Archive for August, 2018

Traditions!

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

Pentecost 14B
August 26, 2018
Mr. Rick Stark-Vicar of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

The play, or movie, “Fiddler on the Roof” is a classic story about a Jewish-Russian family in the early 1900’s, just before the great revolution in Russia.

It’s one of those stories you don’t forget. One thing the story does is that it gives you a feeling for the Jewish love of tradition.  The Jews, especially the Orthodox Jews, have a very prideful sense of history.  They love their traditions. They love their festivals. They love their rituals.  Of all the people on earth, the Jews are some of the most tradition loving people that we know of.

The main characters are Tevye, the old, bumbling Jewish patriarch, and a poor farmer; his wife, Golda, the resilient Jewish mother; and their five lovely daughters, three of whom needed to be married.  The plot of the story is the marrying-off of these three daughters.  So Tevye and Golda employ a matchmaker to match their three daughters to prospective husbands.  The twist is the girls don’t want to use the matchmaker; they want to choose their own husbands based on love.  Those old traditions are beginning to crumble.  

Can you imagine? People actually wanting to choose their own mates and marrying for love, that’s unheard of for the times! Their traditions are changing!

 

In the opening scene, Tevye tries to explain their traditions, he says:

“…In our little village of Anatevka, you might say everyone of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. 

You may ask, ‘Why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous?’ We stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word, TRADITION!”

Tevye goes on to explain, “Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years… we have traditions for everything: how to sleep, how to eat, how to work, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God.

You may ask: How did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you… I don’t know, but it’s a tradition! And, because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”

Oh really Tevye?  “Because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do?”  

Is tradition really such a clear indicator of God’s will? Is tradition even a good thing?  You may not think so after listening to Jesus in our Gospel lesson today. Jesus seems pretty set against tradition. 

Listen again to what Jesus says. First, He calls the Pharisees “hypocrites” and then He rebukes them, saying, “You have let go of the commandment of God and you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” Then He said to them, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” He goes on to say, “You nullify the Word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”

It sounds like Jesus is thumbing His nose at tradition.

So, if that’s the case, if tradition is bad, then what should we do about this in the Church today? Some might say we need to get rid of our traditions. Many “new age” churches are doing just that. Some churches have rid their sanctuaries of any crucifixes or any crosses; they’re afraid it might turn people off.  They say let’s get rid of the liturgy. We don’t need our pastors to wear these hot robes. Let’s get rid of the organ and these old hymns we sing. Oh, and let’s stop making the sign of the cross.  Many would say these things are old and boring, and a lot of it is just way too Catholic.  Many of these people would point to today’s text in Mark, chapter 7, to support their case. 

But many of these things are something our good pastor would refer to as “adiaphora,” How many of you have heard him use that phrase?   Adiaphora are those things that are neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture. You’re not commanded to make the sign of the cross to remember your baptism. You’re not commanded to use the liturgy as laid out in the Lutheran Service Book. You don’t have to worship in this style. And, you don’t have to do any of these things to gain salvation.

But what was it that Jesus was really objecting to? Was Jesus attacking the tradition or was there something more to the story?

Let’s see what the Bible says and we’ll allow Scripture to speak for Scripture.

The Bible tells us that Jesus Himself kept many of the Hebrew traditions. 

  • Jesus went up to Jerusalem for annual pilgrimages and festivals 
  • Jesus regularly attended synagogue – the Gospels state “as it was His custom”
    • As did many of the apostles after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection
    • Custom is another word for tradition

So it appears Jesus was not completely against “traditions.”

The word “tradition” means “something that is handed down from one generation to the next.”  It could be a traditional teaching or it could be a traditional practice. But the teaching or the practice is neither good nor bad simply because it has been handed down as a tradition.  There are other factors that come into play.

St. Paul uses the word “tradition” many times in a positive sense. In his first letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 11, Paul said, “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” Here Paul is talking about good worship practices. A little later in this same chapter Paul says, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…” Paul said, ‘This is what I passed on to you.’ That’s tradition!

