Sunday, March 30, 2014

Homily for Laetare - The Fourth Sunday in Lent (Lent 4)

John 6:1-15; Galatians 4:21-31; Exodus 16:2-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Just as there are but two ways, a way of life and a way of death, so also are there but two sources of food and nourishment, one that delivers life and one that delivers death. And, these two have been from the beginning, in Paradise, where God planted a tree whose fruit He caused to deliver life and where God also planted a tree whose fruit He caused to deliver death. And, as I have instructed you before, it was not the trees nor their fruit in and of themselves that caused them to deliver life or death, but it was God’s Word which He attached to those trees and their fruit that caused them to deliver life or death.
And so it is also with food, particularly with the symbolic staple that is bread: There is a bread of which a man may eat that always delivers life and there is a bread of which a man may eat that always delivers death. The bread of which a man may eat and live is the Bread of Life, the Word of God, and the Word made flesh Jesus Christ. The bread of which a man may eat and die is any other bread. To be sure, there is the bread made by the hands of men through the toil and sweat of his brow having its origin in grain sown and harvested by the famer, ground into flour by the miller, and baked into bread by the baker of which a man may eat and nourish his body and grow and live for a time, but it cannot deliver life eternal and its end is always and only death. This is the bread by which, alone, man cannot and does not live. Yet, there is a bread of which a man may eat and live and never die. Our Lord God provides us both kinds of bread, feeding us in body and in soul that we may live. However, only one bread delivers life that cannot and does not die. We must seek and find, desire and treasure that bread above all else. That bread is the one thing needful that feeds the soul even when the body hungers and languishes.
In captivity in Egypt, the children of Israel ate bread and meat until their bellies were full. For 430 years they ate and they slaved and they died while their souls longed for, desired, and were fed upon the spiritual bread of God’s Word that sustained them through those dark years. When the LORD delivered them from Pharaoh across the Red Sea, they left behind, along with their slavery and suffering, the pots of meat and baskets of bread, but they were free and they were happy for they had the LORD and His Word. But the desires of the flesh are against those of the Spirit and the people began to grumble that they had no food. They desired to dwell in Egypt in slavery once again where they at least had meat and bread and were not hungry.
They grumbled against the LORD and His servants, and the LORD heard their grumbling and promised to feed them. He caused manna to appear on the ground each morning. The people were instructed to gather only enough for their household each day. This was a test. Would they believe and trust in the Word of the LORD, or would they surrender to the desires of their flesh and gather more than a day’s worth? The manna was nothing to be desired, and intentionally so. They were not to trust in the bread, but in the LORD who provided the bread. He said it would be enough and, for those who trusted, it was. But, for those who did not trust, the extra they had gathered spoiled, stank, and bred worms. The LORD provides daily bread, bread sufficient for the needs of body and life for the day. And, the LORD provides spiritual bread, His Word, sufficient to sustain the soul for the day and for eternal life.
The LORD had lead the children of Israel out of Egypt in the Passover, where a great distinction was made between the way of life and the way of death. A clear distinction was made then between those who trusted in the LORD and His Word and those who did not. The LORD had commanded His people to mark the doorways of their homes with the blood of an unblemished one year old male lamb. The Angel of Death passed over their homes, not merely because of the blood, but because of the LORD’s Word of command attached to the blood. The homes of those who disregarded and did not trust in the Word of the LORD suffered the loss of their firstborn, both man and beast. It was not the blood alone, as it was not the fruit alone, as it was not the bread alone, nor anything else alone, but it is always the Word of the LORD in, with, and under these created things that delivers life or death in accordance with His Word.
And so it was near the celebration of the Passover that a great multitude had followed Jesus into the wilderness because they had seen the miraculous signs He had performed. Jesus took this opportunity to teach about the two ways, the way of life and the way of death, by teaching about the Bread of Life that is the Word of God. “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Jesus asked His disciple Philip. It was a rhetorical question meant to test Philip’s and the other’s faith. “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little,” Philip answered. He was right. “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what they for so many?” said Andrew. He was right as well. There was nothing that man could do or produce to feed the multitude and satisfy them physically and make them live. How much less could man do to feed them with the Bread of Life that they might live spiritually and not die?
Once they had confessed their failure and inability to provide bread and life for themselves, Jesus had them all sit down in the grass. Now that they were done striving and worrying they were prepared to receive what the Lord Jesus would do in His Word. Jesus took man’s meager provisions and gave thanks to God, the giver of bread, life, and all things, and distributed the bread and fish, as much as they wanted, to those who were seated (were some perhaps still standing and missed out?). When the Word of God became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us, then also did the LORD take up man’s meager provision, flesh and blood, and provide of it sufficiency and abundance. Jesus is God’s gift of Bread and Life of which a man may eat and live and never die. Jesus is the spiritual fountain of God’s providence of which a man may drink and never thirst again. For, Jesus is the Word of God made flesh: He is the heavenly manna which continues to feed, nourish, and sustain our lives as we make our pilgrimage through this wilderness world and life to the Promised Land of God’s kingdom in heaven.
Man knows a good thing when he sees it! The multitude were so amazed and impressed with Jesus’ miraculous feeding that they rushed to make Him their Bread King. He was indeed their King and He would be their King, but not by force, and not the way they understood His Kingship and Kingdom. You see this is the problem with sinful men, this is the problem with us, and this is the problem with the so-called Prosperity Gospel and its proponents, men like Joel Olsteen, Oral Roberts, Ken Hagen, Benny Hinn, and nearly everyone on the Trinity Broadcasting Network: we see Jesus, we see God as a means to an end, a way to get what we want and desire. Jesus is King, not because He gives us what we want, but because He is what we need and He gives Himself freely to us. Jesus is the Bread of Life of which a man may freely eat and live.
Very soon now, in our Lenten pilgrimage, we will hear the voices of those who would make Jesus their King turn against Him and crown Him with thorns as they cry “Crucify! Crucify!” Like the children of Israel before them, they rejected the gift God gave them and hungered and thirsted for the meat pots, bread, and rivers of Egypt and that devil Pharaoh and slavery. Part of the reason that fasting is recommended during Lent – and even throughout the year – is that, by causing the body to experience even a twinge of hunger, fasting can be used as a spiritual discipline to remind ourselves that man does not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God and that our lives do not consist of the abundance of our possessions, but that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give to us the Kingdom.
The children of the free woman must not submit themselves once again to a yoke of slavery, but live in the freedom of grace and the Gospel. Their bread is not what fills the body but what nourishes the soul. Come, eat this bread that will surely not fill your body or the desires of the flesh, but will nourish your soul and strengthen your faith, for it is the body of Christ given for you. Come, drink this wine that surely will not quench your thirst, but will comfort your soul, for it is the blood of Christ shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus says to you, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.” “I am the living bread that comes 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.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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