Monday, March 11, 2013

Bread King, or Eternal King?

Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Laetare – The Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 10th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Bread King, or Eternal King?       John 6:1-15

Jesus will not be your bread king.  He will not be your spiritual Santa Claus to keep your tummy full.  Which might sound a little strange, after hearing how He fed the great crowds, 5,000 men, plus their families, serving this multitude through a miracle, from just five loaves and two fish, even ending up with 12 baskets full of leftovers.  Jesus performed this sign for a reason, but not for the reason the crowd wanted. 
Jesus will not be your bread king.  Neither will He be your medical king.  Nor your prosperity king.  It’s not that Jesus doesn’t care if you’re hungry, or sick, or poor.  But He has not come to merely rescue you from starvation, illness, or lack of money.  He will not be your bread king, because Jesus wants so much more for you than to just make this life a little easier. 

And so, even though we gather in the Name of the Miracle Worker, who fed the crowds and healed the sick and excited so many people, who were sure He had come to make Israel a great nation again, and even though we are members of His Church, the Body of Christ, with its 2,000 year history of influencing the whole world, changing culture from the inside out, and even though we are members of God’s victorious army, looking forward to our promised inheritance of matchless worth, even thought all these things are true, still, we suffer. 

Hunger is not much of a problem among us, these days, but our frantic lives and the exhaustion and depression we sometimes reap can make our food tasteless.  At the same time, it’s too easy to get by, too little effort is required in our daily callings, so most of us are worried about our weight, worried about eating too much, or eating poorly, despite the rich abundance we receive from God our Father. 
And of course, we are sick.  Cancer.  Heart disease.  Diabetes.  Dementia.  The list goes on and on.  And even when we’re not sick, we fret over our health, collectively demanding our “right” to healthcare, seeking out the best medical services, which are amazing, and which are great blessings, but increasingly expensive blessings.  Even still, for all our efforts and all we spend, medicine is only able to delay the inevitable.   We are dying, even though we are Christians. 

We are not poor.  Some of us are on tight budgets, relatively speaking, but many of us have more income than we’ve ever seen before.  We live in one of the economic hotspots of America.  But having more breeds wanting more, and working harder, and worrying through our nights, about what to do with our money, wondering how high the prices for everything around here can go, fretting about how to make it last, and what happens if the boom ends?  Whether times are tough, or booming, it seems our faith in Jesus does not take away our money troubles.  

Jesus will not be your bread king, or your medical king, or your prosperity king.  But He will use your fear of hunger, the pain of your illnesses, the shame of your poverty.  Jesus will use your focus on the things that worry you most, to get you to understand your real need, and His real gift.  That’s what He does at the feeding of the 5,000. 

It is certainly an amazing, wonderful miracle.  Imagine being there.  You’ve dropped everything and followed Jesus out into the wilderness, to hear Him teach, maybe to seek healing, for yourself, or a loved one.  But now your stomach’s growling and in the back of your mind you’re beginning to realize that you face a very long, hungry walk home.  You and your family and friends perhaps are beginning to talk about heading back, when the disciples, Jesus’ twelve chosen helpers, begin to tell everyone to sit down.  Find a seat, get into groups, so that the meal can begin.  The meal?  Jesus and His entourage don’t have any oxen drawn carts, full of provisions.  There’s no market here, at which to buy enough food for all of us.  So how can they say, “Sit down, so we can eat?” 

And yet, there is plenty, more than plenty.  Jesus blesses a few loaves, barely enough for Him and the Twelve, but as they begin passing them out, there are more and more loaves, more and more fish, good bread, prayed over by Jesus Himself, and fish, hearty food to feed hungry bellies.  Jesus performs a great miracle, a great sign of His power, before thousands and thousands of followers, a small army, with a mighty leader.  Surely, Jesus is the promised Prophet, the New Moses, who can do greater signs than even Moses did.  God through Moses taught the ancient people of Israel to gather manna, flaky bread that God gave, morning by morning, as the dew lifted, bread which the Israelites had to gather, morning after morning.  But Jesus takes all the work out of daily bread.  Simply sit, receive, and eat.  No wonder they decided to make Jesus their king; how great would life be under Jesus and His power?  