Likewise, in 1 Corinthians, in chapter 15, Paul writes, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved… [Paul says again] for I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”

Does that sound familiar? They should. Paul’s words – the tradition that he passed on -found its way into the church’s creeds. Those creeds have now become tradition within the worship of the church.

Paul is speaking of passing on that which has been received. And this “tradition” reminds people they are saved and this “tradition” gives hope to those that want to be saved! Tradition does this when the teaching or the practice passed along is one that is centered in the Word of God, the teaching and work of Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners. This is tradition in the good sense.

There are many passages throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament, commending tradition, and yet, Jesus speaks against it in our text today. Why? 

We’ve established it’s not tradition in itself that is bad, but the reason behind the tradition, what is being honored in the tradition, and why it’s being done that Jesus calls into question in today’s Gospel lesson.  Jesus wasn’t attacking tradition; He was attacking the Pharisees’ for the heart in which they did the traditions and for sticking to their traditions despite the obvious contradiction to God’s Word.

The primary lesson for today raises the question of conflict between the will of God in the lives and performance of his people, and how those people actually interpret and follow God’s will. 

The Pharisees and scribes wanted to know why Jesus’ disciples did not wash their hands in accordance with the traditions of the elders. They were serious about their question – for the Jews there is a huge distinction between the clean and the unclean – a sharp religious distinction that was established by God. There were “unclean” people – for example a woman after childbirth, a leper, or a Gentile (a non-believer). And Jewish people became unclean if they had any contact with any of these people. The type of contact was hard to avoid in a crowded marketplace like it explained in our lesson, so by deduction, everyone coming from the marketplace was considered indirectly “unclean” through mere contact with others. To compensate for this, the tradition of the elders spelled out the rules and procedures to restore oneself to a state religious cleanliness, such as the washing of one’s hands, body and clothing; this was not done for hygienic purity (to actually get clean), but more for the way the hands were washed which was purely for the sake of ceremonial purity. 

So for the Pharisees, these “man-made” traditions were seen as necessary. You had to wash your hands at certain times and in a certain way before you could eat. But this specific tradition was not something that was commanded by God. It was a tradition that was created by the elders. Jesus made the point that these traditions were not absolute as though they were coming from God.

Secondly, these traditions were seen as meritorious, that is, by doing these things you were somehow earning your salvation, or at least contributing toward it.  This was another thing wrong with these traditions; the idea that if you did these things, and followed the traditions you were taught, that somehow you were piling up points with God.  

Don’t we all devise our own reasons in an attempt to justify ourselves and our actions before God? Don’t we all use our traditions to appear more pious before others so that when we come across people that do things differently, the way we do them is always right. 

This is exactly what Jesus meant, this kind of attitude, Jesus describes as an effort to “honor God with our lips.” When we do our traditions in an effort to secure God’s confirmation, or at least our own confirmation, that we’re OK with our values and ideas and we refuse to open our hearts to His changing, invigorating Spirit. We want God to say “Amen” to us and our actions rather than speaking and living our “Amen” to His will.

The truth is, we are all broken people in a broken world and we as sinners cannot keep God’s commandments, let alone all the extra traditions men have added on.

So, when man-made tradition is taught as being absolutely necessary, when it is done in order to earn merit before God, or when it is used to take precedence over God’s clear Word and commandments, then that kind of tradition is definitely wrong. That is what Jesus condemns and that is what we should condemn as well.

But that is not the case with many of the good traditions that we have here in the church. Those traditions we would be wise to keep and pass on to the next generation. For example, included among those good traditions would be the Creeds. In the Creeds we have the teaching of the apostles, passed on for centuries in the church, and preserved for us in a concise, memorable form. The Creeds pass on the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, which we have received, and in which we stand, and by which we are saved. 

