As a short glimpse into the Technology Issue, here’s The Sermon, which came to us this time from the Rev. Aaron Zimmerman. 

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day (Jn 6:35, 44)

LoriNix

Do you ever feel like you’re getting mixed messages? The classic ones are around gender roles: men are supposed to be tough…yet tender. Women should wear makeup…but shouldn’t look like they’re wearing makeup. Athens, GA rockers R.E.M. always gave me mixed messages: from “Shiny Happy People” to “Everybody Hurts.”

The technology around us constantly spouts these mixed messages. My Facebook feed tells me how to make bacon-wrapped cheeseburgers and vegan “pizza.” I’m not supposed to text while driving, but my car wants to sync with my phone so I can stay connected. TV is the worst. Particularly beer commercials. The message is, “Get crazy, have fun, and party on the beach with our delicious beer.” And then at the end: “Enjoy our product responsibly.” Well, which is it? Or watching TV after a long day at work, you’ll see a commercial for Weight Watchers. You turn to your spouse and you say, “Maybe it’s time for me to do that, honey.” Then the next commercial is for Applebee’s and their new specials where you can get fried cheese and fermented adult beverages and breaded salty meats covered in dairy-based sauces—and between 5:00-8:00 p.m. you can get it all for $2.25. At which point you turn to your spouse and say, “What time is it, honey?”

Come on, TV! Which do you want me to do?

Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel seems to give us some mixed messages, too. This is part of the long passage where Jesus feeds over 5,000 people with miraculous bread. And when people ask for more, he gives a long speech. Using a metaphor, he says he—Jesus—is the bread that they should really want. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” In other words: “Hey everybody, come! Eat! Be filled forever!”

But then, a few verses later, he says, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” So now he’s saying, “Well, not so fast. God has to draw you to me.”

Mixed messages. What’s going on?

If you know any church history, this mixed message has been a source of great theological debate. The Arminians look at these verses and say, “You gotta choose to come to Jesus!” The Calvinists point to these verses and say, “No, God has to choose you!” To which the Anglicans say, “Can’t we just get along?” But I’m less interested in that debate. I’m more interested in the connection between the two statements—First: Come, everyone who’s spiritually hungry and thirsty. Second: No one can come unless the Father draws him or her.

Let me offer two observations. First, note that Jesus is primarily interested in people who are spiritually hungry and existentially thirsty. People in need. The have nots, not the haves. Jesus has a thing for people who are trapped, paralyzed, baffled by the circumstances they’re in. People who quit the job to launch the start-up, only to end up bankrupt and living with mom and dad. People who have secrets. People who say, “Man, I thought my marriage/job/kids would turn out a lot better than this.” Jesus is interested in those folks, not the “shiny happy people.” The common denominator? Deep need.

Second, as we’ve seen, Jesus says God is the one who draws us to him.

If our hunger and need draw us to Jesus, and Jesus says God has to draw us, then in some sense, what he’s saying is that in our need, our hunger, our longing for peace, that is where God is working. God is in your emptiness, drawing you to Jesus.

I make this paradoxical observation because it’s actually good news. It means that in your own personal catastrophe—in your divorce, or diagnosis, or betrayal, or estranged child—the place where you scream out with Bruce Springsteen “Trapped!”—that place might actually be the place where, instead of abandoning you, God has turned on the high-intensity tractor beam to pull you in.

I met a man recently who told me that he’s had a lot of success in his life but is at an age where he just wants to know if this is all there is. He’s asking, “What am I supposed to do with my life?” That place where he feels unsatisfied, that is where he is being drawn deeper into God’s own Trinitarian heart, to the bread of life, who is Jesus.

There’s a piece of so-called wisdom in our culture that says, “Follow your bliss.” It was recently mocked in a must-see episode of the Netflix series, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, in which the charismatic leader (read: charlatan) of a cult-like spinning class always tells people to follow their bliss.

No. Follow your hunger. Follow your thirst. Wake up to your pain, your need, your mortality, your longing. Where are you hungry? That’s the place God is drawing you to. The place of need and lack. That’s the place where God is working. This may contradict what you’ve been taught. That spiritual experiences are supposed to be some pleasant yet vaguely fuzzy feeling, like your second Corona.

Again: No. The Christian life is not about fuzzy feelings. It’s about being in that place where our deep need is directly met by God’s saving actions in Jesus Christ. Jesus makes this clear at the end of the passage. After he’s identified us as the hearers—the hungry, the thirsty—as those in need, desperate for some crumb, some morsel, he says, “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.” He’s saying that this bread of life, this bread of heaven is not just Jesus in some metaphorical sense. He quite explicitly says that it is his flesh, which he gives for the life of the world.

He is pointing to the cross. The bread will be provided on Calvary. This bread is the real deal: signed, sealed, and delivered in his atoning death and resurrection.

There is no mixed message here. The one message is that in your need and sin and suffering, God is drawing you to Christ, the bread of life, who has done the one thing that will satisfy your hunger forever.