Monday, August 31, 2015

Sermon on Mark 7:14-23, for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, "What's in your heart?"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Some of us are the types who dread an unexpected visit to our homes, where someone drops in unexpectedly, and discovers the mess or the chaos you live in. For some, that’s an embarrassment we’d do everything to avoid. Others just don’t mind whether their home is cleaner or messier, and if anyone sees it.
What do we do when Jesus pays an unexpected visit to our hearts? When He opens up all the closets and checks out the garage and our storage areas, and sees what we’ve been keeping in our hearts? What do we think or feel when Jesus lays our hearts bare, with everything to see in His plain sight? Vulnerable? Exposed? Ashamed? Or defensive? Defiant? Or we act as if we simply don’t care?
Think of another context—in relationships. Whether it’s a very close friendship, or in your marriage, between you and your spouse. In the best of marriages, a husband and wife can have true transparency and openness with each other, so that they each see one another’s vulnerabilities, their strengths and weakness, their faults and fears—and they protect that vulnerability. They love the person in return. The same deep transparency can happen in a close friendship, between people who hold each other accountable. But few reach and few dare this kind of transparency and openness with another person. We fear what letting a person seeing that deeply inside of us will mean. Perhaps they would respond in shock, or in laughter, or in rejection. Maybe if someone saw me as I truly am, with nothing hidden, they wouldn’t want to know me any longer. If they heard my darkest thoughts, or saw my embarrassing sins. So we hide our heart, we have walls, we wear masks. Not very often do people allow such deep intimacy and openness in their lives. And if they ever did and were betrayed, or rejected or hurt because of it, it makes them all the more likely to raise those walls and defenses.
So back to Jesus. He’s able to immediately see through all those walls and defenses and masks. His presence unnerved those who had sin and hypocrisy to hide, and realized that Jesus saw right to their hearts. For some it feels like the unwelcome and unexpected visitor, we’d rather not see right now. For others it might prompt a defensive attack against Jesus for seeing who we really are. But what does Jesus say? What does He see? What’s in our hearts?
Jesus pinpoints the heart as the root of all our problems. The sins and the things that make our lives defiled and unclean, all come out of our heart. Jesus lists them: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23). Jesus sees and finds these things in our heart! A pretty scary thought! Let’s look briefly at these sins.
Evil thoughts come from our heart. We are always trying to justify our sinful behaviors, words, and actions. Sometimes we get really good at arguing our case and can be quite convincing. But our heart is contriving cover-ups for evil. Next is sexual immorality, which covers the broad range of sexual sins that the Bible prohibits. It’s much simpler to speak of the positive, God-pleasing ethic and design for sexuality, than the many ways in which we humans go astray from God’s plan. God intends sex to be the faithful expression of love exclusively between a man and a woman in marriage. The Bible celebrates this love in marriage as a wonderful thing! We complicate our lives and sin against both God and ourselves when we go astray from God’s good design.
Theft is the stealing or destruction or wasting of property, especially that doesn’t belong to us. But even what we think is ours, like our own body and possessions, are really gifts from God to steward or take care of. So we must not destroy or waste even our own property or lives, as though they were ours to do with as we please. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6, you are not your own, you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body Theft is born at least partly from a discontent heart. It seeks what doesn’t belong to us by dishonest means.
Murder, the 5th commandment, is the taking of an innocent life. There have been horrendous revelations recently, about Planned Parenthood, that go far beyond what we already knew was happening in their clinics. Innocent blood cries out to heaven, as millions of unborn still die every year across our country. Murder, when it’s an act of hatred or violence, is the final outcome of anger and hatred taking root and growing unchecked in our hearts. Murder, takes away what God has declared precious—human life.
Adultery returns back to the 6th commandment and sexual purity. It begins with a dissatisfied heart that lusts or covets after what isn’t rightfully given to us. Looking to another person than our spouse, to whom we are married, to provide that love. Adultery sins against the one-flesh union that God creates in marriage, and threatens to break the marriage apart.
Coveting is the sin of the 9th and 10th commandments—when the heart desires what does not rightfully belong to it. Coveting leads to schemes and evil ideas to steal property, to manipulate to get things in a way that appears good but is evil at heart, or to break the loyalty of spouses, family, or workers, from those to whom they should be loyal.  
Wickedness is a broad category for sin that is particularly malicious or evil. Deceit is lying or deliberate manipulation, to cover sinful actions or motives. It’s a sin of the 8th commandment. When we are deceitful and lie, we hurt people. Good people can’t do the right thing in a given situation, if they are being lied to. False information often leads people to unintentionally do harm, or causes them to be taken advantage of.
