The Barrel

by The Rev. John H. Pavelko
The Barrel - Home Page | Sermon Resources | Sermon Illustrations

Year A - 2001-2002 | Year B - 2002-2003  | Year C - 2000-2001

Jackpots or Bread
John 6:24-35

The Way the World Works

The salesman confidently strolled into the pastor’s office wearing a three-piece suit and carrying a box of new Bible based board games.The newest game was called Dollars and Sense.Its design was a close resemblance to the well-known Monopoly. The salesman claimed that it was a great tool for teaching children “Christian economics.”The players were to move around the board and land on certain squares.If they landed on one labeled “college graduate” they received a certain sum of money.They would receive a greater sum if they landed on “middle level executive” and an even greater sum if they moved to the square labeled “company president.”

Throughout the game, the players were allowed to make various investments and charitable donations.Herein, lies the supposed lesson in Christian economics. If they tithed by giving 10% to the church, they would reap bonanza should they land on the “showers of blessing” square.The shower in this game was all the money in the game’s jackpot.

Unimpressed by the game’s design the minister said, “I think that’s a crass lesson to teach a child.The word ‘blessings’ is so easily associated with the word “jackpot.’’The salesman looked the pastor directly in the eye and unapologetically said, “Yes, Reverend, but isn’t that the way the world works?”[1]

Sadly, many in the church associate God’s blessings with material jackpots.God is very real to us when we are enjoying a steady income, the absence of unexpected bills, and good health.When the ax falls and we loss are job, washing machine breaks down and floods the basement, a friend suddenly dies or we suffer a chronic and incurable illness we cry, “O God, where are you?”We assume that if we do the right things God will make life better.That is why the prayer of Jabeez is so popular today.It reinforces the notion that God exists to bless me.That somehow God is the happiest when he is showering his people with earthly prosperity and riches.We subtly attempt to skirt such blatant self-centeredness by claiming that the material blessings are the fruit of a life dedicated to the pursuit of the eternal. 

This was the attitude of the crowd.The day before he had feed five thousand people.That evening he sent his disciples across the lake.After dark, a strong headwind came up stranding the boats on the lake.He miraculously walked out on the water to rescue the men.But in the darkness of the night, the crowd did not see him leave.When morning came, they discovered that he had left and searched for him.They finally found him on the other side of the lake.Baffled by the events they wanted to know how he traveled so far so quickly, undetected.Was this another miracle?Could he have even greater power than what we have seen thus far?

Jesus does not answer their question.Telling them would have impressed them but he preferred that they learn the essences of a genuine faith.To accomplish that learning objective, he challenges their motives.We must be cautious about condemning the crowd at this point.They were not crass irreligious people who only wanted a free hand out.They were not the people who only come to church to hear their children sing, fill their plates at the potluck dinners, or make business contacts rather than sing praises. They were Bible believing, Bible quoting, respectable people.They readily convey to him the title, Rabbi, thereby recognizing the wisdom of his teaching.In v31 they quote from the Old Testament. (Exodus 16:4; Nehemiah 9:15; Psalm 78:24,25)This crowd is sincere about their search for God.They want to do what is right.So, why did Jesus question their motives? 

Jesus challenges them because he knows that they are following him for the wrong reasons.They wanted him to make their lives better but on their terms.They were only concerned about their earthly existence, the here and the now.“Jesus wants to give them life, but they want a better lifestyle.”[2]They wanted a god who would make the life that they had planned run effortlessly.They wanted the reassurance of divine providence through the material comforts of life.

Twelfth century mystic Meister Eckhardt warned that "Some people want to see God with their eyes as they see a cow, and to love him as they love their cow. They love their cow for the milk and cheese and profit it makes them."[3]Jesus refused to allow the people to use him to serve their own ends.

Searching for Jesus

What about you, why are you searching for Jesus?Is he merely some who helps in times of trouble?Someone merely on whom you rely when you cannot succeed on your own?

