12th Sunday after Pentecost – I AM The Bread of Life | John 6
If you don’t remember what caused the events in today’s OT text,
Here’s a brief summary:
God’s true prophet, Elijah, had a spiritual showdown at Mt. Carmel.
It was simple: him vs. the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah.
Whose God would respond to their prayers and sacrifice?
After a long, drawn-out, humiliating effort, the false prophets failed.
Their god was a fake, an idol;
And so their prayers were unanswered, and their sacrifice was not received.
As for Elijah, who served the true and living God,
His prayer was heard.
And fire came down from heaven,
As God consumed the soaking wet sacrifice from the dripping up altar.
When the people saw it, they knew who the true God was.
And Elijah had the 850 false prophets marched down to the river and slaughtered.
Of course, it was the LORD who won the victory for Elijah.
It was the LORD who delivered him against absolutely overwhelming odds.
And, it just happened.
We’re talking about a great and overwhelming victory that happened yesterday.
And yet, when Jezebel threatens him, he runs.
Despite all that God had just done, Elijah flees in fear for his life.
He is broken and he is ashamed – no better than his fathers.
And so, he reasons that God might as well kill him now.
Elijah’s story, however, is not unique.
This is your story, too.
God has won for you a tremendous victory against a powerful enemy.
There was a big showdown there at the font.
He sent the fire of His Holy Spirit, calling you to Himself, and delivering you to Jesus.
There in the water he put to death all the enemy’s power, and all that his false.
There, God won the victory you.
Maybe it didn’t happen yesterday, as is the case for Elijah,
But that really doesn’t matter.
Your Baptism is not merely a past event.
It is a present reality.
Thus, Luther writes:
“I do not say that I was baptized, but that I am baptized.”
God’s victory, won for him there, is a present reality, returned to daily.
This is why Luther writes in the Small Catechism,
“When you wake up, make the sign of the cross and say, ‘In the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’”
That is a return to your baptism.
You need that because you, now, like Elijah, are pursued by wickedness.
And the stakes are higher than just you and your life.
Jezebel wasn’t chiefly concerned with whether Elijah lived or died.
If her only concern were to kill him, she wouldn’t have sent a letter of warning.
Jezebel knew that word of YHWH’s victory would spread,
And that people would abandon Baal.
What she needed to do to God’s prophet was not kill him, but discredit him.
If he would run;
If he would give up;
If he would show himself to be no better than his fathers;
Then she will be vindicated, and her power preserved.
So it is for you.
The devil would very much like to strip you of the victory that has been won for you.
The big problem with that is that you have been delivered by God.
You have been handed to Jesus.
And it is His will that not one be lost.
So, unless you really really want to go, Satan doesn’t get to steal you away.
But he can pursue you, harass you, and threaten you.
Because if he can show you weak and fearful and fleeing,
No better than your fathers,
Then the rest of his kingdom will remain secure.
Elijah has failed.
He has resigned himself to fear, despair, and death.
But God has not abandoned him.
Instead, God provides for him.
God provided Elijah with divine food.
And he ate it, both times, and he went on in that strength for 40 days.
Now, you’re going to need to hold onto all of that, while we consider today’s Gospel.
Elijah ate some bread from Heaven,
But Jesus now presents Himself this morning as TheBread from Heaven;
As the Bread of which you may eat and never die.
“I am the Living Bread that came down from heaven,” Jesus says.
“so that one may eat of it and not die.”
There’s a couple things going on here, and we need to pay close attention.
On one level this is very simply about faith in Christ.
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” – v 40
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” v 44
On another level, to those gathered around,
Jesus is also speaking in anticipation of His Holy Supper – of the Eucharist.
To those who would come later,
And hear these words through John the Evangelist in the mouth of a Pastor,
as you have,
To them, to you, Jesus also speaks concerning His Holy Supper,
Which is already instituted and regularly received.
As Jesus 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.”
So, all in all, what does this mean?
Like Elijah, you have been delivered.
In Baptism, God the Father handed you to Christ.
And Christ holds onto you.
Like Elijah, you are now given divine food.
You are fed here in the proclamation of the Word.
Not alone at home with your Bible, which is where all sorts of cults begin,
But here in the Church, where God bids you go to be fed and nourished;
With His Word, and then with His Supper,
So that you may eat and not die, but live forever.
All of that is the clearest, most obvious sort of stuff to draw from these two events.
It is good, it is true, and all by itself, it is enough.
But we have a problem.
To all of this good, beautiful, clear Gospel for you and for me: we add the Law.
And we do it this way:
We say things like,
“I believe in Christ. I have a relationship with Him, and that’s enough for me.”
Or, “I come when I have time, when I’m not so busy, or when I really feel like it;
And doesn’t it say somewhere that God won’t snuff out a fledgling flame?”
And, “Would God really send me to hell for that?”
We are on this constant quest for Christianity’s lowest common denominator,
For the cheapest possible grace.
While God wants to fill us with His gifts, we are caught up in a race to the bottom.
And along the way, again and again, we are asking the wrong questions.
Of course, we would rarely be so bold or crass with our words,
But we are much freer with our actions.
The average member of Lutheran Church of The Way comes about half the time.
That’s common among most churches, but I’m not the Pastor of most churches.
I’m talking about this church.
The average member here eats half his food;
Half of what God puts in front of him.
Out of pure grace and mercy, God gave him divine food in a desert.
And it stands to reason that one meal would have been enough.
It stands to reason that one bite of one meal would have been enough.
But God does not give him one meal, nor does God give him one bite.
God feeds him twice, and he goes on in the strength of that food for 40 days.
The 40 days, of course, isn’t a standard for how often you ought to be here.
In the Bible, 40 days or years is always a time of testing, trial, and pilgrimage.
40 days in the ark;
40 years of journey for Israel;
40 days of journey for Elijah;
And 40 days in the wilderness for Jesus.
Your lives are hard.
The devil is ever on your back – pursuing you and threatening you.
And the journey really is too great for you.
Elijah does not imagine whether or not one meal was enough.
He gladly eats everything put in front of him.
He does not out of fear that God will destroy him if he doesn’t.
Faith receives God’s gifts joyfully.
Life in the Church is not fire insurance.
You have already been saved.
You have already been delivered.
And you are here not only because there is life after death;
But because there is life after “life after death.”
There is still this world where you live as hungry pilgrims,
Sent to live in mercy and witness to others.
This is the Bread come down from heaven for you,
That you may eat, and not die, but life forever.
Arise and eat.