Sermon for 8/26/18 John 6:56-71

Are you tired of talking about bread yet? These last 5 weeks in John 6 have actually been refreshing for me. As I have the theme “fed to feed” and the verses of John 3:16-17, I have been able to hear these verses in new ways. That doesn’t mean I am anywhere near an expert and that I still don’t have questions regarding these verses. Some of what Jesus has done in these last 71 verses has been amazing and some of it has left me uncomfortable. And it’s tempting for me to want to only hear what I like and ignore the other stuff. But then again, “Lord to whom shall [I] go? You have the words of eternal life!” Jesus asks his disciples an interesting question in this weeks reading. “Does this offend you” (v61)? This could also be translated as “does this scandalize you?” or “anger, offend, shock, to cause one to stumble, or cause one to sin.” Interesting, isn’t it? Jesus asking his disciples and us “does my teaching cause you to sin?”

Well, yeah, Jesus. We get it, you’ve talked about bread for 5 weeks straight. You’ve talked about the bread of life, the body and blood, you’ve fed people. You’ve talked about bread that gives life, not like the stuff  our ancestors got in the wilderness. You’ve talked about eating your flesh and drinking your blood as a way to eternal life. And maybe we’ve struggled with some of this. So does it cause us to sin? Yeah maybe. Because to be a disciple of Jesus, and not just the twelve, but us too means that we are in a relationship with Jesus. And being in relationship with Jesus means hearing him and listening to him. Often through these last 71 verses Jesus has said “whosoever…” and then the command finished with “will have eternal life.” That’s where it gets hard. We may hear those words, but we certainly don’t want to listen. It makes us uncomfortable. When Jesus doesn’t put parameters on his words, it makes us uncomfortable because it leaves room in God’s kingdom for those that we’d rather leave out.

“Whosoever” certainly doesn’t mean those that undocumented, does it? “Whosoever” doesn’t mean those who are undocumented, couldn’t take “no” for an answer, and then take the life of a young, talented, beautiful woman, does it? “Whosoever” doesn’t mean a Colorado father responsible for the deaths of his family, does it? “Whosoever” doesn’t mean those that open fire in school buildings full of students, does it? Come on, Jesus. Certainly you had some exceptions, right? Does this cause us to sin? YES! Because the thing is, we don’t want to share any single part of God’s kingdom with “those” kind of people. Our stumbling blocks, my beloved, to really listening are many and varied. But, what it comes down to is that our main stumbling block is our own sin. We are quick to judge. We are slow to forgive. We hold a grudge like its an olympic sport. So sure, we abide in Christ and he in us. But, we’ll be damned if “those” other people get a chance at this abiding stuff.

Does listening to Jesus cause us to sin? Well, not really. Our own disbelief causes us to not listen to Jesus and thus sin. Because Jesus can’t be who he says he is, right? Jesus, son of God, sent because God so loved the world couldn’t possibly love that much, could he? Jesus certainly couldn’t be the bread of life and cup of salvation, could he? He couldn’t be this bread and cup for the whole world, could he? Jesus couldn’t be God in the flesh, could he? That’s just not possible. We don’t want to believe that Christ is who he says he is because that means that the teachings of Jesus are the ones we should be following and believing. It means that the teachings that have fed us for so long we now must use to feed others, even those we’d rather leave starving in the streets.

We want Jesus to hate the same people we do. We want Jesus to look on the world like we do. We don’t want to proclaim love through word and deed, we don’t want to care for others and the world God made, and we certainly don’t want to work for justice and peace. So it would be great if Jesus could believe the same way. But he doesn’t. Our own expectations of Jesus, the ones we gladly and willfully placed on him haven’t measured up. And that’s not on Jesus. That’s on us. We expect Jesus to fulfil our expectations instead of the other way around. And it doesn’t happen and we are left disappointed. So are Jesus’ teachings difficult? Yes. Jesus’ teachings are so difficult because they are filled with love and grace. If we don’t believe that we are given these things by Christ through nothing that we do, then are we really going to believe that Christ gives his love and grace to those we’d rather not associate with?

