"Seekers" according to evangelism gurus are people with no connection to the church and who normally won't set foot in one. They're really seeking God with all their lost behavior; they just don't know it. So from the 80's on, churches have been trying to save seekers with "seeker services." These are non-traditional worship services that try to make the seeker comfortable. "Praise services" are usually seeker services. That article in the newsletter about a mission church with "Star Wars" worship was trying to reach "seekers." And what's wrong with that? What's wrong with trying to reach the 80% who won't go to a traditional service? What's wrong with seeking to save the seekers? Nothing, but let's see how our Lord does it.
The crowd in our text is the 5,000 plus that Jesus fed last week. They were so pleased with Jesus they sought to make Him king. Jesus declined, sent the apostles by boat across the Sea of Galilee, and went up on a mountain to pray. Then Jesus came walking on water to the apostles and brought them safely across to the other side. Our text opens with the crowds following Jesus across the Sea of Galilee. They were seeking Jesus, but what does Jesus tell them? They were seeking the wrong thing.
Far from being non-confrontational with seekers, Jesus smacked them right in the chops. He said, "You seek Me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you had your fill." The Greek phrase "had your fill" is normally used for animals. When it's used for men it's always in an insulting way. Something like, "Had your bellies filled."
Seeker services always compliment the seeker. They tell him or her that they have all along been seeking the right thing, i.e. God. It's just the way the church has packaged God has turned them off. Seeker services appeal to the flesh of the seeker. He or she must be comfortable with the seats, with the music, with the atmosphere. Jesus says that's a bunch of nonsense. The crowd was seeking Jesus because they were made comfortable by Him, because He did give them what they wanted. But Jesus says that's no reason to seek Him. They sought the ordinary when they should've been seeking the extraordinary.
Then Jesus says a rather strange thing. He says, "God has something better to work for than food that spoils." This bothers us. If Jesus had just said, "Don't work for food that spoils," we could accept that. But He goes on to say, "Work for food that endures to eternal life." Jesus is speaking their language, the language of the Law which is the only language fallen people can understand or speak on their own. To the seeker, the good things in life can only come by working. Jesus accepts that premise, but says better to work for what endures than what spoils.
This crowd of earnest seekers, which any church would be delighted to have, which any pastor would be delighted to preach to, is told by Pastor Jesus, "You're seeking the wrong thing." All the rules of marketing, salesmanship, and sociology, which are the bibles of the seeker service gurus, say don't tell them that. The best of the seeker services attempt to springboard off what the seekers seek, not dash it to the ground. They come seeking health, wealth, and happiness in life. Use that; tell them these can only be found in God. The worst of the seeker services tell them these are what God wants to give them. Nobody says, "You seek the wrong things!"
And nobody but nobody tells the seeker that the health, wealth, and happiness they seek will only spoil and rot. But friends that's the God's-honest truth isn't it? Health might last until you die but more likely only till it fails. Wealth might last until you die but then it's useless to you. Happiness in the home, peace in your marriage, happiness and peace in all your relationships would indeed be a great thing, but in this fallen world they only exist till someone wants to fight with you.
This stuff is a real downer. This stuff turns seekers off. They don't want to be reminded of sin, death, or the devil. They want to hear of possibilities, of hope, of a new day. They want to be told of Easter but not Good Friday, of grace but not sin, of life but not death, of pardon but not the judgment. Seekers, say the experts, don't want to hear, and shouldn't be told what Jesus tells them here: that what they seek will only rot. You can have health, wealth, and happiness now, but they won't last. They'll leave you dying of hunger and thirst in eternity.
Did you hear that? Every last one of you is going the way of all flesh. Eat all you want now. Drink all you can. Admire that healthy body of yours in the mirror. But don't look too closely or you might see the worms crawling out of your nose and the skin withering on your bones. You're going the way of all flesh and all the good feelings, spiritual feelings, religious feelings you can muster won't prevent or even slow it. You're going the way of all flesh and that won't change no matter how successful you are at putting that troubling thought out of your mind. Get lost in your hobbies, in helping others, in raising your family, in succeeding at work, or even in doing things in and for the church, and you still won't endure forever. Even now you're flesh is spoiling, rotting. Seeking food to extend it, seeking God to extend it is no answer.