What tradition could be better than the Nicene Creed, for instance, which teaches us of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven . . . and was crucified also for us,” and who “rose again according to the Scriptures,” and so on?

You see, that is the Gospel itself, which is what the apostles preached, and which is what we believe, and which is what delivers to us all the saving benefits of Jesus Christ. Our works won’t gain us entry into heaven. Our hands, like the disciples, are defiled with sin, and all the hand washing, and all our self-chosen works cannot and will not get that stain out. Only the blood of Jesus, God’s own Son, will do that. And it does! Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all our sins. The washing God does in Holy Baptism applies the forgiveness that Christ won for us on the cross. This is the Gospel! And this Gospel has been passed on to us in Word and Sacrament; this Gospel delivers all the salvation that we need. This is the value of tradition in the good sense. This is what we should preserve and pass on the next generation.

And so our liturgy, the Lutheran Church’s historic liturgical form, handed down and shaped over many centuries – yes, the structure and texts of the Divine Service, which we have and use every Sunday, the hymns and the organ music – this is something worth preserving and passing on. The church’s liturgy has stood the test of time. The liturgy both expresses and teaches the beautiful Gospel of Jesus Christ better than anything else that some individual could come up with on his own from week to week. So there’s no need to throw out the liturgy. It’s better to learn and use it and to do it well. It’s a good tradition that we have received.  The liturgy is what makes us Lutheran, not what makes us Christian.  And lest we forget, we are Christians by faith and Lutherans by practice. It does good to remind us of who we are and Who’s we are!

Our friend Tevye would tell us, “Because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” Well, not exactly. If our traditions get in the way of the Word of God, then no, the traditions of the elders are bad. But when tradition serves the Word of God, to help pass along the one and only saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we can say – and sing out without shame: “Tradition!”

May the Peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Eat to Live!

Sunday, August 19th, 2018

Pentecost 13B
August 19, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” [John 6:54]

Have you ever heard the saying “Eat to live, don’t live to eat”?  It’s a common catch phrase that the nutrition industry has come up with in an effort to help us reexamine our diets, and there is good reason for doing that.  Did you know that about 36 % of Americans are classified as obese?  And did you know that if the current trend holds, which experts believe it will, by the year 2030 a whopping 42% of Americans may end up obese?  But wait, it gets worse, of that 42%, experts feel that 11% of them could be severely obese, which is about 100 or more pounds over a healthy weight.

So yes, there is reason to examine just what it is we are eating and why we are eating it.  If we are living to eat, that is living for the enjoyment of eating, the statistics are warning us that we could be in for big trouble.  And that is the message from God for us today.  It’s a message about eating and drinking, but it isn’t talking about our physical diet so much as our spiritual diet!

Our Old Testament lesson (Proverbs 9:1–10)  sets the table so to speak for the spiritual banquet that God has prepared for us this morning, listen: “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”  To him who lacks sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.  Leave your simple ways, and live and walk in the way of insight.”

The Bible seems to always be reminding us that there’s two different kinds of eating, physical and spiritual, and that the spiritual food is a lot more important than the physical food: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every Word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” [Deuteronomy 8:3]  

This morning, wisdom is inviting us to feast on God’s Word; to continue developing the practice of going to church, attending Bible study, reading and sharing the Word of God at home and with friends and neighbors.  Wisdom of course is present and received through the Word of God.  So really, the invitation to come to the banquet is an invitation to get to know God.  But before we will accept wisdom’s invitation, we have to first admit that we need it; we have to admit that we need God.  We have to admit that we are simple and lost sinners, lost in darkness and lacking judgment.  That is, on our own, we can only think of physical eating and drinking; we live to eat.  This morning, God is asking us to admit that there’s a greater kind of eating and drinking, a spiritual one that we can’t understand or see the need for unless He intervenes!