And although these teachings are difficult, Lord, where else are we going to go? You, you alone, you are the one who gives us the words of eternal life. We may be tempted to look other places. But it is Christ alone who gives us the words of eternal life. While Christ always abides in us, thanks to sin, we may not always abide in him. Remember that sin is what comes between us and Christ. But the third day shows us it is never too late to abide in Christ. The empty tomb is an ongoing promise and invitation of abiding. The empty tomb invites us to drop our expectations and accept Christ for who he really is: the bread of life and cup of salvation. The bread of life that provides life for 5000 on a grassy hillside. Enough for everyone to get their fill and then have leftovers. The bread of life that promises a life eternal. The bread of life that is a promise of abiding.

Are these teachings difficult? Yes. But you know what isn’t difficult? God’s love through Jesus Christ. We are witnesses of this love through the waters of baptism. We are witnesses of this love through bread and wine. We are witnesses of this love when our expectations are crushed. When we see how God really loves the world, that is, with no exceptions, our expectations are crushed. And we are reminded that Jesus keeps his promises. Everything that Jesus has ever promised us will come to fruition, 5000 fold, abundant life. For you, for Emerie, for me. I think what makes these teachings so difficult is that love is maddening and so rewarding. We are freed from our expectations. We are filled and fed. We are fed to feed others. Even in the midst of knowing one of the disciples would betray him, Jesus promised a life to all, and a life abundant. Are these teachings difficult? Yes. But, thanks be to God we have the waters of baptism to wash away our expectations. Thanks be to God we have the third day and an empty tomb. Thanks be to God we have a God who so loved the world. A world that will be saved through Jesus. And that includes us. When Jesus says “whosoever believes this” I pray you include yourself in this, my beloved. And if you find these teachings hard, well, there’s grace for that. There’s always bread for the journey. And we are fed with an abundance. Grace upon grace is a real thing. Make that your expectation. Make Jesus  your expectation. You’ll never be disappointed.

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Sermon for 8/19/18 John 6:51-58

So, let’s address the elephant in the reading first and foremost, shall we? This reading is a bit graphic. If someone were to hear this for the first time, they might run away from Christianity and never come back. In fact, some do. They hear this scripture and think Christians are cannibals. In fact, years and years of church doctrine and arguments between church fathers (sorry ladies, but it was always the guys in these meetings) have focused on this one issue: what really is communion? Are we really eating the actual flesh of Jesus? Is it the true presence or just a symbol? What do we believe as Lutherans? Oh my goodness?!? Have I been a Lutheran all my life and had no idea that I’m actually a cannibal?? Relax, friends. We believe that Jesus is truly present in, with, and under the elements of communion. That is, the bread and the wine. But, how he is truly present is a mystery. We believe that when the Word of God is combined with the Holy Spirit, the simple gifts of bread and wine become the true presence of Jesus. But, how that happens is a mystery. And no, we are not eating the actual flesh of Jesus. But there’s also a pretty good reason why the words from today’s reading are NOT the words we hear at communion.

However, Jesus does call himself “living bread.” In fact, in these 7 verses, some form of “life” is referred to 9 times. Jesus uses life, living, and live interchangeably. He also talks about abiding, which for me is another way of talking about life. Because when Jesus abides with us, he is offering us a relationship, a dwelling place, and for me, that is life-giving. Why in the world does Jesus do this for us? Why does he offer us his body and blood? Because “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). And because Jesus came so that we may “have life and have it abundantly” (10.10). Additionally, Jesus is out to save us from ourselves so that we may have eternal life (3.17). When we are fed by Christ and filled to the point that we are overflowing and we start feeding others, our lives look much different than those times when we are spiritually starving.

Through Jesus Christ, God offers us life. And I don’t know that we know what to do with that quite honestly. We often get bogged down in the details that we have life in our bodies, but we’re not living. Many of us certainly aren’t dying, but we aren’t really living either, does that make sense? We may have happiness in our life, but we are lacking joy. Some of us may be surviving, but we certainly aren’t thriving. I don’t know if any of this sounds familiar. Jesus is offering us life. Not just a going through the motions, kind of getting by, life is just okay, barely keeping our heads above water, kind of life. No, what Jesus offers us is life and life abundant. Jesus is offering us life that looks like living into the promises given to us in baptism. I want to make it clear that what Jesus is offering us isn’t a life of sunshine and rainbows 24/7/365. Rather, Jesus offers us abundant life and a relationship of him abiding in us and we in him.

