For the life of the world

Elim Lutheran Church/bwk 8.1.2021

John 6:24-35 & Ephesians 4:1-16

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.  May God add His blessings to our time under the Word!

In silence have a member volunteer to take ashes from Ash Wednesday and make the sign of the cross on my forehead, speaking the words, “From ashes you come.  To ashes return.  Live in the light of God’s love.”

We are not beginning the season of Lent.  Today is not Ash Wednesday.  It is the first day of August and we are deep in the season of Pentecost of the church year.  The season of Pentecost is when we focus on discipleship and spiritual growth.  

During this time we strive to answer question like the following.

How do we know and understand Jesus as Savior and Lord?  How are we different because of Jesus in our lives?  How do we as Christian believers live out our faith faithfully in this secular world?

But today I have been marked with ashes as if it were Ash Wednesday.  Historically that is a time of remembering our mortality and the gift of life we have in Christ Jesus.  So, why today am I being marked with ashes?

The reason?  Today’s Gospel reading where Jesus proclaims Himself the Bread of Life.  

It is My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.”

The manna God gave the children of Israel in the wilderness was a symbol, a foretaste, a type—pointing to the Incarnation of our Lord.  The psalmist who penned the words of Psalm 78 helps capture that sense.

vv 23-25

Yet He commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven.  He rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven.  Mortals ate the bread of angels.  He sent them food in abundance.

The manna—the bread from heaven—was not an end itself.  It fed the people in the wilderness and kept them alive.  It pointed, however, to our Lord Jesus, the incarnate Son of God; God who came to us in human flesh, the true bread from heaven.  

Our bodies require daily nourishment.  Without food and water we would die in short order.  The crowds in Jesus’ day were lazy and wanted to take advantage of Jesus’ ability and generosity.  He could make a little last a long time.  They could take it easy.  Fewer trips to the supermarket.  Just stay close to this bread king and they could eat all they ever wanted!  

Jesus is teaching them to look deeper within themselves, to look closer to their real needs—the needs of their souls.  

vv 26-27

“You were looking for Me because…you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not work for food that perishes.  Work for the food that endures for eternal life which the Son of Man will give you.  For it is on Him that god the Father has set His seal.”

Jesus is speaking of Himself in third person.  He is Messiah.  Jesus is the Savior of the world, God’s Anointed One.  That is the significance of God the Father’s seal on Him.  Jesus came into the world not to replace Smith’s or Safeway as a food source to answer our physical needs.  He came as Savior of the world to save us from sin, death and evil (the devil).  

Here in our Gospel reading and in the next couple of Sundays Jesus addresses the issue of partaking in His life.  Eating of the bread of life means believing in Jesus as God’s Son, our Savior.  Trusting in His grace.  Accepting His life, death and resurrection as our redemption and forgiveness, our ticket to restored fellowship with God and eternal life.  

Consider what Jesus is saying.  We live in a biological world, a physical world where we are either the eaten or the eater; the prey or the predator; the meal, or the one doing the consuming.  As humans we continue that ravenous routine.  We consume one another in our dog-eat-dog life styles of competing with one another.  We climb the cooperate ladder.  We get what is ours even when we have to take it from others in order to have what we think is enough.  We get stingy and greedy.  We think of our own needs and not of the needs of those around us.  

Those who have better health insurance and more retirement income have better access to health care and easier lives.  We live longer than those who have less.  With all the advances in science and improved health care those with more money can, in a very real sense, extend their longevity.  They can live longer.  But they still die.  We all die.  We cannot escape our mortality.  

It is to us, and to all the people of all ages down through the centuries that Jesus says, I have the gift of life—eternal life—for you.  My incarnation is God’s gift of saving you from death, from hell, from the wages of sin.  Instead of dog-eat-dog, Jesus says, “eat Me!  I give Myself to you.” 

That is comforting.  That is good news.  Believe it because it is true.  Heaven is our gift because of Jesus.  Yet, there is a scary part to this.  This principle of Jesus giving His life away to us as the bread of heaven resulting in the gift of eternal life for us is a life principle that marks us as the children of God, citizens of the kingdom of heaven.  Now we too must learn to give ourselves away.  

We need to re-learn the dog-eat-dog competitiveness of the world.  We need to let go of meeting our own needs at the cost of others.  We need to step out of the selfish, greedy, take care-of-number-one mode and learn how to put others first.  

That is what the Apostle Paul writes about in our reading from Ephesians 4.  He begs us—pleads with us—to live lives that are worthy of our calling to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord.  Be humble.  Be gentle.  Be patient.  Put up with each other’s faults and weaknesses with an attitude of love.  Maintain our unity—our bond and connection with one another in Christ by working hard to preserve our harmony and peace.  

Unpack that.  Paul says, when you have been fed with the Bread of Life, you no longer need to eat each other up by taking advantage of those weaker and more vulnerable than you.  Instead of greed and power grabs, abuse and using each other, learn to give yourself away by focusing on meeting each other’s needs.  This is flipping the dog-eat-dog mentality of the world on its head.  It is the life style of God’s people in the kingdom of heaven.  Love each other this way and the world will take notice.  Live this way and we will discover peace and joy, contentment and harmony that will change us and those we know.  Then Democrats and Republicans, liberals, moderates and conservatives can enjoy harmony and peace.  Because then Jesus will indeed be Lord of all.   Grant that, Lord Jesus, to be true for us today.  Amen.

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