Sensuality or license, is a desire for pleasure that can never be satisfied. It is when we pursue pleasure and self-gratification with no restraint, ignoring all laws or conscience, and exercising no self-control. Sensuality is the pursuit of things in excess—sex, luxury and wealth, food or alcohol or drugs, or anything that gratifies the body. It turns pleasure into addiction.
Envy is literally an “evil eye” in the Greek. When we look jealously or with envy on a person, we have an “evil eye” toward them, because they have what we want, or we resent what they have. Slander is evil speech against a person. Slander may start small with gossips, rumors, insinuations. It grows when we believe and encourage those little lies, and in the worst form, it attempts the total destruction of someone’s reputation. These things too, come out of our hearts.
Arrogance or pride is thinking too highly of oneself. It has little or no love for others and their value, but claims we are most important. It is the opposite of humility, and blinds us to our own sins and flaws. Finally, foolishness is the abandonment of wisdom and truth for following our own sinful desires. Folly does not try to understand right or wrong, but blindly does what passion leads us to. It is to be unthinking, like the animals, and driven by lower desires.
Jesus says all of these things come from within, from the heart, and they defile or make a person unclean. It’s not a pretty picture. And while we’d rather watch or be entertained by having someone else’s dirty laundry aired out—Jesus sees these and other sins that spring from our heart. If we face those same sins with honesty and humility, we may be shocked at what comes out of our hearts. It’s too late to scramble to clean up, or hide the mess. Jesus has already seen and already knows. So what does He do?
The surprise, is that with all that Jesus knows about our hearts, and all that He knew about His disciples’ hearts, and the betrayals and denials, and fears that would overrule their better decisions and actions—He still loved them to the very end. Even when they scattered and fled when He was arrested and tried, and sentenced to death on the cross. We expect or fear that Jesus would back away from us, maybe even run from us. Reject us or turn away in disgust. But instead with piercing eyes, and with nail-pierced hands and feet, He comes to us, welcoming us. Offering us His pure heart, and the forgiveness of our sins, in exchange for our broken heart and our sins. He knows every evil thought and inclination of our heart, and He comes to help us. To heal and forgive. To take away the shame, the uncleanness, the guilt, and to pay for it on His cross. He calls, “Here, let me come in, and clean this heart of yours. Be still, this is beyond your power to fix. Let me do my work.”
And Jesus takes sin-filled hearts, and replaces them with a living heart, that trusts in Him. He answers the prayer of repentant David, that becomes our prayer also, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me! Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and renew me with your free spirit.” Jesus, you’ve seen the mess in my heart. You’ve seen right through all my masks, and know my innermost sins. Cleanse me as you have promised! Don’t take me away from your presence! Stay with me! Renew and restore me, so I know your true joy. This is life with God. This is life with Jesus! An amazing love and transparency that God sees so clearly to the depths of our soul, and wants only to heal and forgive our brokenness and sin. Jesus takes it all away, so that His love for us is unchanged and unhindered. He makes us new and clean, and lovable again. He lives in our hearts, so that we are a new person, and that transformed from the inside out, something new and good will flow out of our hearts, instead of what is evil. By Jesus living in our hearts, by forgiving and cleansing them by His blood, we have the source of a new life and of good thoughts, words, and actions to flow out of our hearts. Jesus! Make me yours forever! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      In Mark 7:1-13, Jesus taught the Pharisees that the external traditions of ceremonial washings did nothing to transform the heart, but produced an “empty worship” where their heart was not in it. In 7:14-23, what does He explain is the true source of what “defiles” a person, or makes them unclean?
2.      For the Jews, and the laws they followed from the Old Testament, a major concern was clean and unclean foods. In Mark 7:19, what did Jesus declare about all foods? What did this mean for the relations between Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews)? Acts 10:14-15; 10:28-29; 10:34-36.
3.      Jesus describes what “comes out” of a person in Mark 7:21-23. How are evil thoughts and motivations already sinful? Matthew 5:22, 28; James 1:13-15. What does sin that starts small in the heart, grow into?
4.      Several of the things that Jesus says come from the heart relate to sexual sins of all types—sexual immorality, adultery, coveting, sensuality. Why are sexual sins harmful to us and others? 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, esp. vs. 18. How should we live properly concerning our sexuality? Hebrews 13:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4.
5.      How are theft, coveting, and envy sins against the 7th Commandment? What is the right attitude to have towards our own possessions and those of others?
