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Sermon for Pentecost 13 – Mark 7:1-13

August 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2012

Click here for mp3 audio 47 Sermon for Pent 13.mp3

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The sermon today is from the Gospel reading.

Even though we’ve been in John chapter 6 for three Sundays, in the way Mark tells the story, Jesus has just fed the five thousand, walked on the water and then headed west across the top of the shore of the Sea of Galilee into an area called Gennesaret.  It’s here that the Pharisees and the scribes from Jerusalem have come up to investigate this unusual rabbi who has healed so many sick people with His touch and there are even rumors He has raised the synagogue president’s daughter from the dead.  The Pharisees are experts in the Law of God.  They don’t just know it, they live it.  The scribes are the seminary professors.  These guys really know the Law; it’s their job to be experts in it.  And they take one look at Jesus and his motley crew of Galilean fishermen who don’t wash their hands before they eat and that’s enough to bring disrepute on Jesus’ ministry.

This is a classic example of Jesus being asked a question and His answer being more than the questioners bargain for.  Jesus is making a point about the Pharisees’ hypocrisy based on an obscure point from Jewish law.  Jesus called out the Pharisees for not providing for the physical needs of their own parents because their money was corban, that is, dedicated to God.  The law concerning corban was certainly in the Scripture but they missed the whole point of honoring father and mother.  That’s about like a mafia boss who takes great patriotic pride that he pays every penny of his taxes even though he’s engaged in murder.  The Pharisees and now the experts in the Law from Jerusalem are hard on Jesus because He and his disciples don’t follow a minor point of Jewish ceremonial law, hand washing.  He’s not pure enough.  Jesus gets no credit for casting out demons, healing the sick and raising the dead.  Jesus turns over hard on the Pharisees for being so scrupulous about keeping the law that they have lost sight of why they’re keeping it.

We Christians are typically hard on the Pharisee; it’s easy for us to spot their hypocrisy.  It’s always easy to spot the hypocrisy of others.  The Pharisees were earnestly trying to live according to the Law of God.  They were sincere in this attempt.  We need to get this right.  They were sincerely trying to live by the Law of God.  They knew Israel’s history well.  They knew that David’s great kingdom, Israel, had been divided and then destroyed and its people sent into exile because of the failure of generations of kings and their peoples to obey the Law of God.  They believed themselves to be the ones who would lead Israel back to greatness by following the Law, even to the point of appropriating to themselves the regulations for priests for ceremonial washing (Ex 30:17; Lev 22:4-7) and setting expectations for others like wandering rabbis and their disciples who claimed to be ushering in the kingdom of God.  The point I’m trying to make is that most of the time I think we read Pharisee and we simplistically think, “bad guy.”  But it’s not that simple.  The Pharisees are not so much bad guys as just pietists, that is, people who think they can live by God’s Law.  The Pharisees, in their zeal, miss the very God they’re attempting to serve.

We have the same people around us today.  There are Christians who believe that God would not have given the Law if He had not also given the ability to obey it.  They are the Pharisees of our age.  They teach that the Law remains in full effect.  It’s not the old Law that Jesus fulfilled and interestingly it’s not Christ’s Law either.  It’s a new law more along the lines of “Don’t drink, smoke, dance, or chew or go with girls that do.”  Obviously, this new law is not found anywhere in the New Testament.  Ironically, these are the same people who argue bitterly that God actually does anything in baptism and yet their law states it must be a full dunking.  Incidentally, guess what word is used for the washing of the dining couches here in Mark 7?  Baptidzo.  So baptize can mean sprinkle or at least splash, otherwise those dining couches would be pretty soggy seats.  This is how Pharisees of any age can get it wrong; by missing the gift of God’s grace.  They miss it not just in terms of a gift from God like baptism but in so many other ways they have successfully replaced God’s Law with a self-created new law.  God does not want us to fulfill the Law entirely on our own because that would mean that we would not need Christ.  Of course, there is a kingdom life to which we have been called; it’s the proper third use of the Law, which guides the regenerate in kingdom living.  And it is most certainly not, “Don’t drink, smoke, dance, or chew or go with girls that do.”  The moral law is found in the meanings of the Ten Commandments in the catechism.  “We should fear and love God so that we do not ____ but ___.”  The guidelines for kingdom living are defined not by us but by God Himself.