And right now, in His Word, God is doing just that; He is intervening in your life, in a mysterious and powerful way.  This morning God wants you to see that everything you consume physically is dead.  Your meat is dead, your grain is dead, your fruits are dead, and your vegetables are dead.  Once you start munching them down they are dead.  We are simply dead people munching on dead things, unless… unless God intervenes.

In our gospel reading (John 6:51-69), God does just that.  Today, God comes to you by faith in the real presence of His Son Jesus Christ and says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” [Vs. 51]  

Does that offend you?  Does it confuse you?  It may, if you simply hear those Words and stop listening.  You may be confused if you are thinking about living to eat and not eating to live!

Standing before our eyes of faith this morning is Jesus Christ, the son of Mary but also the true Son of God.  Like the people in last week’s gospel, we might be tempted to grumble to ourselves and even out loud that this is only Jesus who was born of a woman named Mary.  He was a man like us in every way, wasn’t He?  So how can He say He will give us anything that will make us live forever?  Well the answer is in the origin of Jesus.  As the Living Bread, He is the Living Bread that came down from Heaven.  In other words, Jesus is reminding us that while He was born into our human existence as one of us, His origin is not from among us; He has come from heaven.  Jesus is telling us that before His birth He was with His Father and with us, and after His death, He tells us that He always shall be.

Who is Jesus?  He is the voice of wisdom calling out to the simpletons and sinners; He is calling out to you and me.  He calls us to come, eat of His bread and drink of His wine; a banquet meal that He and He alone has prepared for you.  This morning Jesus tells us that we can’t settle for any other diet.  It must be His bread, His body given for us.

But Jesus, ever the gracious host, offers you more than just food, He offers you a refreshing and life giving drink as well.  ““Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” [Vs. 54-55]  

Now this is the point where the grumblers try to turn Jesus’ Words into something a bit more palatable (pun intended)!  They say, “Ok, surely He doesn’t mean we can eat His body and drink His blood.  That would be cannibalism.  So this must be one of those wise philosophical sayings that says one thing but means another.”  So the grumblers keep on listening and keep on looking for ways to be “comfortable” with His Words.  But Jesus isn’t done; not by a long shot! Listen…

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. [Vs. 56, 57]  Now the grumblers are really becoming uncomfortable.  Jesus is still insisting that we eat His flesh and drink His blood, but instead of giving us the meaning of this saying, He makes the assertion that if we want to live forever, we really need to feed on Him, because that’s what God sent Him for!

What is causing the confusion?  What is causing the offense?  Is it Jesus or those who listen to His Words?  It’s those who are listening!  They are still living to eat and do not understand the need to eat to live.  So Jesus will give the grumbling munchers one more bit of wisdom in the form of a question.

“Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” [Vs. 61b]  

Do you take offense at that?  Do you see only the meal that is spread before you and fail to see the host who offers it?  Jesus is the son of Mary, but He is also the Son of God.  His flesh and blood are not simply like any flesh and blood; they are divine.  They have now somehow in a mysterious way become God’s flesh and blood.  The host has become the meal!  He who is Spirit has taken on flesh, and now He has become a new kind of flesh and blood; it is the flesh and blood of the God man Jesus Christ that you are offered to feed upon today.

In His Word He offers you real food; He shows you your sins and if you will see them, if you will eat that bitter herb, He quickly offers you the sweet delicacies of the gospel; He offers you forgiveness of all sins and peace with God your creator.  In your baptism He assigned you a permanent seat at His banquet table.  It is your place that He prepared for you at the beginning of creation.  Only you may sit there… only you!  And at that seat He prepared you for, He also dresses you like a prince, because that is what He has made you to be!  And in His Word, at His heavenly banquet He says, read, listen, and receive my Word, my flesh and blood.  Take and eat, this is MY body, which is given for you.  Here is the cup of thanksgiving; take and drink of it all of you; this cup is the new testament in MY blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. 

Do you hear the Words MY body, MY blood repeated over and over again.  It is truly His flesh and blood that He gives to us in His Word, in His Washing, and in His Holy Meal.  This morning Jesus wants you to see that by receiving His Holy Food, you are receiving Him. You receive His life and His death. 

