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.
This is the third and last sermon on the “Bread of Life Discourse” in John 6. The typical and easiest way to understand the entire discourse where Jesus says we must eat his flesh and drink his blood is as a reference to the Lord’s Supper. That isn’t wrong, but we do have to ignore that fact that when Jesus said it the crowds who heard it had no recourse to the sacrament. What this sermon attempts to do is proclaim the gospel from this most perplexing text with the sacrament not as first resource but as an gift that embodies for all time the truth.
What I latch onto is Jesus’ embellishment of eating the flesh and blood as the gateway or image of Christ abiding or indwelling in us. Just as the Father dwells in Christ or Christ as the perfect icon of the Father, by eating Christ he dwells in us. Creation has always been about building a dwelling place or a temple for God. In Christ we have the perfect temple, and we are made the living stones as God dwells in us. As Christ is the icon of God, we become the body of Christ and icon of a sort (although that might be a little strong this side of the New Jerusalem). That flesh and spirit incarnation is always a scandal to the world which wants to keep them separate.
Yet as Peter says – these are the words of eternal life. The second part of the gospel explored is Peter sequence where we believe first and then come to know. We must eat first – take Christ into us – to know. The body and blood of Christ give us a sure foundation. We can know because he is the bread that has come down. If we keep it outside of us, we can’t know. Belief comes first and it is belief from the heart.
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.)