So…we generally think we know what we are getting in life today. Companies are well known for certain things and we approach relevant shops to get what we need or want. We can prove our knowledge of this through logo spotting.
Sometimes however, we are taken aback or surprised. We do not necessarily expect things to happen in a way that contradicts our idea of normal behaviour, or what is acceptable. The other day my partner was on a train and became aware of a young woman who was first incensed and then desperately crying. She had travelled a long distance with her child and was completing the return journey alone. She had expected that she would still be able to use her family rail card, but was informed that this was not valid as she was not travelling as a family. She had £50 to pay on the spot, and clearly had no money, and no hope of being able to afford the difference in the immediate future…until another woman on the train handed her the cash she needed. The young woman was stunned, perplexed and attempted to make arrangements to pay the money back. Dare I say it is a sad world we live in where a good deed invokes shock and distrust, instead of gratitude and thankfulness?
I talk so much about being God with skin on, or loving people as Jesus loves us. The Acts of Random Kindness project I support is at the heart of my own desire to be more Christ-centred. Can we recognise God at work in our world though, and if not, how can we hope that others do?
I think if I asked you whether or not you trust God, many of you would say ‘of course’…if I took that further though and asked you what that trust looks like, it might be a more difficult question to answer. If I were giving gifts away, some of you may have no problem with accepting them, where as others may be a bit more hesitant. Obviously, some of that resistance may be due to how the gift is introduced – were I to say “it’s just some shower gel that I thought you needed” that might seem a bit rude! Perhaps if you knew me and trusted me completely that would not matter. I wonder whether trusting God is about knowing Him fully, understanding that He loves us, and wants what is best for us, and acknowledging that He will provide for us. I also wonder whether there are certain life situations where that is much easier to do, and those where it is much harder.
Whilst God provided many things for His people, there were two things that were key for us today: firstly He provided a leader – Moses – to take them out of slavery. Secondly he provided food for the long journey they were on from this slavery to the “promised land”…a place of beauty that God had prepared for His people. The food that he provided for them came in the form of manna, or bread. The bible shows that it came out of the sky and was ready to be gathered in the early morning.
I was trying to imagine what our human response would be if God did something like this today. Some might walk away, anxious and unable to make sense of it. Others might poke and prod at it, but not actually be brave enough to try it. It is awful to admit, but in a world where so many are in need perhaps too few would trust the provided food enough to eat it and recognise it as God’s provision.
This is where I reach a philosophical confusion whereby we cannot trust without knowing who or what we trust, and we cannot fully know until we trust without barriers. From our reading it appears that the people trusted Jesus. He made reference however, to having fed them and claiming that they followed him still because he had provided for them, not because they knew him and trusted him. We could just accept this, but if everyone in this village had gathered in the park hungry and thirsty, but with no supplies, in the blazing heat of that glorious British summer…AND been fed…surely the person who had made that happen would be someone you would be curious to meet rather than want to know them more fully?
If Jesus was shrugging the attention off, it would be understandable! Rather though, I think he was diverting the focus from short-term need to a much longer-term goal of trust and recognition. Here he encourages us to think about the works of God for eternal life, not for a quick fix mars bar! Even then many today, like those who had followed Jesus in boats, would say “give me a sign so that I can believe”. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the film Bruce Almighty but there is a scene towards the end of the film that I just love. Bruce’s life is going a bit pear-shaped, he feels a bit desperate and doesn’t know what his next move should be. He is driving along and praying, asking God for a sign. Right in front of him there is a huge road works truck, full to the brim of signs saying ‘Stop’, ‘Turn Around’, ‘Road Closure’, etc. all with flashing lights around them. Next Bruce has an accident as the road ends and he crashes into the truck!
We can be so eager to ask for signs, and yet so slow to identify them, or recognise them as from God. And so often we fail to trust until we see the sign or get some recognition that this is from God.
I would like to challenge each of us this week to trust first, trust with a child-like enthusiasm, and allow that trust to propel us to both recognise God in others and let them recognise Jesus as the bread of life in us; in what we do, what we say, and in who we are.