6.      Slander and deceit are sins against the 8th commandment. What is each of those sins? What are we to guard and protect in the 8th commandment? How are we to speak, so as not to break it?
7.      Murder is the taking of an innocent life. How are the lives of innocent humans placed in danger ever day? Who are the weakest among us, whose  lives need our special help and protection?
8.      Does Jesus turn away from us when He sees all the evil and unclean things that come from our hearts? What does He do instead? How does He cleanse our hearts? What does He give us?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sermon on Mark 7:1-13, for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, "Lip Service"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today in our Gospel, in a dispute about handwashing, Jesus takes an unlikely position. He defends His disciples who had not washed their hands before eating. Neither Jesus nor the Pharisees were arguing about good hygiene—but the discussion was about ritual purity or cleanness instead. A question of religious observances. The Pharisees and scribes paid passionate attention to detail, and strictly obeyed the traditions passed down by the elders. Among their many traditions were a long list of ritual washings. This included special washings of hands, utensils, cookware, and dining couches.  
Seeing Jesus’ disciples eating with unclean hands, they cried foul, because obviously Jesus hadn’t taught the their religious practices well. Jesus replies and shows that the heart of their whole “worship” was wrong. In fact, He shows that their heart wasn’t in it at all. They were more concerned about minor, manmade rules, than they were about the major things of God’s Truth. It wasn’t true religion of the heart, worshipping and living from a right heart toward God. Instead it was keeping up a shiny, glossy veneer. A surface impression of holiness, of uprightness, that seemed impressive. And they were puffed up with a sense of pride about their great “reverence” towards God, and looked down on the disciples who seemed backward or irreverent, because they didn’t follow these practices. The manmade traditions had come to take the place of God’s own Word and commandments. Their so-called worship was just the teachings of men, not the teachings of God.
The Bible tells that man-made religious rules have “an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23). Certain self-made religions seem impressive or their followers may seem to be doing great, holy, and difficult things. They may follow a very strict and harsh regimen for their body. But the Bible warns that the outward display doesn’t stop our flesh. Our flesh is not so easily defeated. Forcing man-made rules upon ourselves is not going to change our heart. As we said last week, sin and temptation are wound up in body and soul. The trouble runs deeper than skin, than just our flesh. This is why Jesus said their worship was mere “lip service” and hypocrisy, not true worship from the heart.
But if manmade rules are not true honor of God with heart and lips—then what can stop the flesh? God’s commandments of course. But their effect on the flesh is much more drastic than we might have hoped for. In fact, God’s commandments bring death to our flesh. If men’s rules leave it unharmed, God’s rules kill the flesh. God’s law crushes the heart of sin, while man’s laws can only govern external behavior, but the heart is untouched. God’s commandment touches heart, soul, mind and body. Jesus would later teach them that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. God’s far-reaching law exposes our sins of thought, word, and deed. It declares the penalty is death.
No wonder we avoid God’s Law and try to create cheap imitations instead. They give an appearance, a surface show of “godliness” and uprightness. But they leave our heart untouched and hypocritical. We like our manmade traditions as a substitute, because they let us feel better about ourselves, or even can impress other people. But they don’t produce true godliness and righteousness from the heart. Sincere obedience to God’s commandments, on the other hand, might not always be flashy or impressive. It may even be completely unnoticed, hardly seeming “religious” at all. Obedience to God’s commandments and His calling, looks like the faithful carpenter, car salesmen, or concierge doing their job with faithfulness and integrity. It doesn’t necessarily look like the “pious religious person” going through ritual washings and speaking elaborate prayers or fasting for incredible lengths of time. That’s not the proof of spirituality.
Obedience to God’s commandments is doing what God has commanded, not what man has commanded. It looks like a citizen doing the right thing when no one is watching, and not looking for any reward or praise. It looks like the single person living in purity, until God blesses them with a spouse. It looks like children obeying and respecting their parents—not just in youth, but in adulthood as well. It looks like parents taking responsibility to raise their children in the knowledge and discipline of the Lord. In short, obeying God’s commandments is in the midst of everyday life, not in invented rituals or traditions. True Christian spirituality is found in the cross of Jesus Christ and in His Word, and in the Sacraments—the traditions or things that God Himself has passed down and commanded. We must be able to tell the difference between manmade traditions, and what is given from God. We must never elevate manmade traditions over God’s commands, or use them as a source of pride and superiority over other disciples or followers of Jesus. Any of these uses of tradition treats God’s Word as insignificant.
