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Church, Proclaim: Christ the Bread

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, 5 August 2018
A Sermon on John 6:24-35 by Samuel Zumwalt, STS

John 6:24-35 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come he*re?” 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 work 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.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “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. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. The Gospel of the Lord.

Church, Proclaim: Christ the Bread

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Why are you here today? You could be anywhere. You could be doing anything. What brought you to this place at this time?

Now, don’t be too quick to answer the question. If you are here with others, this is a conversation you could have afterwards: “Why did we show up at St. Matthew’s?” If you are here by yourself, this is a question you could turn over in your heart and mind later when you aren’t distracted by something else: “Why did I go to St. Matthew’s?” And, if you are ready to go much deeper, you could talk with God. You could pray Psalm 139: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways….”

Speaking from my heart to yours, from my mind to yours, “Why are you here right now?”

Seeking Jesus for the Wrong Reasons

Last week we heard that Jesus fed 5,000 men with five loaves and two fish. It was what John’s gospel calls a sign. Jesus did signs to indicate that He is God in human flesh. That was the point of the section of John 6 that we heard last week. Jesus fed the 5,000. He walked on water.

After feeding the 5,000, Jesus perceived the crowd wanted to make Him their king, because He had given them bread to eat. Getting stuff for free is always popular. That’s why politicians promise something for nothing. Some say everyone can have a free education, free housing, free food, free medical care, and so forth. But it’s never free. When I was in my late 20s, having lived among the poor for several years and now working with the poor as a chaplain, I thought it was so simple. You take from the rich and give to the poor, and everyone has enough. Why it will be heaven on earth! That’s what Friedrich Engels thought as did his writing partner Karl Marx. You may not know this, but Engels was the grandson of a Lutheran pastor and raised in a parsonage.

But someone always has to pay for what we get. Right now, our government keeps printing money that is being borrowed from the grandchildren, the great grandchildren, and even the great great grandchildren of everyone in this room. If all the wealth in the world were taken away from those who have it and distributed to all the poor, it would not erase poverty. The math does not work. The politicians who promise something for nothing are all about getting and wielding power. Most of them don’t live among the poor. Many have never been poor and feel guilty about it. Some simply envy those who have what they don’t. Being lectured by well-educated, pampered ideologues may sell with you, but I stopped buying their lies a long, long time ago.

So, when the crowds came seeking Jesus, most of them came because He gave them free bread. They thought a guy like that would make a great king…just like the lying politicians. Just like the prosperity preachers in our day who ignore everything the Lord Jesus taught about the dangers of wealth. The lying preachers in our day tell people what they want to hear. The Lord Jesus didn’t feed everyone He met. He didn’t heal everyone He met. He wasn’t accepting and nice to everyone He met. Anybody who says any different is just another liar. Study the Bible.

So, What Are You Seeking?

When I was 19, I went to church with a girlfriend nearly every Sunday night and some Wednesday nights, too. I didn’t like her church’s worship or theology. I didn’t like her church’s pastor. I didn’t go for any reason other than to be with her and her family. My parents were worried that I was going to join that church. I responded: “No. I’m going because I like her.”

Years later, after ordination, I was grateful for having worshiped with her; it helped me to understand how the people from that background thought and practiced the Christian faith. It helped me to articulate better why we believe, teach, and confess what we do as Lutherans. God brought good out of what turned out to be one of the most painful chapters of my adolescence.

So, you may be here for all the wrong reasons…to make someone happy, to be with someone you like or love, to try to bargain with God to do for you what you want. And I am fine with that, because God has His proverbial foot in your door right now. He has room to work on you. He knows why you are here. He knows everything about you. He knows what He wants to do for you and with you. Someday years from now, you may even remember today with great gratitude.

You see, “seeking” is a very important word in John’s gospel. Jesus uses several forms of the Greek verb “zeteo,” which means “to seek by inquiring; to investigate; to get to the bottom of a matter.” He asks, “What are you seeking? Whom are you seeking?” He says, “You are seeking.” But what the people often miss, what even you may have missed is this: Jesus is seeking you!

Found, Forgiven, and Fed

The Lord Jesus, God in human flesh, is seeking everyone to share the eternal life and love of the one true God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He wants to give everyone the food that won’t wear out or go bad. He wants to give it to you without payment. But you say, “Wait a minute. Nothing is ever free.” And you are right. To share with you the eternal life and love of the one true God, Jesus, God’s Son, had to be born of the Virgin Mary in order to live the obedient life you and I cannot live and to die the innocent death you and I cannot die, that we might be His own. Someone once said: “Grace is an acronym. GRACE. God’s riches at Christ’s expense.”

So, if God’s grace is a free gift to us, how do we get it? Not by inviting Jesus into our hearts, but by being born from above through water and the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism (Jn 3:5). You see, Baptism is not what we do for God. It is where God the Holy Spirit joins us to Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 6:4). That’s why Paul can say that Baptism saves us (Titus 3:5). Jesus saves us by pouring out His Blood for us on the cross. We are joined to His saving death by Holy Baptism. And even the work of God, to believe in God’s Son Jesus, is the Holy Spirit’s work. If we could in any way save ourselves or cooperate in salvation, God would not have sent His Son!

