Sunday, August 15, 2021

Our Need of Christ's Body and Blood

[Below is the message I shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, this morning. Below the text is a video of the worship service. God bless you!]

John 6:51-69
Our Gospel lesson for this morning, John 6:51-69, recounts a pivotal moment in Jesus’ earthly ministry. A large crowd of people described by John as disciples of Jesus is scandalized by Jesus’ teaching. They tell Jesus, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Then they leave Him. (John 6:60) Jesus offends them when He says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.“ (John 6:54-56)

Many in the first-century Roman world found these words of Jesus offensive. People called Christians cannibals. 

Even today, even some who call themselves Christians, are offended by the notion of Christians eating Christ’s body and blood. They dismiss Christ’s teaching that His body and blood are present in, with, and under the bread and the wine as barbaric or irrational or symbolic. 

But eating Jesus’ body and blood in the Sacrament is not the same as eating the flesh and blood that make up our bodies. Jesus shows us this today when He says, “​​The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” (John 6:63) Solely human flesh and blood are just that: solely human flesh and blood. But in Jesus’ flesh and blood, the Holy Spirit of God, God Himself, dwells

“The Word [that is, God the Son] became flesh...” John tells us in the prologue of his gospel. (John 1:14) 

The apostle Paul agrees and says that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” (Colossians 2:9) 

Jesus and His Word then are filled with the very life and righteousness of God

This is why Jesus said in last week’s Gospel lesson: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) 

When we feed on Jesus, friends, we feed on God, the Life-Giver, Himself!

A Lutheran theologian of the last century, Bo Giertz noted that Christ’s teaching that we need to feed on Him in order to live offends people for two main reasons. 

One is that it violates the human sense of self-sufficiency. We think of ourselves as being able to do anything in our own power. Instead, Jesus says we need Him. The bread of this world, that is, everything this world has to offer us, rots, dies, or gives out. Jesus is the Bread of Life Who left the comforts of heaven so that, by His death and resurrection, He could share His eternal life with all who repent and believe in Him. This Bread of Life will never give out or be depleted.

Another reason Jesus as the Bread of Life we need in order to have eternal life offends people is because it tells us that our morality or goodness isn’t enough to give us eternal life

If we human beings weren’t thoroughly rotten with sin and incapable of being good enough to gain entrance into eternity, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to go to the cross. 

God, of course, gave His Law to the world through Moses; but, by our constant and continued inability to keep that Law--by our idolatry, injustice, gossip, thievery, covetousness, adultery, and lack of love for God and neighbor, among our other sins, we demonstrate that we can never be moral enough to merit eternal life. 

It’s only through Jesus and His grace that we receive through faith in Him that we can have the life that God wants to give to us

So, Jesus tells us, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) 

And so John writes in the first chapter of his gospel, “...the law was given through Moses; grace and truth [the grace and truth that saves us from ourselves and our sin] came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)

Jesus’ Word gives us life. (John 6:63) 

And Jesus also says that we need to feed on Him as we journey through this life. 

His gospel Word comes to us not just in the Bible or the personal witness of those who believe in Him, but also in the Sacraments (Holy Baptism and Holy Communion). And so Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51) 

In Holy Communion, you and I feed on the eternal life of Christ. God’s eternity invades us, becoming not just the Lord of our minds and wills, but also of our bodies, the bodies He will one day raise from the dead. 

In Holy Communion, we participate then in what Jesus accomplished for us: 
  • We participate in His crucifixion, where He conquered our sin. 
  • And we participate in His resurrection, in which He opens eternity to all who believe in Him.
Some will wonder how the simple eating of bread and wine over which Christ’s Words of Institution--”This is My Body...This is My Blood”--are said, can do such great things. 

The fact is they do nothing for those who refuse to believe Jesus and His promises

Judas, you'll remember, was in the Upper Room with the other apostles on the night he would betray Jesus. Like the other eleven, Judas heard Jesus’ words of promise. Like the other eleven, Judas ate. But while the others received the first Holy Communion, Judas just ate bread and wine. 

There's a reason for that. As Luther points out in The Small Catechism: “These words [the Words of Institution], together with the eating and drinking, are the chief thing in the Sacrament, and those who believe them have what they say, namely, the forgiveness of sins...But those who do not believe these words or who doubt them are unworthy and unprepared, for the words ‘for you’ require truly believing hearts.”

In today’s lesson, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) 

There are times, as was true last year for many people during the pandemic when Christians are unable to receive the Sacrament. Jesus understands that. But every Christian should want Christ’s body and blood, should crave Holy Communion because they know that none of us is strong enough or moral enough to earn a place in eternity or to stave off the tests and temptations thrown at us by the devil, the world, and our sinful selves. We need the Bread of Life.

Elsewhere in John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

I don’t know of any church member who consciously says, “I don’t want to be a fruitful Christian. I don’t want to be a Christian in whose life Jesus is present. I don’t want to be a Christian who’s persevering in faith, prayer, service, and love.” 

But many Christians do become tepid in their walk with Christ because they forget both how desperately they need Jesus and how much they need to keep abiding in Him. 

My mentor, Pastor Schein, used to warn us, “Never get too accustomed to handling the things of God. Don’t become so used to His Word or the Sacraments that you start to think that you don’t need them as much as every other sinner in the world.” 

Friends, already this morning, we’ve come to Jesus in repentance and faith. In a few moments, He will come to you again, giving you His body and blood. 

Receive Him with faith, taking Him at His Word when He tells you, “Take and eat; this is My body given for you. Do this in remembrance of [or, to be re-membered, reconnected ,to] Me. This cup is the new covenant in My blood shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this in remembrance of [or, to be re-membered to] Me.” 

When you receive Christ’s body and blood with faith, you will, by God’s grace and in His power moving and working within you, bear the good fruit of a repentant life; you will have the forgiveness of sin; you will have the life of Christ living in you. You will be nourished by the Bread of Life for all that this life may bring. And He wants to keep feeding You in this meal so that He can keep filling you with His forgiveness and eternal life for as long as you journey through this life.  Amen

[This message's main points were inspired by a sermon by Bo Giertz given on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, in Torpa, Sweden, in 1939. You can find Giertz's fine sermon here.]

Please pray for Afghanistan

I just posted this over on Facebook.