What the disciples who grumbled and complained could not see, and what many of those who live to eat today can’t see is that unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus the son of Mary and the Son of God, you can’t have life.  Instead of eating to live, you will be living to eat.  What many can’t see is that in the heavenly food that Jesus gives is true life that comes from true sacrifice.  Upon the cross, the Son of God allowed men to take His life from Him.  He who is eternal, who can’t die, died; He died because He became one of us, for us.  He died because He gave His body and shed His blood for the sins of the world.  He died for you!  

When Jesus says take and eat, take and drink, He is giving to you real food and real drink.  He is giving to you Himself; His life and death for the forgiveness of sins… your sins!  Will you eat to live, or will you continue to live to eat?  Do you see your great need for this mysterious eating and drinking or will you simply turn away as another grumbling muncher?

As for me, I will answer with St. Peter, “Alleluia, Lord to whom shall we go?  You have the Words of eternal life”.  Alleluia, alleluia!

If It Had Not Been For The Lord…

Sunday, August 12th, 2018

Pentecost 12B
August 12, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” [John 6:39]

This morning our gospel reading drives home the point that Jesus is the solution, our solution to feeling lost, alone, and afraid. He’s even our solution to death.  He says Himself that He has come to give life for the world!  He repeats the message that we heard last week, that He alone is the Bread of Life, but this time He points out that if you don’t receive this bread (if you won’t receive Him), you will die.  But if you will eat the bread that He offers, well then you will have life, an abundant life, even if you sometimes don’t feel like eating that bread!

In our Old Testament reading [1 Kings 19:1-8], we jump smack dab in the middle of a crisis.  

It was a dark moment in the life of the prophet Elijah.  By dark, I mean Elijah was in the middle of deep depression; so deep, all he wanted to do was lie down and die.  Have you ever been there?  I’d like each of you to pause for just a moment and recall that time in your life; a time where all you felt was loneliness and perhaps hopelessness.

Isn’t it true that sometimes, that feeling of depression can sneak up on you when you least expect it?  For Elijah it came immediately after a huge victory.  He was sent by God to confront the wicked Queen Jezebel and her false prophets of Baal.  He was sent to prove to the people of Israel who their true God was and is!  It was a perfect day; Elijah called down the fire of heaven and left the false prophets and the people of Israel speechless.  There was one problem though… the sinful Queen was enraged.  She swore that she would get her revenge quickly by taking Elijah’s life; he was a wanted man. 

So off he ran, into the wilderness where he sought refuge in a place of seclusion.  Alone with his thoughts and weary from being zealous for God, he laid down under a shade tree; he laid down to die!  He asked God to take his life and end his existence.  He was tired of doing the right thing and then paying the price.  You could say that he found a degree of truth to the saying, “No good deed goes unpunished!”  

Have you ever felt like that?  Did you ever lay down in your bed, completely happy with never opening your eyes again?  Have you ever felt like everything was set against you?  And yet you are still here; you are no longer in that dark place.  Something happened that got you out of that dark place and carried you to another place.  Maybe you can look back at some of those darker days and say, “If it had not been for the Lord… well I don’t know where I’d be right now!”  And that is certainly how Elijah must have felt; for you see, in the middle of his dark and depressed sleep, God sent His angel to wake Him.  There at his feet was a nutritious meal, and an angel who said, “(Elijah) Arise and Eat.”  

Now scripture doesn’t say what Elijah’s answer was, but I can’t help but think that he must have grumbled; he must have responded in a way that any of us would who were camped out in that valley of darkness would: “No!  Leave me alone; I’m not hungry!”  And to that God must have told him, “Eat any how; it will be good for you.”  Not wanting to devote any more time to fighting God or dealing with any of the problems He led him into, I can see Elijah saying, “Fine.  I’ll eat, if after that you will just leave me alone to die.”