I said, it’s so easy to point out the other guy’s hypocrisy.  How about we look at a little bit of our own?  Let’s stay in the vein of the forth commandment, shall we?  How is that we who understand and confess so clearly that “we should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”  How thankful are we toward our parents?  This is a tough one for a lot of people because parents are people and people are sinners and when we are hurt because people sin against us, we feel justified in our anger toward them.  The question should be how can I honor in a godly way my sinful parents?  Many times children far into the same trap as the Pharisees here and fail to take proper care of their parents in their increasing years.  Rebellion is not just a phenomenon common among teenagers.  “Oh, pastor, what are you talking about?  I love and cherish my folks so I must be keeping the fourth commandment.”  Really?  What about that other bit, the “other authorities”?  What about the people who fulfill roles of protection and teaching and governing?  How many of you bristle when we pray for the president and the governor because they’re not of your party?  How many of you bristled when we prayed for the ones prior to them when they weren’t of your party?  Wait a minute, I guess Easley was a Democrat.  Well, I promise if McCrory wins, we’ll pray for him too.  Will that make you bristle?  I’m not saying we have to approve of Congress, but I’m pretty sure that what we typically say about them, or the President, for that matter falls nowhere near the category of honor, obey, love and cherish.  There is a way to respectfully disagree with someone and their policy views without wishing to destroy them and send them to hell.  They would have no authority if it were not given to them by God.  Jesus said the same to Pontius Pilate. (Jn 19:11)  So here’s the question: do we often place ourselves above the law and above those given to us by God for our governance and protection?  Oh, and here’s the kicker, do we do it with religious pretense like the Pharisees did?  I mean do we justify our hatred of the President because he’s pro-choice or pro-gay?  Or do we justify our hatred of the republicans because they so don’t care about the poor or they make needless wars.  If the answer is yes, repent.

Repent of your sin and cling to Christ who forgives you all your sins, cling to the Christ who came not just to forgive you your sins once and then demand you adhere to a new Law.  Cling to the Christ who doesn’t demand your piety so much as gives you His and lets you participate in it.  This is the grace of God in Christ that the Pharisees old and new constantly miss.  Jesus came and in His perfect life and ministry worked a pure righteousness under God’s Law, a righteousness that He freely gives to us.  We neither warrant it nor deserve it but it is ours as His free gift to us.  This is the purity He has extended to you.  He does it simply by His Word spoken by a man whom He has chosen and placed here to do just that.  He does it by washing away your impurity in Holy Baptism and by renewing that Baptism daily whenever we remember what He did for us on His cross and trace that cross over ourselves.  The legalists see the world as a source of impurity from which they must always wash their hands.  Jesus, the holy one of God, who cleansed lepers, forgave sins, restored the impure woman, raised the unclean corpse, and cast out unclean spirits, not only sees no threat from the world but recognizes the opportunity to extend His purity to others.  (Beale, 162)  We can act in His righteousness and extend the purity He has given us to others, to honor and serve, love and cherish those people, even pray for those broken, fallen people placed there by authority from above.

Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees is not so much their attempt to fulfill the Law of God but in their doing it failing to see the big picture.  What has Jesus been doing but forgiving sin, healing sicknesses, and restoring wholeness and thereby spreading His purity to others?  But Jesus doesn’t wash his hands.  He takes all that impurity into Himself and He walks all the way from Galilee to Jerusalem where He goes to the cross to put that impurity to death.  And all your impurity dies there on the cross at Calvary.

We do not generate our own purity.  Jesus gives you His.  Rejoice in the purity He shares with you.  That’s how you can honor your father and mother and the other authorities.  Rejoice in the purity He gives you and extend it to others.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all our understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Sermon for Pentecost 13

August 20, 2012 Leave a comment

John 6:51-69

Augustana, 2012

Click here for mp3 audio 46 Sermon for Pent 12.mp3 .

