Monday, August 6, 2012

Sermon for 10th Sunday after Pentecost: "Bread is Life"

+ 10th Sunday after Pentecost - August 5th, 2012 +

Series B, Proper 13: Exodus 16:2-15; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:22-35

            In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

            Reading John 6 is sort of like taking a long cross-country trip: you have to chart your course carefully, visit each landmark along the way, after all, Jesus gives us a lot to chew on in this text and cover one leg of the trip at a time.

            Today John starts where last week’s reading from Mark left off, the teaching after the feeding of the 5000; it’s first leg in the journey of John 6.
           Israel needed food in the wilderness. And the Lord provided: manna in the morning; quail in the evening. Enough for each day and nothing to waste. Any leftovers became worm-food.
            The crowds following Jesus needed food and Jesus provided: barley loaves and fish enough for leftovers that were also gathered up so they would not perish.
            We’re no different. Anyone who’s taken a road trip knows that food for the journey is vital. Where and what are you going to eat? How much food should I pack? Nobody wants to be stuck in that car when the kids get hungry.

            If you want to know what hunger is like, just look at a child who’s past their meal time. You can rock the child. Talk to the child. Scold the child. Nothing works. The child only wants food. It will not be consoled. 

            So too, a hunger in the soul can only be filled by Christ. We are inconsolable until we are filled by Him. “Our hearts are restless O Lord until we find our rest in Thee,” St. Augustine once remarked.

             But that wasn’t the reason the crowds were following Jesus. They only wanted more miracles, more bread. Crown Jesus the Bread King. Our Vending Machine Who art in heaven. Left to our own devices we’d only pray the 4th petition of the Lord’s Prayer. We’re always hungry and yet we’re never satisfied with our Lord’s menu; we’d rather be the cook in our own kitchen; have it your way.

            But Jesus is on to us and the crowds. Grumbling wasn’t really the problem. He’s a big God; he won’t be offended by your complaints. The real problem is unbelief. The crowds have no faith; no trust. Sure He gives bread but is that all you want or ask of him? Because that’s not all He has to give the crowds…or you.

            Jesus will not be crowned Bread King, at least not in this kind of bread and not on this hillside. “You are seeking me because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for food that perishes but for the food that endures to eternal life.”

            There are two kinds of food according to Jesus: Food you work for, and food which is given. Food that perishes, and food that endures to eternal life. You know the first kind of food all too well. That’s one reason you go to work, to put bread on the table.

            This bread goes back to the Fall in the Garden in Genesis: “From the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread until you die.” Now it wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, food was fruits and nuts, gifts freely plucked off of trees where nothing dies. There was the tree of life: eat and live forever. In the beginning it was all gifts and no work.
            But disobedience and death changed the ecology and the diet. No more fruits and nuts, now bread, food you work for, work that eventually kills you. Farming stubborn, rocky soil. Fighting weeds, climate, bugs. Grinding grain. Kneading dough. Baking bread. Work, work, work. No whistling, just a lot of sweat and pain and toil. Sales quotas, production schedules, budget constraints, government regulations, unreliable suppliers, dishonest business partners, lawyers, cranky customers, mean bosses, lazy workers, endless piles of paperwork and TPS reports.

            And if the work isn’t hard enough, you’re fighting a losing battle. Our food mirrors the world we live in: death and decay. That’s why you have refrigerators and freezers. You don’t see hearses pulling u-haul trailers. We labor for food that perishes to feed our perishing bodies.
            It’s true; we need to eat. Jesus wasn’t chastising the crowds for being hungry. Food and healing for their bodies is good – it serves a purpose – but only for a time – and then it spoils. But that isn’t the only food we need according to Jesus. Jesus wants MORE for them and you: food that doesn’t spoil; something that “endures to eternal life.”

            Imagine that – something that doesn’t go bad. Food that doesn’t spoil. Cars that don’t breakdown. Relationships that don’t shatter. Children that don’t misbehave. Homes that don’t break apart. A body that doesn’t get cancer, grow weary or die.

            Who wouldn’t want that? How do we get that food, Jesus? Give us a grocery list; show us the recipe! “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 

              “The work of God is this: that you believe in Him who He has sent.” Have you guessed which kind of food this is? The kind you work for or the kind that is given? The one that perishes or the one that leads to eternal life?

            We desperately want to say: “the kind we work for.” The crowds did too. But that’s not the kind of food Jesus is giving us here. No amount of sweat equity or dirt under your nails or work is going to get you any further out of your grave.

            Oh, there’s plenty of work to be done; but it’s all been done for you. Christ plants gathers the grain, then adds water, Word and His Spirit, and you rise like a well-leavened loaf of bread. Christ is your farmer, your baker and your cook.

            Faith is God’s work, and it is the one work that is well-pleasing to God, to believe in His Son. It’s a gift. Given and living. And that’s the second kind of food. The one that Jesus really wants to give. He is our Bread. The Bread of life. Unmerited. Unearned. Unrewarded. Gift. Grace.
             “What sign will you give us,” they ask, “that we should trust you. Moses had bread from heaven, what you do have, Jesus?”  It’s true, Moses gave them bread from heaven; but the people of Israel still died. Jesus has something to satisfy their hungry souls and ours. “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever trusts in me shall never thirst.” Jesus is the bread of life, come down from heaven to give his life for the life of the world.

            The Bread of life is born, of all places, in Bethlehem, the house of Bread. For years he grows and rises like dough until the appointed time. And then Jesus, the Bread of Life is baked - in the fiery furnace of God’s wrath against our sin and in the burning heat of His passion to save His fallen creation. Like wheat ground up by the mill and put into the fire, Jesus endured the cross bearing our sin in order to be our Food, the Source of life.

            We can relate to the Israelites: stuck in the wilderness, hungry, weary, longing for the promised land, yearning for the end of the journey. We can relate to the crowd. We need Jesus to provide. And Jesus gives us more than we need.      

            For you who are you starved by your sin, drenched in the sweat of your brow and covered in the dust that you shall return to – for you Christ comes to feed you with himself. Jesus is your food for the journey. Christ labors and works, dies and rises in order to give you true food that will never perish. Bread of blessing for your journey through this wilderness.

            And so the same words that began the feeding of the 5000 also begin the Lord’s Supper, “Jesus gave thanks” and then he gives; he feeds; he breaks bread for broken sinners, for you. There’s always more at the Lord’s Table. That’s what He wants to give you. Bread is Life because Jesus has filled it with himself. Christ has gone ahead of you on the road. To the cross. Through the grave and into the resurrection.  Now He gives His flesh as bread for the life of the world and bids His us to eat, to live off of His sacrificial death, to draw our sustenance not from our own works but from His perfect work.
            “Lord give us this food always.” And he does. You want the food of Jesus. Don’t labor for that which perishes. For man does not live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. The food and drink of God is Jesus himself. Jesus’ Word. Jesus in your Baptism. Jesus in the Absolution. Jesus in the Supper.

            So come and wash Adam’s cursed dirt and sweat off your foreheads in the waters of your Baptism. Come and eat Jesus' bread of life at his table, where Christ’s mercy never perishes. His forgiveness never spoils. His righteousness has no expiration date. His love never decays or molds. He feeds you without limit. Without price. Abundantly. Graciously.

            Jesus is true manna from heaven. Jesus is food to satisfy your deepest hunger. Jesus is your daily bread. Not the bread of the curse but the bread of blessing. Not food that perishes. Jesus gives us the best food, living food – Himself. Eat and drink and be merry. For He lives and so do you. Jesus is your bread of life, food for this leg of the journey and the next.

            In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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