Did you catch that seeker? You don't need this life extended, but that is what all of us seek. Like the kid playing outside in the summer, all we seek is just 15 or even 5 more minutes. Just 15 more years God; just 5 more years; just 5 more days; just 5 more hours, and eventually our seeking will come down to just 5 more minutes. But that's not what we really need.
The more sophisticated seekers of seekers know this. So they don't offer this life extended by health, wealth, or happiness. They offer this life transcended by religious feelings, religious truth, or religious works. This really is nothing but Eastern pagan religion. Hinduism and Buddhism teach that religion is the way to get beyond the poverty, the sadness, and the death of this life. You don't defeat them; you rise above them till they don't matter anymore.
We seek life extended or a transcendent life where we don't feel poverty, sadness and death matter, but what we really need is life. And Jesus says He's the Bread of God who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. What a transition! From a crowd seeking bread to sustain physical life, Jesus declares He is the Bread of God that gives life to the world! He flat out says, "I am the Bread of life."
This is the first of the so-called "I am" passages in John. Jesus goes on to say, "I am the Door." "I am the Good Shepherd." "I am the Light of the World." "I am the Bread of Life" is how Jesus asserts He is the God they and you need. You'll recall in the Old Testament when Moses asked God to reveal Himself He said, "I am that I am." The great I am from the burning bush, from Mount Sinai, from the tabernacle stood before them in Jesus.
Apart from God nothing lives. Those in hell are in eternal death. Why? Because they are forever separated from God. You and I are born separated from God because we're born of sinners. Seek as you may, work as you may you will never overcome this separation. Seek God so badly you ache for Him; give up your health, your wealth, your happiness for Him, and you still won't find Him. Work in books, at doing good, in suffering well and you'll still not be able to cross over to God. Then how do you get there? Only if God comes to you. Did you catch that at the very beginning? Jesus says, "Don't work for food that rots, but work for food that is eternal which the Son of Man will give you." You don't work for what is given.
What you need for this life and the next is God. Yet there's this chasm between you and God. In our text Jesus announces that He has bridged that chasm in the name of God. He, the great I am in flesh and blood, is here to feed you the Bread of life. In yourself, only death is at work. You know that; you sense that. O sometimes you can forget death but it always returns to you as something that rightly belongs to you. Jesus is God in flesh and blood and therefore Jesus is life itself.
More importantly Jesus is God's life for you. God didn't become Man for His sake but yours. He became Man to bring His life to you, but in order to give it to you He had to do what you couldn't do. Only perfect men and women can live forever, but there stood the shattered 10 Commandments proving you aren't perfect. God the Son became man to keep everyone of those Commandments. Only men and women who don't have a debt of sinfulness to pay can live forever. Someone had not only to keep the Commandments but to pay for them being broken. God the Son did that too by dying the eternal death we deserve on the accursed cross.
They came seeking the bread they wanted. Jesus says, "All the bread in the world won't keep you alive. I am the Bread of life you need. I am Food that endures to eternal life. I am the One who gives life to the world. He who comes to Me will never go hungry." You're going to find in the Sundays to come as we go further into this account that most of the seekers turn away from Jesus. His Body and Blood were not what they sought. They wanted a healthier, happier, wealthier body and blood of their own, not One who gave up His Body and Blood to redeem them so that they could eat His Body and drink His Blood for everlasting life.
But dear friends the only way to save seekers, the only way to save you, is by giving them and you what you need not what you in your falleness seek. Repent of seeking the bread that spoils, and eat the Bread of Life which you need to live eternally. Eat the Bread of Life who endures through sickness, sadness, poverty, and even death. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XI (20060820); John 6: 24-35