Note: there was quite a bit of difference between the manuscript and what got preached.  

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The sermon comes from the Gospel reading for today, the end of what we call Jesus’ bread of life sermon.  “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.”  And toward the end He says again, “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Jesus’s words here are easy and yet awkward, simple and yet profound, gentle and yet hard to listen to.  But in Jesus words here there is life, salvation and forgiveness for us today.

Remember that Jesus sermon here on the bread of life comes the next day, perhaps even the next morning after He had miraculously multiplied the five loaves and the two fishes to feed the five thousand plus.  The crowd who followed after him might even still be partially full from yesterday’s meal and yet they are antagonistic toward Jesus because while they have had their bellies filled they still cannot see the real reason behind what Jesus did.  They are somewhat familiar with what had happened to the people of Israel in the wilderness when they ate manna for forty years, but it’s not clear in their mind who provided it.  They’ve missed the connection between Jesus feeding the five thousand in the wilderness and the Lord feeding Israel in the wilderness.  They’ve missed it because I don’t think they’re looking for it.

I think sometimes we do something similar.  I think we look back on the people of Israel in the wilderness and we think that they lived lives as slaves to the Law of God.  And maybe even hold a similar view of the Jews of Jesus’ day.  These are rather one-dimensional and very inaccurate.  The real sin of the people of Israel and the Jews in Jesus day is the same sin in us.  Instead of living lives as former slaves rescued from that slavery by an almighty God, we live lives of religion.  One gets the sense that Israel did not joyful go and gather their heaven-sent manna every day.  I would imagine there’s only so many ways to fix manna casserole.  I don’t get the sense from the reaction of the Jewish crowd here that they are Jews who are living in the eager expectation of the coming of the Son of God Most High, as Messiah and King.  Religion has taken over and led the people into lives of trying to live not just the Ten Commandments but all 613 commandments of the ceremonial law.  I say we do the same thing because we do.  I don’t get the sense from many Christians I meet that we are keen to receive the gifts of Jesus Body and Blood each Lord’s day or that we are eagerly awaiting Jesus’ return in glory.  Here’s what I see far too often.  I see a business as usual attitude about nearly everything and it’s sinful.  It’s an awkward feeling that comes over us when we realize that the things we thought were good about our religion have been leading us away from the true God.

Dear friends, if Jesus is who He says He is, then we should be doing everything we can to be here where He gives Himself.  Jesus says here, “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.”  We should be here not because we have to but for a very different reason because we get to.  The Lord plainly spoke to the people of Israel at Sinai, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.”  I teach what Doctor Luther taught: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”  In too many other churches that call themselves Christians, the Third Commandment has replaced by another sort of ceremonial law.  You might or you may know people who follow many of these laws.  “You can be a Christian and not go to church.  What really matters is what you believe in your heart.”  This is a lie form the prince of lies himself, designed to focus you back into yourself, into your own heart as if this could be the place where truth and faith really lives in us.  Jesus was speaking about something a little different but it still applies here.  He said it’s what comes “out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Mt 15:18-19)  God does not turn us back into ourselves but draws us to Himself where He comes to us from outside ourselves.  His Word is read and preached here and comes to you from the outside in.  It’s the Word that strengthens faith.  “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”  (Rm 10:17)  Are you assured of what that passage means?  It means that the faith you have came to you as a consequence of having heard the Word of God.  We don’t generate faith; faith is a gift from God.  Hearing the Word of God read and preached strengthens your faith in the one true God.  Jesus is here speaking His Word into you and strengthening your faith.  “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.”  It’s a bit of a mixed metaphor but feast on the Word of God.  Hold it sacred and gladly hear it and learn it as the gift it is.