Jesus shows the danger of manmade religion. He knows there are many examples He could cite, but one in particular showed how the Pharisees approved of lip service to God, while neglecting God’s commandment. It was called the rule of “Corban.” This unfamiliar word to us, was a well-known practice to the Jews of Jesus’ day. It was a way of willing or endowing your wealth or property to the Temple of God, after your death. Now that certainly seems like a noble and harmless thing in itself. People create wills and endowments to bless charities and churches all the time. But the catch, Jesus points out, was that when a persons’ own father and mother fell into need—maybe they were elderly and needed financial support from their children—the adult son or daughter could answer back “The help you would have received from me is Corban—that is, a gift dedicated to God.” In other words, I can’t help you because my money is pledged to God. And they denied help to their own parents.
The Jewish rulers approved, because of course, the money was going to a good purpose—the Temple. Doesn’t God want people to give generously back to Him? Yes. Isn’t that more important than the needs of my aging parents? No! Jesus answers strongly, that they have voided the Word of God. They obey the manmade Corban rule, but break God’s own commandment to Honor your father and your mother. 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
The problem with this kind of manmade religion, is that it hurts people while claiming to help or serve God. Do we ever place duties to man, higher than our duties to God? Obedience to men’s ideas, rather than to God’s truth? Are there trendy “new” religious practices like labyrinths or unusual prayer techniques, that are not taught or described anywhere in the Bible, but seem to offer a deeper, more satisfying religious experience? Manmade traditions and religion didn’t die out in Jesus’ day—the invention of new forms of religion, and new rules and rituals to supposedly bring one closer to God, is as old as the earth.
There’s only one escape from this false, shallow religion, that covers up our sinful hearts, and pleases the eyes and ears with lip service and hypocrisy. The only escape is to Jesus. To hear the condemnation of our sinful hearts, and to have our sinful flesh crucified with Him on the cross. In our baptism, we have been crucified with Christ. Our old sinful self is put to death, with all its hypocrisy and lip service. And we are raised up with Christ Jesus, a new person. Because Jesus died and rose for us. He is the escape from false religion, because He is the true religion. He served God with a true heart, and with true lips. Jesus served God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength, as we were never able. His obedience is full and true, and by obeying the commandments of God, that really matter—He helped and served His neighbors. Jesus’ life was completely lived for and toward others.
While He obeyed God’s commands wholeheartedly, He paid no attention to the “extras” invented by men, that were the source of great pride to the Pharisees. He did not obey their additions and extensions of the law, and continually faced their disapproval for it. But God’s Law gave Him much more important things to do. To show perfect compassion, to speak the truth in love, to stand against injustice or falsehood, to teach God’s Word in whole, without subtraction or addition. God’s Law occupied His every thought, like the blessed man of Psalm 1, who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night (v.2).
Jesus is our rescue. He changes our lip service to lips that truly praise with a thankful heart, for all God has done for us, and won for us in His cross and resurrection. Jesus changes our sin-broken heart for a heart that truly believes and truly cares—that desires to obey God’s great commandments. This life, as a disciple of Jesus, needs no praise or commendation from men—this life, humbly following our Savior, has the commendation of God. It’s the life of humbling ourselves as sinner’s before our Savior, and receiving His amazing forgiveness, grace, and a new life. This new life of ours, is hidden with Christ, in God. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Sermon on John 6:51-69, for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, "Eat My Flesh"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Today we come to the 3rd and last part of Jesus’ Bread of Life sermon, that began with a challenge from Jesus to stop working for the bread that perishes—i.e. our everyday food, but to seek the food that endures to eternal life. He is that Bread of Life, He says, and eating Him do not leave us hungry and thirsty, but we find full satisfaction and eternal life in Him. Last week He pushed the point further, to unsettle or disturb the crowds who did not grasp His meaning. He drives them to see that He is the Bread of Life come down from heaven. He is from God. The bread that He gives for the life of the world is His flesh. We, on the other hand, find these words deeply marvelous, that God has come down from heaven in Jesus to feed us, to save us, and give us eternal life.
Jesus was clearly driving the crowds to crave more than just physical bread, that would leave them empty the next day. They needed a spiritual meal, a spiritual bread. But instead of making “spiritual” language sound less and less physical, or more airy, or more abstract, Jesus’ spiritual words grow ever more physical, graphic, concrete and grounded. There is a steady progression in Jesus’ words, as He hammers home His point, and the true spiritual food that He speaks of doesn’t become further and further separated from the physical—but more and more grounded in something earthly, tangible, and real. We often live with a false split in our thinking, where we don’t think of them being linked or joined. But Jesus wants them to see heaven and earth are joined in this Bread of Life--Jesus’ own flesh and blood.
