Monday, August 3, 2009

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
John 6: 22-35
Bror Erickson

[26] Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. [27] Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal." [28] Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" [29] Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." John 6:26-29 (ESV)

Two questions pose themselves as one is reading this text. Why are we to believe? and what does it mean to believe?
Here Jesus is trying to get away from the crowds, they keep following him. He keeps teaching, healing and feeding. Yet, it seems they aren’t paying much attention to what He is teaching. You are seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you had your fill of the loaves. Jesus performs the miracles to show who He is, that He is God, that He is the Messiah. Yet the people don’t pay much attention to that. They just want to be healed and fed. They take advantage of the signs, and do not heed them. They are more concerned with temporal matters, than eternal.
This tendency hasn’t died with people or with Christians. Churches today are full of pastors pandering to the temporal. Today even Mormonism thrives, not by answering questions about the eternal, but by giving good advice on temporal questions, the emphasis often being on family life. Who doesn’t want a happy family? But you don’t have to be Christian, or Mormon to have a happy family life. Taking Christ’s words to heart, it may cause for strife in the family:
[34] "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. [35] For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. [36] And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. [37] Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. [38] And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. [39] Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39 (ESV)

It isn’t that Christ does not want us to have a happy family life. It isn’t that He is unconcerned for our temporal welfare. It is that He is more concerned with giving us eternal life, the eternal life He died to give us, than a happy temporal life. Indeed He instructs us to pray, give us this day our daily bread. And all the temporal blessings we have in life, are ours thanks to God who gives them to us. But the things of this world pass away as do we. The Jews were following Jesus, wanting to eat their fill of loaves. They had eaten miraculously in the desert, just as their forefathers in the desert. Every morning they would have to gather manna, though, because the food perished as did they. Nothing last’s forever in this world. God gives us what we need just as he takes care of the birds and beasts of the field. He gives them what they need, and we are much more valuable than a couples sparrows sold for a penny. But that is not why we believe in Jesus. Indeed, all evil people get their daily bread too. Our temporal well being is not dependent on faith, but faith thanks God for the temporal blessings, as well as the eternal.
I mean, it shocks me. I find it repugnant, the extent to which modern Christianity stresses the temporal. Evil people deceiving and being deceived thrive on preaching wealth, and health.
Jesus is adamant, there is something more we need to pay attention to, food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God has set His seal. And the people half heartedly repent. “What then Lord, what must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Oh the thick headed. Here He says the son of man will GIVE you this food that endures to eternal life. But no, they want to know what it is that they should be doing. It is as if they are merely trying to figure out how to manipulate Jesus into feeding them perishable bread once again, to satisfy their immediate needs. What is wrong with getting a job? That is how this world works. You want bread? Go work for it. You know what you need to do. Find something your good at and do it.
But that is too mundane, not spiritual enough. I mean supporting the church with time, talent, and money is a good thing. And a sensible thing. It is as much sense as supporting Ducks unlimited, if you are a duck hunter, or the NRA if you like to shoot, Green Peace if you are of that persuasion. But if everyone worked for the church, there wouldn’t be anything to support church workers with now would there be? The job you do from 9 to 5 is work you do in service to the Lord, barring the idea you are a prostitute or drug dealer. You get the point though. But this work doesn’t earn us the food that endures to eternal life, neither does working for the church, even volunteering. There is nothing you can do to earn this food. The Son of Man gives you the food that endures to eternal life, Himself, His life, His death, His body and Blood, and the faith that believes in Him.
I suspect the people thought they were going to hear Jesus admonish them to trim the roses around the Synagogue and the like. Do the work of Scribes, and Pharisees. Perhaps take time off on Saturday, neglecting you own family to feed the poor, and so on. But Jesus says nothing of the like. He answers very peculiarly.
This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent. I say it is peculiar. Believing for one is hardly, ever considered work, even when we do think of it as something we do for God. That is perhaps the greatest plague of American theology people tend to think of it as something they are doing, or are called to do. Furthermore, they think of it as something only adults, or grown and mature Children can do. Faith, though is hardly considered labor.
Faith alone justifies. Justification by faith alone, is the great rally cry of the reformation. Luther stumbled upon this doctrine in his study of Holy Scripture, perhaps most famously studying Romans. It was as if a ton of bricks was lifted off his shoulders, and an epiphany of light shined through all scripture for him as he came to the realization. We need to do nothing to be saved, but God gives us salvation through faith, a gift from God. Today though, faith is distorted by many. Faith for faith’s sake, faith in faith has become the key to salvation as this doctrine is ripped from its scriptural roots. No longer is it faith in Christ, and his words that save, but faith in anything that saves. As people more and more talk about “people of faith“, what ever that means, as if faith in itself was a virtue. And People, despite the most compelling evidence to the contrary believe that all religion is the same, either good or bad. To Dawkins, Hitchens and the like it is all bad. And then some, like talk radio personality, Savage, believe it is all about being nice, and being at peace with others. One wonders if they ever had comparative religion courses. They are not all about being good to others. The law written on the heart of man is about that. But religion can take some crazy turns, and often trump that law. 9/11 would not happen if this weren’t the case. There used to be a religion called Thugee that was about nothing but ritual murder. Sick man in their hearts have in the past made adultery, and sexual gratification at all costs, even pedophilia, the basis of religion. Faith alone, divorced from Christ, can easily lead one astray to believe in all sorts of things. I would seriously hate to know who I might be, if I didn’t believe in Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of my sins. I have a hard time being half way decent the way it is.
When Scripture talks about faith saving, it is talking about a gift of God, that allows us to believe in Jesus Christ as the satisfaction for our sin, and allows us to believe him also, to take his words to heart. For it is Christ alone who saves, we are incapable of saving ourselves. But Jesus saves us from our sin, which is death, finding its power in the law. God promises to give this gift of faith in Him who He sent, Jesus Christ to us. This faith in Him alone will save. He gives us this faith through the working of the Holy Spirit in and with the Gospel, and the sacraments, which cannot be divorced from the gospel. People who divorce the sacraments from the Gospel, inevitably lose the gospel. It is precisely, because they don’t believe in the power of the Holy Spirit through baptism for instance, that Baptists think of faith, as something they do. It may be a gift, but it tends to be spoken of as some sort of commitment to Jesus, and to living a life of obedience. If that is faith, I’m toast, so are you, so is everyone.
It is not our work that we believe in Him whom God has sent, but the work of God, on us and in us. Faith is not a work. It is a gift .It is given to us. It is the work of God. Not our work. Therefore, it is not dependent on us, or anything in us. God works faith. He saves us. We don’t need to accept Him in our hearts, we don’t need to be able to recite the creed. We don’t need anything but the Holy Spirit working in us and on us. It is not dependent on our ability to live holy lives, but dependent on God being faithful to His promises which He always is. So we believe in Him, and we believe Him. Faith in Jesus, believes Jesus. When He tells us that we are saved by virtue of our baptism, we believe Him. When he tells us that we are forgiven our sins when we eat His body and drink His blood we believe Him. And then we begin to understand, that His body is the bread of life, He promised to give to us. And there, where He forgives our sins, there is eternal life, the bread of life, that quashes all hunger, and all thirst. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there also is life and salvation. No longer do we need to hunger for it, or thirst for it. The food that endures to eternal life, is given to us, in the one whom God has sent.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

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