Sunday February 19, 2023 | Emily Morrison
When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’[d] Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
In this sermon, Emily Morrison looks at what happens right after Jesus feeds the 5000 to point out the importance of raising questions about our faith. She offers an explanation of three phases of our faith journey that allow us to embrace the questions and find a way through them by ultimately bringing them to Jesus.
Unraveling Truth is about “deconstruction,” which is simply the business of taking a serious and critical look at our beliefs. It’s the process of taking apart, probing, wondering, wrestling, and exploring faith before putting it back together. This is something all of us must learn to do in order to make our faith our own. Emily Morrison talks in this sermon about this very thing, as she has had to grapple with deep questions and doubts.
Faith is always accompanied by doubt! Faith lives in company with questions and confusion and a few hesitations. While we tend to run from doubt, it is something that Jesus actually expects us to experience. It’s a trademark feature of humans, as multiple times in the gospels Jesus says to his followers, “Oh, you of little faith.” Dallas Willard says in his book, The Divine Conspiracy, that we could translate this literally as “little faiths.” He says it is likely this is a word Jesus coined as his nickname for his followers. He tells his little-faiths not to worry about how God will take care of them.
The crowd that comes to Jesus after the Feeding of the 5,000 is a crowd of little-faiths with lots of questions. This is phase one of our faith journey: asking questions. This crowd, for a variety of reasons, wanted to know more. And they’re good questions! Today we are doing the same thing, asking questions like: How do we follow God? What evidence is there to believe you? Who are you anyway? What do the things you say mean?
Questioning opens the door to doubts, because that’s where doubt starts. Asking questions means we are engaged, because when we raise questions, we are entering into conversations with Jesus. God never asks us to simply embrace a belief system. He asks us to engage with him. We are challenged to trust a person not a set of theological points.
Phase two of this faith journey is: making a decision. Following the Feeding of the 5000, the people had two choices. You can either take Jesus at his word or not. All these people heard the exact same message, heard the exact same words come out of Jesus’ mouth, and saw the exact same miracles, and some people “turned away and deserted him” but others stayed.
God will not force you into anything. Jesus let people walk away from him all the time, because we get to choose. The one thing you can’t do though, is live in doubt-land forever. At some point, you need to step out of the boat. At some point, as Jesus told Thomas, you need to “stop doubting and believe.” At some point, you need to throw your lot in with Jesus or walk away from him.
We can’t live in the midst of deconstruction for the rest our lives. We have a choice to make, based on the evidence we have heard and seen. But even after we use the evidence to decide, we will always have questions while we are walking out our faith. This is the third phase of the faith journey.
Phase three is: living with uncertainty. The entire rest of the book of John speaks to how Jesus’ followers—even after they make decisions—are trying to sort out what Jesus’ words mean. Our faith will always involve asking questions. This is not blind faith. We walk out our faith with the best information we have about what it true. But doubt will be a constant companion if we are honest. We must learn to believe and be skeptical at the same time. This is exemplified by physics which teaches us how to live with things we cannot absolutely prove.
Whether we are taking a sledgehammer to our faith or our faith is taking a sledgehammer to us, we can know that we are free to wrestle with our questions and embrace the “little-faith” journey, by simply walk in our questions with Jesus. And we can sit with him, resting in the fact that we can trust him, even though we might not have all of the answers.