When Jesus told them to eat His flesh, as the Bread of Life, this deeply disturbed the Jews. “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” Do you, or did they, think Jesus had just “gone too far?” But Jesus lays into the point even further, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” They hear Jesus’ blunt words and immediately think of cannibalism, which is clearly not what He meant. They only grasp the crude sense of Jesus’ words. There are two major points we are going to get here—what the food is, and how we eat it. First, let’s look at what the food is.
Why is Jesus making this spiritual talk, about heavenly things, so physical and earthly? Why must they realize that the Bread of Life is the flesh and blood of the Son of Man? Because Jesus flesh and blood were going to be the sacrifice for the life of the world—flesh nailed to the cross, and blood poured out for our sins. His sacrifice, His act of giving us life, was entirely physical, bloody, fleshly and real. Deeply spiritual, yet in flesh and blood. Jesus Christ, conceived by the Spirit of God, and born from the flesh of the Virgin Mary, joined God’s own holiness, righteousness—yes, His very spiritual self, to the physical body of a human being—Jesus. God is in human flesh, when Jesus dies on the cross.
When it comes to sin also, the spiritual world and the fleshly world are bound up together. But it is a negative spiritual reality, because we sin not just with our bodies, but our souls as well. Sin is spiritual rebellion against God. Jesus, physically and spiritually, destroys sin and death’s power at the cross. So this food, this Bread of Life, is Jesus, who came in flesh and blood. Eternal life and salvation come only through Him. No other eating will save us, but this Bread of Life alone.
So on to the second major point: how do we eat this Bread of Life? How do we eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood? Our minds may already have skipped to the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus gave His disciples bread and wine, and said “This is my body”—“This is my blood.” Our minds almost can’t help but skip there. And we will get there, but let’s not “skip over” Jesus’ first meaning here. This chapter all took place well before Jesus established the Lord’s Supper, so they wouldn’t have had that category in their minds yet, when they were wrestling with Jesus’ words, to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Well then, what does this eating mean?
We have to go back to the whole progression Jesus has been building here. Several themes are circling around and building up. Jesus is continually talking about giving people eternal life, and raising them up on the last day. The language of how they have eternal life and are raised up, goes through a climbing progression. In vs. 27-29 Jesus says that we should work for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you—and that the work of God is that we believe in Jesus. So believing in Jesus is how we get this eternal food. Then in vs. 35 Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” So Jesus swaps out coming to Him with believing in Him, as equal, and as ending our hunger and thirst.
Then in vs. 40, Jesus says, the will of His Father is “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.” So Jesus swaps looking and believing in Him, and says these bring eternal life and Jesus raises believers on the last day. You see the progression developing in Jesus’ words, that looking, believing, coming to Jesus, and eating Him as the Bread of Life, are all interchangeable. Then again in vs. 47: “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the Bread of Life.” It keeps building in vs. 50-51 where anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever, and this bread is His flesh. Finally Jesus’ words become unmistakably strong when He says, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” Faith feeds on the flesh and blood of Jesus. It believes Jesus, Living Food, flesh and blood, given on the cross. There’s no mistaking who this Jesus is. He is the flesh and blood Jesus, who died on the cross and rose from His grave, with flesh and blood intact and alive. Whoever believes in this Living Bread has eternal life.
All believers in Jesus eat of the physical and spiritual food of Jesus, when they come to Him, look upon Him, and believe in Him. We have no life in us if we don’t eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus. His are the Words of Eternal Life. This eating of faith, is common to all believers in Jesus, and must come first, before we think of the Lord’s Supper. We misunderstand if we jump past the believing in Jesus and coming to Him. If we haven’t first “stepped” here, on the true eating of Jesus’ flesh and blood by faith, then we will trip and stumble when we come to the Lord’s Supper.
Jesus saw the crowds tripping and stumbling on this teaching, as He said those words. He didn’t back down or weaken them, but delivered them full force, driving home the fleshly, the bloody nature of His spiritual death on the cross. His giving life to the world. He asked them, “Do you take offense at this?” The Greek word He used is “scandalized”—which means stumble or trip. Are you scandalized that Jesus’ flesh is true food, and His blood is true drink? Do you stumble or trip over this? Jesus asks, then what about when you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? Jesus was going to rise back up to heaven, from where He came. Were they prepared to believe that, when they couldn’t understand Jesus’ words here?