What does Jesus mean when He says the Son of Man is the one on whom God has put His seal? The Greek verb “sphragizo” means to authorize, to promise, to guarantee. Jesus is the Father’s legal signature like pressing a signet ring into sealing wax. The last word spoken by King Jesus on the cross in John 19:30 is: “It is finished” (“it is accomplished”). He is the Victor.

Because the Lord Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, He can deliver anyone and everyone from sin, death, and the old evil foe. Joined to His saving death in Baptism, we have been found by the Good Shepherd who calls us by name. By the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus continues to call us daily from the way of sin, death, and evil to the way of eternal life. What does that life look like? It is to follow our Lord Jesus in the way of joyful and humble service without limit. And where do we get the strength and courage to give our lives away with gratitude to God and for the sake of our neighbors? Right here at this Table where the Lord Jesus says: “This is my Body. This is my Blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.”

Far too many people who claim to be Bible-believing Christians don’t believe the Lord when He promises to give Himself to us in His supper. Either they have become captive to rationalism (the idea that it must seem reasonable to me before it’s true), or they simply don’t understand what the Lord Jesus is saying. When He says, “I am the Bread of Life,” His fellow Jews were astounded, because the Torah (the five books of Moses) were the Bread of Life. But Jesus says, “I am the Living Torah, the Word made flesh, whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall not thirst.” At His Table, He gives us Himself not symbolically but actually, really, fully present in the Host and the Cup. Receiving Jesus, we are found, forgiven, and fed. He is in us, and, through Him, we share the eternal life and love of the Triune God.

Church, proclaim: Christ the Bread. He is what we need forever. Don’t look anywhere else!

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©The Rev. Dr. Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
szumwalt@bellsouth.net
www.societyholytrinity.org
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin Insert

Church, Proclaim: Christ the Bread

“Let your continual mercy, Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 618).

Listening

John 6:27 “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life ….”

St. John Chrysostom [late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople]: “I fed your bodies, he says, so that after this you might seek that other food that endures, which nourishes the soul. But you ran right back to that food that is temporal. Therefore, you do not understand that I lead you not to this imperfect food but to that which nourishes not the body but the soul” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: John 1-10, 222).

John 6:33 “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria [5th century Patriarch of Alexandria] “Imagine Christ saying something like this, ‘You foolishly suppose that the manna is the bread from heaven, since it merely fed the people of Israel in the wilderness while there were countless other nations throughout the world. You suppose that God wanted to demonstrate his loving kindness so narrowly as to give food to only one people?’…The only begotten of God the Father is the true manna, the bread from heaven, given to all rational creatures by God the Father” (225).

John 6:34 “They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’”

St. Augustine [late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa]: “As the Samaritan woman, to whom it was said, ‘Whoever drinks of this water shall never thirst,’ thought he meant natural water and said, ‘Sir, give me this water,’ thinking she might never be in want again; in the same way these people say, ‘O Lord, give us this bread’ that refreshes and sustains us and yet never fails” (225).

John 6:35 “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

St. Ignatius of Antioch [late 1st – early 2nd century martyred Bishop of Antioch]: “Do not talk about Jesus Christ while you desire the world. Do not let envy dwell among you…. I take no pleasure in corruptible food or the pleasures of this life. I want the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ who is of the seed of David; and for drink I want his blood, which is incorruptible love” (226).

John 6:35 “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

St. Ambrose [4th century Bishop of Milan, Italy]: “Christ is a rich treasure, for his bread is rich. And ‘rich’ is an apt term, for one who has eaten this bread will be unable to feel hunger. He gave it to the apostles to distribute to a believing people, and today he gives it to us. For he, as a priest, daily consecrates it with his own words. Therefore this bread has become the food of saints” (227).

Reflecting

1. Do I spend my life working for, seeking after, and indeed praying for perishable food?

2. If I believe Christ is truly present in His supper, how can I ever choose anything over Him?

Learning

(Read this aloud daily until everyone in your home can say it from memory.)

Christian Questions with Their Answers

Prepared by Dr. Martin Luther for those who intend to go to the Sacrament.

After confession and instruction in the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments of Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, the pastor may ask, or Christians may ask themselves these questions.

10. Did the Father also die for you?

He did not. The Father is God only, as is the Holy Spirit; but the Son is both true God and true man. He died for me and shed His blood for me.

11. How do you know this?

From the Holy Gospel, from the words instituting the Sacrament, and by His body and blood given me as a pledge in the Sacrament.

12. What are the Words of Institution?

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: ‘Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also, He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: ‘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. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (Luther’s Small Catechism).

Doing

1. Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.

2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.

3. During the summer months (especially fathers!), bring your household to the services of God’s house. If you are on the road, worship while you are away and bring back the bulletin for Pastor Zumwalt to see. Do this for accountability and to let the pastor see what other congregations are doing.

4. Begin now to make room in your schedule for Sunday School and Bible study at St. Matthew’s this fall. Mark the date for Rally Day on August 26 in your calendar!

5. Hang a crucifix or cross opposite your pillow so that the last sight you see before turning out the light is your Lord’s cross and the first sight of the new day reminds you to pray.

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”