Jesus said, “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.”  I’m fairly certain that Jesus spoke here, at the very least, anticipating the Supper He would give.  Listen to the words of the table dismissal, “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen and preserve you in body and soul unto life everlasting.  Go in peace.”  I think the new hymnal makes an excellent tweak to the dismissal.  You probably grew up hearing “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen and preserve you in the true faith unto life everlasting.”  The new language suggests that there is something more than just spiritual going on here, there is something physical.  Eating and drinking the real, physical resurrected body and blood of Jesus gives life.  Doctor Luther talks about the benefits of the Lord’s Supper in the same way.  “These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”  If we were to reduce the communion to just a tit for tat reapplication of forgiveness we would miss everything the Lord is doing for us by drawing us to Himself.  And this is the key to understanding the Lord’s gracious provision in the wilderness of Sinai too.  The true God is not the God who tells us to fend for ourselves.  As a perfect heavenly Father, He graciously provides for us what we need in this body and life.  I don’t know a human father alive who does not take great satisfaction in providing for his children.  There are those who don’t but they are evil and cruel.  How much greater then our heavenly Father who takes pleasure in providing for us.  And His greatest provision for us is His Son Jesus not just to feed us but to give us life eternal.

I said that we need to listen to Jesus and believe in Him and that means taking Jesus at His Word.  The Jews of Jesus’ day could believe that Joseph and Mary’s Son had come down from heaven.  After this sermon, many who had followed Jesus turned away from him and no longer walked with him.  This is not much different than so many out in the world who not only are inclined to not believe in a God, but certainly not the God of the Bible who interacts so interpersonally with people, who became human in the person of His Son to die to sin and death and in so doing gain life and salvation for His creation.  He is, as Peter confessed Him to be, the Holy One of God, the One with the Words of eternal life.  Our greatest challenge is similar in that we fail to live as we have been rescued to live preferring instead another religion to the life given to us.  Jesus invites us with these words.

Let us pray:  O Lord, let us forever confess the same words as your servant Peter, “You have the Words of eternal life.”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Maybe this is a sign…

August 20, 2012 Leave a comment

…that I’m getting older.

So, I’m in the office this morning doing a bit of reading.  I’m actually procrastinating, but I’m calling it study time.  I saw a shirt at the ballgame Friday night on a kid that said, “I put the ‘PRO’ in procrastination.”

Any way, I inherited the library of a Lutheran pastor ordained in 1952 and in it is everything from “The Troubles” in Missouri in the 60’s and 70’s.  So I’m reading an old pre-convention piece, of the kind that are still sent out these days to delegates and the first thing I read is that the tone is almost identical.  But what struck me most is the issues are almost entirely the same, liturgy, mission, doctrine, polity.  It is as if Missouri has made almost no progress at all since 1965.  This was a pre-convention report for the 1965 Detroit convention.

Part of me says, “This is as it should be.  These are perennial issues.”  But the other part of me makes me wonder how futile all of it really is, even the parts we think are “crucial” or “critical” or “make or break”.  Like rearranging the deck chairs on HMS Titanic.

E.G.

There is still no coherent position in Missouri on “mission”; it changes with every synodical president.  People are still fussing about Herman Otten and Christian News.  There is even less an idea today about what constitutes a Lutheran Confessional identity.  There is even less unity in American Lutheranism today.  In my mind there is much that is incompatible between “American” and “Lutheran” and I hope to never be a part of a church that is more American than it is Lutheran.  There has been almost no progress toward understanding the diaconate nor toward bishops in Missouri.  Whatever form our polity is, it isn’t Biblical and it isn’t traditional; it’s a mutt.  Even the confusions between church and state are still quite vivid.  Overture 9-20 was written against the idolatrous forms of nationalism of the “My country, may it always be right. But my country right or wrong” variety.  The question was whether the convention would affirm the Christian belief that “God is the Sovereign Judge of all nations, ideologies and political systems, and to him alone ultimate loyalty should be given.”  I wonder if it passed.  I’m not sure it made any difference.

1965 to 2012.

I guess we should take comfort in the fact that the church is still full of sinners.

Come, Lord Jesus.  Come quickly.

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Sermon for Pentecost 12

August 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Text: John 6:35-59

Augustana, 2012

 Click here for mp3 audio 45 Sermon for Pent 11.mp3

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

As we get started this morning in the Gospel reading for today I want to draw your attention to verse, 44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  That will be the starting point at least.