One way of evaluating your own attitudes is to consider the content of your prayers.How much time do you spend asking God for various “things.”An aunt is sick and you request healing.A friend is driving to Phoenix to visit his parents and you ask for traveling mercies.You are stuck in a dead end job so you seek direction for new employment or a new career.A son is abusing alcohol and you ask God to help him overcome his destructive behavior.These are all very appropriate prayers but do you ever go beyond them?How much time do you spend offering prayers of adoration, praise, and thanksgiving not for what God has done for you or for the good things that are happening in your life but just because God is God? How much time do you spend simple basking in his presence? 

The challenge before us is how do we change our attitude toward God.

Careful of Desire

The first step is to discern our healthy from our unhealthy desires.Not every desire or thought is beneficial to our well-being. C.S. Lewis once wrote:

The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rushes at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.[4]

Writing in the 12 Century Thomas Kempis gave similar advice: 

Not every desire is from the Holy Spirit, even though it may seem right and good. It is difficult to be certain whether it is a good spirit or a bad one that prompts one to this or that, and even to know whether you are being moved by your own spirit. Many who seemed at first to be led by a good spirit have been deceived in the end.[5]

We have an amazing ability to justify our actions.We will overemphasis certain aspects of a decision to defend our position.We will fabricate evidence to alleviate guilt.We will deny the importance of any negative consequences.Kempis reminds us that we are desires are easily manipulated by both evil and good spirits, so we much be cautious about following them until we have considered the matter more closely.

We see this in the Scripture passage before us.The people attempt to justify their request for a miraculous sign by quoting a passage form the book of Exodus, if God provided a sign then, why not now?But Jesus would not allow them to manipulate him.He had already feed 5000 of them.Many undoubtedly did not understand the true nature of the miracle.They knew they were fed but perhaps did not know just how great a miracle had taken place.Whatever the case they wanted proof their only concern was what would Jesus do for them today.They were willing to use any rational to justify their request.We must be cautious about following our desires for we can easily be lead astray.

Seeking to Enjoy

Secondly, we must learn to seek God for who he is, not what he will do for us.In the fifth century a bishop, named Augustine warned his people about adopting such “…personal mercenary uses of divinity by making a distinction between the Latin uti and frui.Uti stands at the root of our English word utilize. Frui is the Latin base for the English fruition.”[6]Augustine argued that God will not allow us to use him.He will only allow us to enjoy him.But sadly, we would prefer a divine servant to a divine Lord.

Over 500 years later, another monk captured the same thought. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote to his brothers in another monastery.He told them that some praise God for his power.They are nothing more than slaves who obey out of fear.A slave will sometimes do God’s work but not on his own free will.Her heart will always remain in a state of hard-heartedness.Others love God for his goodness to them.They are mercenaries.They serve merely out of self-interest and can easily be tempted by other spiritual powers to disobey.The third person praises God because God is good.This is a person withholds nothing as his own.All that she owns belongs to God.This is that love that God has for us and we to have for him.[7]

Such a view of God transforms a person.They do not become upset when a fellow employee receives a promotion that they were seeking.The status symbols of life—career, income, homes, and cars—lose their meaning.They are content in plenty and in want not because they have learned to accept the different situations of life but because they have become so consumed with the presence of God that all their desires are now satisfied.Striving, envying, jealousy, greed have been transformed into sacrifice, service, giving, helping, generosity.

The Exchange of Looks

The man would enter the sanctuary during a few minutes after Noon each day and just sit and stare at the cross.After years of watching the man, his priest finally asked him what he does with his time.The man replied, “I look at God and he looks at me and all is at peace.”[8]That man had discovered the eternal meaning of Jesus’ words.“He who comes to me will never me hungry, he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”He has exchanged the jackpot the Bread of Life.

[1] Thomas Long, “Bread That Perishes, Bread That Endures,” Pulpit Resources, Vol. 28, No. 3, p. 23.
[3] “Love is for nothing,” Homiletics, August 4, 1991, Online: July 30, 2003,
[4] Source unknown.
[5] Thomas Kempis, The Imitation of Christ.(Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996), III:15.
[6]Ibid, quoting Francis Baur, O. F. M., Life in Abundance (New York: Paulist Press,1983), 107.
[7] Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Clairvaux Selected Works, ed. John Farina, The Classics of Western Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 200-201
[8] Source unknown possible Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray, (New York: Paulist Press, 1970).

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