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“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
Good morning, church. Please go with me to the book of John, chapter 6, starting in v.48. I’m going to spend the whole morning talking about food, and we’re in New Orleans, so this sermon should speak to some people.
We’ve been in a series on the Holy Spirit since the beginning of the summer, and it’s been so good. We don’t talk about the Holy Spirit enough, but the Spirit of God is everything to us. If we have the Spirit of God in our midst as a church, if the real presence of Christ is among us, we need little else. In this series, we’ve covered everything from speaking in tongues, to healing and miracles, to comfort and conviction. We have three sermons left in this series before we jump back into Peter’s letters for the Fall: the next two weeks we’re talking about leading, illumination, and today we’re going to talk about inspiration. Inspiration and food.
Now I don’t mean inspiration in the sense of an artist feeling inspired to paint, or a writer feeling inspired to write—though the Spirit has inspired artists before, and even for artists today, that kind of inspiration can be an imitation of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But today I’m talking specifically about the Holy Spirit’s work of inspiration of Scripture, the Spirit’s work of writing the Scriptures through the biblical authors.
Basically, we believe that the words we read in the Bible are God’s words to us, that the Holy Spirit worked through the biblical authors, prophets, and poets to speak to the people of God throughout the ages. He both inspired the scriptures, and he illuminates them today, but we’ll talk about illumination next week. Today we’re talking about inspiration. And food.
I love food, basically all food. I love talking to JD, because we usually talk about food—and it’s not a shallow relationship we share; we care about food from a deep place in our souls. My family is from southeastern Louisiana going back nine generations, so cajun food always feels a bit like coming home. But I’m not picky—I’ll eat anything. If you are wanting to get to know me, and you were wondering what to talk with me about that would really get me going—ask me about food. If you want to be my friend, let’s go to lunch and talk about dinner.
I love Jesus, too. Luckily for me as a pastor, there are a lot of passages of scripture talking about Jesus and food, so I can kind of merge my two passions. Today’s passage is one of the more difficult ones. It’s one that made a lot of Jesus’ followers leave him, and I would argue that a lot of people who leave church today leave because of this exact teaching. If I were smart at all and wanted you all to be comfortable, I would totally avoid this passage. Let’s read it together, in John, chapter 6, starting in v.22, where we find that Jesus is the bread of life.
[John 6:48-69] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly, Father God, I pray that you would meet us here this morning. Spirit, we praise you for your work of inspiration that feeds us this morning. Father, I pray that you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.
I had a friend when I was in seminary who was a minister at an atheistic church. Yes, there are atheistic churches. And my friend is a brilliant and kind person with whom I deeply disagree. (I would encourage you to be friends with people with whom you disagree, and have kind, respectful conversations.) When I knew her, she was leading her church through the book of Jane Eyre, the novel, not in the Bible. They would switch back and forth between religious texts and other books they found inspiring or instructive.
I told this story before already, only because it’s such a good question—one day, she asked me if I thought books other than the Bible contained truth. I said, of course, truth is “painted across the canvas of nature,” this is what theologians call general revelation, God has written truth into everything he’s created, even though the image is marred by sin and fallenness. Then she asked me, “If there is truth in other texts, why do you only preach and teach from the Bible?” Such a good question.
The answer, in a word, is inspiration, and and this is my first point for today: Only Christ has the words of eternal life. Only Christ has the words of eternal life. Jesus is the bread of life. The communion table, the spiritual feast, is open to anyone willing to come, and please hear me now, friend: if you don’t allow Christ to satisfy your spiritual hunger, there is nothing else in the world that will satisfy. I’ve been reading the Chronicles of Narnia to AJ, so just prepare yourselves for my quoting C.S. Lewis even more than the inappropriate amounts I already quote him.
In the books, Lewis imagines Christ as a Lion, and near the beginning of The Silver Chair he imagines a girl named Jill arriving in Narnia for the first time; just as soon as she gets there she realizes that she is so thirsty, that she might die of thirst, and she finds a spring of water, but there’s a problem: a lion is sitting directly in front of the stream.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl…
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
Lewis’s point is the same I’m trying to make today. Jesus Christ is terrifying when you first meet him. You know if you decide to follow him, really follow him, it will cost everything—everything in your life would be changed. And he’s offensive, as we see in our passage today, and sometimes you may be tempted to walk away, find some other place to feed your spirit, to find a source of life that’s deep, clear, and meaningful, and you can try, but I want to tell you the truth today—there is no other stream. Only Christ has the words of eternal life.