I don’t know if you realize this, but we are constantly being told that we are not enough. Do you realize that literally every single commercial on tv is meant to make you feel like you don’t have enough, you aren’t enough, or that you can be better? And most commercials on the radio do the same thing. What Jesus offers is something different. We are currently living in an empire. Just like Jesus was alive during the time of the Roman empire and ultimately put to death because he was a threat to the empire, we too are living in an empire. Our current empire is that of “not enough.” The Not Enough Empire. Every company, every corporation, even some of the people around us participate in one way or another in telling us we are not enough. Now, this isn’t always done with malicious intent. Sometimes it really is done out of concern or love. But, once you strip away the intent, the flashy colors and jingles, and the really tempting discounts, the message remains the same: you are not enough. Jesus offers us a “right here-right now” life. Meaning, we are complete in Christ just the way we are. We don’t need any product, any procedure, any drug, any vehicle, or pair of jeans to be any better for Jesus. We are enough in him, for him, and because of him.

This life that Christ offers us in body and blood is life abundant. And that is completely contrary to what society desires to give us. In our baptism, we were claimed by God and we continue to be claimed by God every single day. Baptism brings about the “forgiveness of sins, redeems [us] from death and the devil, and give eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promise of God declare” (explanation of baptism in Luther’s Small Catechism). In baptism, we are given and total permission to die to the expectations of this world. We die to the broken record of “not enough.” In baptism and again at communion we are reminded who we are and the message is “you are enough.”

“The words ‘given for you’ and ‘shed for you for the forgiveness of sin’ show us that forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are given to us in the sacrament through these words, because where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (explanation of communion in Luther’s Small Catechism). When God declares to you the forgiveness of your sins through communion, God is declaring you free from all this world desires to label you with, saddle you with, or brand you with. This world wants to point out your scars, your wounds, your faults, your shortcomings, the ways you have failed the world and yourself over and over. Jesus looks at that empire, the one that wants to take us down, and says it is wrong. In communion, the empire of “not enough” is destroyed and we are given and promised new life in three simple words: “given for you.”

Jesus is the living bread. Living bread for living people. Living waters for living people. The bread of life for the life of the people. The waters of life for the life of the people. In a world that constantly tells us we aren’t enough and that we need more in order to be happy, our call as disciples is to smash that empire by declaring that we actually have all we need in water, bread, and wine. And the world will never understand that. The world may think it’s offering us life, but it is only temporary. Eternal life comes through and from one place only and that is in Jesus Christ. We get to see Ryder receive eternal life today. And why? Because “God so loved the world.” And that includes Ryder and that includes us. Thanks be to God!

Sermon for 8/12/18 John 6:35, 41-51

I am continuing our series today that focuses on being fed to feed using these bread of life discourses throughout John 6. I’ve been calling it “carb loading” since Jesus seems to be talking a lot about bread. No worries, this will continue for a few more weeks. As an extension of what we’ve been talking about I am going to focus a bit more on relationships today. My friend Steffen and I have been friends since we were in 7th grade, so 12 or 13 or so. We have been through a lot together. He was in our wedding. He was one of the first people I told I was going to seminary. We share a wonderful sense of humor and both value not only this friendship, but friendships in general. He also likes to torture me by sending me screen shots of my sermon from Facebook with me making weird looking faces almost every single Sunday. And I do believe that God brings people in our lives for a moment, a season, or a lifetime. Steffen and I are lifetime friends.

I hope you all have lifetime friends in your life. These are the folks you know you can count on no matter what. These are the people who have seen you at your best and at your worst. These are people who (as I jokingly tell Steffen) aren’t getting rid of you now because they know too much. We cover a variety of topics in church but one thing we may not talk about a lot is relationships. We talk about the bible, communion, baptisms, even bathrooms (at least around here) but we don’t talk a lot about relationships. I think this comes from the relationships we have being easy and not that we don’t have any relationships. In fact, maybe you don’t even think of the relationships you have at church as relationships and perhaps that’s because there are so many of you that are related. We’ve got the Petersen’s, the Petersen’s, and the Petersen’s, unless, that is, you’re a Peterson. Don’t ask me “Howe” they’re all related, Mommsen’s the word.

But,I think because we have so many families in the congregation, that is what makes our congregation so unique. The friendships made are real, and people are friends because of biological connections and maybe in spite of biological connections. People have often referred to these relationships as church family. If you have a wonderful, life-giving, biological family, seeing church as a family can be comforting. If your biological family or family of origin wasn’t that great, church as a family can be troubling. One of the biggest components of being a Christian and being a disciple is being willing to be in relationship with one another. We are fed by our relationships that are grounded in Christ and then, in joy, we feed others (and are fed by others) so that our relationships grow and the kingdom of God grows.

