12th Sunday after Pentecost - John 6:51-69 - August 15th and 16th, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
"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." What a fantastic statement! I mean, you cannot get any more Good-Newsy than that. Jesus here points to the Cross - your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, ate a bread of death, and they died - but I am the true bread from heaven, the true bread of life - and in fact, I myself came down from heaven, became Man, took on flesh - and why? So that I might go to the cross and die so that you can live. What a fantastic statement! This is one of those wondrous statements of God's great love for us - It's John 3:16 good - for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life! Great stuff.
And yet - what happens? "The Jews disputed among themselves, saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'" They miss the point. Now, it would be understandable if we today missed the point - we aren't Jews waiting for the Messiah to appear. Sadly, we aren't as grounded and familiar with the Old Testament as they were. Jesus is using Messianic language all over the place - He is using the Old Testament imagery of salvation - and instead, they are hung up, still, after three Sunday's worth of Gospel readings, on their bellies. If you are focused on acquiring the things of this world, then Spiritual things, the wondrous things of God will pass you by. They weren't asking the right question - rather than pondering salvation, they were pondering eating. But Jesus takes their question and runs with it. "Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink." Do you see what He does? Now, we have the benefit of hindsight - we can see the connections here to the Lord's Supper. O.K. grumblers, in fact, I will give you My Body and Blood - take and eat, take and drink for the forgiveness of your sins. What is the benefit of such eating and drinking - forgiveness, life, and salvation, for wherever there is forgiveness, there is life and salvation. "Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever." Well fantastic, Pastor - so why don't you just stop the sermon now, we'll go have the supper, and we call it good and all get out of church early!
Well, not quite. Because in our text, they didn't think this was fantastic. "When many of His disciples heard it, they said, 'This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?'" Did you catch it? This isn't the crowd that grumbles. This isn't the Pharisees or the Scribes who typically didn't like Jesus. This is "many of His disciples." These are the pro-Jesus folks. And we don't quite get their complaint. To say something is a "Hard Saying" would probably be akin to saying, "He's full of it" today. "Who can listen to it" is basically saying, "Who cares?" Jesus, you're full of it - why should we even bother listening to another Word You say? And these are many, a lot,of His disciples! These are folks who have seen Him cast out demons, they may even be some who cast out demons in His name! And yet now - eh, sounds wonky to me Jesus, I think You're full of it.
Jesus gives reply. "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail." If you are freaking out over simple things, like death and resurrection, or Holy Communion, what would be your reaction if you saw the clouds part and the Son of Man ascend? Are you so stuck thinking about your everyday fleshy, bodily lives here and now that you can't even ponder or think about the places and times where the Divine comes and interacts with this world? There is a Spiritual truth here - "The Words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." This is creation language - this is God working upon the world to create by His Word - you will be recreated, forgiven, restored! That's the point of why I'm here. And God has to be the One who does this - "This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father." Of course not - the Father is the One who creates everything. You can't be created unless the Father creates you - likewise, you can't have faith unless the Father gives you faith by the working of the Word and Spirit. This is the small catechism on the Apostles' Creed stuff right here - basics of the faith.
And yet we hear: "After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him." Oh. Think on that. Many of the disciples turned back. Many good folks who were attending church said "forget this, I'm outta here." They decided they had no use for what Jesus was giving. Here is Jesus offering life and salvation, Jesus promising resurrection, Jesus saying that the Divine takes on human flesh and blood and comes to be with you. Jesus saying that since the blood is the life, He will give you His own blood to give you life. And yet - nah, that's not how we want it. That's not what we are interested in. See ya, Jesus, we're outta here.
To the eyes of the world, this is a crushing defeat for Jesus. That word "many" in Greek means "the masses", it means most. People up and leave. This would be the point where if, God forbid, it happened here we'd be in full panic mode. Call the district, call the reconcilers, run after them and by hook or by crook get them back - if they want a dog and pony show we've got members with horses, round 'em up! If they want flesh instead of Spirit and life, well, let's break out the flesh! But that's not what Jesus does. Instead, Jesus turns to the 12 disciples, and He says, "Do you want to go away as well?" Are you going to leave too? Think on how sad a question that is, how heart-wrenching. Is everyone going to leave, now? Because, even if they did - you know what Jesus would do? Be the bread of heaven who comes down to give His flesh for the life of the world. He'd do exactly what He does on the Mount of Olives come Maundy Thursday night when even the remaining 11 flee in terror and do in fact go away. Jesus goes to the cross. He's determined to go there. That's the will of His Father, and that's what He's going to do.
Then Simon Peter gives an answer, an answer so beautiful that we'll sometimes sing them in Church. Alleluia, Lord, to whom shall we go - You have the Words of eternal life. Alleluia, alleluia. Well, Jesus, You have eternal life, You bring eternal life. It would be drastically stupid for us to go anywhere else - so we will listen to You. Jesus, when You say, "I forgive you," we will be forgiven. Jesus, when You say, "Peace be with you" we will receive peace. Jesus, when You say, "take and eat, take and drink" we will for the remission of our sin. Because we can't get that anywhere else than where You come to give it to us. If we want eternal life, we need to be where Your Word is, and there alone. You are the Holy One of God.
It's sad to say that today, in America, we are playing out John 6. John 6 begins with the feeding of the 5000 - and our country has received almost miraculous blessings. The wealth we have is astonishing. Food, medicine, technology - utterly amazing. And yet, what's been the trend for the past 50, 60 years? Numbers at churches across the board are declining. Even as God gives us an abundance of stuff, people run around after more and more of it, ignoring Christ and His Word. And even entire church bodies panic, and they falter. My dad was raised ALC - 50 years ago they weren't too bad - but today I can't go to the old family church back in Toledo, they've swallowed the liberal kool-aid, and instead of being focused on Christ, it's pleasing people and telling them what they want to hear in the vain hopes that they won't run away. Whole demonimations fall into utter tomfoolery that their grandfathers would have been ashamed of. And even in our LCMS, even in our own congregations - families fall away, there's too many other things going on, too busy, too tired, too this or too that. And what is to be our reaction, us here remaining? Shall we panic? Freak out?
No - Lord, to whom shall we go, You have the Words of Eternal life. Even as the world around us forgets Christ Jesus - here is eternal life. I mean, think on this, think on the wonder. God Himself is present in this place - we all know it. That's why we are here. Think on it - Jesus Christ Himself will come down to us and give us His own Body and Blood to eat and drink, right here, right now. We don't have to guess when and where - it's scheduled! It's so utterly easy. For our worship, we don't need rare perfumes and incense, we don't need saffron. Just the Word. Water. Bread and Wine - things that would have been household staples. Because Jesus, the Bread of Life, comes to us where we are, here in this world full of sin that surrounds us and tempts, and in this midst of this world of death, He gives us forgiveness and life.
My dear friends in Christ - do not be surprised when the world around you falls away, even when friends and family fall away. It's not about you or what you've done - the folks in the text fell away and walked away even from Jesus Himself. Rather this - in spite of this, in the face of this, remember the great and wondrous truth that Jesus Christ Himself is present for you here, and He gives you Eternal Life through His Word - be that His Word read from the lectern, the Word sung back and forth at each other in our liturgy and hymns, the Word tied to water in Holy Baptism, or yes, even the Word tied to Bread and Wine so that in this Supper Jesus gives us His true Body and Blood. The Bread of Life comes down from heaven and gives us life. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +