Sunday, August 13, 2006

Tenth Sunday in Pentecost
1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him: and I will raise him up in the last day.

This is a very hard word for us to hear, that no man can come to Jesus unless God draws him. This is one of those verses that disturbs the non-Christian and upsets the Christian with non-Christian family and friends. It is hard to believe in a God that would pick and choose people, granting some faith while rejecting others. We look at those who do not believe and wonder why God would not give them faith.

It is especially disturbing to hear these words set in the context of this story. A great crowd of people were following Jesus because He had miraculously fed them on the hillside. These people were seeking more of the same, miraculous signs and wonders that would prove to them that He is the promised Messiah. They might have been more easily convinced, but Jesus was not saying the things they wanted Him to say. They were ready to make Him king, but were not ready for the spiritual consequences of a life following Jesus. He was contradicting the things they knew to be true. He was comparing himself to Moses. He was saying that He was better than what Moses had to offer. He was even identifying Himself with God. To them, He was speaking blasphemy.

In this series of passages, Jesus claims to be the bread of life or the bread that gives life. He does not simply give them this word without also establishing His credentials with His miraculous signs and wonders. Yet, they murmured against Him. They were not really even bothered by His claim to be the bread of life. They had trouble with the fact that He came down from heaven. They knew Him. They knew His mother and father. He was born just like everyone else. How could He claim to have come down from heaven? Their stories tell of beings that came from heaven, but they weren't born, they just appeared. If the Messiah was to be some 'other worldly' being, then Jesus can't be it. He's the boy next door and to claim otherwise is blasphemy.

It seems as though Jesus' answer to their murmuring is petty or snippy, much like I might answer if someone questioned my claims about myself. However, there is something very different about Jesus' comments. It was not a comment of condemnation against the people, but a promise of something that was to come. He reminded them, "It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God. Every one that hath heard from the Father, and hath learned, cometh to me." Though Jesus was there teaching them about the Kingdom of God, they would not be truly taught until His work was complete and the Holy Spirit was sent. He would still need to get through the cross and then, at Pentecost, the promise of the prophets would be complete.

In this passage, Jesus is pointing toward the future. We don't know how many people in that crowd eventually came to believe. We do know that even at that point the disciples were skeptical. They didn't get it any better than the crowd. They still had questions. They still had concerns. They still had doubts. And they would continue having those questions, concerns and doubts until the day of Pentecost. Then faith would be something very real and those who believe have eternal life.

I think it is important for us to notice that Jesus says, "He that believeth hath eternal life." While this is a promise for a future moment after we have passed through death, it is also a present reality. In faith we have eternal life. Our bodies will die, but we will live forever. In Christ we receive the life which only He can give. In this series of Gospel stories, He describes Himself as the bread that gives life. The psalmist writes, "Oh taste and see that Jehovah is good: Blessed is the man that taketh refuge in him." This language points us toward another gift to come.

Our Old Testament lesson tells the story of Elijah, a very brief moment in his life. He was a prophet of God, one whose story is filled with miraculous signs and wonders. In the previous chapter, Elijah held a contest with the prophets of Baal. The goal was to see whether God or Baal could set an offering on fire by the prayers of the prophets. Four hundred prophets of Baal tried, but did not succeed. Elijah set the altar and then made it impossible for the altar to build, covering it with so much water that a spark would never work. When he prayed, God set the entire altar, offering and water on fire, thus proving that He is God. The prophets of Baal were ordered killed as false prophets and this upset the people. It especially upset Jezebel who threatened Elijah's life. In the end, though God proved to be God, they did not believe.

So Elijah ran away. He went out into the desert to die. He even prayed to God to take his life. He had failed. He was no better than his ancestors. He did not accomplish any more than they. I suppose he was much like we are today. We all begin a task with the idea that we will be able to do better than those who come before. We think that we are the ones that will make a people turn around and walk rightly. We think we are the ones that will find the solution to the problem. We think we are the ones who are truly chosen by God to accomplish the task. And then we fail. And then we feel sorry for ourselves. I know exactly how Elijah was feeling.

Elijah whined, "Oh woe is me. Take my life because I am no better than the others." He felt like he was a failure and that he was useless. He would much rather have God take him home than to face continued failure. And he certainly did not want his enemy to succeed. How much better for him to perish alone in the wilderness than to be killed by an evil woman! God was not ready for Elijah to perish. Elijah still had work to do. So, He sent an angel and a meal. Then He sent another meal and sent Elijah on his way. He did not tell Elijah where he was going or what he would do there, but He provided Elijah with the strength to go on.

The psalm is a song of praise in response to answered prayer. The introduction of this psalm describes it as "Of David. When he pretended to be in sane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left." Scholars suggest that this refers to the story found in 1 Samuel 21:10-15. In this story, David was being pursued by Saul, so he ran to the king of Gath. When the king realized that this was David, the one who was ten times greater than Saul, he became concerned about his own safety and that of his nation. He knew that David was extremely popular among the Israelites. David saw that he was in a dangerous situation so he pretended to be insane. The king of Gath was annoyed that his servants would bring him a madman and he sent David away. While we might see this story as one about a man doing whatever is necessary to get away from his enemy, David recognized that his salvation came from God. He praised God and called others to join him in song.

In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul seems to be making a list of things we have to do. At the very least, it is a list of things we should not do. We should not lie, but we should tell the truth. If we are angry, we should not sin or we will give the devil a foothold. We should not steal, but should work hard for our living. We should not speak with a wicked tongue, but should speak in a way that will edify and build up the body of Christ. Yet, this is not a passage about works. It is a passage about our response to the work of Christ. "…even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell."

Paul's call to the Christian is not about doing good works, but rather to live the life that God has called you to live. "Be imitators of God and walk in love." This is eternal life in this world, living in the presence of God. David writes, "They looked unto him, and were radiant; and their faces shall never be confounded."

Jesus Christ is the bread of life. By the power of the Holy Spirit we have faith unto belief. We believe and have eternal life. Eternal life is living in the presence of God, basking in His glory, sharing His love. The one place where we experience this the most is foreshadowed in our texts for today. Elijah had a meal of bread in the desert, a meal that gave him the strength to keep going. Jesus told the gathering crowds to eat the bread of heaven for eternal life. "Oh taste and see that Jehovah is good." At the altar rail, as we receive the Eucharistic meal, we are as close to heaven as we will ever get in this life. As we kneel together, we are also kneeling with all Christians throughout time and space. It is there we are in the presence of God, receiving His gift of life together as one body. It is there we set aside our bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, railing and malice, receiving the forgiveness of Christ that we might be strengthened to give forgiveness to others. It is there we taste and see that the Lord is indeed good, and there we find our refuge in Him. Thanks be to God.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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