Three times in this text, Jesus refers to himself as bread. He says “I am the bread of life” twice (6:35, 48) and the “living bread that came down from heaven” (6:51). The people that would have heard Jesus speaking of himself like this at this time would have had a bit of historical context. When Jesus spoke of himself as manna, that should have set off little light bulbs for those gathered. Manna isn’t just a meal. Manna wasn’t a snack that got the Israelites through a tough time in the desert. Manna was literally a life saving meal. Had the Israelites not gotten manna in the form of food or drink directly from God, they would have died. But, God offered the Israelites manna in the wilderness despite the fact that the Israelites did not trust God to provide for them. God provided anyway. In the same way, Jesus provided for 5000 people with plenty to eat with leftovers. And why? Because God so loved the world (see John 3:16-17).

Both the Israelites who received manna from heaven and the Jews who received bread and fish for days were saved by God, literal salvation from God, but neither group has learned to trust in God. Well thank goodness we’re not like the Israelites or the Jews! Oh wait…. When Jesus says that those who believe will have eternal life what he could be saying (or what it could be translated as) is those who trust will have eternal life. God, through the actions, words, and movements of Jesus Christ keeps showing us over and over and over again that we should trust that God is who God says and that Jesus is who he says he is. In short, God desires a relationship with us. And the kind of relationship desires with us is a lifetime one, not a relationship for a moment or a season. Jesus is the living bread. Those that believe in Jesus are promised an eternal life. Again, in short, those who believe are promised a relationship.

If we are going to take seriously what Jesus says (and we should) then we believe that he really is the bread of life that is sent from God. Because God so loved the world. God didn’t send us Jesus, the bread of life, the living bread, so that we simply can get by and be okay. God sent us Jesus so that we may thrive and truly live. Because “God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God loved Jesus and sent us Jesus. And then Jesus loved us, all the way to the cross and beyond. This means that God loves us as well. This is a relationship.

Unlike our human relationships, the one that God has with us never ends. It may have its moments where it is reciprocal. But often, it is God that has a hold of us and not the other way around. Many Christian denominations will encourage (almost borderline demand) that you have a personal relationship with Jesus or with God. Here’s the problem with that: many times it sounds like we are doing all the work. “I’m reading my bible to get closer to God” or “praying makes me feel like I’m one with Jesus” even “serving others makes my faith grow and my relationship with God becomes stronger.” While all of these are fine in theory, the relationship is mainly on us when we use that kind of language. Then, when life goes wrong, as it can, will, and does, we blame ourselves and our lack of faith. God does not look for opportunities to punish us. For God so loved the world includes us.

Rather, the relationship God has with us is all about God. God will always be holding us, reaching out to us, comforting us, loving us, providing for us, no matter what we do. This bread of life, this bread that came down from heaven is for us, and it is given to us, and the only thing we have to do is believe. And if we struggle with belief, God will find another way to help us understand. Why in the world do you think we’re spending 5 weeks hearing all the different ways that Jesus talked about himself being bread. He was going to keep doing it until the disciples, the Jews, and all gathered believed it. Jesus is going to keep telling and showing us who he is until we believe it. It is a relationship of a lifetime that feeding us so that we can feed other people. This bread of life stuff isn’t just literal life saving bread and drink in the middle of a desert journey. It isn’t just wheat, water, and a little of this and that to get us through the day.

Jesus, the true bread of life sustains our souls. It is the thing that reminds us at the end of the day that we still belong to someone even if we think we have no one. When Jesus declares that he is the bread of life he is speaking of more than food that feeds our bellies, he is speaking of more than food that feeds our souls, he is also speaking about food that feeds our hearts with the gift of relationship. And this relationship of God to Jesus and then Jesus to us has the ability to keep us fed for life so that we can feed others. Because again, God so loved the world. We are in relationship with the Triune God and we are in relationship with one another; bread for the world and bread for one another.

Sermon for 8/5/18 John 6:24-35

Welcome to week 2 of what I jokingly call our “carb loading” series. I say this because last week, this week, and the next 3 weeks all speak about bread. Last week, I laid a little bit of groundwork for the rest of the weeks. If you missed it, you won’t be far behind. What I hope you remember, or what I want you to remember, is that we are fed to feed. We are fed by God through Jesus Christ in order to feed other people. This feeding is done with food, yes, but with other things as well: a phone call, a visit, a quick text, a letter, a card, a casserole, and on and on. And the great thing is that while we are being fed by Jesus to feed others, others are being fed by Jesus to feed us. This is what the body of Christ looks like. I also invited you to remember or have the verses of John 3:16-17 going through your head as well because I am going to continue referring back to those verses. Luckily for you, I have made this handy-dandy poster cheat-sheet so that you can remember those verses.

