Monday, August 13, 2012

Sermon for 11th Sunday after Pentecost: "You Are What You Eat"

11th Sunday after Pentecost – August 12, 2012
Guest preaching @ Grace Lutheran, San Diego
Series B, proper 14: 1 Kings 19:1-8; Epheisans 4:17-5:2; John 6:35:51

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
What kind of bread? White? Wheat? 7,8 or 12 grain? Russian rye? Pumpernickel? Sourdough? Ciabatta? French Baguette? Roasted Garlic? How about bran muffins? Hmm fiber! You just might live longer. Maybe. But not forever.
            Well then, what about that Old Testament stuff. You know, manna. What is it? Manna. (get it?). Bread from heaven – true angel-food cake. Anyone got the recipe? No didn’t think so.
            Or what about those five barley loaves that Jesus used to feed the five thousand? There were twelve baskets full of leftovers. What happened to them? Pull those scraps out of the freezer! Surely that bread . . . !
            No, none of that will do. We can garnish it with poppy seeds, dip it in olive oil or cover it in home-made strawberry jam. Call it artisan, organic or fresh-baked. But (as good as it tastes) bread is still the food of the Fall.
            "Cursed is the ground because of you … by the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread until you return to the ground…for dust you are and to dust you shall return."
            Welcome to Adam’s Bakery where the food is perishing and so are the customers. No refrigerator or freezer can stop Genesis 3. The curse…not carbs – that’s the problem. Adam ate more than forbidden fruit. Adam swallowed the curse of sin and. You are what you eat, we say. Or rather, you are what Adam ate: disobedience, curse, death.

            It’s an eating disorder on a cosmic scale. Not to dismiss or make light real, physical eating disorders. But there are spiritual eating disorders too. And our sinful nature is up on all the latest fads. Whatever is pleasing to the eye, tickles the spiritual taste-buds.
            Some try going weeks or months without reading the Scriptures, going to Bible class, praying, receiving Christ’s body and blood. The Word and Sacrament starvation diet is just as bad for your Christian life as avoiding food is for your bodily health. Skip enough meals and we get weak and sick and die.
            Other Churches offer Happy Meals instead of the Bread of Life, entertainment instead of the Lamb’s High Feast, spiritual junk-food instead of the solid meat and potatoes of Jesus’ teaching. No wonder people are starving and fed up: many churches look more like the food court at the Del Mar fair than the banqueting table of our Lord.
            Our old Adam would be much happier if Jesus had said: “I am the Pat and Oscars Buffet of Life”: have whatever you want, as much as you want, when you want it.  Have it your way.”
            But Adam’s bread will not satisfy your hunger. Adam’s flesh will not avail you. Adam died. Israel ate manna in the wilderness and they died. Elijah wasn’t far from the truth when he sat under that broom tree and prayed that he might die. And we need to die. Drop dead in Jesus. Die to sin and self. Die to the Law. Die to our belly gods. But in fact, you’ve already died and you die daily. In Baptism. Dying and rising. Drown your old Adam and your new nature feasts on Christ. That’s Baptism: you’re all washed and ready for the Supper. Ready for the dinner call:
             “I am the Bread of Life.”For with those words, the pages of the OT flutter and blur together. Here is the recipe waiting for its main ingredient. The OT isn’t like a reading some Where’s Waldo Book: Is Jesus here? There? He’s all of it. Jesus was Israel. Jerusalem. The temple, the sacrifice, the priest and the priesthood. He was Joshua leading the exiles to the Promised Land. He was their food and drink in the wilderness, their viaticum – food for the journey from death to life.
            Here was the Garden treachery, the wilderness exile, the countless Passovers and the temple sacrifices. All of it – the manna, the altar, the blood, the roasted meat – the OT sacrifices find their fulfillment in Christ’s final Sacrifice and Christ’s life-giving, eternal Sacrament. Adam’s bread is death. Jesus is your living Bread.

            Now this is either the height of arrogance and lunacy or Jesus really means what He says and it’s true. He really is the Bread of Life. He really is sent by the Father. And anyone who looks on Him, on his death and resurrection and believes will have eternal life. And he will raise them up on the last day.
            No wonder the crowds were scandalized. It wasn’t their stomach’s grumbling for more bread, but their hardened hearts unwilling to see Jesus as more than a Bread King. We know his father (or so they thought!) We know his mother. That’s the carpenter’s son. How can he call himself the bread that comes down from heaven?
            It’s the scandal (and real meaning of) Christmas:  Incarnation. God became man, a flesh and blood human being. It’s not palatable to our reason, our senses, our religious sensibilities. But if you take away the flesh and blood of Jesus – make him something other than God and man, something other than the Word become flesh – then you take away the flesh and blood of Christianity. Everything Jesus does, He does as God and man for you. That’s why the early church called Mary, Theotokos, the God-bearer, mother of God.
            From her womb comes the flesh and blood of God made Man come to save your flesh and blood from the grave.  The flesh that lived in Mary’s womb for 9 months born that you might become children of God. The flesh that was baptized in the Jordan into your death and sin that you might be baptized into his death and resurrection. The flesh that was crucified, pierced, dead, laid in a tomb that you might be raised up on the last day. The flesh that did what the first Adam couldn’t do: rise from the dead. Overthrow the curse. Defeat death and the grave. He does it all for you.

            That’s the difference between Christianity and all other religions: in all the world religions you must work, earn, be worthy, sacrifice yourself to god. But Christ promises to work and earn salvation by his sacrifice for you.
            In the religions of the world you feed the gods and they feed on you. But in Christianity, God invites you to feed on himself and he gives his life to feed yours. Not work, a gift. Not your sacrifice, but his.  
            There on the cross Jesus eats death. He swallows it up by letting death swallow him whole. Buried. Dead. Like a seed in the ground waiting to sprout. And the grave choked on this seed. Death couldn’t hold him down. The grave coughed him up like Jonah, spit him out after three days. Jesus is the Lord of the dead and the living. Resurrection. New life. New creation.
            Jesus is the New Adam and he’s is more interested in feeding you than himself.
By the sweat and blood of his brow, He labored under the weight of our sin; he suffered and wrestled with thistle and thorn on the cross. He returned to the dust of the earth. And swallowed Adam’s bread of death in order to give you Living Bread and raise you up in his resurrection.

            Ordinary bread you eat to your death. Even the manna in the wilderness didn’t save Israel. Won’t save us either. Jesus’ bread is anything but ordinary: “If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
            Jesus didn’t merely say he was bread but that His flesh was bread. In John 6 he points to his flesh and says it’s bread. Later, on the night of his betrayal, he took the bread and says it’s his flesh.
            Ordinary bread becomes sacred, for in Christ’s incarnation the sacred becomes ordinary. The Christ present and hidden in Mary’s womb is the same Christ present and hidden in the Sacrament.
            In Jesus’ words that he was the bread of life come from heaven, Incarnation and Sacrament are merged into one. Humanity banned from paradise, could only find its hope for survival in bread that came from the ground, the same ground Adam came from and the same ground he and his descendants would return to.
            But Jesus does something completely different. Jesus takes the food of the Fall and redeems it. He takes ordinary, earthly bread and makes it something extraordinary and heavenly: His Body given into death for your life. Jesus gives His Body for bread in His Supper.  Instead of Adam’s death, you receive Jesus’ life.  In place of a curse he grants blessing.
            Now when you come to the Supper you receive the true unleavened bread of the Passover.  The true bread of Christ’s presence. True priestly bread, sacrificed and broken for you. True Manna from heaven, living food for dead sinners. Arise. Eat. Eat this Bread and you will live forever.

For with this food, you really are what you eat.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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