Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Ash Wednesday – John 6
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
As we enter this Lenten season, our thoughts and meditations for our Midweek services are going to be shaped around 7 “I AM” verses from John – seven times where Christ Jesus says, “I AM….” and then informs us who He is. However, remember dear friends, that this is a weighted phrase. In both Greek and Hebrew you would not need to say “I AM” – you could just say “I”. I a pastor. I a father. And in Hebrew, you would never, ever add the “am”, the verb. Why? Because in Exodus, when the LORD talks to Moses from the burning bush, and Moses ask how the LORD should be identified, the LORD responds, “I AM who I AM. Say to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” I AM was God’s own Name, only He uses it for Himself. And so, over and over in the Gospel of John, our Lord Jesus Christ uses this phrase, denoting that He is the LORD, that He is the Word of God come down to earth to win for us fallen men our salvation. And so what we are going to do this Lent is consider 7 of these statements, see what they teach us about Christ Jesus and who it is who goes to the Cross for us, see how His Words, how Who He is for us, shapes our lives. Let us begin.
To start, we have our Gospel lesson today. This occurs in John 6, right after the feeding of the 5000. Jesus feeds the 5000 using just the 2 loaves of bread and the five sardines. But then, Jesus has to run away from the crowd because they wish to make Him king. A few verses later, after walking on water, the crowd finds Him on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. And this is where we begin. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" [26] Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. [27] Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal." And here Jesus addresses the issue – people are thinking here with their bellies, thinking in terms of greed and selfishness. Were the people astonished that they had seen God at work for their care, or were they more concerned with what they were getting – did they care more about God, or the stuff that God had given them? Sadly, it was the latter.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, in German the beginning of Fastenzeit – fasting time – the time of the year when we consider our own bodies and their desires and hungers and lusts, and we beat them down so that we might rather focus upon Christ. Therefore, I ask you tonight, dear friends, to consider your own lives. How often do your own wants and desires drive you, shape you, determine how you go about your life? In olden days, the focus was on food, on gluttony – on the fact that it was often the belly that was splurged upon – but we are wealthy and rich beyond what our forefathers could have imagined – we live where we can have almost every whim of ours satisfied – the finest foods, the softest and nicest clothes, houses that would have been seen as mansions 200 years ago, luxury after luxury… and so often we will grouse at God if He doesn’t provide us even more luxury. Of this, we need to repent. Our Lord warned us in the parable of the sower that the cares and worries of this life, the desire for more and more can choke out our faith. Be wary of this, and turn away from stuff, from mammon – and rather behold Christ.
Why? Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" [29] Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." The crowds want to work, they want to do something to bribe Christ to keep the blessing train coming, and they miss the point. The heart of the Christian faith, the heart of the Christian life is simply to see Christ and believe that what He does, He does for your good. To see and know that He is your Savior from sin, the One who has delivered you from all evil and won for you salvation. Sadly, this is hard to do when our focus is upon the world. So they said to him, "Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? [31] Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' " Do you see what they do here? He has just fed them miraculously – nope, we want more. It’s a new day, a new meal is to be had, Jesus – whip it up for us. Likewise, consider what our life is like as Americans. Do we not crave the new, the exciting? We even wait with anticipation the commercials during the Super Bowl, we love watching how people will sell us the new, tell us we need more! To fight against this, to keep this desire from overwhelming us, this is part of the purpose of the traditional Lenten fast – so that we might learn to tell ourselves no, that we might learn that we do not live by earthly bread alone, or the newest I Phone or do hickey, but rather that we live by every Word that comes from the mouth of God. I do not command you, for in this I cannot, but I would encourage you all to consider what thing, what desire twists at you, and to consider foregoing it – telling yourself and telling it no… so that you might remember what is truly important.
[32] Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. [33] For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." [34] They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Their fathers ate in the wilderness, and they died. Those adults who ate of the manna died – they didn’t enter the promised land. And even the children who entered 40 years later – they still died. The things of this life, this world – they offer no true relief, no true security. We all die and are fallen – and these poor people look for nothing beyond that, nothing beyond a full belly, nothing beyond “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” This is all the sinful world can offer.
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But Christ is more than this world – our God is greater than just this fallen place. Jesus is the Bread of Life. He is Himself life, He is Himself the victory over sin and death, and He gives Himself to us to grant us His own life. Your God has seen the fallen, wretched emptiness and hollow-ness of this world, where rust and moth destroy, where age and time ruin and empty, where all turns to dust, to ashes – and in His love, the Bread of Life has come down to give you life.
It is interesting to consider bread. Bread was a punishment – in the Garden Adam ate of the fruit of the trees… yet after the fall it was only by the sweat of his brow that Adam would wrest grain from the ground to make his bread. That bread did not give life… it sustained it for just a brief time, and then Adam died. Yet Jesus is the Bread of Life – He knows that our works, our efforts can save us never, and so He comes down from heaven to restore us. As Adam would plant a seed in the ground so that it might grow – so also Christ Jesus Himself came to be planted in the ground on Good Friday, so that on Easter Life might spring forth. As we hear our Lord says elsewhere in John, “Unless a grain of wheat dies and falls into the ground, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.” And this Christ does – He brings forth the fruit of life on Easter – and He gives His life to us in His Most Holy Supper, where the Bread of Life comes to us under Bread and Wine, all so that we might live in Him both now and eternally. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. [39] 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. [40] 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." This is what Christ has come to do, this is why the Bread of Life has come down to earth, to save man from their vain and futile works, and rather by His own death and resurrection to give us life, to draw our eyes unto Him so that in seeing Him, in being drawn ever closer to Him and forgiven by Him by the Power of His Word and Spirit, we should have life everlasting, even life lasting through all eternity.
This Ash Wednesday, we repent. We repent of our desire and lust for the failing, fleeting things of this life, and we turn our eyes again to Christ Jesus, focus upon the Bread of Life so that we might learn to hunger for Him and Him alone. He is our life, our hope amidst this world of dust and ashes. Let us keep the fast in faith, keeping our eyes upon Jesus the author and perfector of our faith. In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen

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