“A Gas Station in the Desert” – August 26, 2018

John 6:56-69 08/26/18

Good morning, again. It’s always good to be back to this pulpit after having a nice
relaxing vacation. I had a great vacation and I hope you are having a great summer
as well. We drove all the way to California and visited my parents, in-laws in LA,
and also my brother in San Diego. On our way, we had visited 9 states and had a
chance to spend over night in 7 big cities like Chicago and Las Vegas; and a couple of small towns like Van Wert, OH and the Grand Canyon National Park Village. We took so many pictures; we listened to all kinds of music and also slept many hours in the car while we were driving; we ate lots of food, both good and not-so good; and (yes) we saw LOTS of corn. Elizabeth simply said, “It’s amazing!” And now we have many memories to share and many stories to tell.

After several days of driving through the corn fields, we finally noticed that the
land shape was beginning to change. Suddenly, it became like a desert. We
enjoyed this new scenery and kept driving. I checked the fuel gauge. No problem.
We could continue driving at least for an hour or so. But the problem was the
distance between the exits was so long and not every exit had a fuel sign on it.
Now, I was getting anxious a little bit. By this time the gas tank was almost empty but I knew it would be OK because a gas station would soon come up. Finally, I was so happy to see an exit sign which indicates that there is a gas station. Hwu…, we barely made it. I thought.

When we approached there, we realized that something’s not right. There was
yellow cord all around the station and there was hardly anybody or any
automobile. I was in panic when I saw a small sign, “CLOSED,” because the
empty sign of the fuel gauge had been on for a while and I had no idea how many
more miles we could drive. Besides, not a single car passed by for a while. Wow!
What could we do? In the middle of nowhere! O Lord, have mercy! The only option available for us was being on the road again, hoping that there’s a
gas station within a few miles. Very fortunately, there was one within a few miles
and (you know what?) I had never been so thankful to God in my whole life… for
a gas station.

Later that day while I was driving, I thought that the Church can be compared to a
gas station in the desert… or, a restaurant in the desert. One day, after many hours
on the road, we were all hungry. So I took an exit where there was a food sign.
But, when we get there, we found out that the only restaurant in town was closed.
Many live in a desert nowadays. Even though we live in a beautiful part of the
world, many of us live in a desert. And everyone needs gas, food, new energy, new strength to continue our journey. I believe if they knew we are here, a gas station for their journey, a good restaurant, a true source of power for their lifelong
journey, they would come. So, let’s keep spreading the words that we are here at
the corner of High School Lane and Middlesex Road and invite them to come and
visit us. Invite them also to check our new website. Let’s put an ad in local
magazines and papers, because there are people out there in the desert who are
desperately searching for gas for their journey and food for their souls. I believe
expanding our invitations to people seeking deeper meaning in life can make our
church’s outreach efforts engaging and unique.

Speaking of food for the souls, today’s gospel reading is very interesting. Doesn’t it seem too primitive, too cannibalistic? Jesus said, “[M]y flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Perhaps this sounded too much like the Baal cult of the region, roundly condemned by the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament. The followers of Baal allegedly practiced the drinking of bull’s blood and human sacrifice. So at first Jesus’ disciples say, “This teaching is too difficult; who can accept it?” And then, after Jesus tries to give further explanation, the gospel writer reports, “[M]any of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”
More about it in a minute….

The reading from Psalm puts the longing for God poetically, assuming that we can
be entirely alienated from God: “My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of
the Lord… Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise…
They go from strength to strength… O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.”

But honestly, it’s not always easy to trust in God, is it? Life often seems so
random, meaningless and absurd, even cruel. That’s why so many people
challenge the claims of the Bible. If God is love and all powerful, how can this
terrible thing be happening to this wonderful family? Following the biblical
commandments seems to be no guaranty of happiness or success. The list
recommending atheism can go on and on.

