The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

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“Bread”

John 6:22-35

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“When they found Him on the other side of the lake, they said to Him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’  Jesus answered them and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking Me not because you saw signs, but because you ate from the bread and were filled’” (John 6:25-26).  We may realize that the prosperity gospel—that idea that Christians should be rich and successful and smile all the time—is no Gospel at all.  So we may scorn those eaters of bread and fish who are seeking Jesus, not because they saw the signs, but because they had enough to eat.  They liked the physical sensation of full bellies, and they’re willing to use Jesus to get it.  But Jesus is not a wish-fulfillment magician, and in John’s Gospel His miracles are never called “miracles.”  They are always “signs,” because they point beyond themselves to this world’s Creator and Savior.  The signs of Jesus are always connected to His Word to show that human creatures do not live by bread alone, but by every Word from the mouth of God.  The greatest sign, the ultimate Word, is Christ on the cross.  And we say, of course.  Of course, Jesus is God, and those signs point to Him.  So we ridicule those self-seeking, belly-serving crowds.   But do their words ever translate into anything having to do with us?  Or are we simply observers, looking in on these stories from the outside—from a safe distance?

See if this doesn’t hit as close to your heart as it does to mine: “Do not work for the bread that perishes, but rather for the bread that remains into eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27).  Oh, we love the bread that perishes!  I do.  I love the stuff that seems to make life worth living.  I love my hobbies and my sports and the things I do in my “free” time.  I can’t wait until the NFL starts and I can do my Fantasy Football live draft.  I love the stuff that doesn’t matter or last, the temporary, the stuff I’ll forget about next week or next year.  I love the stuff that rots and breaks and goes down in value.  And I work for it; I put my time into it.  I labor for it.  Now, I know what you’re thinking, because I’m thinking it, too.  Those things aren’t bad, are they?  Just harmless fun and entertainment, right?  It’s not a sin to have hobbies, and play sports, and do all the things that Minnesotans love to do, is it?  Why do you ask?  You know why I ask?  Because I want to be relieved of my guilt; I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it with a free conscience.  I know I’m supposed to taste the bread that lasts to eternal life and see that the Lord is good, but my taste buds have become accustomed to other food.  I want to have the bread that perishes, and eat it, too.  There’s only one problem.  Whoever works for that bread, whoever spends too much time and money and effort pursuing stuff that you can’t take with you into the grave, maybe not even into old age, will die along with it.  You are what you eat.  You eat dying stuff, you die.  You chase dying stuff, it will catch you from behind.  But we can’t help it.  We can’t get enough of it.

But we’re here.  And we’re getting a different kind of bread here.  We taste this bread, and it may not have much flavor at first.  There wasn’t anything in Jesus’ appearance to distinguish Him from any number of other Jewish prophets.  Nothing to make the crowds think of Him as anything but a miracle-worker.  And everyone likes a miracle now and again.  But then Jesus gets a little strange, talking about Himself as the one whom the Father sealed; talking about Himself as the bread that gives life to the world; saying that whoever comes to Him, that is, believes in Him, that is, eats Him, would never be hungry or thirsty again.  And some, hearing those words, begin to acquire a new taste.  (Jesus is certainly an acquired taste.)  We were born with a taste and a love for perishable bread; but once you and I have been washed clean, it takes a while to grow into that new, clean skin—and by “a while,” I mean a lifetime.  It takes a constant, daily killing of our taste for the bread that perishes, and a constant, daily eating of the bread that remains into eternal life.  It takes work.  It takes, above all, the singular work of God: that you may believe in the one whom the Father has sent.  That faith, that trust, is the one divine work that changes the taste of everything else.  This work is literally the work of God, the work that God does.  He is doing it now.  He is showing you and me how much we spend—time, money, energy—on the bread that perishes, the bread that does not and cannot satisfy.  Somehow, we still think it can.  It’s like drinking salt water: it seems to quench your thirst even while it is killing you.  But God is also doing His other, main work: He is showing you and me how much He spent to give us the bread that remains into eternal life.  Jesus says: “My Father is giving you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:32-33).  Jesus is here, and He wants you to eat and drink and be satisfied—not just content.  He is your daily bread of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Feast on His Word; when all human words are silenced, His Word shall still remain.  Feast on His crucified, resurrected, and ascended Body and Blood; it is the food of immortality and eternity.  “He who craves a precious treasure/Neither cost nor pain will measure;/But the priceless gifts of heaven/God to us has freely given./Though the wealth of earth were proffered,/None could buy the gifts here offered:/Christ’s true body, for you riven,/And His blood, for you once given” (LSB 636:3).  “My Lord, You here have led me/To this most holy place/And with Yourself have fed me/The treasures of Your grace;/For You have freely given/ What earth could never buy,/The bread of life from heaven,/That now I shall not die” (LSB 642:2).

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/28/09

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