And what happened next?  A few hours later, after he had eaten, the Lord sent the angel again to wake him and have him eat again!  This time though, he was feeling just a little better, and besides that, there was not only Word from the Lord, but purpose; God had given him a reason to live another day and a new mission: “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.”  And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.” [1 Kings 19:7-9]

We can learn something wonderful from this story about a depressed man of God; something wonderful that can help us through our own dark moments, but before we do there is one question that needs to be answered.  

Why was God taking Elijah to a mountain far away named Horeb?  Does anyone know why that mountain was important to Elijah or anyone from the old church?  Well, it was the very same Mt. Horeb where God first spoke to Moses and proclaimed that He saw His people held in captivity in Egypt, and He was then going to do something about it.  It is also the same mountain where God later spoke to Moses and sent him down to his people with the Law of God; a law that would protect His people and prepare them to enter the promised land of milk and honey!

If it had not been for God, where would Elijah be?  If it had not been for God, where would the old church be?  If it had not been for God speaking tenderly but sternly to you, where would you be?  When you were lost and alone, when you thought you lost your way, He spoke to you also and said, “Arise and eat!  Remember my promise to you in my Word!  Arise and read!  Go to church and hear the Word preached to you!”  

Oh we are not much different than Elijah; we too have had many times in our lives where the Lord has had to spoon feed us so to speak; “I don’t want to go to church; I don’t want to hear a sermon; I don’t want to hear that I am a forgiven sinner.”  And to that God’s consistent message has been, “Do it anyhow, because your journey and your purpose is not complete.  You will need the strength!”  Oh, if it had not been for the Lord, I don’t know where I’d be right now!

 And just what is it that the Lord has done for us?  In our 2nd reading (Ephesians 4:17-5:2), we get the answer, and oh what an answer it is!  

He has not only fed us, he has given us a holy appetite for heavenly-spiritual food; food that not only nourishes us but continually recreates us!  Just as God made Elijah go back to the beginning at Mt. Horeb, St. Paul does the same thing for us this morning.  He takes us back to the beginning of our new baptized nature.  There in that holy washing with simple water and God’s powerful Word, he points us to His mysterious work that is daily transforming us again and again.  This morning, God is asking you to look backwards in order to reestablish your bearings; in order to see your life as He sees it; you have a purpose!

In your baptism, and every day since, you have been learning to live a life walking with the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  You have learned that in your baptism, your old dark nature has been crucified with Jesus; put to death, and yet you still live, or Rather the mind and heart of Jesus lives within you leading you and strengthening you.  You are taught every day to put off your old self.  You must put it to death because that is the self that is prone to doubt, grumble, and wander away.

In your baptism, you are told, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (who lives within you), because you belong to God; you are His beloved child.  If you want meaning in your life, you can’t give up; instead you have to continue receiving God’s nourishment.  You will need that nourishment if you are to imitate your Savior, your Bread of Heaven.  So arise and eat!  Even if you don’t feel like it, get out of bed; with every source of energy you can muster stand up within your depression and get to the place where you are fed the Word of God; with every exhausted muscle in your body turn yourself towards Jesus and receive the Words of life… YOU ARE FORGIVEN!  

Hear, read, listen, and receive that nourishment, because without it you really are headed for death, and not the kind of death that leads from trouble to peace, but an eternal death that forever knows nothing but trouble and never a moment of peace.

In our gospel lesson (John 6:35-51), Jesus was pleading with the people to eat that true bread of heaven; bread that would bring them life.  

In last week’s gospel lesson, they bragged that their ancestors ate manna from heaven, but this morning, Jesus counters that by saying while it was true that they ate that bread, it was also true that they were all dead.  “So,” says Jesus, “eat the Bread of Heaven, and you will live forever!”

