Sermon for August 14, 2021 from Pastor John
Sermon for August 15, 2021
My favorite meal to eat in a restaurant is breakfast. One of these days I feel like asking the waitress, “Do you talk in your sleep, saying things like ‘white, wheat, rye, raisin or sour dough?’ Toast is a part of many breakfast selections and so the waitress must repeat the choices many times during their time at work. Bread is an important part of our diets, whether it be your breakfast toast, sandwiches or hot dog buns. In the times of the Bible one could say bread was the main part of common person’s diet. In the Hebrew language the word of bread, “Lechem” could also simply mean ‘food’. There was even a town named after bread, Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread”. It is fitting that Jesus, the Bread of Life, was born in Bethlehem.
At one time Jesus was very popular because of the sign of a small boy’s lunch of five barley loaves and dried fish, barely enough to feed one person, ended up being enough to feed 5,000 people with plenty of leftovers. In the Gospel of John Jesus personally handed out bread to each person in the multitude, a wonderful sign pointing out who Jesus is. Jesus came down from heaven concerned about the hunger of people. The people were glad to have their empty stomachs filled. They called Jesus a prophet, one who reveals the will of God. But the people knew they would be hungry again so they wanted Jesus to be their King, and keep the loaves of bread coming.
Jesus could not be their king as the crowd saw fit. The people in the crowd wanted an abundance of bread, for food is life. Jesus came from heaven to meet another hunger, hunger for God and the abundant life. So Jesus said “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus referred to himself as the ‘living bread which has come down from heaven to give life to the world’
But now the people began to complain: “Whoa, there Jesus. How can you say that you have ‘come down from heaven’? We know your parents, we know you are the son of Joseph and Mary, so what is this foolish talk of ‘coming down from heaven’? Jesus told the people to stop complaining and he then spoke of his reason of coming down from heaven: not to condemn the world, not to keep record of sin, but the world to know be the will of God the Father. The will of God the Father is eternal life. Eternal life is not only some happy thought or life in heaven after one dies. Eternal life is today, a gift of God you can really sink your teeth into, from Jesus, the Bread of Life.
In our reading today Jesus told the people “sink your teeth into me”. Jesus said “the bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”. Jesus’ words created an uproar. They were saying “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” You might think that Jesus should have used a different phrase; his talk of eating flesh, his own at that, sounded definitely weird if not outright wacky. So Jesus said “Very Truly I tell you….”; when Jesus used those words what followed was serious. Jesus continued, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” That was quite a mouthful from Jesus. If you were new to the Christian faith and have not been in church too much you might be thinking, “Get me outta here”.
So where do we start, Jesus did not mis-speak, he meant business when he said “Very truly I say to you.” So let us start with the “House of Bread”, the town of Bethlehem, the place of Jesus’ birth. We get a reminder of Christmas, Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. And what did the angels announce to the shepherds, the birth of a Savior for all people, who is Christ the Lord. The baby in the manger, the boy-child of Mary, a flesh and blood human being, is the Son of God, true God. So when Jesus spoke of his flesh he meant his true humanity. The Gospel lesson of the birth of Jesus is heard on Christmas Eve. The gospel reading for Christmas Day is from the gospel of John, which does not describe a birth in a stable in Bethlehem but announced “The Word became flesh and dwelled among us, full of grace and truth.” The Word refers to the very meaning and make-up of Creation, and that is centered in and with Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh who came to reveal God’s love for the world. This love is important for our make-up and meaning–we are beloved children of God created for a trusting relationship with God, life eternal with God.
Throughout the Gospel of John Jesus will speak of being true God with words “I am”, the very name God. When Moses asked God about who was speaking to him, God replied “I am who I am”. God is the great “I am”, always being, always living, always with us. As we heard earlier Jesus said “I am the Bread of Life”. Jesus is God in the flesh, revealing God’s will: Jesus is Bread, God satisfying our deepest hunger. To reveal how deeply God cares, how deeply God loves, how desperate one could almost say God is for us to know this truth, Jesus would obey the will of God the Father and go to the cross. Jesus would shed his blood, offer his life as sacrifice, as the Lamb of God who takes away our sin, and more than that, the sin of the world. Recently I read some journalist calling this world “demented” because of all the cruelty. We even have the expression of this world “going to hell in a handbasket”. In spite of all that troubles this world, the cross is the sign of God’s love for the world. God will not give up on this world, the world is God’s creation, and God is at work renewing and redeeming this world. No ‘hell in hand basket, but heaven in the breadbasket, the bread who is Jesus, the Savior of the world.
How does Jesus redeem this world? This is the gracious work of God the Spirit, for we are drawn by the Holy Spirit to the cross. The apostle Paul called the cross as proof of God’s love for the world. The cross, the sacrifice of Jesus, draws us for salvation, never condemnation. Jesus died to reveal love for the world, but he rose again to be the power of redemption, ‘setting-free’ power, setting us free from all that would prevent us from “tasting and seeing that God is good.” The cross and resurrection of Jesus shouts the gospel, the good news, “God is for us and not against us; nothing can ever separate us from the love of God so revealed in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Here is gospel good news that we can really sink our teeth into. Baptism is our assurance that the Bread of Life is available for us, graciously and generously every day. In baptism we are marked with the cross, the bread of forgiveness of sins, the separation from God caused by sin overcome by Jesus. The Bible makes it clear that your baptism, my baptism, is not a splash in the pool, but it is enduring because baptism’s power is through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Resurrection means Jesus Lives! He lives not only with the promise to never forsake us, but to lead us into the new creation of no more sin, death and evil. Faith in Jesus is solid trust in his grace to abide with us and raise us up on the last day, meaning participation in that new heaven and new earth where all tears of suffering will be wiped away.
In the text today Jesus promised life eternal in and with him, if we eat him. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them”. The one who eats the Bread of Life, Jesus, who came down from heaven to satisfy our deepest hunger, will live forever.” These are powerful promises we need to have faith, hope, and love during such trying times. Our gospel promises are ours to keep, and importantly, ours to eat. When we have Holy Communion listen closely to Jesus’ words: “This is my body given for you; this is my blood shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins. Remember me! Remember Jesus who will never forget you! Remember what you are eating and drinking, the very gift of Jesus for your salvation. Jesus comes in Holy Communion, present to feed you with the Bread of Life.
In the Large Catechism Luther heard questions people asked about Holy Communion, also called the Lord’s Supper. If people worried if they were not worthy, Luther said ‘this meal is designed not for the perfect, but for the unworthy, for sinners. This meal is for you. “And if someone wondered if they needed Holy Communion, Luther had a simple suggestion: “pinch yourself”. This pinch reminds us that we are not ghosts, but flesh and blood human beings dealing with the pain of the world. But we do not deal with this pain, this world alone. As we eat his flesh, drink his blood, it means we are receiving Jesus. In other words we are invited to abide in Jesus, welcomed at his table, confident that we are even at home in his grace, mercy, and love.