But when the enthusiastic crowd wants to make Jesus their king, He slips away.  The crowds, however, are determined.  It takes till the next day, but they find Jesus, hurrying to Him on the other side of the lake, in Capernaum.  But when they find Him, Jesus turns their world upside down.  He rebukes the crowd for only wanting to fill their bellies, for making free and plentiful bread into an idol, their new false god.  Jesus rebukes them for not understanding their real problem.  The true bread from heaven, given for the life of the world, this is what they need, this is what they must eat, if Jesus is to be their King, forever. 

The crowd is confused, discombobulated, by Jesus’ stern words.  What’s wrong with their excitement over the miraculous bread?  After all, Jesus had given it to them.  Why are they wrong?  Why is Jesus yelling at them?    At this moment, when we might expect Jesus to be nice, to become gentle, He instead sharpens His teaching even more.  I am the true bread from heaven, says Jesus, and the bread I give for the life of the world is… my flesh.  If you will not eat my flesh and drink my blood, then you have no part in me. 

What?  How can Jesus give us His flesh to eat?  And why?  And what’s wrong with wanting all the good things God offers in this life?  What’s wrong with wanting food and health and financial security for my family?  Nothing.  And you are free to focus only on these things, if you are ready to have all your good only in this life.  But remember, the food, the health, the money that we all desire and enjoy so much, these have no power to save us from the eternal hunger, illness and poverty that await sinners who die in their sins. 

Of course Jesus is concerned for this life, but He knows that this life is broken, this world is dying, the best things of this earthly existence last but a few years, and then are gone forever.  God gives us good things that we might recognize His grace and give thanks for all His blessings.  But we are enchanted by the taste of good food.  And we find it very hard to think past a growling belly.  We have little endurance for physical struggles, and we are afraid to be poor.  So we devote our energies to these concerns of today, all the while ignoring eternity. 

Our concerns are all about now, but Jesus’ concern is about now, tomorrow, yesterday, and most importantly, about forever.  He has a concern for your future beyond this life.  His desire is for you to enjoy the very life of God, the wedding feast that never ends, the tree of life which heals every disease, forever, the riches of Heaven, which flow from the glory and holiness of God.  

To give us His desires, Jesus has to start over.  He has to re-create the world, starting with that part of the Creation that caused all the problems: us.  Jesus became a man, in order to re-create humanity, so that in Him, in His flesh and blood, we can find eternal life. 

Jesus goes on, as recorded in John 6, to press His severe message, until most people turn away, and stop following Him.  Miraculous bread and fish, great.  To eat the flesh and blood of Jesus?  No thanks.  Jesus severely disappoints His fans, offending them and driving them away, all so that one day He could  infinitely exceed their expectations.  Jesus peaks in popularity at the feeding of 5,000, and then very soon starts losing followers, eventually losing every one, as He disappoints even the twelve disciples, who would not walk the way of the Cross with Him. 

All by Himself, then, while giving thanks to His Father, Jesus gave the Bread of Life to be broken on a Cross.  Jesus gave the New Testament poured out in scarlet on the ground.  Jesus died hungry, thirsty, wounded, and stripped of all His possessions, even the clothes off His back, all for the joy have having you for His very own, for the joy of telling you your sins are truly forgiven, and your future is incredibly bright, because He has died and risen, in order to feed you with forgiveness, life and salvation. 

Jesus works us over today the same way He did the Jews 2,000 years ago.  We’re not wrong to seek food, health and money, in order to care for ourselves and care for our families.  But, since we are so prone to make them into idols,  Jesus will take them away.  Jesus will, as needed, bring suffering into our lives, to break us from worshiping and trusting in earthly blessings, so that we can worship and trust in Him alone.  Jesus will use our sickness, our problems, our suffering, to break our focus on the things of this life, so that He can give true life, eternal life, to you, and all who believe in His Body and Blood, given and shed for the life of the world.  And then, because faith knows we have received every good thing in Christ, you and I might even begin to receive our daily bread with true thanksgiving, because it comes from the same God who has given us Jesus.   

Jesus is your bread from heaven, feeding you for eternal life.  His daily bread for you will include struggles and pain, but He is with you through it all, using these trials to bind you closer to Himself by faith.  So you can rejoice, even in your struggles, for Jesus is with you, Jesus, the King of eternity, ruling over all things, casting out all evil, forever, so that there is only joy and love in His presence.  This is His promise, the Words of eternal life.  Listen.  Repent of worshiping the things of this world.  Believe and rejoice, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven and restored to God’s eternal favor.  Amen. 

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