When I say drawn I’m not thinking artist here, but the way God exerts a pull on us in many ways in order to speak to us and let us get to know Jesus and the promise of eternal life that he offers us. God takes the initiative but it’s up to us to respond to him.
The readings at the Sunday noon service in the Cathedral were Psalm 34:1-8, Ephesians 4:25-5:2 and John 6:35, 41-51. The reflection follows.
A swimmer was enjoying a beautiful bay while on holiday and didn’t realise just how far out he had swum. Eventually he became tired and realised he was in trouble. As he was a Christian, he decided to pray as he trod water. He asked God to rescue him and waited expectantly with great faith for God to act. After about 15 minutes a small family yacht came near. The family saw the swimmer and shouted to him, offering to take him aboard and back to safety. The swimmer thanked them but refused the offer, telling them that he was waiting for God to rescue him. The yacht carried on, with the people on board shaking their heads in disbelief. Although getting tired, the swimmer continued to pray and to wait for God to help. A while later an inshore lifeboat approached him and threw a lifebelt to him, intending to take him back to shore. The swimmer refused to take hold of the lifebelt and assured the lifeboat crew that he was fine and waiting for God to rescue him. The puzzled crew left to report that they had been called out to a madman.
The swimmer continued to tread water, getting more and more tired and praying for rescue. Eventually a helicopter approached and a member of the crew descended on a line with a harness to hoist the swimmer up. However, the swimmer still would not be rescued, giving the same reason as before. The helicopter left. The swimmer was now so tired that he began to sink and within a few minutes he drowned. He found himself in heaven and went to find God. He complained to God that he had prayed faithfully to be rescued but instead God had left him to drown with no help. God replied, ‘My child, I sent a yacht, a lifeboat and a helicopter. What more could I do?’
The swimmer had a very fixed idea about how God would rescue him from his predicament. The result of this was that he didn’t recognise the way that God actually chose to rescue him, using ordinary rather than extraordinary means.
The problem was very similar for the crowd who had followed Jesus. They had been fed by him and had stayed in the hope of seeing him the next day. Finding he wasn’t there, they climbed in their boats and headed for Capernaum in search of Jesus. As we heard last Sunday, they engaged in conversation with Jesus about bread and eternal life. They actually got to the point of asking Jesus to give them the bread that comes down from heaven which gives life to the world.
Then the mood was broken because Jesus said that he himself was that bread which they had asked for. It was as though they had been hypnotised, going along with what Jesus said. Suddenly they woke up, rubbed their eyes and took notice. They remembered who they were listening to, the son of Joseph and Mary, a person they knew all about, or so they thought. They were saying to one another, ‘Hold on, what are we thinking of? How can an ordinary boy from Nazareth be the bread from heaven? He’s just a carpenter’s son, nothing special. How could we have let ourselves be so taken in by all this? Where’s our common sense?’ Their preconceived ideas would not allow them to see that God might be using ordinary means, an ordinary looking human being, to bring about the rescue of the human race. He’d actually done that in the time of Moses. The manna he had sent was not delivered in baskets by angels. The likelihood is that it was a naturally occurring honeydew made by insects. God used something natural to achieve the feeding of his wandering people in the wilderness.
Jesus gives us information about what is going on with these people. He tells them that no one could come to Jesus without the action of God. God was drawing them to Jesus. We can see that it’s true. The people had been drawn by Jesus’ signs to follow him up the mountain. There they saw another sign as a small amount of food fed 5000 people. They’d even wanted to make Jesus king. When they found he had gone, they didn’t give up but followed him even further, across the lake to Capernaum. It was as though they couldn’t help themselves. This was God at work, drawing them. Jesus said God would teach people and he was doing so through the words and actions of Jesus. Then the final choice was that of the people; it was up to each one to choose whether to believe or not. If a person believed they would have eternal life. Belief would not just be mental assent to some set of precepts, but the eating of the living bread, of Jesus. Eating Jesus meant taking his way of living into themselves and being changed by it. It was this step of belief that was too difficult for many of Jesus’ listeners that day, though I have no doubt that some were able to take it.
It’s the same for us today. God continues to draw people to Jesus. He does it in many ways and over the whole of our lives. It may be through nature, through the kindness of other people, through a miracle, through logic, through the stirring of our emotions, even through disasters and disappointments. God will use any means to reach us as he doesn’t want any one of us to perish, but for all of us to have the gift of eternal life which belief in Jesus gives.
The fact that we are gathered here means that God has been drawing each of us. We may just be attending services, or reading the Bible now and again, or hanging out with Christians, asking questions on the internet, watching TV programmes or listening to podcasts. Maybe we don’t understand most of what we hear and see, maybe we wonder why we bother, but somehow we keep on doing these things. God is teaching those of us in that position.
Others here will have been drawn and found their prejudices overcome sufficiently for them to profess belief in Jesus and to begin to eat of the bread he gives, to learn from him by absorbing his teaching into their lives.
Yet others will have been sure of what they believe for many years and have found themselves transformed by the gift of faith that God has given them. Such people are likely to be used by God to draw others to Jesus. They will do it by the way they live their lives, the way that Paul describes. They will speak the truth, be angry in a righteous rather than selfish way, work hard and give to charity, speak encouragement to those around them, be kind and loving towards one another, forgiving as Christ forgives.
Whatever point you are on the journey of faith, you have reason to be thankful. If you are just beginning to look, be thankful for God drawing you with such patience. If you have chosen to believe in Jesus, be thankful for the gift of faith. If you have been a Christian for many years, be thankful that God can use you to reach others. We can all be thankful for Jesus’ promise: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor