Summary: Sermon for Proper 16, Series B.
12th Sunday after Pentecost (Pr 16) August 27, 2006 “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, in Jesus the Christ your Word became flesh and dwelt among us, to reveal your steadfast love and faithfulness. Jesus is the bread of life, who gave his life in obedience to your will, that we might come to know your redeeming grace for our life. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to receive him with thanksgiving, and strengthen our faith, that we might embrace him with true devotion. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
This morning we come to the conclusion of this sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, which has been labeled “The Bread of Life Discourse.” In these teachings of Jesus, as we have discovered over the past several weeks, Jesus expressed that the miracle of his feeding the multitude was a sign that revealed that in him, God’s Word had become flesh. In addition, we looked at several ways in which these teachings of Jesus helps to define the significance of the Eucharist in the worship life of the church, and in particular, our proclamation and participation in Christ’s death for our redemption.
Today, in the closing of this teaching of our Lord, the specific focus of the text centers on the choice of the community to receive the life that Christ has to give, or not. As our lesson indicates, “many of those who had followed Jesus to this point in his ministry, turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve if they also wished to go away, but they, and presumably others, continued as our Lord’s disciples, claiming through the words of Peter, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
As Gail Ramshaw points out in her commentary, [New Proclamation, Year B, 2003, Fortress Press] there are similarities to this event that are recorded in both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. And in both Matthew and Mark, Jesus questions his disciples about their faith, following his miraculous feeding of the multitudes. And in each case, the disciples come to grow in their faith and understanding of Jesus.
As Matthew states it, “When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ The disciples said to one another, ‘it is because we have brought no bread.’
And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, ‘You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!’
Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” End quote. In other words, do not listen to their word, but the Word of life incarnate
In addition, another parallel occurs in the Gospel of Luke, where, following our Lord’s death and resurrection, two disciples come to recognize our risen Lord in the breaking of bread. As Ramshaw points out, “It is as if in God’s gift of feeding, the faithful realize who Christ is and come to affirm their faith.”
Thus, the Eucharist is an important aspect of Christian worship, because it is truly a means by which we receive God’s grace for the strengthening of our faith. In, with and under the forms of bread and wine, our risen Lord continues to be present to us throughout the ages, revealing his gift of life for the forgiveness of sin and for our redemption.
However, if the Eucharist is a means by which we receive God’s grace for our lives, so is the proclamation of the Gospel. Because our Gospel lessons for the past several weeks have focused on the Bread of Life discourse, the Eucharist has been at the center of my meditations. But listen again to Peter’s response to Jesus, when the twelve were asked if they also wanted to leave Jesus. Peter said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
In other words, Peter was stating that through the teachings of Jesus, they had come to recognize that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Word of God in human flesh. They had come to realize that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God, and that through his proclamation, they were able to experience presence of the grace of God. They had come to realize through his words, God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life.