I know many of you have actually experienced physical hunger and thirst like this, and we will continue to do what we can to provide for that need. But I also know, every one of us in the room has experienced a spiritual hunger before. Spiritual hunger feels like something’s missing from your life. Something’s off, like you’re alive, but not really living, you’re just “breathing to death,” and your life lacks a deeper purpose or meaning. And sometimes you’re so spiritually hungry that, without realizing it, you come a step closer to the church, you ask Christ to promise not to do anything to you, and he makes no promise, and still the hunger grows. You want to know what life would be like if you actually gave your life over to the church and to him, but you’re afraid.
Friends, there is no other stream. There is no other teacher or religion that can satisfy you. Only Christ has the words of eternal life. The most loving thing any of us can do for you is to tell you that your “heart will be restless until you find your rest in him,” to quote Augustine, Christ is “the full and unfailing source of pleasure incorruptible.” There is no other place to find spiritual food that will satisfy your hunger but in him.
That’s why I teach and preach out of the Bible, because I care about you, and I don’t want you to be hungry anymore. I want you to eat of him and be satisfied. And picking up grains of truth from novels and other religions can stave off your thirst and your hunger, but only for a little while. It’s like drinking from the rain, rain that falls on the righteous and wicked alike—you’ll only be able to get a few mouthfuls. I’m inviting you this morning to come drink deeply from the spring of living water, himself. Come pray with me, or with one of the other church members this morning, and find rest, find wholeness, find fullness in him.
So Christ himself is our spiritual food, and Jesus is encountered in the Bible, because the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit. My friend Micah, who’s writing his dissertation on the theology of food, helped me come up with what I think is kind of a helpful analogy to explain inspiration, how it works, and why it’s important: The Holy Spirit is like a farmer. The Holy Spirit is like a farmer, a gardener, someone who planted the seeds of the truth, the word of God deep into the story of the earth and gives them growth, who labors on the earth to produce good food to nourish and strengthen the people he loves and serves.
Anne-Elise, my wife, is good about making sure our family eats good food. I’m more like Ron Swanson from Parks and Rec., where I go to one store, food n’ stuff, where I get “all of my food and most of my stuff.” But she will drive around to four different stores, and the farmer’s markets, and knows a guy who knows a guy who sells beef from the farm. I know we have others in the church who care, like she cares, about where your food comes from. Sometimes we get what we can afford, but most of the time, when I’m home cooking, I’m using fresh, good ingredients because Anne-Elise is careful to get fresh, good food. We have a pizza movie night with AJ on Fridays, and we’ve started making the dough from scratch, and using fresh basil from our garden, and Jess grows tomatoes in her garden, and by the end of making this pizza, I both want to eat the whole thing right then but then also not cut into it because it’s like a work of art. It’s become something the whole family looks forward to every week. Good food does that: it brings people together.
The inspiration of the Holy Spirit is like a farmer who took the time to grow fresh, good food, the truth of God like the Sun, which causes everything to grow in it’s season, and you can’t look right at it it’s so bright, our eyes can’t handle it, “our frames can’t bear much of it.” And we can’t do much of anything with the sunlight, we can’t be nourished by it until the Spirit takes it and makes it into something we can eat, imbibe, take in, something we can handle, and prepare, and feed our families, our friends, our communities.
This is how the Holy Spirit inspired the Scripture, and why his work is so vital—he took the truth of God, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, and made the word of God into something we can look at, something we can read, something we can experience, even eat—“taste and see that the Lord is good.” The Spirit’s work of inspiration means that in the Bible, we are able to encounter the living Christ and take him into our lives in a very real way.
That’s why in all of our sermons at this church, in all of our small group studies, we study only the Bible, why the Bible is true in everything, because the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, God himself, the third person of the Trinity. We may mess it up, misinterpret it, add too many of our own thoughts and theories, like adding too much salt to a dish, but at least if we start with the Scriptures we can know we’re starting with something true and good.
The scriptures are good food. As you read, you may not like the taste of everything in it, but if you don’t, it’s only because you need to grow. We’re going through a phase with our son right now where he is trying to be picky. I’ll offer him things like fresh grilled corn with salt and butter, and he asks for rice with nothing on it. I’ll offer him crawfish cardinál, my great grandmother’s recipe, with a tomato cream base and fresh rosemary—no thank you, daddy, I don’t like that. He would prefer chicken. Plain.
