Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Drawn to the Bread

Sermon for Pentecost 11, Proper 14B, preached by Pastor Daniel Ulrich on Sunday, August 9, 2015.

    There are several things that are essential to life, and bread is one of them.  We need food to survive.  It’s one of the most basic of necessities.  We can’t function unless we give our bodies the energy and nutrients it needs.  When we don’t eat we get tired and lethargic.  We become sick and weak.  And if this continues for a long period of time our body starts to shut down until finally, we die from starvation.
    We all know that bread is needed for a strong physical life.  But it is also needed for a strong spiritual life.  Just as with our bodies, we must feed our spirit with the proper food.  If we don’t give it the nutrients it needs, it too will become weak and will die.
    But what is this food that our spirit needs?  What bread is required for a healthy spiritual life?  Jesus tells us that He is this food.  He is the bread of life that comes from heaven.  Listen to what He says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst….For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day….I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  And that bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn 6:35, 40, 51).
    Jesus is the food we need for life.  He promises that whoever believes in Him, whoever has faith in Him will not go hungry or thirsty.  Their souls will be satisfied forever, constantly fed and nourished with His grace and mercy.  Those who partake of Christ’s flesh, those who trust and rely on His sacrifice on the cross, those who receive the forgiveness of sins through His Sacrament, they will have everlasting life.  What great and wonderful news!  Could this get any better?  Yes, yes it does! This everlasting life isn’t just spiritual.  It’s also physical!  Christ promises 3 times in our Gospel reading today that He will raise up all who believe in Him on the last day (Jn 6:39, 40, 44).
    As believers, we will live forever in perfect physical bodies, raised up on the last day when Christ comes to judge the living and the dead.  Yes, it is true, that we’ll experience death here on earth before that day comes.  But this physical death is only temporary.  It won’t last.  Jesus conquered death with His death and resurrection.  Death has lost all its power.  Because Christ has risen from the dead, all of us who have fed on Him, who’ve trusted in Him, will be raised and will physically live with our Savior for eternity.  Praise God for this wonderful promise and gift!
       These words of Jesus in John 6 are fantastic words, a promise that brings much comfort and joy.  But they are also hard words.  They are words that don’t quite make sense, words that can be difficult to believe.
    The people who heard Jesus speak these words that day were really confused, especially Jesus’ opponents.  We are told that “the Jews grumbled about [Jesus] because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven’” (Jn 6:41).    They couldn’t understand Jesus’ words, nor did they want to.  They questioned Him.  Not His claim to be bread, but that He said He came from heaven.  How could Jesus say this when they all knew who His parents were(Jn 6:42)?  They were offended at Jesus’ claim because they knew Jesus was saying He was God, and this was blasphemous to their ears.
    Jesus answered these protests by saying, “Do not grumble among yourselves.  No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn 6:43b-44a).  The Jews couldn’t believe Jesus’ words on their own.  In order to believe, Christ said they had to be drawn to Him by the Father.  Even though they heard Jesus’ words first hand, they couldn’t believe.  Even though the people saw Jesus and His miracles in person, they couldn’t believe (Jn 6:38).  Faith in Christ was not of their own doing.
    And neither is our faith in Christ.  Like the people who heard Jesus’ words that day, we are unable to believe in Jesus on our own.  We are unable to come to Him by ourselves.  We confess this in the Creed every week when we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”  In the Small Catechism, we learn what this confession means.  It means that we humbly confess we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, or come to Him.  It means we confess that the Holy Spirit is the one who has called us by the Gospel enlightened us with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith.
    On our own we can do none of this because we are sinful through and through.  We are dead in our sin; all we can do is sin.  Our sin has darkened and hardened our hearts and minds.  It has cast a shadow over our understanding and separated us from God.  In the Epistle reading, Paul encouraged the Ephesian church to walk in the new life they were given, and not in their old life as unbelieving Gentiles.  He writes, “[The Gentiles] are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, do to their hardness of heart”  (Eph 4:18).  This is how we are in our sin.  In our sin we are ignorant of God’s grace towards us for Christ’s sake.  We are stuck in our sin, unable to come to Jesus to feed on Him, unable to trust in Him.
    In our opening hymn today, Blessed Jesus, at Your Word, we sung about this.  We proclaimed to one another that we are in the darkness of sin, unable to see the truth about Jesus.  Listen again to what we sang in stanza two,

All our knowledge, sense, and sight
Lie in deepest darkness shrouded
Till Your Spirit breaks our night
With the beams of truth unclouded.
You alone to God can win us;
You must work all good within us.

     In our sinful selves, we are left without the ability to come to Christ, to feed on Him and receive the everlasting life He promises.  We just can’t do it, no matter how hard we try.  We can’t decide to believe or trust in Christ.  We must be drawn to Him; we must be given to Him by the Father.
    And this is exactly what Jesus tells us.  At least 4 times Jesus says that those who believe in Him are given to Him by the Father.  Listen again, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out….And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day….No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him….Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me,” (Jn 6:37, 39, 44, 45).
    Those who believe in Jesus, those who come to Him, are those whom God has drawn.  But how does He do this?  He does this by giving us the gift of faith, created through the proclamation of His Word and the washing of His Baptism.
    God’s Word is a creative word.  In the beginning it created the heavens and the earth, and it has created faith in you.  In this Word, spoken by pastors, parents, teachers, and friends, God that Father has taught you.  He has taught you about His self-sacrificing love, shown to you in Jesus and His cross, where your Savior paid for your sin.  In your Baptism God washed your sin away and the Spirit gave you faith, faith that sees your Savior.  With this faith, you eat of the bread of life, you are given to Him, and He will never let you go.  You will be with Him, nourished and sustained, for eternity!
    Left to ourselves, we aren’t capable of coming to Jesus.  We aren’t able to partake of the bread of life.  So thanks be to God that He has sent the bread of life in the flesh to us.  Praise be to God the Father that He has drawn us to Christ and given us saving faith in Him, so that we may have everlasting life.  In Jesus’ name...Amen.

1 comment:

May Palmer, The Queen of Ivory Soul said...

Glory to God that we cannot believe in Jesus Christ in our own "reason or strength". That is because sinners that we are, we would be naturally inclined to take some credit for our Salvation. However, because we cannot believe in Jesus without the Father drawing us, He alone can take full credit for both His Merciful Forgiveness to us in Christ, as well as the Gift of Faith that lays hold of His promise of Eternal Life through Jesus. Amen & Amen!