Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 13)
August 2, 2009
Text: John 6:22-35

To set the stage for this morning’s Gospel lesson, we continue to witness the fallout from the miraculous feeding of the five thousand we heard about two weeks ago. Five loaves, two fishes, 5,000 men eat their fill not counting women and children, and the apostles collect twelve baskets full of leftovers. Last week we heard that Jesus then sent the Twelve ahead of Him in the boat while He dismissed the crowd. The disciples didn’t have an easy time of it, however, for the wind was against them. Jesus comes to them walking on the water! They think it’s a ghost. Men don’t walk on the sea. But this man is God in the flesh. Jesus steps into the boat and the wind ceases. “Take heart,” He says. “It is I. Do not be afraid” (Mark 6:50; ESV). Only a man who is also God could so multiply the loaves and fishes and walk on water and calm the storm and chase away fear with His Word.

The crowd saw that there was only one boat, and they saw the disciples leave in it. They also saw that Jesus stayed behind to dismiss them. But where is He now? They decide to mount a search. Other boats come and the crowd boards. It’s off to Capernaum to search for Jesus. But why are they searching? St. John tells us in his account of the feeding of the 5,000: “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:14-15). The people were looking for Jesus because they wanted bread! They wanted prosperity! They wanted Jesus as king, and they were going to make Him king whether He wanted it or not. The long and the short of it is, the crowd was not seeking Jesus because they wanted Him as their Savior from sin. They were seeking Jesus because they wanted full bellies.

What about the masses today? What about the world? Is there any sense in which the world seeks Jesus? Perhaps as a moral compass? Perhaps as a worker of miracles? Perhaps as one who can fill their bellies and fulfill their desires? And what about even many Christians? What about you and me? Is it not true that often we seek Jesus for the same reason the crowd sought Him; for the same reason the world still seeks Him? We need bread. Jesus does miracles. Jesus can give it. And He’s a nice guy, so He will give it. Think about it for just a moment. It’s not as silly as it sounds at first. One of the biggest reasons people are attracted to religion is their perceived need for a god who provides. There is this perceived need for a power outside of us that can assure us that everything will be alright, and that can then deliver the goods: the bread, the riches, the health, the prosperity. Granted, this is a very self-centered religion. It’s all about me and my wants and my needs. But that’s where the moral compass comes in: the nice guy, Jesus, teaches us to be nice guys and gals as well. And my point is that things aren’t all that different now, and in this place, than they were in the time and place described in the Gospel lesson. Everyone is chasing after some sort of god, or gods, and many call their god “Jesus”. But even those who call their god “Jesus” are chasing after him for all the wrong reasons. They have totally misunderstood who Jesus is and what He is here to do. And we must count ourselves among that number. We often misunderstand Him, too. It comes naturally to our flesh to misunderstand Him. If you want Jesus simply to be some sort of moral compass, to teach you the difference between right and wrong, to teach you to be nice, then you have rejected Him as your Savior from sin, your substitute on the cross. If you’re just looking for miracles, you betray yourself as one among this adulterous and sinful generation that seeks after a sign. The only sign that will be given you is the sign of Jonah, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This should be enough for you. If you seek Jesus because of the loaves… that is, if you seek Jesus because He can give you the bread that perishes, but you do not seek the bread that endures to eternal life, the Bread of Life Himself, Jesus Christ the Savior, then you also are numbered among the crowd. If you seek Jesus because you think that this will bribe God into giving you what you want and need, you are seeking Him for the same selfish reasons the world seeks Him, or rather, creates their own designer Jesus. Repent, beloved.