I must say, I’m still taken aback when I meet Christians of other ilks who insist on needing the credit for themselves for deciding to follow Jesus.  Tom Wright relates a little story about this:

C. S. Lewis was once interviewed by an American Christian journalist who was writing about well-known characters who had converted to Christianity during adult life. The theme was ‘decision’. He wanted to get Lewis to say how he had ‘made his decision’.

Unfortunately for his project, Lewis refused to put it in those terms. He hadn’t ‘made a decision’, he said. God had closed in on him and he couldn’t escape (though at the time he had badly wanted to). The closest he would get to using the language the reporter was interested in was to say, ‘I was decided upon.’[1]

That’s quite a different way of thinking than the question: “When did you make your decision to follow Christ?”  That’s their question and they are always quite pleased to tell me when they did and I think even more pleased to make me feel weird that I don’t talk this way.  I know where they get it.  They pull this theology out like salt water taffy manufacturing it from a verse ripped from its context, in this case, Joshua 24:15, “Choose this day whom you will serve.  But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”  It almost seems made for it, doesn’t it.  Until you realize how many ellipses are in it (look it up) and it’s in the context of an already rescued Israel, moving into the Promised Land after many of the battles to cleanse the land have already been won as a result of the Lord leading Israel.  The setting is certainly not at the beginning of a “faith journey” if you will, but rather at the end.  It’s about like telling a football team after they’ve already won the Rose Bowl, “Choose this day if you will celebrate this victory.”  Not to mention of course the Bible passages which explicitly state to the contrary that no one decides to follow Jesus, not on their own, not like they seem to make it out to work.  Jesus says quite clearly, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  This is enough to forever ban in our churches any hymns or songs that would suggest anything to the contrary.  To paraphrase Mr. Lewis, “We are decided upon.”  Thanks be to God.

I started with this point this morning for a number of reasons, but mostly because this is the point Jesus is trying to make to the crowd that followed Him into the synagogue in Capernaum.  We start our reading today where we ended last week.   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.”  And right from there we might get the idea that we can decide to come to Him, if we were just persuaded by the arguments lined up in His favor.  Except that He follows with, “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.”  Who believes?  And if they do why do they?  Jesus says, “ All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”  “Oh, see, you Lutheran, there you go, people come to him!”  “Right, except it appears from the context they come because the Father has given them .”  People have no more ability to choose to come to faith than they have the ability to choose to come into existence.  Physical life is a gift from God; faith likewise comes from the same place, God the Father Himself.

Jesus is talking to a bunch of Jews, Jews who are hostile to Him and His message and mission.  They are Jews who think that they somehow deserve to be God’s chosen people.  They fundamentally do not understand the grace of God.  I’m heading toward making a doctrinal point here but I’m going to do it by recounting some of the story of Israel.  It seems if one goes back through the Old Testament to look at how God chose Israel, the offspring of Abraham, remember, God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Jacob’s other name was Israel and he had twelve sons.  God’s choosing Abraham and his lineage to bless the world was completely arbitrary, that is undeserved, unearned, and unmerited.  It was, by grace as the writer to the Hebrews tells us because Abraham was a pagan living in Ur whom God called out of Ur.  We might seem to be pretty far from the synagogue in Capernaum but we’re not.  Jesus’ opponents thought they were pretty special although they shouldn’t have.  It was just 400 years previously that God had spanked them for 70 years of exile in Babylon.  Even in Jesus day they were occupied by the Romans and had a fake Jew on the throne, Herod Antipas, so no, they weren’t in some special place at the time but boy they sure acted like they deserved something better.  The Jews of Jesus day had fallen away from the Scriptures and into a blend of the Scriptures they liked and their own religion.  “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”  Oh they liked that bit from Deuteronomy 7 but if they had kept reading, they would have learned something of the grace of Yahweh, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

If they only realized their entire purpose was to be a nation that the Lord could bless so that He could bring forth His own Son from their midst and make good not just on all the promises He made to them over the centuries since Adam and Eve, but bless the world and all who live in it.  Then they would not have disputed the claim of one Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be sent from the heavenly Father, from heaven, to not just give bread for the belly but to be the bread of life.  They would have rejoiced that the Lord was finally making good on His covenant promise, the solemn oath He swore to bring His own people out of slavery to sin and death and the devil, not because they loved God; they were enemies of God, but because God keeps His promises.

