Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The Bread that Divides
The sermon for Pentecost 11, Proper 15, preached on Sunday, August 16, 2009.
Every three years we spend three weeks in John chapter 6. What began for us with a question “What must I do to do the works of God,” and then led to the distinction between food that cannot stave off death and the food that has the power to impart life, now has led to opposition and rejection. Today Jesus confronts those who would reject His words. Like the child who is given good food and says, “I don’t want it,” so there are those who refuse the food of Jesus’ body and blood. Every parent and every child has had some confrontation over food – the food that the kids want and the good food the parents are offering. It is as familiar as life to us. Today Jesus speaks of the division caused by His words and His gift of His body and blood. Jesus offers us the one gift that can feed us forgiveness and life and we reject it. It is not what we wanted or expected. It is not only His gift we reject but Himself, the Giver.
These are hard words. No one, not even Jesus, says His words are easy on our ears or hearts. In the Gospel lesson Jesus does not back down when the Jews take issue with His words. He is even more blunt in response: “My flesh is real food and my blood real drink.” Even the disciples feel the tension. Those closest to Jesus admit that what He is saying is hard to swallow – literally. Our Lord does not ease the burden of His words but pointedly asks them – Are you offended by what I said? And some of them dropped out at that point; they turned away from Jesus. It was too much. The bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world became the bread that divides.
That is exactly the situation in the Church today. Today as then, there are many who are offended by Jesus’s words. They have rejected His Words as too hard to believe, too harsh and unbending, or too distasteful in our modern, sophisticated world. Now as then, they turn away from Jesus. You are not what we want, they say. You are not who we thought You were. Your Gospel is not what we thought it was. In essence, they have chosen the food of their own reason, desire, or will over His flesh for the life of the world.
Give us something easier to believe, they cry. Your Words are too hard. Give us some thing reasonable – something easier to understand, easier to reconcile with the modern mind, with the theories of science and the way people think today. Give us something that fits us better – the people we are today. There are many who wish to have no part of a Gospel with a cross, who refuse to admit sin is so powerful it requires suffering, and who fail to see a death so real it requires a resurrection. They have turned away and are looking for and finding a faith that better fits what they want. The hard truth is not only accepting what Jesus offers. The hard truth is that if we refuse to feast upon Him spiritually by faith and sacramentally in His Holy Supper, then we reject His Word, reject His promise, reject His grace, and ultimately reject Him.
What about you? That is what Jesus said to the twelve. What about YOU? Will you also turn away became of Me? asks Jesus. Jesus’ words so long ago cry out to us today who are tempted to find a church where the message changes, where the deity fits the modern mind, where religion is easier on the schedule, easier on the mind, easier on the heart, and easier on the checkbook. What about YOU? Will you also fall away because of Me, asks Jesus to us.
The disciples had thought this through a bit. This was not the first time they had found it hard to believe in Jesus and follow Him. So Peter speaks up for the whole group. “Lord, it is not like we have looked for a better faith but where? Where else can we go?” Jesus does not ask us to surrender our minds at the door when we come to Him. But Jesus does ask us to trust in Him, to place His Word and promise above our reason, understanding, and desire. We come to Him not with the blind trust of those who have not tested the alternatives but the honest trust of those who have looked around and realized – there is no where else to go. Like the disciples of old we stand before Jesus today and admit we have looked for an easier faith, a more reasonable Scripture, a more believable Gospel... But there is no other. Jesus alone has the word of eternal life. We can find all kinds of religions that offer the chance to feel good today but they cannot deliver eternal life, they cannot ease the terrible burden of our guilt, they cannot wash away the dirt of sin that stains our souls. Only Jesus. Lord, if we had any other place to go, we might. But we don’t. You alone have the words of eternal life.
So what is left is for us to confess Jesus only. To confess His flesh broken for the life of the world. His flesh come to us in this Sacrament to feed us life and forgiveness. In just a few moments we will confess our faith. Like Peter of old we come with all our doubts, all our fears, all our wisdom and we lay them down before Jesus. We have no where else to go. You are the one and only Savior whom the Father has sent, the bread comes down from heaven, to give life to the world. You alone are the Savior who gives to us His very flesh as our food and His very blood as our drink. You alone give us the life that sustains us now in the valley of the shadow and that gives us the life that is stronger than death and the grave.
Choosing a church is not picking out a good fit for you or your family. Picking out a church is not picking food off a menu or clothing that feels good on us or a chair that fits us like a glove. Choosing a church is looking at the choices, evaluating all the words, and finding the church that preaches that one Word that does not lie, that one Word that has the power to deliver upon its promises, that one Word that feeds your hunger and thirst in the Holy Sacrament, that one Word that fully and finally satisfies our great need born of sin and its death. Only Jesus is that Word. That is why we’re here. Like the hymnwriter says, “Here, O Lord, we see Thee face to face...” Here we hear the Word that is a living voice, keeping its promises. Here are heaven’s gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation won by His earthly suffering and death. Here is the water of life that washes us clean and the bread of heaven that feeds us life.
Lord, we don’t have anywhere else to go... Here and no where else is the Word of life. Jesus, give us this bread, give us Yourself always. Amen.