The Rice of Life

What does Jesus look like to you?

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine Jesus was sitting next to you in the pews.  What would he look like?  Think about the color of his eyes, the color of his hair, the color of his skin.  In your image, is Jesus wearing a robe or is he dressed in something more modern?  Try to picture how tall he is, the size of his foot, the sandals on his feet.  Take that in for a moment and then open your eyes.  If each of us had a sketch artist sitting with us and brought those pictures of Jesus up to the front, there would likely be many different versions to see.  That’s because each of us pictures Jesus in our own way.  Sometimes those images are remarkably similar, sometimes wildly different, but all with our own unique perspective.  I went to a conference on multi-cultural ministry and the pastor asked us a great question, “If we hung up a picture of Jesus in the church, what would Jesus look like?”  I hadn’t thought of that before.  I guess in my mind, I thought of the same white robe, brown hair, brown-eyed, bearded Jesus most of us have seen.  But he noted when you asked different people from different cultural backgrounds about how they picture Jesus, they often saw Jesus as black or Asian or Hispanic and that in his church they celebrated that diversity by having lots of different images of Christ so people could find images they relate to.  It reminds me of a story I heard when I took Alpha Course for the first time.  A Japanese woman was explaining the difference between European culture and Japanese culture.  She told the man she was talking to, “What most people don’t understand is that rice is central to the Japanese way of life.  Japanese people have two stomachs – one for rice and one for regular food.  Even if you filled the one with regular food all the way, a Japanese person would still be hungry if they didn’t have any rice.”  She said, “If Jesus had come to the Japanese people first, I’m convinced he wouldn’t have said, ‘I am the Bread of Life.’  He would have said, ‘I am the Rice of Life.’”

From the Metzger Collection at Columbia Bible College in British Columbia

It is important to understand that Jesus enters into our lives in different ways.

The way I’ve encountered Jesus won’t be the same as the way you encountered Jesus or even the same way your kids encountered Jesus. God seeks us out wherever we are in life.  He reaches out to us through the people, places, and things that surround us and for everyone that’s different.  One of the great rewards of being a pastor is getting the opportunity to hear how Christ has changed the lives of each person, how God has worked in and through that person’s life.  I can’t tell you the number of different stories I’ve heard and yet how similar each one is.  One man who came to Christ told me it was because of the time he spent with his grandmother driving around in her van.  She used to pick him up from school as a child to help out his parents, and when she did, she would often be playing Christian music on the radio or talking to him about things happening at her church.  Something about her, about the life she led, made him curious about who Jesus was and how he could be dead for thousands of years and still have this impact on her life.  That curiosity stuck with him all of his life until he decided to give it a try and dedicate his life to Christ.  Then there was the man who wandered away from God most of his life.  His mother prayed for him every day, but he pretty much ignored the pull on his life.  Different people would bring up God during the decades he wandered away, and it would intrigue him that Jesus kept coming back into his life.  Finally, a friend convinced him to pick up a Bible and caused him to ask some real questions about life for the first time.  It led him down a road where he finally decided it was time to come back and accept Jesus into his heart and just weeks before his mother died, he was baptized.  He was so glad his mother had lived long enough to know he made that choice for himself.  For me, I think I’ve told you, but it was because God surrounded me with people who kept funneling me towards him.  They kept giving me glimpses, kept nudging me gently.  My mom, my friends like Mark and Steve, my girlfriend/fiancée/wife Cassie were all people God used to reach out to me.  And even though I knew God and prayed since I was a kid, it wasn’t until my 30’s that I really felt God working deep inside me and lighting a fire in me that has stayed going ever since.  Another friend named Steve who was in our men’s group back in Alpharetta gave me some wise advice.  He said that in his darkest moments God was always there, but that he didn’t always see him when he was going through it.  But knowing that would help sustain him through the next one.  He would simply look back on his life and all the times God showed up and it would give him strength.

 

I am convinced that more than anything this world needs God.

When you think about all of the violence, the mass shootings, the terrorists, and every sort of evil happening all over the globe and in our own backyard, I can’t help but wonder if these things would have happened if people really and truly knew God.  And I don’t mean religious nuts who claim to be Christian and then commit acts of rage.  I mean if we had the peace in our hearts that only God can provide.  This passage goes to the heart of what people are truly craving in the world today.  Despite all of the rhetoric, diatribe, and posturing, people are looking for purpose, hope, and meaning in the world – the kind that can only be given by God.  We might substitute other things in place of it, but only in Jesus do we find the authentic source of what we need the most.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” – John 6:35-40

When we think of hunger, we think of food.