To put the case quite bluntly, the Lord’s fulfillment of His millennia old promises are not depending on your reaction to them.  That you do believe, if you do, is because He has drawn you to the gift of His Son, Jesus.  Therefore we should strike from our speech any language that smacks of exceptionalism or that would attempt to give us any credit at all for any of it.  Luther’s last words were recorded to be, “We are beggars, this is true.”  He meant this, I’m sure, as a vivid metaphor for all of life lived out before God.  We are beggars some magnificent Gentleman has invited into His house.  He has bathed us and feeds us not because we are worthy but because He is kind and gracious beyond all measure.  Any other twist is just that, a view that cuts against the whole of God’s Word.

This reading today from John 6 presents to us Jesus, the bread of life.  I’m certain that Jesus is speaking narrowly here about being brought by the Father to believe in Jesus who was sent from heaven not just to give bread to some to eat but to be the true bread that comes down from heaven for all whom the Father draws.  Even despite all vanity and pride, the Father decided upon you; He draws you to Jesus and gives you faith to believe in the one He sent for you.  Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”  Amen.

Let us pray: O Father in heaven, draw us ever closer to You by the hearing of Your Word and the eating and drinking of Your Son that we might have eternal life.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


[1] Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-10 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 82.

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Sermon for Pentecost 10, [Pr 13]

August 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Text: John 6:22-35

This sermon was preached at the camp service at Camp Linn Haven, on August 5th, 2012.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The past few Sundays in church, we’ve heard readings from the Gospel of Mark.  A couple weeks ago there was the account of Jesus feeding of the five thousand and last week was the account of Jesus walking on the water and calming the wind.  Starting this Sunday and for the next two, all the action of Mark is kind of interrupted by John’s explanation of what it all means.  John means to show us that Jesus is who He claims to be, the savior of the world, your savior from sin and death to forgiveness and eternal life.

So this is how it went.  The day before the events in the Gospel reading today, Jesus fed the five thousand on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  After supper He put the disciples into a boat and told them to head out for the other side while He dismissed the crowd.  Jesus had gone up on the hillside to pray and was apparently praying most of the night and sometime between three and six in the morning, Jesus looked out from where he was and saw the boat and saw them trying to struggle against the wind.  They had been struggling against the wind all night.  And then he took off walking on the water of the sea to where they were in the boat.  As you can imagine the disciples were terrified because people don’t walk on water and they thought what they saw was a ghost.  But Jesus spoke to them and then got in the boat and the wind stopped blowing.  Our reading starts up on the very next day.  All this other is important because the crowd that shows up looking for Jesus in Capernaum were some of the crowd that had been fed on the other side of the lake.  Got it?  Good.

Why do they go looking for Jesus?  Well, if I invited you out to dinner and paid for it, you would be looking for me too, right?  And in this case, Jesus had done something remarkable.  He had fed five thousand men plus women and children with a miraculous multiplication of 5 small barely bread rolls and two small fish.  They go looking for Jesus in Capernaum and they find it very odd that Jesus is there.  How did he get there?  It’s a perfectly reasonable question.  Did you notice that Jesus doesn’t answer it?  He doesn’t even deal with it.  Jesus gets it right, “you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”  (v. 26)  He knows precisely why they followed after him.  It’s because He bought supper last night.  But then Jesus follows that up with something rather extraordinary.  He says, “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.”  He might as well be saying that to us.  In fact Jesus is saying that to us.  “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.”

So which food do you labor for?  If you work you probably labor to pay the bills.  “I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go.”  But more than that, what’s truly important?  That’s what Jesus is getting at.  They came looking for Him not because they believed He could be the long promised Messiah of God sent to redeem Israel but because He could help them with their present condition, hunger.  Don’t we often do the same thing?  “God, I’m sick.  Please help me.”  “God, I’m broke, please help me.”  “God, I’ve sinned.  Please, if you get me out of this jam, I promise I’ll be good in the future.”  We don’t often pray, “God you are the savior of the entire human race and all creation, I may be dying, or I may have to file for bankruptcy, or even though I’m in the midst of some pretty deep trouble right now and I throw myself on your mercy and I’ll face the consequences here and now confident things are right between us.”  No we rarely pray that way.  We would rather have the Jesus that makes us well, gives us money, and gets us out of the jams we created for ourselves.

