Sunday, August 5, 2012

Pentecost 10 (Proper 13), Series B

Sermon on John 6:22-35
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
August 5, 2012 (The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Series B)

The conversation recorded in our text happened not long after Christ had fed the five thousand men, plus women and children.  This seems to be the same crowd which has now followed Him back to the other side of the lake.  They had wanted to make Him their king so that they would always have enough to eat.  From the way the conversation goes in today’s Gospel lesson, they seem to have their minds firmly fixed on the idea that the Messiah has come simply to provide them with all the food they could want for this life, to give them their “best life now,” as it were.  We know that Jesus recognizes this from what He says to them: “you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.”  They did not see the miracle for what it was, a sign of the kingdom of God breaking into this world, but simply as a convenient way for them to get something to eat.  And Jesus keeps telling them what is really happening throughout our text, but it never seems to register with them.

In the next verse, Jesus tells them not to labor for the food that perishes, but to labor for the food which endures to everlasting life.  Jesus is trying to make a contrast between earthly food and Himself, for He is the one who sustains His people for eternal life.  But again they don’t listen.  They think he’s talking about some sort of earthly food that will last forever and never run out, and they hear that they’re supposed to work for it.  So they ask what they’re supposed to do to get this eternal food.  Again, Jesus’ answer is an attempt to get them to think differently about the whole matter.  The “work of God,” the highest service we can render to God, is to believe in Him, that is, to receive Him in faith and trust.  The Lutheran Confessions put it this way: “Faith is the divine service which receives the benefits offered by God.”  In other words, if you want to know how you are to obey the First Commandment of the Law, the answer is simply this: believe the Gospel.  Believing in Christ and receiving Him through the Word and Sacraments is the highest good work we can do toward God. After all, a god is that on which we rely for all of our needs in both this life and the life to come.  To “have no other gods before Me,” as the First Commandment asks, is to receive what God has to give us, because it is by giving us what we need that He is our God.

But again the people misunderstand Jesus.  They ask Jesus to do some signs so that they might believe in Him.  Evidently now the miracle that Jesus did to feed them isn’t enough.  They want him to do more so that they can be convinced to believe in Him.  And they even give him a suggestion as to what sign He is to perform.  “Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”  In other words, they are hinting that He could give them some more food, or that He could stay and provide for their bodily needs like he had just done, and that then they would believe in Him.  But this is not acceptable.  You see, what they are really saying is, “Jesus, we will believe in you if you do what we say.”  They want to God to do what they want him to do in order for them to believe in Him.  They will only let Jesus be their God on their own terms, and according to those terms, they would be the real gods.

Finally Jesus tries to be a little more blunt with them.  Moses did not give them bread from heaven, in other words, the kind of bread Moses gave is not what Jesus is talking about.  He is talking about the fact that they need to receive Him for their eternal nourishment, not about any kind of food that sustains their temporal lives.  He is talking about the fact that He, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, must come into them and dwell in them.  He is the One who came down from heaven and gives life to the world.  And He gives life to the world by dying on the cross to take upon Himself the punishment for the world’s sins, and rising again to life as the prototype of the resurrection of all mankind.  This life-giving Lord, who would die and rise again for our eternal life, is the food that nourishes us for eternal life.  When He comes to us in His Word and especially in His body and blood, that is the food which strengthens our new selves.  You know the catechism, that baptism signifies that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  Well, that new man needs to be nourished and fed if he is to grow strong and mature unto eternal life, and the food which nourishes the new man is Christ Himself, the first to rise from the dead.  This is what Christ is trying to tell the people who are questioning Him here.

But, of course, they don’t listen.  Their hearts are so fixed on their idea of what Jesus has come to give them that they cannot possibly hope to understand what Jesus is telling them.  Their response is almost as if they hadn’t heard Him at all, or at least as if they completely misunderstood what they did hear.  They know he’s talking about some sort of food for their bodies that will last forever, and so they ask Him to continue to give them such bread.  They again want Jesus to provide for their wants and desires in this life in such a way that He cannot go to the Cross and give them eternal life.

We are often guilty of the same error as these people in our text.  Why do we come to the church service on Sunday morning?  Is it to have our emotions lifted up?  Our feelings given a boost?  Do we come to be entertained?  Do we come because we think the pastor is an interesting preacher or because we happen to like the kind of hymns that we sing at this church?  Do we come because this church has friendly people in it?  Many Christians do choose one church over another for precisely these kinds of reasons.  And of course, in and of themselves, it is good for a church to have a warm and friendly atmosphere, a pastor who is a talented preacher, and so on.  But as we live in a sinful world, no Church is going to have all of these things.  And sometimes the idea that the church service shouldn’t be boring, or that the hymns ought to be ones that we like to sing, gets in the way.  We forget that whatever our personal wants and desires are for the church service, it is Christ who comes to us in His Word and His body and blood here today.  He feeds us with the food of eternal life.  He teaches us through the liturgy, which is mostly composed of quotes from the Holy Scriptures, and through the hymns, by which we sing to each other and back to Him the same message He has first given to us.  He nourishes us for eternal life.  When you see what a great miracle is wrought by means of the Word in the liturgy and the hymns, as well as the Holy Communion, concerns such as whether or not the liturgy and the hymns happen to match our own personal tastes tend to fade into the background.  When we see the Word and the Holy Supper as the food of eternal life itself, then suddenly everything about that Word and Sacrament becomes interesting to us, including the liturgy by which the Church every Sunday repeats back to God what He has first spoken to us.  It becomes interesting to us because it is vital to our eternal salvation that Christ’s Word and Sacraments become our food and drink for eternal life.  Christ now offers us the food and drink which will sustain us unto eternal life.  Let us feast upon the bread of life.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

No comments:

Post a Comment