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11th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13) - Series B

Text: John 6:22-35

Title: “Wonder Bread”

Date: August 5, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

The people saw the wonders…but they did not see the signs. They saw Jesus heal the sick and drive out demons. They saw Him multiply the loaves and fishes. They heard Him teach with an authority not of this world. But they could not see beyond these wonders. They couldn’t see what these things pointed to. They see the things of this world, but not of the next. They see a man, but they couldn’t believe that this man is God.

         And yet, that is the point of the wonders that Jesus performed. That they wouldn’t be just wonders, but signs pointing to a greater reality. That the people would not just marvel, but believe in the One that the Father had sent (cf. Jn. 6:29)…the One sent to be the Savior of the world. But with eyes firmly focused on the wants and needs of this world, this Savior is not what they want or what they think they need. They don’t want the wonder bread that God can give them…a life they don’t have! Directing their eyes to the things above, this wonder Bread…this greater Bread…this greater Life…the Bread of Life…Jesus Christ proclaims: “Do not labor for the food that perishes but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (Jn. 6:27)

         Picture in your mind for a moment, a father away on a business trip. Before coming home, he buys a gift for his little boy…a billfold with a $5.00 bill hidden inside. He returns home and walks into the house…calls for his son…and gives him the gift. The boy is so excited that he grabs the billfold and runs to show his friends before his father is able to explain that there is more to the gift. It was wonderful that the boy was excited about the gift, but he should have contained his enthusiasm until he fully understood and appreciated the total gift. Even so, our mission is to the whole person with the even greater gift of the Good News of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness and new life He brings.

         So…the question is: Do you have eyes too firmly focused on the things of this world and life? Even as Christians, we sadly miss the signs. After all, hasn’t it crossed your mind that if only Jesus were here today multiplying a few loaves of bread and fish, and healing, and teaching, and raising the dead…then our church would be so full that there wouldn’t be enough room for all the people who would come? Wouldn’t that be great? But thinking that way…you are just like the crowds who chased down Jesus that day in our Gospel reading, focusing on the wonders but missing the signs.

         Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus is here…and He is performing wonders and signs. For instance, we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: Give us this day our daily bread, and every day our Lord is doing just that…and for many more than the 5,000 gathered that day on the hillside! But do you realize it? Do you realize that day by day, God is providing you not only food and drink as Luther’s Small Catechism points out, but also clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children…just to name a few of His provisions? (Explanation of the 4th petition) Or do you take these things for-granted, or worse, thank yourself for them? How about your health and healing? Do you take everything that you are and have for-granted? Is it our work…for us? Or is it the work of God…for us?

         What about the signs and wonders that God is working in His Church each day? Relating to this question, here’s a little test for you.  #1: When’s the last time you saw someone raised from the dead? The answer is…the last time you witnessed a baptism. (Rom 6)  #2: When’s the last time you heard God speak to you? The answer is…just a moment ago when you heard the very Word of God read to you. (2 Tim 3)  #3: When’s the last time you practiced for the last day, the final judgment? Answer…this morning, when in confession and absolution you heard the verdict that will be pronounced upon you that day, namely that in Christ you are forgiven, not guilty. (Mt 18; Jn 20; Small Catechism, explanation to the Office of the Keys)  #4: And then what about the wonder bread? That’s an easy one, and by now you’re catching on! It’s here, on this altar, on the Sundays we have Holy Communion. Not just bread and wine, but the body and blood of Jesus Himself. Not just food, but forgiveness. Not just bread, but the bread of life. (Mt. 26)

         Do we fail to see these signs because these wonders come to you and me in such ordinary ways…through such ordinary means? It’s been that way since the beginning, when Satan blinded the eyes of Adam and Eve and focused them on something more, something bigger, something better, something a bit more exciting. Aren’t we following in their steps and being like the folks in the wilderness, grumbling against God…like the people on the hillside that day with ordinary-looking Jesus, asking for another sign?

         Children of God…believe and trust in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! See behind the wonders and see the signs. See the hand of God at work in your life. The free gifts of this life God lovingly gives you now signifies the even greater gift of eternal life that God gives by grace through faith. Believing you have life in His Name is the work of God and why Jesus lived and died and lives again.  (cf. Jn. 20:31)When it comes to your salvation, there is nothing you can do to make God love you more or make God love you less. The cross shows us that. God cannot love you more than that or less than that. Your sins have been atoned for…you are forgiven…it is done! The work of God is for you! As Jesus says to the crowd: “This is the work of God that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (Jn. 6:29) Martin Luther writes in the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him.” That’s because it is the work of God! And toward this end, our Lord is always working…at all times, in all places, and in all things…that we believe in Him and His work of salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life.

         Leo Tolstoy, a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time, wrote what the Encyclopedia Britannica describes as "one of the two or three greatest novels in world literature" titled War and Peace. But he also wrote a book in 1879 titled, A Confession, which tells the story of his search for meaning and purpose in life. Rejecting Christianity as a child, Tolstoy went away later in life seeking pleasure. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, he drank heavily, lived promiscuously, and gambled frequently. His ambition was to become wealthy and famous, but nothing satisfied him. One question haunted him to the verge of suicide: "Is there any meaning in my life which will not be annihilated by the inevitability of death, which awaits me?"

Nicky Gumbel, an Anglican priest and author, explains what triggered Tolstoy's conversion to Christianity. “He searched for the answer in every field of science and philosophy. As he looked around at his contemporaries, he saw that people were not facing up to the first-order questions of life: "Where did I come from?" "Where am I going?" "Who am I?" "What is life all about?" Tolstoy eventually found that the peasant people of Russia had been able to answer these questions through their Christian faith, and he came to realize that only in Jesus Christ do we find the answer that God the Father sent His Son to work the work of God on the cross in order to take our sin away from us and put it on Himself so that we be set free. And to this end, God the Son sends His Spirit to work the work of God in us…to give us the gifts and grace of God in order that we might believe.”

Yes, Jesus is still directing your mind and heart to the things above. To shift your mind from sin to salvation…from what you want to what He wants… from the things of this world to the next…from what you do to what Christ has done for you so that you believe. Eat your Wonder Bread in this life and forever at the banquet feast of Heaven that will never end! Amen.

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