The crowd of Jews that followed after Jesus even in the face of at least two miracles, one they did see but did not understand, the feeding of the five thousand, and one they didn’t see and understood even less, Jesus walking on the water and calming the wind, were not looking for the Son of Man, the One on whom the Father set His seal.  They were not working for the food that endures to eternal life but rather for the most ordinary of ordinary things.  What must they do to be doing the works of God, to be seeking after the food that endures to eternal life?  They must believe in the One whom God that Father has sent, His only-begotten, the eternal Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.  And they can’t.

They can’t believe even after the teaching of Jesus led that great crowd out of their villages into the wilderness where they could hear the word of God preached to them.  They can’t believe even after Jesus feeds five thousand plus in the wilderness just like the Lord fed all Israel in the Sinai wilderness with manna from heaven.  They can’t believe even after Jesus walks on the water like the Lord led Israel through the Red Sea and like the Lord Himself in the Old Testament tread upon the waves. That’s in Job, look it up, chapter 9, verse 8.  They can’t believe in Jesus.  Oh, we’ll believe, they say if you show us a work.  We want Jesus to day to them, “What work?  Aren’t you still full from yesterday?  Are you that blind?”  And the answer is yes, they are.

They were so blind to their own story, they thought Moses had provided the bread in the wilderness.  Jesus reminded them it was the Lord, His Father who provided the manna.

And isn’t that how it is?  We pray those prayers.  “God, I’m sick.  Please help me.”  And we thank the doctor.  “God, I’m broke, please help me.”  And we think we have earned all the money we made.  “God, I’ve sinned.  Please, if you get me out of this jam, I promise I’ll be good in the future.”  And we thank whoever helped us, the lawyer who was slick, the judge who was lenient, or the jury who believed our story.”  We’re still looking for bread for a day and Jesus is giving us His very self for all eternity.

He gives us His very self in these words today.  “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  Open your eyes and behold not just your problem solver, feast your eyes on your Savior, Jesus, the Son of Man, the eternal Word, there with God at the beginning before all worlds, sent into this world, into your human flesh, not just to heal your sickness but give you life, not just to take care of your earthly needs but to provide for all your needs, not just to get you out of a jam, but to declare you righteous and holy before His heavenly Father.  The great “I AM” who lead Israel out of Egypt, who led them through the Red Sea, who fed them in the wilderness who speaks now from a human mouth born of Mary, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

With a great twist of irony we can take the words of the clueless crowd and pray to Him who fills our every need.  “Lord, give us this bread always.”  Amen.

Let us pray:

O Lord Jesus, You are the Bread of Life; draw us ever closer to You, Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Funeral Homily for Irene Hughey

August 14, 2012 Leave a comment

6 August, 2012

Click here for mp3 audio 44 Funeral Homily for Irene Hughey.mp3

 

Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this afternoon is the Gospel reading you all chose for today from the Gospel of John chapter 10.  Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  This reading brings us heartfelt comfort and is a clear confession of the absolute truth of the Good News of God the Father sending His only begotten Son, Jesus, into the world to save it.

Although I have to say, this picture of shepherds and sheep runs the risk of either being too quaint and sentimental, or for many people, flat out insulting.  The fact is that sheep are particularly stupid animals and many people don’t like to be compared to sheep no matter how good the shepherd is.  They like very much the notion that they are in charge of their own affairs, “Thank you very much, I’ll handle it from here.  We’ll leave all that business about being sheep for the weak people.”

