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Sunday 1 August 2021

Trinity 9, Eighteenth in Ordinary time, Proper 13

Show us a sign!

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; John 6:24-35

 

By Pauline Godfrey

Anglican Priest, Educator and Spiritual Director.

 

Context: a Eucharistic service in an urban congregation, mainly adult, mixed culturally and educationally

Aim: to recognise that knowing God’s will for our lives comes more from a trusting relationship than miraculous signs

Have you ever had that moment when you’ve been following a satnav for an hour and you wonder whether you’ve punched in the correct postcode? Do you trust devices to get you to your destination or would you always return to a map? How do you choose who or what to trust?

LOOKING FOR SIGNS

Today’s readings tell of people trying to find the way. The Israelites, leaving the terrors of slave labour in Egypt, are on a long journey towards trust. God, through Moses, has helped them escape. But fear is still stronger than trust. Moses may have saved them from human enemies but now they are faced with death through starvation. Can this God, this leader, save them from this peril?

They don’t even ask that question – they simply know that they’ve made the wrong choice. They should have stayed where they were. In their fear, memory erases the deprivations. ‘We want to go back!’ Their fear turns to moaning and once again God supplies their physical needs. The ongoing challenge, however, is whether they can trust. Do they believe that there will be enough for each day, even for the Sabbath? As they travel together to a new life they really are on a journey of trust.

Similarly, the crowds following Jesus are on a journey. They’ve been fed with bread and fish, but they want more. Following him across the lake they push for answers, ‘How can we do the works of God? What sign will you give us?’ Like the Israelites with Moses, they look back, this time to the wilderness journey – ‘They had manna to eat – what will you give us?’

DEVELOPING TRUST

Jesus shows the answer is the same – trust in God. God gave the manna, and God has given Jesus. He is the bread, the new manna, if only they will believe. Jesus seeks to take them beyond their physical needs to the spiritual. He has shown that God will give them food, now he offers them heavenly bread: himself.

This is a turning point for Jesus’ followers. After the discussion that follows many of his disciples left him (John 6: 66) while those who stay begin to gain new understanding and trust. In beginning to trust that Jesus is from God, people start to understand the deeper significance of Jesus’ life and death. Though like the Israelites in the desert they will misunderstand again.

To follow, people want more – more signs, more understanding. This has always been true. The Israelites needed physical proof and Jesus’ followers wanted miraculous signs. They will only experience this, however, as they learn to trust. Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom’ (1 Co.1: 22). Is it any different today? How do we decide what is God’s way - the right decision?

Perhaps we ask for a sign from God? We want to know what to do and hope God will make it clearer. We want to walk in God’s path. How will we know? Surrounded by fake news and scam calls, it’s no surprise that any sense of trust or belief in truth or our own understanding is undermined. What can we trust? We know that God wants to be involved in our whole lives – in our daily chores and employment, in the way we respond to our environment, our neighbours, our family. But when there are so many voices to listen to how do we know what God is saying?

JESUS IS THE SIGN

Jesus’ answer is the same to us as it was to his followers - an invitation to come to him, to trust him. God’s sign is simply Jesus, the offer of a relationship. We know because we can become friends, not just followers, of this man who is the bread of life. How can we learn to trust? We learn through risking it, through trusting and discovering that it’s true. In seeking to follow Jesus by wanting signs and wisdom are we somehow missing the very heart of God’s call to us?

God’s call is to a relationship that fulfils our deepest spiritual needs. It is from the security and experience of this relationship that we can begin to look with more confidence at the decisions we have to make. To know that God’s promise of being continually present is itself the sign. Jesus said ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ Will we risk it or ask for more?

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