Friday, August 10, 2012

Jesus the Giver or Jesus the Gift

Sermon preached for Pentecost 10B, on Sunday, August 5, 2012

Both Mark and John's Gospels report the relentless crowds following Jesus, especially after feeding the thousands with a few loaves and fish. They rejoiced in food they neither purchased or prepared. But they knew this was not ordinary bread. It was miracle bread – the kind of miracle bread their forefathers had known in the wilderness. Their focus was on the result and they followed Jesus because they saw in Jesus the one who could make the miracle happen. The miracle bread was something Jesus did. But Jesus was the Giver of miracle bread. Jesus was and is this miracle bread. He is the miracle bread that satisfies hunger and feeds eternal life.
The disciples were ready to do about anything to get ordinary bread that arrives in a miraculous way but they were not prepared for the miracle bread that is Christ's flesh for the life of the world. Even more miraculous, Jesus insists that we can never do anything to get this miracle bread from heaven which is Christ's flesh. It is Jesus' alone to give and it is recognized and received only by faith. This discernment of Christ's body is key to receiving its benefit and blessing. Without faith, it is but bread to us – bread that comes in a miraculous way but gives us nothing but ordinary bread.
Every now and then when the day is long and busy, our family wishes that somebody would just come in and prepare us a great meal for us to enjoy. Maybe you feel the same way. Wouldn't it be great if we did not have to be concerned about the mundane of feeding ourselves or cleaning up after us. What would you do to have someone give you food you did not have to purchase or prepare? What would you do to miraculously take care of these ordinary things? Most of us would probably do just about anything.

We would do what Jesus commanded us. We might not like living by His rules but if we could get what we wanted, we probably would make the sacrifice. We would give up our favorite things and take on the things we find most distasteful. We might not like losing out on our favorites and we might have to force ourselves to do what we do not want, but we might just do it in order to be relieved of these earthly cares and responsibilities.
We would do anything and everything to get ordinary bread in a miraculous way, what would we do for miraculous bread that comes in an ordinary way? Here is the rub. In order to get this miracle bread in an ordinary way, we cast aside our works, our sacrifices, and our efforts. What Jesus asks of us is simply faith. Even this faith comes as the fruit of God's work in us, the work of the Spirit who teaches our fearful hearts to trust.
Now these same people would do anything for a sign. Their lives were filled with uncertainty and they were always looking for some hint from God to show them the way. They also felt they deserved such a clue. After all, their ancestors got manna in the wilderness. They got a sign. Before they gave up all to trust in Jesus, the least He could do was to give them the kind of sign that the Israelites got wandering their way to the promised land.
So they asked for a sign – some down payment on the future with a little sign, a little miracle, to make it easier to meet Jesus on the turf of faith for the big miracle. Show us a sign and we will believe and we will follow. But here is the problem. We see in Jesus the Giver of good things and the Worker of miracles and the Doer of signs to help out fearful followers. In this way we are just like the people that followed Jesus. We do not see Jesus as the miracle or the bread of life. We see Jesus as the miracle doer, the giver of the Bread of Life. So we come to Jesus seeking His works but not Him.
What Jesus said that is so shocking is that HE is the Bread of Life. Jesus is the miracle. Jesus is the sign. Jesus is the gift. Jesus does not give signs – He is the sign. Jesus does not give miracle bread – Jesus IS the miracle bread come down from heaven to give life to the world. Jesus does not give us good gifts – Jesus is the good gift of God who forgives our sins, who restores our lost lives, who clothes us in holiness, who raises us from this body of death to life everlasting. Jesus is not here as the dispenser of God's grace and bread and gifts – Jesus IS grace embodied, the bread of life, and hope's gift.
The crowds that followed Jesus were glad to eat what they had not purchased or prepared. "Give us this bread all the time!" But Jesus is no bread king who comes to relieve us of what is ours to do. He is come to do for us what none of us can do for ourselves. He is come to lead us into the kingdom of God, to forgive our sins, to restore our fallen lives, and to redeem us from death to life eternal. Without faith all we want from God is bread, plain old bread, a full belly and a well satisfied life that we did not have to work for, earn, or make happen. But with faith, what we see and what we seek by the Spirit's guidance is not the gift but the Giver Himself, the real gift.
Faith prays, "Lord, give us this bread always" – the miracle bread that is Jesus Himself. And where do we get it? You cannot pay for it with works or earn it with effort or merit it by worth. The miracle bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world is available only here — at the Table of the Lord. Jesus comes and gives us His very self to eat and be satisfied, to eat and live forever, and to abide in Him eternally. Faith teaches us to pray not for the ordinary things – this is our natural desire to get things we neither work for or pay for. Faith teaches us to pray for the extraordinary – for the Bread of life – Christ's flesh for the life of you, me and the world. Amen


Mark said...

Thanks, Father.

I especially love this line: "Jesus does not give miracle bread – Jesus IS the miracle bread..."

Chris said...

Your post is in contradiction to patristic thought, Fr. Christ is both described as the offerer and the offered or giver and gift (see the prayer at the Cherubimic Hymn in the Eastern Liturgies). It's a both...and not an either...or.

Pastor Peters said...

Me thinks you are not hearing me. Of course, Jesus is priest and victim of the paschal sacrifice. But that is not what I am speaking to -- rather, I am addressing the tendency to see Jesus as bascially the provider of good gifts instead of the Gift Himself. Of course He is offerer and offering but more than this, Jesus is the gift of God to us, from which all other things flow. He is not the means to an end but the end.