Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sermon: Laetare (Lent 4)

7 March 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 6:1-15 (Ex 16:2-21, Acts 2:41-47)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The biggest problem we sinners, we poor miserable sinners have when it comes to Jesus and the Word of God is that we don’t listen. We like to talk. We like to pontificate. We like to show how much we know. We like to grumble that things are not to our liking. We like to say what we like and what we don’t like. We like the sounds of our own voices.

But the Lord often speaks to His people in a still, small voice that can only be heard if we take our attention off of ourselves, incline our ears, and listen. Listening is a lost art in our culture. How rare it is to hear silence, especially when many people are gathered. We hear whispering. We hear joking. We hear people getting up and sitting down, going to the bathroom, heading to the kitchen, changing seats, and running to answer their cellphones. Sometimes when we try to speak to people, they only pretend to care what we have to say as they squint at their Blackberry, pretending to listen to us while they shoot off that next tweet or text message.

We do the same thing to God. We always have. And the Lord wants us to repent of it.

People came by the thousands to see and hear Jesus on the mountain across the lake. He was famous long before the days of reality TV. A lot of people wanted to know what all the buzz was about. Everyone had heard about Jesus, and many heard Jesus on that day. But did they really hear Him? It is one thing to hear, but something else to understand. This is why our blessed Lord often says: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The Lord gave His Word to the people both in preaching and in the breaking of the bread. He was teaching both in Word and in deed. He called to repentance, proclaimed the gospel, and encouraged the people in the good news of the forgiveness of sins, the presence of the kingdom, and of His own kingship. But did the people listen? Did they truly hear? Did they understand?

From the accounts of the holy evangelists, we know that almost no-one listened at all. Our Lord’s preaching about the kingdom went in one ear and out the other. On this day, all they wanted were sandwiches. And when they thought they had a guy who could crank out free lunches, they took advantage of His compassion. They wanted to make him a king. And yet, this kingship they sought was not the Lord’s kingship, and the gifts they sought (bread to feed only the body) were not that which Jesus can to give (the living bread from heaven, the manna of salvation, the bread of life, His fleshly body given to us, His churchly body).

And so our Lord withdrew from them. He withdrew from them!

What a horrible thing it is not to listen to the Word of the Lord. He pours out His very self to us in His preaching, His miracles, His call to repentance, His offer of forgiveness, and His very body and blood offered to bring us into Holy Communion with the Holy Trinity – and all we want are sandwiches.

For we, like the people who listened to Jesus and witnessed His miracle on that day likewise turn our bellies into gods. We also allow our cravings to master us, our wants and desires to toss us about like a boat on the choppy seas. We too want a king and a kingdom that will hand out sandwiches without having to work for them. We want Jesus to be like a genie in a lamp, doing our bidding. And when it comes to the holy gifts of God that we actually don’t work for, the real grace and charity of God, we in our sinful nature want to turn that gift into a work – so that we have something to boast about.

For sin clogs up our ears and interferes in our ability to hear, listen to, and heed God’s Word. And this is why we must repent, dear brothers and sisters. We must repent of our refusal to listen. We need to be quiet and let the Word be absorbed into our ears, our minds, our hearts, and our lives. We must be willing to shut off the computer, put away the cellphone, turn off the TV, stop paying attention to everyone seated around us, and be willing to listen to Jesus. We must listen to the Word, listen to the Bread of Life giving you life, eternal life, abundant life, the life that is far more than a free meal to satisfy the body until the next meal.

The meal our Lord offers us is indeed a free meal. It truly does go on and on into eternity. And it delivers far more than the passing thrill of a nice taste and a full belly. Our Lord’s Supper is our eternal life in the form we can eat and drink, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good, and that His mercy endures forever!

But we, like the Israelites, gripe about this bread that is offered to us for free. We grumble that the reception of this bread is boring. We have so many other things we would like to be doing instead. We want the service to be later because it is too early. We want the service earlier because it is too late. We want services on Saturday like the other churches. We want our children catechized in special classes that do not take two years. We gripe about the bread, about the wine, about the way it is served, and the time it takes to serve it.

And yet, look at the gift we’re not focusing on when we’re too busy grumbling and paying homage to ourselves!

Dear friends, Jesus is here in His flesh and blood – physically, miraculously, and entirely for you to give you eternal life through His touch. Jesus is speaking to you – physically, miraculously, forgiving you all your sins. Jesus is pouring Himself out for you, giving you the full measure of His love, and making you worthy to stand in the presence of the Father with Him, free, forgiven, and rid of death forever!

We have nothing to complain about. We have every reason to “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad with her.” Even in the midst of our Lenten fast, today is a feast. And the Lord Himself is the host and the guest, the victim and the priest, the Word and the sacrament – the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, – our King of our very different kind of kingdom.

Transcending space and time, stepping into eternity, with no claim of merit on our own, let us join the church of every time and place, believers here in time and the saints in eternity, those who have gone before us, and Christians yet unborn in devoting ourselves “to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” And in this miraculous coming of our Lord, silently and intently hearing and listening to His Word, may “awe [come] upon every soul” and may “many wonders and signs” be done through our congregation, bringing people to our Lord to likewise gather and hear His word, to join in that breaking of the bread, and in making disciples of all nations…

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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