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God's Brushstrokes

Sermon #241 Christ Church Hamilton & Wenham #2 8/1/21

The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

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.”

John 6:24-35

Van Gogh

While living just outside of D.C. during seminary my wife, Megan, and I were spoiled to be surrounded by some of the best museums in the nation. We would sometimes drive into the city on Saturday mornings and find yet another free museum that we had not discovered before.

Many times, when I didn’t have class I would take the subway into the city and find a quiet spot to sit and read in the National Gallery of Art. I would sit and read St. Augustine in front of Monet’s Water Lilies or Thomas Moran’s gigantic painting of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. But very rarely would I be able to read my book in peace and quiet while I sat in front of a Vincent Van Gogh painting.

Though this may be one of the most art literate churches in America, there may still be some who don’t know that much about Van Gogh’s work apart from perhaps “The Starry Night.”

I’ve recently learned a little bit more about his style which was quite unique and bold. He used a large amount of paint that added texture to the overall painting, and you can even see the globs of paint on the canvas and his brushstrokes if you look close enough.

He used bright, vivid colors which made his paintings stand out all the more. It’s the way that he used the paint, not only for its color but also for its texture that made his paintings one of a kind.

But the truth is when you are on vacation in D.C. wanting to do a million different things in one week and you are surrounded by hundreds of paintings, you don’t really have time to pay attention to Van Gogh’s brushstrokes.

All you have time to do is look at the bigger picture, enjoy it for a minute, maybe take a picture, and then move on to the next one. Getting lost in the small details of each painting is not a viable option when your time is limited.

Jesus and the Crowd

Believe it or not, the crowds that flow through the National Gallery have something in common with the crowd that Jesus talks to in our gospel reading this morning. We have been following this very same crowd for three weeks now in the lectionary reading.

This is the crowd that we heard about two weeks ago who wanted to make him king so that he could challenge Herod Antipas and the Romans. This is the crowd of 5,000 that we read about last week who was fed with five loaves of bread and two fish. And they’ve now followed Jesus to the other side of the lake.

Without knowing him very well they can at least see the big picture of who Jesus might be. From what he has done and said they can see in front of them a Rabbi, a Healer, a Teacher, a Leader, and most likely a Prophet who can do extraordinary miracles.

They can’t begin to grasp who Jesus really is. This crowd over the years has quickly moved from one leader to another depending on if that particular leader fulfills their expectations or not.

If the leader doesn’t do what they want, then they just find another one. They are like a crowd in an art museum. They quickly move from leader to leader like going from one painting to the next.

And so, it is no wonder that Jesus challenges this crowd. He tells them that they are only following him because he fed them with bread. But he isn’t here to just feed people, his mission is so much bigger.

They are still only seeing the big picture of Jesus, and haven’t paid attention to the details. If they really want to follow him, Jesus tells them that they will be fed not with physical bread, but food that endures for eternal life.

They still don’t really understand because they ask what they must do to perform the work of God to earn the bread that endures. Along with that could have gone, “What sacrifices must we make next time we are at the Temple? What acts would be worthy to be called the works of God?” The emphasis is, what must we do?

And Jesus’ answer may sound cryptic, yet he is letting this crowd not only see the big picture of who he is, but he is inviting them to look a little closer. To glimpse what God is up to—what He is doing in the person of Jesus.

When Jesus answers them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent,” he is giving them the chance to see the fine brushstrokes of God’s amazing plan for them. When they look a little closer they see that it is not what they must do, but what God is actively doing.

The work that they see Jesus doing is not just healing the sick and feeding the multitudes, but all of those things are signs and symbols of the Kingdom of God that he is ushering into the world.

God is already at work among them in the person of Jesus, and they are oblivious to that fact. Jesus, with his answer, is trying to redirect their focus from what they must do, to seeing what Jesus is doing right in front of them.

So, when the crowd is asking about bread, Jesus invites them to look at the subject a little closer. It isn’t physical bread you seek, no, seek after the bread that endures, that gives you life, and that can only come from the Son of Man. He is the source that they must rely on, he is the Bread of Life and not them.

The only thing they can do, once they realize that Jesus is doing the work of God is to believe. God is already moving and working among them, and the only thing they are left to do is accept that he’s telling the truth and follow him.

I think so many times as Christians, we ask ourselves what we must do. What is it that we need to do to please God, to make sure that he’s on our side? Feed the poor, give to the church, volunteer occasionally, give a couple of dollars to the person standing on the street corner.

Those are all well and good, but what our gospel story is trying to make clear is that there is nothing we can do that God is not already doing.

The Holy Spirit is presently moving and working in our communities and in our neighborhoods, among our family and friends, and the only thing we can do is to figure out how God is already there, how he is already at work, and then follow him in that work.

That takes a lot of pressure off us, but as workaholic Americans it can also be a harsh reality check. We don’t have to create something out of nothing. Our only job then is to prayerfully discern what God is already up to so that we can be a part of his work.

Having that perspective changes everything: it’s not about us, it is all about God. But it does mean we need to slow down, listen, and discern how God is moving. It means having intentional conversations with people to discover how God is working in their lives.

As Christians, we are on a lifelong journey. Our faith is not an art-museum-kind-of-faith, we aren’t spiritual tourists who go from one guru to another, like going from one painting to the next. We don’t go from gallery to gallery hoping to wowed by the newest and brightest spiritual innovation.

Rather our faith is a lifelong devotion towards one thing and one thing only: the heart of God. This is not something we can just glance at and then move on. No, instead we are called to deeply and reverently seek God’s heart all the days of our lives.

Not only to see the big picture but to look closely and discover the brushstrokes of God. To see the brushstrokes with those globs of Godly paint all around us, to behold how he is making all things new through the death and resurrection of His Son.

May we all slow down and see how God is already moving in our lives and in the lives of those around us—to see his brushstrokes and to be in awe of his marvelous work. Only after coming to that sense of wonder may we join him in his life-changing work.

10th Sunday after Pentecost. Year B. Proper 13. Jn 6:24-35. Based on Sermon #100. Pic here.

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