Our text for today comes right after the feeding of the 5000 where we had a feast of loaves and fish and enough left over to fill how many baskets? (12) A crowd continues to follow Jesus and when they finally catch up with him, he asks them a question. He says (basically) “are you looking for me and following me because I gave you something to eat and now you want more? Or… are you looking for me because you finally understand I am the son of God and I offer more than bread?” Jesus tells the crowd gathered who he is. He tells the crowd that they must “believe in him whom [God] has sent.” It seems simple enough. But the crowd isn’t pleased with that answer. They say Moses gave us bread in the wilderness. What are you going to do to prove you are who you say you are? The nerve of these people, right? I always believed that when someone shows you who you are, you believe them; or when someone tells you who you are, you believe them.

Then Jesus, meaning no disrespect to Moses, tells them it wasn’t Moses that fed you, it was God! And continues to say “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Because remember, “God so loved the world… Indeed” God sent the Son into the world in “order that the world might be saved through him.” And I love the crowd’s reaction. They say “Sir, give us this bread always.” But, I often hear it more like this “sounds good! Where can we get us some of this bread??” And I have to also imagine Jesus rolling his eyes and wanting to say “guys!! I’m right here!” But instead, we have the very first instant in John where Jesus identifies himself as the “I am.” And what an incredible statement he makes following that “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

So! Wait! Wait! WAIT! The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. AND THEN! Jesus says he is the bread of life! Whoa! We should probably believe Jesus when he says who he is. God, the all knowing, all powerful, all loving, all encompassing being that we profess our faith to week after week, is the same God that sent us Jesus. God is the source of the bread from heaven. And the bread of heaven is Jesus. And God gives us Jesus why? Because God so loved the world. I know this sounds like some kind of crazy circular argument, but I just think that when we see the relationship of God to Jesus and then Jesus to us and this relationship is all because God loves us, then I am going to figure out all the different ways that I can say this until you start to believe it. I am going to keep saying it until I believe it.

Jesus Christ is God’s love letter to the world. Let’s take a brief step back and remember last week’s reading. Jesus fed the 5000, right? If Jesus fed the 5000, and Jesus is from God then wouldn’t the feeding of the 5000 just be another sign of God’s tangible abundant love? God so loved the world that God loved the world and then kept loving the world and then kept loving the world and then…. But there must be a catch, right? There is no way that God can love us that much. I mean, God created us, right? So God must know all of the things we try and hide. God knows our deepest darkest secrets. God knows all of the times we’ve messed up. God knows the depths of our sin. So there’s no way God can love us. There’s no way God should love us. There must be a catch. We feel like there has to be a catch because that is the way we humans love one another.

People have to work to earn our love. You love me and then I’ll love you. Do x,y, and z for me and then I’ll love you. And if we screw it up, we write one another out of each other’s lives. Just like that. But that’s another reason why God is God and we are not. God doesn’t just stop loving us. We may think that God can, should, or even does stop loving us. But it just doesn’t happen. Last week I talked about the idea that we are fed to feed. This is another one of the ways that we are fed: we are fed by the love of God through Jesus Christ. We are so filled up with this love that we then love others. Sometimes that looks like actual love: a hug, a light touch on the hand, the promise of accompaniment. Love can look like forgiveness and reconciliation. Sometimes love sounds like this “I don’t know the answers, but I’ll stick with you until we figure it out.”

God fed us with abundance through Jesus Christ. God fed us with baskets of love. Enough love that there is left overs. We can never have too much love. Then, just when we think we’re full, God, through Jesus Christ, reminds us that Jesus is the bread of life and that we will never hunger or thirst. We will never hunger or thirst for actual food or the food that fills our souls. When we are told God so loved the world, there is no catch. God feeds us with abundance. We do nothing to earn it. We believe in the one who sent us Jesus who continues to offer us love until we really do believe that it is for us and that it really never will run out. When everything around us is chaos, when it feels like the world is coming to an end around us, when we don’t even know right from left, the one thing we can know for sure is the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.