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Sermon for Pentecost 12

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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