Sometimes in scripture you’ll find something you don’t like. You look at it once, and you’ll say, no thank you. I’d like something simpler. Something easier. Something with a little less flavor. But it’s not the fault of the chef or the grower. It’s us. We’re young, small in our faith, and we just need to grow up a bit. The only problem is sometimes we stop eating good food altogether, and we subsist for the rest of our lives on fast-food, Twitter theology like processed meat, where the number of likes determines the truthfulness of a statement, rather than the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
People were offended at Jesus’ words in our passage, they all left him and abandoned him, except for a very few of his disciples, because of his insistence that he, himself, was the spiritual food they needed to survive. His post wouldn’t have gotten very many likes. But his words are true regardless of the fact that they weren’t what people wanted to hear. Christ is our spiritual sustenance. We need to meet him over and over again in the Scriptures, wherever they are preached, wherever the truth of God is spoken, and taught, and enacted. Our souls are satisfied whenever we are able to take Christ in, imbibe him, taste and see that he is good.
In many ways, this is the whole reason food exists, why the world was created in such a way that humans need to eat and drink water to survive—the world wasn’t made that way out of necessity, but to teach us that we are dependent, we are limited in this way. We need to eat food, or we will die. We need to drink water, or we will grow faint. Hunger and thirst push us, drive us to fill those needs. So when you feel spiritually hungry, when your soul groans, demands something more to nourish it, what will you do? Will you throw up your hands and say, I need to find another source of food, pass the potato chips, if I eat enough of them I’ll feel full. Or will you come to find Christ in the scriptures, come to the communion table and be filled?
I’ve been subsisting on the food of the Spirit in the Bible for so long now, that if I miss a quiet time or church on Sunday, I feel it. My soul starts to churn and ache. Sometimes I’ll go a couple days or a week, and I feel faint. Sin creeps up in my life like a headache, and the spiritual hunger just reminds me over and over again until I come back to the word, that I subsist on Christ. He is what keeps me alive. Physical food keeps my body alert and healthy, but the spiritual food of encountering Christ himself, the spiritual communion, the experienced word of God in the Bible. That’s what keeps me alive. The inspired word, the encountering of Christ in scripture, is what satisfies my soul’s longing.
I said at the beginning of my sermon that this passage is still one that causes people to walk away from Christianity, just like Jesus’ followers left him when he preached it the first time. People take offense at this teaching for two main reasons. The first reason we’ve already talked about—it’s the teaching that Christ is the only stream, the only source of truth and life in the world. The second reason people reject this teaching is a little more subtle, and you have to pay attention to the context of the passage to see it.
You see, the day before Jesus came to Capernaum, where we find him in our passage today, he had performed a miracle—he had taken three loaves of bread and two fish and fed thousands of people until they were completely full. And right before the passage we read today, people came asking him to feed them again. They ask him to give them the ability to multiply bread and fish, like what we talked about last week, they saw in Christ a means to never work again, never feel hungry again, never be uncomfortable, never be without. They came up asking Christ to feed them, and what does he give them? A sermon, talking about how he is food enough to nourish them, a call to follow after him and sometimes be hungry.
That’s the other part of this passage that makes people walk away from Christ. I was walking into Bible study last Wednesday night, and someone asked me for food. I didn’t have any, but I invited him to come in and study the Bible with us. He told me he didn’t care about me or my bible study, he just wanted food, and if I didn’t have any to give, he didn’t want anything to do with me. And I can understand that. You gotta eat. That’s why we serve food here, too, but if you eat the food we serve, you’re going to be hungry again. We have something far more valuable to give you.
I’ve seen hundreds of people walk away from Jesus because he didn’t offer them the material things they wanted. They wanted health and wealth, and when they got sick and struggled, they walked away. They wanted peace and joy, instead they’re dealing with depression and anxiety. They wanted success and advancement, and instead Christ called them to walk alongside the down and out. We’re still following Christ around, just like the men in our passage because he bought the last guy dinner, and we want to know what we can get from him.
When he offers discipleship, when he offers the good, spiritual food inspired by the Holy Spirit in his word, we say, nah. I was just in it for the physical blessing. What we don’t realize is that the physical is only ever there to point us to the spiritual. He is the source of life, the source of peace. If we have him, we have everything. If we don’t have him we have nothing.
My prayer for you this morning is that you wouldn’t walk away from Christ because he didn’t give you the life you wanted. I pray you, like Peter, would come to the realization that, whether or not you like what you found in the Bible, whether or not you got the thing you wanted from God, that you would understand the truth of inspiration and realize: only Christ has the words of eternal life. Only in him will you ever be satisfied.
Come pray with me now, come back to him. I know you’re scared, and I know change is hard, but I also know, whether you’ll admit it to yourself or not: you’re thirsty, and there is no other stream.