Saturday, August 08, 2009

John.6.41-51; Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 9,2009

So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 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.” (John 6:41-51, ESV )

(Outline from Rev. Francis C. Rossow, professor emeritus, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, Concordia Pulpit Resources, 16, 3)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Bread, it's everywhere in the text this morning.  Jesus calls the salvation he provides "bread" and He calls himself, bread from heaven.  What's it all about?  Why does he use bread?  We could ask that age old "Lutheran" question, "What does this mean?"

I like bread.  It's very common.  In fact, really like those dark breads like pumpernickel and rye, especially a nice ham and Swiss cheese on pumpernickel. I have to buy these kinds of bread in small loaves because my family doesn't share my enthusiasm for dark breads.  They like the white stuff.  Now I can eat it but it's pretty common.  I prefer something a little heavier.  It's not really the issue with Jesus metaphor though.  It's a very heavy teaching.  It's full of meaning and depth.

The really interesting thing about what Jesus is saying here is that it touches our lives in two different ways.  Jesus is talking about physical bread for a physical life.  We are fully aware of this gift of God.  We know exactly what Jesus means when he says that he gives bread that sustains this bodily life.  We gather around our dining room tables and eat meals.  Almost always those meals include bread of some kind.  We eat to continue living the life that God gave us through our parents.  We are born into a physical life.  We breathe, we laugh, we communicate, we cry.  St. Paul quoted one of the Greek poets when he said to the people listening to his sermon in the Areopagus,  "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28 )  We are live, living beings that need daily bread to live.  And God provides it for us.  In a sense it is bread from heaven, even though God uses farmers, bakers, truckers, and grocery store clerks to bring it to us.  We ask God to continue giving us what we need every time we pray the Lord's Prayer.  Martin Luther's words in the Small Catechism say it like this:

Give us this day our daily bread.

What does this mean?

God certainly gives 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.
What is meant by daily bread?

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.

Now we all know all too clearly that this physical life doesn't last forever.  I was recently told that death is something that we all have to face.  And that's true.  The physical life that God gives us is going to come to an end. This end isn’t a natural part of life either. It is imposed on us by the curse of sin.

That's the first part of what Jesus is talking about here in this text.  But he's talking about another kind of life that God give, too.  He gives a spiritual life.  We have to be born into this life also.  Jesus says that this life begins when we are born again.  In fact, he says that begin born again is absolutely necessary for beginning this spiritual life.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5, ESV)

When we come to faith either through the water poured on our heads in Holy Baptism, or when we hear and believe the Good News about Jesus life, death and resurrection for us, we are born again. We have a new spiritual life.  Just like our physical life, our spiritual life has attributes too.  In it we live in holiness and love for all people.  We embrace God's commandments and keep them.  And, spiritual life needs nourishment.  That's the second type of bread that Jesus says he gives.  It's the "bread come down from heaven."  It's Jesus.  He says of himself that he has come to bring life "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10, ESV) The food that he gives is food for eternal life.  In fact the spiritual life that God gives lasts forever.

Now it's interesting that Jesus talks about this bread being His flesh.  "the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."  Right after Jesus says this you get a very logical question from the people standing there and listening.  "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"  And the logical answer is "He can't!"  "It's impossible!"  "It's even disgusting!"  But Surprise, Surprise!  That is exactly what Jesus does.  He says "This is my body, this is my blood."  "Take and eat it for the forgiveness of your sins."  In other words, take the bread of his body and the wine of his blood for your spiritual benefit.  Take it and your spiritual life will grow.  In the very special supper that Jesus gives us he does indeed give us his flesh to eat.  It is just like he says in John, the text for next Sunday's Gospel reading,

"For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink." (John 6:55, ESV)

This discussion of a "different kind of bread" show us that there is a different kind of life that has been given to us that needs to be sustained.  Our spiritual life needs spiritual bread.

Just as God provides us with our "daily bread" for our physical life, he gives us spiritual bread for our spiritual lives.  There is one important thing to know about that spiritual bread.  God knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows that we are physical people and don't always see the reality of our spiritual lives.  So he connects our "daily spiritual bread" with something physical.  We Lutherans call this the Means of Grace.  In other words, the ways and things God uses to bring us spiritual life and cause it to grow.

The Means of Grace do more than just tell us of God's great love for us in Jesus, they actually feed us, too.  To be sure they do give us information; Baptism and The Lord's Supper are great object lessons.  But they are so much more than that. They actually do what they show. We understand exactly what it means that God washes away our sins when we see a baby's head drenched in water.  In the Lord's Supper we have the makings of a meal; ingredients of food and drink.  We know what it means that his body and blood give us what we need to live because every day we have to eat to live.  And even the spoken Word is like food for us.  Physically as the mouth produces sound it travels through the air on sound waves and strikes our eardrums and brings us life.  These great gifts are more like bread than a book.  They are much more like sliding up to the table than walking in the library.

Through these means, these ways, God delivers to us sinners, the forgiveness of sins that we need more than we need even physical bread. All that Jesus did for us in his life, death and resurrection is given directly to us through the Means of Grace. That’s what Jesus is saying. The words that Our Lord uses in this text for today really make a strong connection to how God causes our faith to grow through the Means of Grace.  He uses words like bread, flesh, ate, eat and life.

It is this very physical nature of the Means of Grace that have some of our Christian brothers and sisters confused. They have a problem with God working through physical things. They think that God should work only in spiritual ways, inside of us, instead of outside of us. But our whole salvation is based on the idea that in Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary, God became a physical human being. He shed real blood on the cross. His real physical body was spiked to the tree. Jesus saves us through a real, physical, human body. He works faith in us in no other way then by being God’s Word delivered to people through real physical, earthly things; water and bread and wine and the spoken word.

And there's another thing that Jesus does by talking about bread for Spiritual life.  He makes it clear what faith is.  You see, while Christian faith surely includes knowing certain things, like who Jesus is and what he did.  Christian faith is more than just something that resides in your head.  Christian faith is a life!  It lives, it breaths, it involves our whole being; our emotions and our intellect.  Just look at how Jesus puts together the idea of believing an eating.  “He who believes has everlasting life,” and “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” And here in the gospel of John Jesus goes even further "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

So we eat the bread come down from heaven and live.  The Holy Spirit uses Jesus words about Bread to cause our faith, our Spiritual Life to grow.  You can't say it any better than Isaiah:

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”  (Isa 55:2-3, ESV)


The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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