So, returning to the disciples saying that Jesus’ teachings are difficult…, they are!
But there’s certainly another way to view Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel lesson
that doesn’t seem so primitive and cannibalistic as the literal eating of Jesus’ flesh
and drinking of his blood. Jesus explains, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6: 63)

Earlier in the book of John, Jesus distinguishes between being born of the flesh, as
we all are, and later having the possibility of being “born again” of the spirit, and
in that way being able to participate in the kingdom of God. So, I don’t believe
Jesus is asking us literally to eat his flesh and drink his blood, as worshipers of
Baal might have done with a bull’s flesh and blood in ancient Canaan in order
magically to gain superhuman strength. The point is that Jesus is the flesh and
blood incarnation of the divine spirit of God on earth. He’s been given to us as a
precious gift to help us learn how to live our lives fully and meaningfully, with him
as the leading exemplar.

In our sacrament of communion, we eat bread and drink wine and we do in
remembrance of him. Jesus made it clear from the beginning of his ministry that
we do not live by bread alone; human beings also need to live by the word of God.
Jesus is the word of God made flesh. In him, and in his teachings, we can learn
how to live in a godly or Spirit-filled way. We must eat the living bread that Jesus
brings through his teachings and his way of life. Jesus came that we might have
life, and have it more abundantly.

When God led Israel out of slavery, God led them through a desert. God’s
presence with the children of Israel was much like a gas station or a restaurant in
the desert. There was no food and water but God provided food daily. Each
morning, manna came from heaven to feed them. And God provided water from a
rock. God wanted to teach them who was the source of their food and water. God wanted to firmly ingrain in their soul the truth that each second of life was a gift from God.

But that wasn’t all! God also wanted them to realize that the more important
things in life, not just food and water, come only from God. Only God can fill the
hungry soul with peace. Only God can quench the heart’s thirst for love. Only
God can take a dull and meaningless existence and turn it into a life of eternal joy.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry and
whoever believes in me will never thirst.” And his Church is like a restaurant in
the desert. The world that we live in is a spiritual desert. That is why people are so desperately thirsty. They want something to fill the emptiness. Let’s be kind and let them know that within the Church is the bread and water they need to survive. In the Church is the presence of God that can fill the emptiness. In God’s Kingdom is the peace and meaning that they hunger for. In God’s kingdom is the love and forgiveness that we thirst.

Let’s keep asking to our friends or neighbors: Are you in a desert today? Is there
an empty place in your life that needs to be filled? Are you hungering and thirsting
for peace, love, joy, fullness, guidance? If so, come to Christ. Surrender to him
and his will. He gave his life for us and he will give you what you need.
They still hunger and thirst for something lasting and meaningful. Some are in
such great despair and hopelessness that they throw their lives away on drugs and
materialism and cults and some even kill themselves because they have nothing to
live for.

It is true that we have church sign pointing the way to Christ. But many don’t see
it. We have to go out and bring them to God’s diner. The mission of the United
Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. It is our responsibility, each one of us, to go out there and share the love of Jesus Christ to those around us. I know that we want our church to grow, but we cannot simply just sit here and wait for the newcomers to walk into our church door. We need to make that happen. We have to go to them where they are and bring them a taste of the love and peace and glory of God. Then we have to lead them back to this place where they can find living water and bread from heaven.

After checking in to our hotel room in Las Vegas, we went down to check out the
restaurants. To our surprise, there were long lines everywhere. When we asked
how long the wait might be, an hour and a half was the soonest. The longest was
two hours and a half. Wow! We were not happy to wait that long. But, we didn’t
have any choice. It was amazing that so many people were willing to wait for an
hour and a half to satisfy their physical hunger and thirst. I wonder how many of
them would wait for that long to receive spiritual food. How about you? Are you
willing to wait that long to satisfy your spiritual hunger and thirst? How long are
you willing to wait to receive the Holy Communion? Can you wait for just one

When you come to the Lord’s Table next week, come as if you have waited for long enough…as if you are dying for it. Then receive it with a grateful heart. The more grateful you are, the more it satisfies your spiritual hunger. The more grateful you are, the more it quenches your thirst.

Jesus is the bread of life and people need to know that. They also need to hear that we are here. The restaurant in the desert is right here. Let’s go and bring the hungry and thirsty souls in the desert to dine with us. Amen.


Photo by Luke Bender on Unsplash

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