September 25, 2018- Jesus is the Bread of Life, and God Does the Choosing

Jesus bread of lifeJesus 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 I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  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.  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.”

 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 6:35-51 (ESV)

Who chooses God’s people? Many of us have probably experienced Christian traditions that teach such ideas as, “you have to ask Jesus into your heart,” or pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to become a Christian. These prayers aren’t exactly wrong, but the emphasis in these traditions is on us humans- on our decisions and our fickle emotions rather than on the sovereignty and omnipotence of God. The end result of such teaching is often doubt and despair. How can we know we are really children of God?  How many times can we pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” or stay awake nights wondering what we can do to be good enough for God, or wondering if Jesus really is in our hearts? Unless we know that our faith is a gift given by God to us, we will have that lingering sense of inadequacy that comes from knowing we can’t be good enough to earn our way into God’s favor and salvation.

It is truly Good News when Jesus reveals to us in John’s Gospel that He is the eternal Bread of Life.  It is the Father Who draws us to Jesus through the means of grace- through preaching of the Word (Romans 10:17,) through the waters of baptism, and in the Body and Blood given in Holy Communion.

When we look at the history in Scripture, we discover that all along that God does the calling, and the choosing. God created Adam and Eve from the dirt of the ground. (Genesis 1-2) God chose Jonah to go to Nineveh to tell the people to repent, even though Jonah didn’t want to. Jonah even tried to go the other way but failed miserably. God wanted Jonah to go, and God made sure Jonah went! (Jonah 1-4)  God chose David to be king of Israel over his older, taller and more formidable brothers. (1 Samuel 16:1-13) God chose the Pharisee Saul- a murderer of Christians- by knocking him off his high horse and transforming him into the apostle Paul who wrote a good deal of the New Testament. (Acts 9:1-18.)

The fact that God chooses His people is good news. Our salvation and status as children of God have nothing to do with our feelings or our behavior. God is the one doing the acting- specifically Jesus by His death for us on the Cross.  We are the ones being acted upon.

When a child is conceived the child had nothing to do with that process or with that decision. No person has come into being by asking their parents to make it happen! When a child is adopted it is still the parents making the choice, not the child. The same can be said for us when we become children of God.  God is the one putting the means of grace out there- by sending His people out preaching the Word, by bringing children (and adults) to the font for baptism, and bringing His people together at the table for Holy Communion.

We cannot make anyone a Christian anymore than we can turn someone into a car by having him or her sit in a garage.  However, we are called to preach His Word, whether through direct teaching or teaching indirectly through our vocations. As we serve God as parents, grandparents, friends and mentors, we will spread God’s Word.  God is the One Who does the work.  Even when we don’t see results, how are we to know the way the Holy Spirit will use our witness?

When we hear God’s Word preached we are reminded Who is the object of our faith: Jesus.  We remember that as we read Scripture and as we hear preaching and teaching on Scripture that God is speaking to us.

When we are reminded of our baptism- as we pray in the morning and evening (or even in the shower) and when we take hold of the promises God gives in baptism in times of trial, we can take tangible confidence in saying: We are baptized, named and claimed as Jesus’ own.

When we come together at the communion table, we share in the real Body and Blood of Jesus, Who died to save us from our sins.

God chooses us. Jesus finished the work of our salvation on the Cross.

 

 

 

 

 

July 31, 2018- The Bread King or the Bread of Life? John 6:22-40

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On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.  So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 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.  Do not work 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.”  Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”  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.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

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 I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 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.  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.”  John 6:22-40 (ESV)

What must we do? Everything in the natural world has a catch. The most basic premise of psychology is that human beings have to have a reason to do things.  We have to have a motivation. Do we look at Jesus as a celestial Santa Claus, who will give us what we want right now, or as the God of the Universe, who has our forever-life in mind?

Many of Jesus’ early followers were after a bread king- someone who would provide them with food for their bellies. Bread for the belly is important, but the bread from heaven is far better and far more than just a meal for a day. Even so, how often do we trade the peace and solace found in Jesus for incessant worry about how we are going to get by?

Jesus points out that it was God who rained down manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16) – the people of Israel did nothing to earn or deserve it.  All they had to do was pick it up.

The bread from heaven- the bread of life– as Jesus refers to Himself, is free to those who simply believe that Jesus is who He says He is.  We spend our lives so worried about our temporal needs and what we need to do to meet them, while the very bread of life has already been given for us, to break the curse of sin and to sustain us in forever-life with God.

Even our faith is a gift from God, as we cannot come to faith of our own accord. This doctrine is explained in the Epitome of the Formula of Concord.  Our faith is derived from God doing the acting on us.

We learn from Jesus Himself: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 (ESV)

Jesus doesn’t require us to do anything. We come as we are- crude, dirty, flawed and broken. Sometimes we are brought to Him screaming and protesting, yet we are drawn to Him- in the waters of baptism, in the words of the Gospel (Romans 10:17) and in the Body and Blood of Christ given for us in Holy Communion.

