Have you been watching the Olympics?
I would suspect that unless you were living in some sort of remote cave then you could not have missed them. On every news bulletin, on the internet and in the papers. I love the Olympics and would love to have been an Olympian but that is a privilege reserved for a very few and the major problem I had is that you have to be really really good at a sport!
If you have been watching you will have undoubtedly heard interview after interview of competitors being asked how they have motivated themselves and kept on with their training in the pandemic. What is their motivation to keep going through injury or adversity.
Many of them will say that it is the thought of getting a medal which has driven them on. Some of them, like Beth Shriever on her BMX, are motivated by earlier setbacks. Some of them, like Elaine Thompson -Herah who won the 100m, are motivated to prove people wrong. Almost all of them are motivated to be winners – and that is no bad thing if you are an athlete.
You have to have motivation to be the best and you cannot be an Olympian unless you are amongst the very best.Some of them have said that they hope that their performance will motivate others to take up the sport that they love.
The triathletes who swim, cycle and then run seem to be particularly keen on motivation. I say hats off to anyone who can swim a mile, ride 40 km and then run 10 km all in less than a couple of hours.
Motivation has been the word of the week.
The reading we have heard this morning comes just after John has recounted the feeding of the 5000 with five loaves of bread and two small fish. Now that must have been quite a gathering.
You will recall two weeks ago that we had the reading of this amazing event – last week in a bit of a confusing move the reading did not follow on. However when John set things out in the gospel he wanted to make clear that the feeding of the 5000 was the starting point for a discussion. As we pick up the story this week the crowd had followed Jesus across the lake to the town of Capernaum.
And as we have heard in this week’s passage Jesus uses the symbol of the bread to teach some lessons.
Within this passage we have one of the most famous sayings of Jesus
“I am the bread of life”
This is a verse which we have probably heard lots of sermons about. I am sure that many of us could talk about the nature of bread and the importance of it as a staple part of the diet of a huge part of the world’s population.
This part of John chapter 6 is a debate between Jesus and His followers –what we have heard is actually a complex series of statements and assertions and if we just focus on the bread of life bit then we miss out on some deep questions which we do well to consider.
So actually in a week where motivation has been at the centre of the news I want us to focus on an earlier part of the passage where Jesus throws down a challenge to those who had followed Him across the lake.
“You are looking for me, not because you saw signs but because you ate your fill of the loaves”
Why Follow Jesus?
Not unusually Jesus is provoking a reaction.
This is a fundamental assertion which Jesus puts to the people who have followed Him across the lake
You are only following me because you got fed!
Well that is quite a thing to say isn’t it? And I suspect for many of them that Jesus had hit the nail on the head – they had been fed for free, what not to like? Well who doesn’t like a free lunch?
What was their motivation? What was the motivation for following Jesus?
What Is the Motivation for Following Jesus?
That question, posed to the people who had been fed was quite a challenge to them but then as I read this passage in preparation for today it got me wondering - do we have any idea why we follow Jesus?
Is it even a question we have ever thought about? Have we forgotten why we do?
Why follow Jesus?
If we have thought about it at all then I suspect each one of us will have a slightly different answer to give to that question.
It is not a question that I have heard very often in church. Sometimes it may be a question that others ask. Perhaps in very subtle ways, it is a question that is under the surface.
The question is not what motivates us to come to church, or this church in particular. The question is more fundamental than that why follow the teachings of Jesus?
Why be a follower?
There is a part of the church which teaches that by following Jesus we will become successful, that we will be wealthy and healthy. Now I am not sure that I have ever fully understood that teaching nor indeed do I understand how that can be taught if you read this passage.
I am wholly unconvinced that this is what Jesus was teaching here – in fact it must be quite the opposite. As we heard what Jesus tells His hungry followers is
“Do not work for the food that perishes”
Our concentration and focus should not be on what the world values. The instruction of Jesus seems to be the exact opposite of the teaching that would equate following Jesus with riches or prosperity.
Rather we are called to have as our motivation
“Working for the food that endures for eternal life which the Son of Man will give you”
That of course is a bit odd isn’t it? We are called to work for something which is a gift! Our motivation is to receive a gift.
Once again we are reminded that the Kingdom of God turns upside down the way the world thinks about things because the food that endures for eternal life is actually a gift. We cannot earn it, we cannot work for it, we are given it.
So to answer my own questions our motivation for following Jesus should be to know eternal life.
OK so if that is the case then that begs yet another question as to what is meant by “eternal life”?
To answer that we need to understand what John, the writer of the Gospel, means by “eternal life”.
I suspect we tend to equate “eternal life” as something for the future, as being “the life of the age to come”.
Many of the Jewish people who Jesus was talking to would have shared that understanding of what “eternal life” meant. They were looking towards life after death as being the start of eternal life.
However John’s Gospel teaches us something very different – in John 17 v3 as Jesus prays we read
“This is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”
The scholars who know about these things tell us that John in writing his Gospel wanted his readers to understand that eternal life is present here and now as we know God through Jesus. It was not a gift for after death – eternal life starts now.
To go back to our passage it is now becoming clear that Jesus was wanting those who had followed Him across the lake to have a deeper motivation.
It was not about having their stomachs filled but actually to know God, to see in Jesus what God is like and to become a part of what God is doing.
As Jesus went about doing miracles and teaching He was showing what life was really meant to be about – it is about seeing God at work in the here and now and being involved in that.
Life In All Its Fulness
In John 10 as Jesus was teaching He said this
“I have come so that they may have life, life in its fullest measure”
To enjoy life, to celebrate, to take part in things, to be part of things, to make sure that we are involved, that we are bringing change, that we are part of our community, that we show what it means to live life to the full.
That is eternal life – life here and now in this place – being fully committed to be a part of the coming of the Kingdom of God because of course eternal life, knowing Jesus and following His teaching is a gift that we should be desperate to share.
As we go forward this week what will our motivation be?
As the people of God are we motivated to be full participants in the eternal life that Jesus promises to those who believe?
Are we ready to experience life in all its fulness as Jesus promised. To be enthusiastic for the life which God has given us and to share our enthusiasm with others?
Of course we will need to be sustained on our journey by Jesus who is the bread of life – but that is a sermon for another day.
Motivation For Life
Have you been watching the Olympics? I would suspect that unless you were living in some sort of remote cave then you could not have missed them.
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