Monday, August 13, 2012

Proper 14 of Series B (John 6:35-51)

“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.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ, our text this morning begins with the same beautiful proclamation of Jesus that ended our text last week. “I AM the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” What a promise! Jesus is Himself the bread that we need, the bread that endures, the bread that actually gives life. By partaking of Jesus, we have life, eternal life! Those who feast on Jesus will live even though they die! We can rejoice with the words of our Introit for today, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him have no lack!” No lack. That is what Jesus is talking about when He calls Himself the Bread of Life. No lack—of anything. No hunger, no thirst. In eternity, such things will be no more. Jesus comes that we will be filled, and filled forever. Taste and see that the Lord is good—those who fear Him have no lack!

But I have plenty of lack. I lack righteousness, I lack holiness, I lack faith, I lack confidence, I lack all that I truly need. I hear of the Bread of Life, that all who come to Him are filled, but I feel empty. How can God love me? He knows my sin, better than anyone else. He knows my other gods, He knows how my worship is empty, my prayers weak. He knows the anger I harbor toward others, the lack of respect I have for authority, for the things that belong to others. He knows how my eyes and mind wander, thinking unspeakable things of those who don’t even know it. On the outside, I may seem alright, but inside I am a cesspool. He knows how I’ve failed, how I’ve let down those who trusted me, how I’ve disappointed them time and time again. Those who were in trouble I failed to help, and those who tried to help I have hurt. I have driven away those who loved me! How can they forgive me, how can God forgive me? I am trapped in a cycle of sin, and I can’t escape, I can’t free myself. I don’t feel worthy to go to church; I know how unclean I am, even if no one else does. How can I worship Him, how can I sit amongst those who have it all together, when I know who I am, I know what I have done? What would God want with me?

I hear the absolution on Sunday morning, but I don’t believe it. If that pastor knew what I’ve done, what evil thoughts enter my heart even in this holy place, he wouldn’t say “I forgive you all your sins.” Those words are for everyone else around me, but not for me. How can God forgive someone like me? There are some sinners that are beyond help, beyond forgiveness, and I think I’ve gone too far over the line. Doubts fill me; I doubt God’s existence, I doubt His love and grace. I feel like I’m losing my faith, not because I want to, but because I don’t deserve it. My grip on Jesus is faltering, it is failing; I’m losing hold of His garments, and it seems that it is only a matter of time before He shakes off His robes and I fall. I am dwelling in darkness, thick darkness, with my sins, failures, and overwhelming guilt pressing down on me. The Psalmist says, “Those who fear Him have no lack.” Well, I must not fear Him, because I have plenty of lack; I am not full, but empty, desperately empty. How can God love me?

“You don’t know if I love you?” God asks. “I have loved you from eternity.” God’s will, His eternal decree, is that He would love you in Christ. Jesus said, “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.” Before you did anything; before you believed, before you sinned, before you let anyone down or hurt your neighbor, He loved you. He loved you upon the cross two thousand years ago. Not one of us was there; the cross is completely outside of us, apart from us. It isn’t a figment of our mind; it isn’t subject to our changing feelings, it isn’t even affected by the sins we commit. The moment of the cross stands true for eternity as an objective fact declaring through the centuries its powerful message: God loves you! But it goes even beyond that. From eternity God has loved you. Since before time began, He has chosen you for salvation and has ordered all things to that end. That is His good and gracious will. Everything from the preservation of the promise in the Old Testament to the fulfillment of the promise in Christ’s death and resurrection to the application of that promise to you in Word and in Sacrament was set in place by God in His eternal will. But, you say, I have no faith! How can I be chosen by God? I certainly don’t feel like it!

“Your faith is failing?” God asks. “Your faith is not your own, it is my work within you.” Jesus declares, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” No human work, no human effort, no human ability or power can bring us to Jesus. Only the drawing of God can create and sustain faith in human hearts; hearts that are opposed to Him, that don’t wish to be drawn to Him. He opens hearts and minds to believe, using the means He has instituted, namely the Word and Sacraments. The proclamation of the Word, our Baptism into His Name, and His Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper enlighten our darkened hearts, teaching us the things of God, as Jesus says, “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.” If faith were your own work, you would have reason for despair, but it isn’t your work at all, it’s God’s work. You are taught by God, taught through His Word, taught through His precious Sacraments; taught who God is for you. He teaches you to think of Him rightly, that He is your Savior, Helper, and Comforter; He teaches you that in Jesus you have a God who loves you, who acted to save you. He teaches you that you have a God that demands nothing, but gives all, even the faith that receives the gifts. But, you still ask, how can I keep this faith? I feel like I’m falling!

“You are losing your grip on me?” Jesus asks. “My grip on you is stronger still.” He declares, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” Jesus promises that He will not cast you out! You are in His loving hands, wrapped in His embrace, and He will not let you go. You can jump from His hands in arrogance and open rebellion, as the Scriptures warn, but He will not cast you out. If you fear that you are falling, if you are struggling to hold on, know this: Jesus will not abandon you! He will not let you go. That, too, is His Father’s will. “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.” Jesus is in this for the long haul. Those whom God has given to Him, those whom He has drawn to the Son in faith, are to be kept safe until the Last Day. For on that day, the One who walked out of the grave triumphant over death will raise you and all the Father has given to Him. Because your redeemer lives, you too will live, risen from the grave to live forever before Him. But, you finally protest, how can I know that you have forgiven me? My sin is too much to be forgiven!

“You don’t know whether you are forgiven?” Jesus asks. “My forgiveness is greater than your sin.” He knows your sin, He knows your failures better than anyone else, indeed, better than yourself. And He still died for you. He died for you knowing what sins you would commit, He died for you fully aware of how you would hurt others and fail to help those in need. He died for you knowing how you would sin against Him in thought, word, and deed. He died for every sin that you have committed and every sin that you will commit. His forgiveness is greater than your sin. The cross and empty tomb prove it. They stand as eternal declarations of His love. The stole upon your pastor declares it. It proclaims that you can trust the Absolution from his lips, for he has been sent to give forth Christ’s forgiveness, not his own. Do not look to yourself to see if God loves you or forgives you. All you will see there is sin, suffering, and corruption. Look instead to the cross and the empty tomb; look to the Word and the Sacraments. There, in those places, and only in those places, are you told what God thinks of you. Your God loves you, for as Saint Paul declares, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

So partake of the Bread of Life in faith, in the assurance that God has not abandoned or forsaken you. Partake of the Bread of Life knowing that you have a God who loves you. This Bread satisfies spiritual hunger and thirst; this Bread satisfies doubt, assures troubled consciences, and calms trembling hearts, for this Bread is given with a sure and certain promise: “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.” You know that your Redeemer lives, and because you partake of Him in faith, because you have been given to Him by the Father, drawn to the Son by God Himself, you too will live forever. As Jesus repeats over and over again in our text, you will be raised up on the Last Day. That is His promise, His sure and certain declaration to you in this world of sin and suffering: that He will surely raise you up with the final trumpet to live where hunger and thirst will be no more. “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.” In the Name of Jesus, the Bread of Life come down from heaven to give life to the world, Amen.

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