Monday, August 13, 2012

Sermon -- 11th Sunday after Pentecost (August 12, 2012)

JOHN 6:24-35

In the name + of Jesus.

     After the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus dismissed the crowds.  Jesus went up a mountain by himself.  Shortly thereafter, Jesus returned to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, to the city of Capernaum, with his disciples.  Some of the people found him in Capernaum and were eager to see him again.  Jesus noted that they were eager to see him for the wrong reason.  Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” (John 6:26)   Jesus wanted them to recognize that many of God’s gifts provide only momentary value.  That does not mean the gifts are worthless.  It just means that they are temporary.  Jesus wants us to keep our minds on things eternal more than things temporary.
     The crowds, then, followed this up with an important question.  They said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (John 6:28)  The people were not opposed to religion and obedience.  Few people really are.  Even atheists understand that there is some kind of standard of right and wrong, even if they will not credit God for setting that standard.  So, what does God expect?  How much does God demand?  When will finally make him happy?  What must we do, to be doing the works of God? 
     These questions are not mere theory.  The answer to these questions is what settles consciences.  The answer soothes troubled hearts.  The answer silences fears of death and hell.  If you want to be at peace, then you ought to ponder the question and know the answer, too.  “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (John 6:28) 
     All kinds of people have attempted to answer this question.  In general, most answers boil down to some version of this: “God wants you to be good,” or “God wants you to be loving.”  Those expressions are vague enough that it is hard to disagree with them.  Who is going to dispute encouragements to be good or to love others? 
     So, what is the good that you should do?  That is a more specific question, but it still receives vague answers.  Are the good works volunteering at a charity or serving in the community?  How often – once a week?  A hundred hours a year?  How long – just a year?  Five years?  Life-long?  And what kind of love are you to show?  How is love supposed to express itself?  Is love the unquestioning acceptance of all people regardless of their attitudes, actions, or speech?  Are we to embrace people who are rude or abusive?  Can you make judgments about obscene language or crooked business practices?  Must you donate to every charity that asks?  “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (John 6:28)  And when is God finally pleased with us for doing these things?  These are the questions that plague all people, whether they are Christian or not.  For God does not merely promote good works, he demands them.  The good words of God have to be done.
     That is why you are still frustrated and fearful of your life as well.  Your conscience never fails to testify that you have not done the good works you need to do.  Forget about finding new ways to do good works; you have not even done the good you are supposed to do in your home, amongst your friends, and at your job.  Your love is corrupt.  For, love is not inconvenienced when you can good to your spouse, your children, and your neighbor.  Love is not annoyed when you can demonstrate patience for the reckless driver, the overbearing boss, and the neglectful relative.  Love puts the best construction on things.  You don’t know what pressure your boss is under.  You don’t know if the reckless driver is racing to the hospital to see his mother who just had a heart attack.  You don’t know if that relative neglects you because she is consumed by thoughts and prayers for her bullied child.  Love endures such things.  Self-importance will not tolerate them.  You have not done the good God desires or shown the love God seeks.  Repent.
     The crowds asked Jesus that question: “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (John 6:28)  The way almost everyone answers that question is to tell you to do more, to try harder, or to follow extra Commandments.  If you can’t keep Ten Commandments, how will extra ones help you?!  Jesus’ answer is the only answer that soothes troubled hearts and fearful souls.  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29)  
     If you believe in the one whom God has sent, it first of all means that you take God seriously when he demands that you love him above all and love your neighbor as yourself.  It means that you recognize that you have not done these things, and so you need a Savior.  It also means that you recognize that you are not excused from the obedience God demands.  The good works of God have to be done.  Love is the fulfillment of the Law, and so love needs to be demonstrated to God and shown to one’s neighbor.  This Jesus has done.  The good works of God have been done.
     Jesus first of all heeded and followed all of God’s Commandments.  He did not invent new ones; he fulfilled the word which was already perfect.  Now, just as no one can read or know your heart, neither can anyone see Jesus’ heart or gauge Jesus’ devotion to his Father.  Jesus’ loving obedience, then, is seen in how he loves his neighbor.  And this Jesus demonstrated not merely in healing the sick and feeding the multitude, but in living for all people and in suffering and dying for all people.  Jesus lived honestly for the crooked, chastely for the obscene, mercifully for the abusive, kindly for the rude, and humbly for the self-important.  The good works of God have been done by Jesus.
     Jesus also demonstrated his love by suffering and dying for his neighbor.  Jesus suffered and died for all mankind – from those who judge and despise all others to those who tolerate and accept every behavior and attitude.  Jesus suffered at the hands of the crooked, the obscene, the abusive, the rude, and the self-important to pay for these sins.  Jesus has done all the works, and therefore, it is all covered.  Jesus has loved all and has done good for all by his sufferings and death for the sins of all.
     The good works of God have been done.  The Law has been fulfilled.  Your sins are forgiven.  God is pleased.  So put your heart at ease.  Do not let your conscience plague you any longer.  The good works of God have been done.  The demands have been met.  The peace of God is yours.
     They said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)  It is by faith that you are saved.  And just as Jesus demonstrated the love of God by his love for you, so also your faith will not sit by idly.  Though you are not under threat to serve your fellowman with love, mercy, patience, and good works, neither do you have to be convinced that this is God’s will for you.  You have been rescued from evil.  How could you go back and live in it?  Therefore, you will love your neighbor and serve him in his needs.  You will love what is good and despise what is evil.  In everything you do, you will strive to do what God says is good because that is what faith does.  It believes Jesus who has made you a new creation.  You are saints who are pleased to do good works.  Faith rejoices in loving God and serving one’s neighbor.  And faith clings to Jesus, trusting that he has done all the good works God requires.  Therefore you may serve and live without fear.  The good works of God have been done.  Go in peace and live in joy; for God is pleased.

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

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