Devotional Message: The 12th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 14B (8/12/2018)

Lessons

1st Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
St. John 6:35, 41-51

Semicontinuous Series

2nd Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Psalm 130

Prayer of the Day

Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven to be the true bread that gives life to the world. Give us this bread always, that he may live in us and we in him, and that, strengthened by this food, we may live as his body in the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Text for This Sunday

6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven."

St. John 6:35, 41-51 New Revised Standard Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: Audacious Claims

“Whoever believes has eternal life… I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” We are accustomed to hearing these words from Jesus, and they make sense to us. We know him as the incarnate presence of God. We have heard many stories of miraculous actions ascribed to him. (St. John’s Gospel refers to these as “signs” of who Jesus actually is.) We’ve considered accounts of his victory over death. The source of eternal life? Of course! Living bread that came down from heaven? Indeed!

And we’ve heard of the crowds that followed him. In this sequence, from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, after being among the 5,000 people he fed in the wilderness with five loaves of bread and two fish (6:1-14), many of them travel all the way across or around the Sea of Galilee to find him (6:22-24). Whether they believe because of the food he provides for them, or the teaching that stirs their souls, or the healings and exorcisms they witness, they believe in him — and perhaps are beginning to see that he embodies God’s presence among them in a powerful way.

But not so the leaders of the Jewish religious institutions. To them, this all seems like an audacious claim. The source of eternal life? Blasphemous! Living bread that came down from heaven? Ridiculous! To these people, he is nothing more than “Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know.” They can’t understand how he can make these kinds of audacious claims about himself any more than they can understand why anybody would believe him.

Jesus seems to have a different understanding of what is taking place here, though. He expresses no surprise at their opposition. He doesn’t craft weighty theological arguments to win them over. He doesn’t call his followers to rebel against these faithless shepherds. He testifies, instead, that it is all in God’s hands. “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.”

It reminds us of Martin Luther, who once wrote (in what many of you know to be my favorite passage from all of Luther’s writings): “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. [tr. Timothy J. Wengert, 1994.]

This isn’t a passage that clearly explains the mystery of why some believe and why some don’t. There are many other teachings about this in our Bible, and frankly: the mystery remains. This is a passage, though, that invites us to gratitude. Gratitude for the power of God that we have come to see in Jesus. Gratitude that God has drawn us to this faith and life. Gratitude for the hope that on our last day Jesus will raise us up.

Let us hold fast to this hope without wavering, for the One who promises it to us is faithful. And may God draw us in, so that these audacious claims of Jesus become the bedrock of our faith.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What must the people who followed Jesus around the Sea of Galilee be thinking about him?
  2. Why are the Jewish insiders so stirred up in opposition to him?
  3. How does Jesus’ notion of the Father drawing people to him help us understand these two groups?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. When have I found myself doubting Jesus, or feeling drawn towards him?
  2. How have I expressed my gratitude to God for inspiring my faith and hope?
  3. What is it about my faith that gives me the most strength and hope in my daily life?