Let me begin my sermon with a part of an old Korean Cinderella story. Once upon a time, there lived an evil step mother who bullied her step daughter, who was so kind and loving. One day, the step mother made an order that she fill water into a jar with a crack on the bottom. The daughter knew it was impossible. But she had no choice; she had to do something not to be punished. Feeling helpless, she burst into tears. Then suddenly, a big toad came out of nowhere and put himself to the bottom of the jar to close the broken part.
Thanks to the toad, she could fill the jar with water.
“Pouring water into a bottomless jar.” From the story, this idiom originated. Like the English phrase, “pouring something, like money, into a bottomless pit,” this idiom is commonly used to describe a hopeless situation that will never get any better. Think about it. How frustrating is it to pour water into a bottomless jar? I know no one would do such a thing, and it is quite ridiculous to even think of doing it. But let me ask this question. “What would be the best way to fill water in a bottomless jar?”
I understand this question sounds silly, but let’s give it a thought. Obviously, you can fix the jar before pouring water. You may close the broken bottom of the jar with something, like a big toad in the story or like what the famous Flex Tape guy does in the TV commercial. Now, is there any other way than this? It seems like there’s no other way. But believe it or not, there’s one more. Let’s approach a bit differently. How about filling a bottomless jar by immersing it into water? It sounds like nonsense, but just imagine…we bring a jar, a broken, cracked, and bottomless jar, to a stream and dip it in the water. What might happen then? The water naturally fills the jar. This way, we don’t have to fix the jar, and we don’t have to pour water in it. In fact, this is the best and permanent way. When it’s in the water, the bottomless jar can be always full of water.
I thought we humans are like the bottomless jar. A broken, cracked, and bottomless jar…that’s who we are. We have a natural drive for happiness. And we feel happy when our needs are satisfied, like when a jar is filled with water. But the problem is that our needs will never be permanently satisfied because we are the bottomless jar. It’s like hunger. After we eat food, we feel good for a while, but soon we feel hungry again. From our birth, we live our lives to meet our built-in needs to be happy. Needs for security, affection, belonging, esteem, and power…if we meet these basic needs, we can be happy for some moments. But when the needs are repressed, they may trigger psychological issues: low self-esteem, addiction, aggression, depression, feelings of insecurity, and so on. We continue to pour the water of happiness into us, the bottomless jar, but the jar doesn’t stay filled. No matter how much water we fill, we become empty again. Then, can we fix ourselves? Not really. We are naturally born in this way. Then what’s the permanent way to fill the bottomless jar?
From last week, we are following the lectionary readings that lead us to meditate upon the Gospel of John Chapter six for five weeks. Last week’s Gospel reading was about Jesus’famous miracle of feeding five thousand with five barley loaves and two fish. In that story, Jesus satisfies people’s needs. And the crowd think that Jesus can fill not only their hunger for food but also their hunger for power. This miracle worker has a power to feed five thousand! So they try to make Jesus their king by force (John 6:15), but Jesus escapes from them and takes a boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
But in today’s Gospel story, we see the crowd still follow Jesus even to the other side of the Sea. Who are these people? Most of them were in need. In the days of Jesus, the towns along the Sea of Galilee were inhabited by the marginalized and the rebellious. Their lives were far from being stable. So they were eagerly looking for something from Jesus. That something would be a powerful leadership, a life-changing teaching, a dream for a better world… and most essentially, what they were looking for was the way to satisfaction. The crowd… they too were bottomless jars. They wanted Jesus to pour the water of happiness into their empty jar again and again with his power and miracles. So when they finally find him, Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26).
But Jesus doesn’t reject them but leads them to the way to true happiness. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:26-27). Then, Jesus reveals that this special food is Jesus himself. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). By craving for satisfaction, by seeking “the food that perishes,” we cannot be truly happy. It’s like pouring water into a bottomless jar. But only by believing in Jesus, only by eating the bread of life, we shall never be hungry. Through our faith in Jesus, we can abide in the presence of God; we can immerse our broken selves in the ever flowing stream of grace. Then, we shall never go empty again.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, how can we stay in the ever flowing stream of grace? How can we keep true happiness of new life inside our hearts? We all know that true happiness comes not from the short-term satisfaction of our needs, but from the God who is the source of our true joy. So what we should do is to be connected to the source as much as we can, in other words, to stay in the presence of the Lord as much as we can in our daily lives. This requires a spiritual discipline. Our Methodist tradition has great practice for this. We call it the “Means of grace.” This means of grace includes two groups of practices: “the works of piety” and “the works of mercy.” Let us read them together.
Works of Piety
1. Individual Practices: reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting,
regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
2. Communal Practices: regularly share in Holy Communion, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study
Works of Mercy
1. Individual Practices: doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison,
feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
2. Communal Practices: seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination
(John Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor
Through these means of grace, I hope you can abide in the loving presence of God. Be always aware of God’s presence in your lives. God is closer to you than you are to yourself. Be mindful of the guidance of the Holy Spirit at each step you take. And go deeper into the ever flowing stream of grace and immerge yourself in that living water. May God’s abundant flow of love fill you with heavenly joy and happiness always. Amen.