Many shook their heads at Jesus, and left dumbfounded. His crowd of 5,000 plus, was dwindling to an uncertain 12. Jesus asks them if they are going too. It’s a moment of great uncertainty, and Jesus’ disciples are struggling mightily to understand Jesus’ words. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God!” Alleluia! Peter, you got it! Peter knew that Jesus was speaking the words of eternal life, and however difficult this lesson was, they were to stay and believe in Him. He was undoubtedly the Holy One of God.
Lord bring us to understanding! Bring us to faith, and to wrestle with your difficult words, and believe, for they are spirit and they are life. Faithful, believing disciples, granted by the heavenly Father to understand and believe—disciples drawn by God to Jesus, were eating the Bread of Life. They were finding satisfaction to hunger and thirst that was deeper than earthly bread, but was filled by the in-the-world, physical, flesh and blood, spiritual, not-of-the-world, heavenly Jesus. They were eating and believing. You are eating and believing, when you hear and are drawn by the Father to this flesh and blood Jesus. You are eating and are satisfied, in spiritual hunger and thirst when you come to the Living Bread from heaven, who gives His flesh for our eternal life.
So if eating and drinking the Bread of Life happens in the first place by faith, then what, if anything, do Jesus’ words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, have to do with the Lord’s Supper? Is there a connection, after we’ve understood faith’s true eating of Jesus? I, and many other Christians of all stripes, Lutherans and otherwise, have found it almost impossible to deny the seemingly obvious connection to the Lord’s Supper. Christians have read, wrote about, sung about the Lord’s Supper using these very words, that Jesus is the Bread of Life, given in flesh and blood. In connecting Jesus’ words in John 6, with Jesus’ later establishing of the Lord’s Supper, Christians have connected two ways in which we eat the flesh of Christ.
The first and highest eating of Jesus, is the spiritual eating of faith, which we have been dealing with here. This first eating is necessary for all Christians of all times, and children, adults, those who have received the Lord’s Supper, and those who have not yet, eat and drink Jesus by faith, which is their salvation. The second, sacramental or oral eating of Jesus, is what happens in the Lord’s Supper. This is when we eat Jesus body and drink His blood in the Lord’s Supper. This eating with our mouths, is truly spiritual and truly physical, and Jesus flesh is true food, and His blood is true drink. But eating the Lord’s Supper for our good, depends on having first received and believed Jesus by faith. This is shown in the passages that directly teach us about what the Lord’s Supper is, and how true repentance and faith is necessary to participate for our good. So the first eating of Jesus by faith is most necessary and comes before.  
Jesus gives all His benefits of forgiveness and eternal life to us by faith. Whoever hears His Words and believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. And Jesus also gives His benefits and blessings in yet another way. Both personal and also communal—together with the gathered believers in Christ, Jesus gives Himself again, in flesh and blood, for us Christians to eat and to drink, in the Lord’s Supper. Forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ blood shed on the cross is personally placed into your mouth. You participate, you have fellowship, with Jesus in His body and blood. It’s marvelous, its mysterious, and it causes people to stumble and take offense, just like Jesus’ words that day. But His words are spirit and they are life. The Father draws us to believe and receive them, so that we too participate with Jesus’ life in this way. Alleluia! Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      Read Proverbs 9:1-6. What is meant by eating and drinking in verse 5? What is gained by this eating and drinking?

2.      What was Jesus’ concern for in John 6? For keeping the truth of God’s Word, or keeping the multitude of followers who didn’t fully accept His teachings? What benefit is there for us or our hearers, if we sacrifice the truth in order to attract listeners?

3.      Read Leviticus 17:10-15. Why were the Israelites not permitted to eat/drink blood? What was in the blood, and what was the significance of the blood in sacrifice?

4.      What teachings of Jesus stretch us (or you personally) beyond your comfort zone? What is the reason? Why must we bring our sinful flesh into submission to faith?

5.      Read John 6:68. Where in the liturgy do we sing these words, and why?

6.      There are two ways in which we eat of Christ, spiritually by faith, and the oral eating of Christ in the sacrament. Which one is in primary focus in John 6? Who benefits from this eating? When/why is eating without faith be harmful? 1 Corinthians 11:27-32; Matt. 5:23-24

7.      Why is the first kind of eating (spiritual) necessary for us to benefit from the second kind of eating (sacramental) when we eat the Lord’s Supper?