God provides the bread. Just as the manna fell in the wilderness, we are given Jesus Himself- the bread of life. There is no catch. To be doing the works of God is to trust Jesus, to know that He is the one Way, Truth and Life. This is the faith by which God transforms us, the power of God that makes us “good trees” from which good fruit will come.

If we are to bring forth good works that are truly God’s will and from God, we can only do that by God’s grace and transforming power.

We are reminded to remember our baptism daily so we do not forget that God has named us and claimed us and made us His own. We need to stay immersed in the Scriptures, where we hear the words of the Gospel, which are the very voice of God. In Holy Communion we get a foretaste of the kingdom to come, a taste of the heavenly manna, and we are reminded that we are part of the body of Christ. We are also reminded when we come together for worship that we belong to God, and that He serves us with His great gifts.  God provides.

May 1, 2018- Consider the Lilies- Ecclesiastes 2:1-3, Exodus 16:4-5, Luke 12:22-34

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I (Solomon) said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 (ESV)

King Solomon, David’s son, the wisest man to have ever lived except for Jesus, had the opportunity to experience everything this world has to offer. Unlike most of us, he had riches, endless opportunities for pleasure, and anything a person’s heart could desire.  Solomon, however, did not find fulfillment in all the things and experiences that he had.

Solomon writes at the end of his life as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes, that pursuit of all of the riches and bounty of this world may seem exciting at first, but it ends up as vanity- a “chasing after wind.” The pursuits of pleasure, drunkenness and indulgence will also fail to fulfill us.  In some ways Solomon is speaking to us as a really good example of “what not to do.”  If anyone would have had the resources to buy his way happy, it would have been Solomon, but Solomon himself warns us that this simply is not possible.

When we derive our security and fulfillment from the possession of material things, more is never enough. We have no security and no fulfillment when we are constantly in fear of depletion or loss. The Ten Commandments warn us against worshiping things that aren’t God (Exodus 20:3-6) and against lusting after what other people have (Exodus 20:17.)  God knows we cannot find our fulfillment in the pursuit of stuff.

This isn’t to discount that we have very real concerns about how the bills are going to get paid and how everything that needs done is going to get done. God created us. God knows every one of our needs better than we do.  This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” so that we would rely upon God day to day for what we need.  We see this example when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and God provided them daily manna:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.  On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” Exodus 16:4-5 (ESV)

God who rained bread from heaven for His people will provide for us today, each day. Jesus reassures us of God’s provision:

And he (Jesus) said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.  Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?  Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried.  For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.  Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Luke 12:22-34 (ESV)

God doesn’t need stuff. He does know what stuff we need every day, and what stuff those around us need as well.  As we pursue God and pray for His kingdom to come, maybe we need to look at stuff and our own livelihoods in a different way.

We trust that God will give us our daily bread. We don’t have to be anxious or afraid of not having enough, because everything we have comes from the hand of God. We pray not only for our daily bread, but also for the ability to share God’s abundance with those who are in need.

October 13, 2017 -Surrender Our Burdens, His Yoke is Easy, Come to the Table- Matthew 11:27-29

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(Jesus said): “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:27-29 (NRSV)

The Sacrament gives us life-giving healing, comfort and rest. Like manna given from heaven to the Israelites in the desert, Jesus gives us sustenance and life and renewal for this journey on earth when we come together as a community to share His Body and Blood.

We all carry the burden of our sins, our sorrows, our trials and the weariness of living life on this earth. When we come to the table we are given a precious gift- Jesus in the flesh- taking our burdens and carrying them along with us.  The illustration of taking on a yoke implies that it is far easier to pull a load with two or more oxen rather than by only one.  When Jesus is walking with us, and we are (figuratively) yoked to Him, our burdens may not disappear, but they will be lighter and more bearable.  He gets us through our struggles and delivers us from the ones that would destroy us.  In the Sacrament of the Altar He comes to us in the most intimate way- His Body and Blood literally become part of us, body and soul.

While we should examine our hearts and minds before we come to the table and we should acknowledge and confess our sins, we need to come to the table to be nourished- and often, precisely because we cannot live up to God’s perfect standards.

We also come to the table in faith. Even though we really don’t understand the whole mystery of how Jesus comes to us in the Sacrament, we take him at His word. When He says, “this IS My Body, given for you,” and “this IS My Blood, shed for you,” Jesus means what He says.

For here He offers to us the entire treasure which He has brought for us from heaven, and to which He invites us also in other places with the greatest kindness, as when He says in St. Matthew 11, 28: Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…– from the explanation of the Sacrament of the Altar, Luther’s Large Catechism

For if you would wait until you are rid of such burdens, that you might come to the Sacrament pure and worthy, you must forever stay away. For in that case He pronounces sentence and says: If you are pure and godly, you have no need of Me, and I, in turn, none of thee. Therefore those alone are called unworthy who neither feel their infirmities nor wish to be considered sinners. – from the explanation of the Sacrament of the Altar, Luther’s Large Catechism