The people in Jesus audience grumbled and complained and wanted to know how they would live forever!  “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?  How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’”

And to this grumbling spirit that is born in the darkness of sin; sin that gives birth to doubt and the hopeless feeling of depression, Jesus speaks not in the thundering threats of the Law; He doesn’t demand faith but instead in the still soft voice of the Gospel, He gives faith by saying: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And I will raise him up on the last day… Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes (in me) has eternal life.  I am the Bread of Life.”

And there in those sweet Words, Jesus speaks faith into each of us by taking us back to our baptism.  He reminds us that we did not choose Him, but He chose us; the Father, His Father chose us.  He sealed us to Himself within our baptism, and He daily draws us into Himself.   In those words, Jesus reminds us that just as He has been crucified and resurrected, so it is true with our own identities.  

Our old sinful nature is behind us and we are to look forward every day to our own resurrected life.  And to reassure us every day that this is not only our new identity, but also our eternal future, Jesus speaks in that still soft voice, “Arise and eat!  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, He will live forever.  And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.  (My flesh crucified for the sins of the world; even your sins)!  And in those Words we find hope; we find peace with God.  OH, IF IT HAD NOT BEEN FOR THE LORD…!  AMEN! 

THE Bread of Heaven

Sunday, August 5th, 2018

Pentecost 11B
August 5, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

There’s a famous Saturday Night Live segment that was known as “Hans and Franz Pump You Up!”  In this segment, two wannabe, phony body builders named Hans and Franz are speaking in contrived Austrian accents, as they tell the viewing audience that they are there to pump them up.  At the time, everyone knew that they were of course making fun of movie-star, body builder, and future Governator of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In one episode, Arnold even walked out on the stage in the middle of their skit and confronted their phony portrayal of body builders.   

Now as funny as that skit was to me, it also had a degree of truth.  And it was this: If left on our own, we can be a lot like those posers pretending to be body builders; we will pretend to be Christians.  And instead of making Arnold sick, we make ourselves sick; sick with sin!  Now if you are happy with living a life that satisfies only your physical needs you probably won’t be interested in our message this morning.  And if that is the case, then your sin-sickness will lead to death.  But if you’re willing to let God’s Word speak to you this morning, you will begin to understand the need, your need to see all things in a spiritual way.  You will begin to say with the crowd in Capernaum, “Sir, give us this bread always.” [John 6:34]

In the last few weeks, we’ve heard about Jesus feeding well over 5,000 people with a few fish and loaves of bread, we’ve witnessed Him seeing an emergency at sea that no human eyes could have seen, we’ve heard about Him walking on water and then calming the sea, and we also heard about Him healing the sick and even raising the dead!  

That’s a lot to take in; a lot to process.  Imagine how the people who were there were struggling with that information overload.  And instead of processing the information and making a conclusion about who Jesus must be, they asked for more of the experience.  More information to overload their limited minds.  “Sir, give us this bread always!  We want more of your wonder bread.”  They wanted more demonstrations of God’s power through this insignificant son of a carpenter.  They were ready to settle for food that spoils and reject God’s presence and gifts that were within the “wonder bread” given by the God-man Jesus Christ.

In this simple retelling of an actual event that took place in Capernaum, God would have us notice two things about the people then and people today.  We all are very quick to settle for things that spoil, rust, and rot, and we can quickly become bored with who Jesus really is, the Son of God.  And if we aren’t mindful of this, we might find ourselves conveniently placing our relationship with God on a shelf, relegating Jesus and His Words to just another religion, another way to live right.

In our gospel reading the people of Capernaum demonstrated that they were not all that different from their ancestors, the people God led out of bondage in Egypt.  

In our Old Testament reading, we heard how the former Hebrew slaves grumbled when the miracles that provided for their physical needs seemed to dry up.  They began to long for the good old days.  They grumbled just weeks after being freed from their bondage, “(Oh, that we were still by our) meat pots (in Egypt where we) ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” [Exodus 16:3]  And the people of Capernaum in our Gospel reading, grumbled just a few hours after Jesus fed them bread out of nowhere; wonder bread that satisfied their hunger for an evening, “What (additional) sign do you do” they asked, “that we may see and believe you? What other miracle will you perform to get us to keep following you?  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Will you give us this same bread?