Of course, Jesus does provide us with daily bread for our bodies, and we should pray for daily bread. It was not sinful or wrong for the crowd to ask daily bread of Jesus. It was sinful and wrong for the crowd to seek Jesus only for the bread that fills the body and perishes, to the exclusion of the living bread Jesus gives to all who ask Him. That Jesus wants us to pray for daily bread for our bodies is evident from the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” “What does this mean? God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”[1] What does this daily bread include? “What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” Jesus commands and invites us to ask for daily bread, and God promises that He will hear our prayer on account of Jesus, on account of the reconciliation Jesus has won for us with the Father, on account of Jesus’ righteousness, and His innocent suffering and death on our behalf, the full payment for our sins. And God is so gracious, that He even promises that He will give daily bread to all evil people, those who do not pray for it, those who do not believe. “You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:16). His provision is a call to unbelievers to repent and come to faith in the Giver of all good gifts (James 1:17), who sends not only sunshine and rain, not only successful crops and farmers to tend them, not only Spartan store workers and paychecks to purchase their wares, but who more importantly, most importantly, sent His Son to redeem us.

We do need to understand a couple of things about this daily bread. God does not promise us everything we want. God does not promise us everything we think we need. God does not promise us a life of ease. God does not promise us success in the misguided eyes of the world, or even in the misguided eyes of our flesh. God does not promise us perfect health. God does not promise us great wealth. God does not promise us prosperity as defined by the world. God promises that He will give us what we really need. And He alone is qualified to determine what that need is. Maybe that need is a cross. Sometimes God provides our daily bread, ironically, by giving us less of it. He often gives us less to lead us to despair of ourselves and our own talents, abilities, and resources, to despair of all things worldly. He often gives us less to drive us to His mercy alone, to Christ alone, to drive us to trust and to pray. The Christian life is lived by faith, not by sight. God often gives us less so that we see that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). But that you may know that God is faithful to His promises in things unseen, He has not left us without a witness to His faithfulness in the visible world. How do you know He is faithful to His promise to give daily bread? You’re alive! And you wouldn’t be alive if He had withdrawn that promise. Don’t look at all the things you don’t have. Look at the things you have. We should realize that all good things come from God, all that we have, and we should receive these with thanksgiving, asking that God would make us good stewards of His gifts, that we may use them to His glory and to help our neighbor. That is, after all, our responsibility with our daily bread. God provides for our neighbor by providing us with the daily bread to help him. Thus we take care of our children with the daily bread God gives us, and so God provides for our children. So also we should take care of those who are out of work, or who cannot work. If our neighbor can’t get daily bread for himself, we should give it to him. And we can, knowing that God has more to give us. Notice that we only pray for daily bread. We only ask that God gives us what we need for today. Tomorrow we will pray the same prayer for tomorrow. This is what it means to live by faith.

But the most important thing we need to understand about this daily bread is that it perishes. It goes into the body and is absorbed. Much of it becomes waste. It is here today and gone tomorrow. But there is a bread that endures to eternal life. It is the Living Bread that is Jesus Himself. Jesus tells us “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27). And in truth, while you have to labor for the food that perishes in this world, the bread that endures to eternal life is given to you, freely, without any labor on your part at all. For the work that grasps this bread is faith, and faith is not your work, but God’s. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (v. 29). This Bread of Life from heaven, Jesus Christ, is given to you graciously by God Himself. It is received by faith, which is also given by God Himself. It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves. It is the very gift of God (Eph. 2:8). And how do you receive this Bread of Life? In the Word of God, and in the water, and in a very particular and special way in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, wherein you receive the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the very body nailed to the cross for you, the very blood poured out for you, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. As we will hear Jesus say in two week, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54).

The Gospel lessons for the next two weeks pick up where this Gospel lesson leaves off in John 6. It’s a sermon series on John 6 built right into the lectionary of the Church. Here Jesus moves us from thoughts about the bread that fills our bellies to the Bread of Life that is Jesus Himself. Jesus says to us this morning, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (v. 35). “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (v. 33). Lord, give us this bread always, we pray (v. 34). He does. He who can feed 5,000 men plus women and children with only five loaves and two fishes, the bread that perishes, and fully satisfy their bellies with an abundance leftover, this one can surely fill those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. He fills them, fills us, fills you and me, with His righteousness. He fills us with Himself. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

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