Irene was certainly neither of these two kinds of folks.  Irene was not lost in the  sentimentality of religion nor was she someone who would take issue with being called one of the Lord’s sheep.  Irene was a rather proper lady, a church lady.  I don’t think it’s unfair to call her proud, in the best sense of that word.  After all, she had a son who became a Lutheran pastor.  Her life was a life of church attendance and otherwise faithful obedience to the Lord Jesus.  Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”  The Lord Jesus Christ was Irene’s Good Shepherd.  He knew Irene.  The Good Shepherd laid down his life for Irene.  In the Bible, the word “know” means much more than just cognitive comprehension or understanding.  It speaks of a very close relationship between people or between God and His people or even between Jesus and the Father.  “I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…”  Jesus knew Irene as well as He knew His own Father in heaven.  Irene knew her Good Shepherd.  She knew the voice of Jesus; she heard it in the sermons of the many pastors in this pulpit over the years.  Jesus spoke and she heard His voice.  Irene knew the Good Shepherd had laid down his life for her.

I know I’ve said this before, but I think it holds for John as a Gospel writer.  John records some of the most intimate encounters Jesus has with people.  It’s in John’s Gospel that we see Jesus talking to the woman at the well and weeping at His friend Lazarus’ funeral.  “I am the Good Shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me.”  These are warm words, they are loving words; they are intimate words from our Lord.  Jesus the Good Shepherd knew Irene and she knew Him.

Still shepherds are not very common in our part of the world today.  Although in the Middle East, still to this day, there are shepherds as they are described here.  What’s more, this picture of a shepherd and his flock is a picture not only of Jesus and us, His sheep, but it’s a picture used throughout the Old Testament to refer to a king and his people.  This may only help to confuse the picture in our minds of what Jesus is saying here.  The people who are in the position of shepherd in our culture—political leaders, media personalities, even business leaders—too often are like the hired hand described by Jesus, looking only for what’s good for themselves, not looking for the good of the sheep with which they have been entrusted.  Partisan stooges, spin doctors, and business leaders governed only by their bottom lines are the hired hands.  Jesus paints Himself as a completely different kind of shepherd, as the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

In this passage Jesus is not merely trying to be sweet or sentimental but He is directing us to the ultimate reason for His coming.  If we were to flip back through the previous couple chapters we would see that Jesus has already faced death threats.  He knows that His mission into the world does not just contain the possibility of violence, it is assured.  Now I could wax profoundly for a while on why this is so but Jesus says it eloquently and simply.  The sheep face danger and the Good Shepherd doesn’t run away; He goes to meet it and if necessary, He will take upon himself the fate of the sheep.  In Jesus’ case, it was necessary and that is what He did.[1]

Dear friends, death was not supposed to be the fate for Irene or any of use.  Death was not part of the design plan God created from the beginning.  We learn in the Scripture that death comes as a punishment for sin.  Death is not part of the circle of life.  It’s not the natural end to life; death is the wages of sin.  The worst thing Irene faced was neither illness nor the rest of her life in a nursing facility; the worst thing she faced, of course, was death, a death that came as a result of her own sin, the due punishment for breaking God’s Law.  We don’t think of church ladies like Irene as sinners in need of God’s grace, but perhaps we should.  In fact, we would be far better off if we saw ourselves as God truly sees us, as sinners in need of His Son, Jesus, the one He sent out of His great love not to condemn us but through Jesus we might be saved.  Now please hear everything I’m saying.  Don’t just hear the part that we’re sinners; hear also the Good News we have in Jesus and rejoice in the eternal life we have received from Him.  Our reading this afternoon is directly tied into the best-known Bible passage, John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  But remember it goes on, “17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Dear friends in Christ, God so loved you that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever of you believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.  The Father did not charge Jesus to condemn the world with a fiery sword or lead an army of angelic warriors against the heretics and unbelievers and the people who despise the Word of God.  God sent Jesus to be the Good Shepherd, to call His sheep unto Himself.  And this is true for Irene because years ago, He called Irene by her name and claimed her as His own.  Just as Jesus was sent to do this for Irene, He was sent to do it for you too.  This is the Good News of Jesus Christ: that He was sent to save form death.  It was the Good News Irene confessed with her mouth and believed with her heart.  It is the Good News we proclaim today and that brings us comfort today and in the days and weeks to come as we look forward to the day of her and our resurrection.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


[1] Tom Wright, John for Everyone, p. 152.

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