But food isn’t the only thing we are hungry for.  Sometimes we are hungry for attention.  Sometimes we are hungry for knowledge.  Sometimes we are hungry for affection.  There was a study done by Harvard University testing the theory that parents should let their babies cry and they found that doing so has long-lasting traumatic effects on the baby’s life.  It influences how they socialize and how they are able to build loving relationships in the future.  Americans in particular tend to dismiss these medical findings because society has told us for so long that letting a baby cry was the right method to create independent, self-reliant children, but it ends up having the opposite effect.  On the other extreme, Rene Spitz studied infants raised in hospital institutions compared to those raised by mothers who were imprisoned and the difference was shocking.  More than a third of the babies in the hospital died while none in prison passed away.  Another study showed that babies raised in orphanages compared to foster homes were 30% more likely to develop mental illness, had IQs nine points lower on average, and were less happy than their counterparts.[1]  Food isn’t the only thing we are hungry for.

Jesus addresses that in this passage.

When he declares “I am the bread of life” he is telling us that he is as important to our health and well-being as any amount of food we consume.  Just as we are hungry for food, we also have a spiritual hunger that simply cannot be fully satisfied in any other way than with Jesus in our lives.  He promises that all who seek him will always be able to find him and will no longer suffer from spiritual hunger.  And so many people in the world today seem to be starving for both.  The World Food Programme estimates there are about 1 in 9 people who “go to bed on an empty stomach” and about 1 in 3 that are malnourished.[2]  UNICEF estimates that nearly half of all deaths of children under 5 are caused by malnutrition.[3]  Those numbers are astounding 1 in 9 people don’t have enough food and nearly half of child deaths under 5 are from undernutrition. Do any of us really think any child should die from malnutrition?  Should any person die from lack of food?  If we want people to come to Christ it has to start by helping provide for the world’s needs.  As we talked about last week, no one can achieve their full potential when they are suffering from a lack of basic needs.  I can’t help but think of that passage from Matthew where Jesus tells the disciples, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!”  Ask yourself, what are you doing to help meet these basic needs?  Just because you are not withholding food from babies who are dying doesn’t mean that you don’t have some part to play in their deaths.  It’s not a comfortable thing to think about, but it’s something we need to place in our minds to remind us of both our blessings and our obligations.

Remember the story of the Good Samaritan?

Luke shares with us the story Jesus told to his disciples of these three people who saw this man lying by the side of the road.  He had been robbed and stripped of everything.  The priest walks by and does nothing.  The Levite (who also does priestly work) does nothing.  And it’s only the Samaritan who is often cast out by society that does something for the man.  Jesus asks the expert in the law, “Who was the neighbor?” and the expert says, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus tells him, “Go and do the same.”  So which one are you?  Are you the priest and the Levite in the story, or are you the neighbor who does something for those in need?  We have to do more than simply talk about Jesus.  A man cannot hear you when the grumbling from his stomach drowns out your words. A man cannot hear you when the grumbling from his stomach drowns out your words. We must all do whatever we can to meet the needs of others so they might have the opportunity to see and hear from Jesus.

Spam musubi – the Hawaiian rice of life

The point is YOU are the rice of life.

YOU are the rice of life.  Or the cookie of life.  Or the King’s Hawaiian Bread of life.  Or whatever metaphor works for you.  The point is that God is calling upon you to meet the needs of his people.  Like he told Peter to feed his sheep, God is telling us all to feed his sheep.  You might be exactly what that person needs at just the right time.  God might be using you to reach someone for Christ and you never know how that might happen.  We just continually have to be vigilant in doing as Christ commands and when we do, we can be the bread of life for someone else.  I wouldn’t know Christ if it wasn’t for the many people in my life who made it easier for me to see him.  Will you be one of those people for someone too?

 

 

[1] http://www.forbes.com/2010/04/20/russia-orphanage-adopt-children-opinions-columnists-medialand.html

[2] https://www.wfp.org/zero-hunger

[3] https://data.unicef.org/topic/nutrition/malnutrition/

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