This week’s sermon is a little different. I imagine it might come off a little testy. But the text calls for something like this, and the week calls for something like this. And I have a hard time summarizing it other than as a “come to Jesus” moment. The past week – carefully stitched together first – should make clear how hollow we are. Hollow due to trying to live by the letter, live by the law. And what Jesus has to offer is himself – his body as true food and his blood and true drink. And it is only this that will fill that hollowness. And like all calls to a true spirituality, many cannot listen to it. But some hear, and believe, and then know.
The lectionary has us in John 6 for three weeks. It is one of those long watershed chapters. It all takes place in the aftermath of the feeding of the 5000. In the Gospel according to John the feeding and that crowd are a little more specific about their desires than in the other gospels. They wanted to make Jesus their King. But the type of King they wanted was not the King Jesus is. The crowds were seeking, but they were not willing to be found. God was offering the bread of life, but they wanted their bread. This sermon explores that dichotomy.
Doing prep reading for Christmas day this year I was struck by the consistency of the commentary of the Church Fathers on this text. This sermon attempts to proclaim what they would. That the savior, from birth, has always been offered up as the bread of life for our eating. And this eating takes us from animals to reborn humans. Merry Christmas.
The assigned readings take a three week tour though John 6. This chapter of John often gets called the bread of life discourse. That is fancy language for an extended teaching session between Jesus and the crowd after the feeding of the 5000 which was read from Mark a couple of weeks back. In this first section of teaching we have Jesus at what I would say is his most cryptic. The main thread is his claim that “I am the bread of life.” The background biblical story is the OT text of Israel in the desert after the exodus receiving manna. Manna, is actually a direct transliteration of the Hebrew and it simply means “what is it?” It is Moses that tells the it is the bread from heaven. Jesus picks that phrase up and encourages the crowds not to want temporal things (i.e. bread that spoils or after which you grow hungry again) but to desire the good stuff (i.e. eternal things) – the bread from heaven. The crowds pick up his drift as they ask about Moses, but they are still stuck on temporal things. They are still desirous of physical bread, hoping that this Jesus is a better Moses who can grant the manna for a longer time. Jesus’ response is the staggering “I am the bread of life.” He is not a Moses testifying about the bread, nor is this bread like that manna which did go away, but this bread is eternal. The Word of God himself has appeared. The Father wants to give us this bread. And the only requirement is believe.
So this will continue for the next couple of Sunday’s, but right now Jesus wants to get across a couple of items. If we are aiming for temporal things, however worthy they might be, we are missing the target. The Father wants to give you eternal things. Raise you eyes. Desire the good stuff. The second part of this is that the good stuff is the Word of God incarnate. When we live by the word of Jesus, when we believe him we have life. And that bread brings us through this temporal world to eternal life.
The hymn we closed with which I left in captures this theme and the images of the lessons perfectly – Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer LSB 918. (If you know your hymns, yes, for some reason the worship committee of the LCMS decided to mangle the first line of the more common “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah”. I’m not sure why, but it probably has to do with the term Jehovah for God which is something of a mishmash. It came about through a mistake of reading the vowel pointings of Adonai (Lord) that are usually placed over name of God tetragrammaton in Hebrew. The Jews would not say the name out loud but instead by looking at the vowels would substitute LORD. Something that was carried over in most of our Old Testaments when you see capital letters LORD what you have is the name of God. If you try and pronounce the name consonants with the vowels from Adonai you get Jehovah. So, a mishmash, and then one used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, so probably the cause for the rewording.)