Summary: A Sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, proper 14

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10th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr.14] August 9, 2009 “Series B”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, Jesus tells us that he is the bread of life, come down from heaven to our fallen world. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to his teaching, that we might be filled with his eternal presence, freed from our sins by his grace, and nourished with the food that forever satisfies. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

This morning we continue our Lord’s teaching, which resulted from his miraculous feeding of the large crowd with just five small loaves and two fish. Following that event, the crowds who followed Jesus grew even larger. But Jesus perceived that they were following him for the wrong reason, that they really didn’t understand that in him, the presence of God was among them. They were in awe of his ability to meet their need.

Thus, Jesus seized the opportunity to expand the peoples’ understanding, to use the symbolism of that miracle to reveal to them his true identity as the Son of God. Last week, our lesson recorded Jesus saying, “Do not labor for the food which parishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give you; for on him God the Father has set his seal.”

But as we move through this series of lessons, we discover that the crowd just can’t seem to grasp the significance of what Jesus is saying. And I don’t blame them. After all, you and I have the advantage of entering this teaching moment of Jesus with the knowledge of the end of the story. But that was not the case for those who engaged in discussion with Jesus that day. They did not know of Jesus giving his life on the cross for our redemption, and rising victoriously from the grave to give us the hope of eternal life.

From our lesson for this morning, Jesus identifies himself as bread, bread that has come down from heaven, like the manna that fed the crowd’s ancestors on the Exodus from Egypt. Today, Jesus asks us to think of him as bread, as a meal, as that daily, life-giving, sustaining presence that keeps us going – not just physically, but spiritually.

As many of you may know, John is the only Gospel that does not record Jesus instituting the sacrament of Holy Communion on the night of his betrayal. However, I have never read a commentary on this 6th chapter of John’s Gospel, without it making reference to the fact that our author uses this teaching of Jesus to serve as the theological basis for the celebration of the sacrament.

But before making some comments to the significance of this text to the sacrament, I would like us to consider the broader meaning of Jesus being the “bread of life.” Would it not be fair to assume that Jesus was, at this very moment, trying to feed those who gathered before him to listen to his teachings?

When I was in seminary, there was an emphasis on urging our church to reclaim the celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion as a normal part of our worship experience, according to our confessions. And for the most part, I believe that most congregations have moved over the past few decades, to embrace celebrating the sacrament on a weekly basis. But although the sacraments of Baptism and Communion are means of grace, means by which we partake and receive the redemption of God in Christ, they are not the only means of grace.

God’s grace is also available to us through the proclamation of God’s Word, through the reading of Scripture, the praying of prayers, the singing of hymns, the preaching – and sometimes listening – to sermons. The living bread from heaven is present to us through every aspect of our worship to nourish and sustain us, to feed us in our lives, with his living presence.

In the Lutheran tradition, the pulpit, as well as the altar and font, hold special significance. Last Sunday, Josie and I attended Pastor Don Hake’s installation as the new Pastor of Holy Trinity, Hermitage. As a part of that service of installation, the congregation president led Pastor Hake to the pulpit, as well as the font and altar. At each point, she asked, “Will you proclaim God’s word, faithfully? Will you celebrate the sacraments faithfully?” Jesus, in referring to himself as the “Bread of life that came down from heaven,” feeds us with spiritual nourishment in every aspect of our worship.

But then, we can not neglect the fact that in John’s Gospel, this discourse is seen to be his theological rationale for the celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion, which will become more clear, as we continue in this chapter over the next two weeks. Thus, I would like to explore a couple of points that might bring more meaning to our being nourished at our Lord’s table.

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