“What must we do to perform the works of God?” (John 6:28).
Seems like a completely reasonable question given all that’s just happened. Word of Jesus’ healings and feedings have gone viral. The recently fed crowd of 5,000 wants more. So they begin looking furiously for Jesus and his disciples. Much to everyone’s surprise Jesus is found hanging out on “the other side of the sea”; the other side of the tracks; the unclean side of the world; the neighborhood to which nice respectable church folk would never venture. These folks are desperately hungry. I mean come on, they’ve actually ventured into the 14621 zip code of their world. Obviously they’ve been given a taste of something great and they want more. And so comes the question, “How do we get more?” Or put another way, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” We’ve glimpsed what it means to be filled and we want more.
Hungering crowds are not just the stuff of bible stories. The world in which we live is a perishable parched wilderness offering hollow nourishment. Its inhabitants hunger and thirst for meaning; for value; for connectedness; for lives that are nourished and whole. Instead they find brokenness, poverty, and injustice. They find profound loneliness in a world of social media that is anything but social.
In our world, in our city, and in our lives storms rage. So, where is the church in all of this? Where are the followers of the Prince of Peace? Where are those whose Lord sends them out to feed God’s sheep? Do we, the church, have a voice in any of these storms and if so, where do we find that voice? It is one thing to talk about feeding sheep, it is quite another to actually do so.
Don’t get me wrong, there is value in talking about feeding and healing. We call that theology. Theology is absolutely essential in informing us as to the “why” of mission. Theology is how we talk about and live with God. It grounds us in all that we do. But if our theology is all talk and no action, then we are not the church sent out by the dancing flames of Pentecost. And if we are not that church, then we are not the church at all; merely a dwindling social club of irrelevancy. And why would we expect God to empower that?
“What must we do to perform the works of God?” Kind of a scary question if you ask a good Lutheran. We abhor the word, “works”. We despise it. We run away from it. Haven’t we been taught that “works” don’t get us into heaven? Of course “works” don’t buy salvation, but they are absolutely essential to our relationship with God and each other. Talk doesn’t feed my hungry neighbor. Works of love do.
I’m not quite sure where my sermon on this text will end up on Sunday morning, but of this I am certain. God has fed us that we might feed others; and not just talk about it. God doesn’t need another mouth house; another place where we’re all talk and no action. In Sunday’s gospel story, Jesus is found on the other side of the sea; Feeding and healing in unclean, unsafe, scandalous places. Where will we be found?
Peace and Love,