And what about us; what do we grumble about?  Perhaps it’s the way God answers our prayers?  Maybe it’s the lack of respect we feel that others give us?  Maybe our economic condition is the thing that seems most unfair?  Or maybe we grumble about the need to go to church and Bible study every week.  For some it might be the type of music we sing during worship or the length of the service!  Or maybe you just don’t like the pastor and his personality?

Like the people then we too can get so hung up on the physical representation of God’s gifts, that we loose sight of the giver.  When that happens, we can get caught up in a grumbling spirit and miss the more important spiritual work He’s doing within us through His Word.  In essence when we physically or mentally check out we have cut off our true spiritual connection with God! 

So how do we restore that right condition, that spiritual condition within us.  How do we reconnect with God?  We do it by receiving Jesus for who He is and then simply listen to His Words!

Who is Jesus and what is it that He wants to give to us?  

Well let’s let Him answer that for Himself: “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” [John 6:32, 33]

Who is Jesus?  He is the bread of heaven; He is the One Who comes down from heaven to give you all good gifts from above.  He is your Creator and God.  What He gives to you in physical gifts are given so that you will hear and receive His Word, and then see the Giver behind the gift with eyes of faith.  And once He has given you faith, you are able to see the true gift that He gives behind the physical gift.  He gives to you Himself!

Jesus says to you this morning, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” [vs. 35]  “Take and eat this is my body, which is given for you.  This do in remembrance of Me.”  (Take and) drink of it all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.  This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” [Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25]

What is it that Jesus gives to you?  He gives you Himself; He gives you His body and blood in with and under the gift of bread and wine, and when He gives you Himself, He gives you life… new life; He gives you forgiveness of sins.

So Why do we grumble and complain?  

Listen, forget the physical reason you might be tempted to gripe, and listen to the truth, the spiritual reason you grumble and fail to see your Savior active in your life.  You grumble because like the Hebrews that God used Moses to save, you are really groaning under bondage; you are in bondage, you are enslaved in your sin.  

Your sin is the reason that you so quickly get caught up in the physical blessings and ignore the eternal spiritual blessings.  Your sin is the reason that you so easily forget about your bondage to it, and then forget about your sinfulness; and when you forget about your sinfulness, you also forget about your need for a Savior.  You forget that yours is not a religion like all of the others, a religion where you must work and work to hopefully please an angry god; no yours is a relationship of love and trust with your Creator who has come to you just as you were and done the only work necessary to save you… He has died to take away your sins and set you free!

In the life, the suffering, and the death of Jesus, the Son of God, you have received The Bread of Life, come down from heaven.  He alone satisfies your hunger and gives life to the world.  By His cross only, God has taken away the sins of the World.  And in your baptism, this great gift of forgiveness has been given to you personally!  In your baptism, Jesus has shared God’s Spirit with you; He alone gives you and always fills you with the power to love and live for others.

And as you live your life loving others, forgiving others, you are also leading them to the same source of strength that has recreated you, the Bread of Heaven, Jesus Christ.  In His Word, Jesus not only washed you clean, but He renews your mind and is constantly recreating you into His image.  He feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  He speaks these few precious Words to you over and over again so you will truly receive the Giver behind the gift… “You are forgiven!”

It is my prayer and God’s will that you will keep coming to this place to receive His gifts and hear the Word that is behind each gift.  As He fills you, it isn’t a phony pumping up like Hans and Franz, but it’s an actual re-creation and healing; it’s real change!  It is my prayer and God’s will that you will keep saying along with the people of Capernaum, “Sir, keep giving us this bread always.”  

Heavenly Father, keep filling us with your forgiving love and power, so that we may give these same gifts to our neighbors by bringing them to the same source, the bread of life, Jesus Christ.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!