Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Bread Eaten by Faith. . . and the Mouth

Sermon for Pentecost 12, Proper 14B, preached on Sunday, August 12, 2018.

    Jesus said “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him."  With those words Jesus addressed those whom He had fed with ordinary bread multiplied in a miraculous way.  They saw Jesus as a bread king, someone upon whom they might depend to supply them with the daily bread that filled their bellies and sustained their mortal lives.  We saw Jesus resist this expectation and refuse to be such a bread king.  He did not replace their jobs from which they earned money to purchase bread nor did He replace the fields from which the grain was harvested.  He did not replace the mill that ground the grain into flour nor did He replace the ovens that baked that bread.  Jesus gave them ordinary bread in a miraculous way as a prelude to the bread that they could not earn with work or pay for with money or harvest from fields or grind into flour or bake in ovens.  All of this was to point to the bread of life which comes down from heaven.  That is, Jesus!

    Jesus surely is able to give and does give bread for the body.  We not only acknowledge this but pray it in the Our Father.  Give us this day our daily bread.  As Luther explained, 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.  As Luther reminds us, we pray for them not because we are in doubt that God can supply them or that He will supply them.  God certainly gives these daily.  God gives this 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.

    Now the Jews grumbled not because they found it unlikely for Jesus to be able to supply bread for the belly.  Everyone knew where bread came from.  You may not farm or bake but you know how to get such bread.  What got in the craw of the Jews was that this Jesus claimed more than the ordinary ability to give ordinary bread.  Jesus claimed to give the bread of heaven – and even more than that, He claimed to BE the bread of heaven come down to feed them until they hungered for nothing anymore. 

    Bread does not require faith but the bread of heaven come down from heaven does require faith.  Jesus insists that the Kingdom of God and its heavenly bread is not a matter of reason but of revelation, not of personal choice or decision but of the Father’s drawing and the Spirit’s prompting.  Only faith trusts the Word of God that Christ is come down from heaven by the will of the Father to redeem you and me all sinners.  Only faith trusts that what that Word says, it does.  Only faith rejoices to eat the bread of heaven that is Jesus Christ, here in this blessed Sacrament where our Lord give Himself to us still.  He gives Himself not so that we might avoid earthly labor for earthly bread but for the bread that gives eternal life.

    Not every bread that shows up miraculously can stave off death.  The manna that God gave to His people in the wilderness filled their bellies but it could not prevent those bodies from dying.  They ate and they rejoiced in God’s goodness but still they died.  Jesus alone is the bread of heaven that feeds us with eternal life.  Eat of this bread and you will never die.  The promise of Jesus foreshadowed in the multiplication of a few loaves and a few fish is not a better life made easier but a radical life the likes of which no one had ever seen before.

    No one needs faith to eat the bread that fills the belly but in order to eat of the bread of heaven that is the flesh of Christ, faith is the only way.  And not just for this sacramental meal but for the Kingdom of God in all its fullness.  Faith is how we recognize Jesus as this bread.  Faith is what gives us joy to acknowledge earthly blessings not as our doing but as the gift of God Himself.  Faith is how we meet the challenges of a life filled with injustice and evil.  Faith is what holds us up when every prop of life is gone and death is near.  Faith is what goes to the grave knowing that Christ’s victory is our victory.  Faith is what tastes and sees that the Lord is good – good in every way – even though our eyes do not see that goodness apart from the struggles of this mortal life and empty bellies and the shadow of death.

    Jesus is not here explaining beforehand the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist.  No, Jesus is  is laying before us who He is and what He is come to do.  He provides for us what we cannot do for ourselves, what we cannot earn He lovingly and willingly gives, what we cannot merit  He gladly bestows upon the unworthy.  Jesus calls us then to faith.  He calls us to faith as we daily struggle for daily bread in a world so different from Eden where vocation is work and work is both a gift and a duty.  Jesus calls us to faith when our bellies are filled over and over again but our souls remain empty.  Jesus calls us to faith when this mortal life gets in the way of a hunger for a heavenly life, when this mortal life distracts us from the forever that He has come to give, and when this mortal life competes for our attention against the everlasting life God has prepared for us through the death and resurrection of His Son.

    Jesus is not telling us that bread for our bellies is bad or the concerns of this mortal life are not real.  He is not saying that God is only interested in spiritual things and we are on our own in the pursuit of daily bread in all of its forms and shapes.  No, indeed.  What Jesus tells us is that if we work so hard for the things that do not last, if we labor so to pursue the food that satisfies us but for a moment, why will we refuse God’s call to faith, to trust in Him when eyes do not see and minds do not comprehend the whats and the whys of today, tomorrow, and forever?  This is a call to faith and nowhere is faith more needed than when we come to His House, to gather around His Table, and to each what He says is His body and His blood.

    The world insists that we live to eat or we will die.  Jesus insists that we eat to live the life that will never die.  If you eat, you will not die.  If you eat of this bread that is His flesh, you will live – but not as if this happens without faith.  No, indeed.  Our participation in the Lord’s Table is not mechanical or magical but a people of faith acting upon that faith, trusting the Word of Christ to bestow what that Word says and promises.
    “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."  Do we grumble or do we believe?  Some of the Jews said it cannot be as He says because we know Jesus’ family, where He came from, and besides all that, none of this makes sense.  Some of the Jews said it does not matter; unless we get our bellies filled, our wants met, and our wishes answered, God does not matter to us.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, faith insists:
    O Lord, You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
    Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessèd is the one who takes refuge in him!

    The appeal of Jesus is not to common sense or reason nor is it to the God who fills the moment but lets the future take care of itself.  The appeal to Jesus is to faith.  Faith that sees the Lord in your daily life and rejoices.  Faith that meets the Lord what He has promised to be found, and is glad.  Faith that trusts the promise of the Lord that He will never fail you in this present life nor will He fail to bestow upon you the life that does not end.  Faith that comes to this altar and eats and drinks the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation, in anticipation of the eternal, already glimpsed in this moment, but not yet given to us in its fullness. 

    So come. . . Come and believe. . . Come and eat. . . Come and live.  The Lord is good.  He keeps His promises.  He fulfills His Word.  He feeds you today with ordinary bread and He feeds you the extraordinary bread that is His flesh for the life of the world.  Come and eat and come and live.  Eat and live.  Taste and see the goodness of the Lord, whose mercy will never disappoint you.  The greatest saints of the Old Testament longed to be where you are – here before this altar to feast upon the flesh of Christ and to drink His blood.  But the greatest saints of old and even you and me have not yet seen, heard, eaten, or drunk the fullness of all that God has prepared for you who love Him.  This we take by faith.  Amen.

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