid throughout the game. Other players try to take your money, and you try to take their money.
You want to get married in the game, because then you get—you guessed it—wedding presents and cash. And then you want to have as many kids as possible, because you get MORE presents! OK, maybe that part doesn’t mimic real life that well—we all know having kids means spending money too! But in the game, that doesn’t matter. Having more kids equals cash.
And landing on different spaces mean that “life” things happen. And the last square of the game that you want to get to is: MILLIONAIRE! Retire in style.
So that’s your goal— become a millionaire and retire in style. If someone doesn’t end up becoming a millionaire tycoon at the end, the winner is the one who gets bankrupt last. So it’s still the one who has the most money in the end who wins.
It’s a fun game. But if you think about it a bit, you kind of realize that this game is a bit skewed. It’s teaching kids what they need to do to “win” at life. If they want to be winners at life, they have to amass a fortune (sometimes at the expense of others!), get married, and have a passel of kids (not because they want to, but because they get more money that way)— and they do all of this so they can retire in style. That, according to the Game of Life, is the goal of life.
Weirdly, there is no death in this Game of Life. It ends at retirement or bankruptcy. But appropriately, once the game ends—regardless of who wins—where does all the money go?? Yeah, back in the box. So although the game teaches us to make a ton of money, it is very clear that at the end of life the money is gone. As some like to say-- you can’t take it with you.
And sadly, we ourselves tend to do the same thing—focus on those things that do not last. Jesus knew this—2,000 years ago, people had this problem as well.
Our Gospel passage today continues the discussion Jesus is having with the people who witnessed the Feeding of the 5,000. After Jesus miraculously fed thousands of people with just five small barley loaves and two fish, he and the disciples travel across the lake. The people who were just fed during the miracle follow them.
But Jesus knows the reason why the people followed him. It’s not because they want to hear more about God—they want another free lunch. Jesus tells them: “I am telling you the truth: you are looking for me because you ate the bread and had all you wanted, not because you understood my miracles. Do not work for food that spoils; instead, work for food that lasts for eternal life. This is the food which the Son of Man will give you.”
Jesus knows that these people are focused on things that don’t last—rather than focusing on the food that lasts forever, that the Son of Man, or Jesus, will give them. They are looking in the wrong places, for the wrong things, to satisfy their deep hunger for what only Jesus can give them.
We know what that’s like. We, too, look in the wrong places and for the wrong things to satisfy our hunger. We saw in the Game of Life the pursuit of money. Alcohol, pursuing success, obsessions with anything and everything—sports teams, TV shows, celebrities. The things I listed are fine in moderation—I’m not asking you to give up your favorite sports teams or TV shows! But it’s when these things are used to fill that spiritual void in our lives that it becomes a problem.
Because, when we become so focused on these things that don’t last, we can derive our life’s purpose and meaning from them. It becomes why we live, why we are here. Our hunger becomes misplaced, and we are living for the food that spoils.
In the Gospel reading for today, it seems like the people continue to have this problem. Even though the conversation with these same people has continued throughout chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, Jesus still needs to clarify what’s important in life. He gives them a priority check.
And the priority check isn’t pretty. He tells them that they must eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. Reading this today, we can figure out that he’s probably talking about… what? Holy Communion, right. But the people back then didn’t have that frame of reference. They’re looking at a living man standing in front of them, wondering what he means by eating his flesh and drinking his blood. It sounds really gross. They’re probably thinking something like, “Um, Jesus, gross. I don’t want to be a cannibal! What the heck??” But reading this now, we know that he’s talking about the sacrament at the altar—Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper.
And Jesus tells them: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Jesus is showing them what’s most important. It’s not the free lunch that they had earlier, or those things that don’t last. It’s taking part in the real Bread of Life, in Jesus. It’s having a relationship with him.
Because when we have Jesus in our lives, we have spiritual life. We are able to live, because Jesus died for us. He gave up his life for the life of the world—so that the world—us-- could live through him. He died on that cross to give us new spiritual life. Being in relationship with Jesus changes everything— the spiritual part of us wakes up and lives. We aren’t just living for things that spoil, we are living for Jesus and wanting to share his love with everyone we meet. That’s the most important thing.
Having Jesus in our lives doesn’t mean that things will always be easy. Jesus tells us many times in Scripture that being a follower of him means that we will have to take up our cross and deal with obstacles. And when we are dealing with these obstacles and our personal crosses, sometimes it’s hard to see Jesus. It can be difficult to feel his presence.
But when we encounter Jesus through Holy Communion, this spiritual feeding, we are reminded of what Jesus did. We hear the words “the body of Christ, given for you; the blood of Christ, shed for you.”
Jesus died for YOU. Jesus gave up his life so that YOU could live with him forever. He tells us, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” Jesus loves you that much that he went to the cross for you—so that you could have the Bread of Life and have eternal life with him.
Jesus tells us: “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them….whoever eats me will live because of me.”
And when we come to this Communion table, when we eat of Jesus, the Bread of Life, and taste the wine, his blood-- we know that Jesus is here, in the bread and in the wine. We can feel Jesus as the bread is placed in our hands. We can taste Jesus as we eat and drink. As Jesus said, he abides in us and we in him. Jesus literally becomes a part of us as we take Communion at this table.
And when we take Communion, as we will in just a few minutes, we experience Jesus’ presence in a special way. Jesus promises us that he is here, in this bread and in this wine. We meet Jesus in this food and drink.
So, knowing that it is sometimes hard to feel Jesus’ presence in our broken world—we also know that we will always meet Jesus in this Holy Meal. Whenever we feel like we need to reconnect with Jesus, we can always come to this table, knowing that we can experience Jesus’ presence every time we take Communion.
And since we know that we encounter Jesus during Communion, we can bring those things to Jesus during Communion that we need to bring to him. Maybe you need forgiveness-- for something you did, or to forgive someone else. Maybe you need healing for a broken relationship. Maybe you need help with an important decision. Maybe you need to have your spiritual life refreshed.
Whatever you need in this moment, I invite you to bring it to the table when you meet Jesus today in the bread and wine. Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 11: “Come to me, all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
So come to this table— come and meet Jesus, and lay your burdens down on the One who offers rest for your soul, the Bread of Life, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Come experience Jesus’ presence and be in relationship with him—the most important thing. Amen.