Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sermon -- 14th Sunday after Pentecost (September 2, 2012)

JOHN 6:60-69 / EPHESIANS 5:21-33

In the name + of Jesus.

     It is not often that, with one sermon, a pastor sees his congregation dwindle from thousands to a dozen.  Yet, Jesus did it.  The problem is not that the people did not understand what Jesus was getting at.  The problem is that Jesus taught it so plainly and clearly that the people understood exactly what Jesus was saying.  “I am the bread of life.  Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”  When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:48,53-54,60)  So, they stopped listening.  And they walked away.
     It is a hard saying, and many refuse to believe it.  Even Christians find it harsh: There is no forgiveness, no mercy, no hope, no comfort, no salvation, and no life outside of Jesus Christ.  Your Muslim friends may be nice.  Your agnostic brother may be fun.  But they remain in their sins.  They are destined for hell.
     That sounds harsh, doesn’t it?  You might not like to hear it, either.  That is why Jesus even had to ask the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67)  But understand this: Being nice does not save.  Do not confuse your fondness for your family and friends with God’s judgment.  Heaven is only for that which is holy.  Only he who is without sin shall live.  Jesus said it so plainly that you cannot misunderstand him.  Jesus alone has, and gives, and is life.  Outside of Jesus, there is no life.  Jesus’ disciples recognized it, which is why the said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
     From the very beginning, the Lord has been the source of life.  There is no life apart from God’s say so.  Adam became a living being only because the Father formed him from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.  Life comes from the Father.  But man is not to dwell alone, so God made a helper suitable for him.  Not from another clod of dirt, but from the man’s side God formed a woman for the man.  The groom’s side was split open, and from the groom’s side his bride was given life.  St. Paul wrote: This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32)  Thanks to the Groom, the Bride as life.
     This intimate union is pictured throughout the Scriptures, beginning with the union of Adam and Eve.  It is fulfilled by Jesus.  He is the Groom whose side was split open at the cross.  From Jesus’ side flowed blood and water by which Jesus Christ gives you life.  Through baptism, Jesus cleanses the Church.  Through the Lord’s Supper, the Groom feeds and cares for his Bride.  Jesus Christ loves his Bride, and he demonstrated it by giving himself up for you so that you could benefit, so that you would be forgiven of every smudge of sin, and so that you would stand before God as holy, blameless, and radiant.  You receive your life from Jesus.  This life is not merely existing because your heart is beating and your brain waves can be detected.  Such life can be found in rabbits and rattlesnakes, too. 
     The life Jesus gives is a life in which the heart has been cleansed of sin and in which a mind is being transformed to the mind of Christ.  This is a life which spills over into deeds of compassion, words of encouragement, and prayers for anyone in need – even your enemies.  This is a life which begins in this world and endures into eternity.  This life is a status before God which is holy, which means that you will rejoice at the heavenly wedding banquet.  This life is all through Jesus.  It is only through Jesus.  Thanks to the Groom, the Bride has life.
     Some may have a hard time finding comfort or joy in seeing Jesus as the Groom and the Church as his Bride.  That is because brides and grooms do not have the kind of married life that they expect.  Brides and grooms quickly discover that they are living with sinners.  Spouses who are supposed to love, honor, and serve one another instead manipulate, dominate, and control each other.  Their words to each other are often bitter, sarcastic, and cruel.  Rather than speak highly of one another, husbands get together with other men and wives get together with other women and try to one-up each other in whose spouse is more stupid or useless.  Marriage becomes a contest in which the husband and wife vie for supremacy.  Wives have no interest in submitting to their husbands.  Husbands fail to selflessly love their wives.  Neither will see their own sins, but both are quick to look at the other and say, “Boy, if that isn’t describing you!”
     Such is the life of sinners.  We are only interested in getting what we want.  We are only interested in making sure that we look good, often at the expense of others.  We have been unfaithful, running after whatever will get us the next thrill.  And this is what we think makes life worth living.  Such selfishness destroys marriages and homes.  Such self-centeredness dissolves friendships.  Such self-importance pits us against Jesus.  But there is no life outside of Jesus.  Our sin is all the reason Jesus needs to hand us over to death and hell.  Why should Jesus find us desirable when we have been so unfaithful? 
     What great love Jesus Christ has for you!  Even though you have not been faithful to him, Jesus remains faithful to you.  Jesus’ love is made known by his selfless life – both lived and died for you.  Thanks to the Groom, the Bride has life.  For Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, having cleansed her by the washing of water through the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor… (Ephesians 5:25-27)  Your beauty comes from Christ who has clothed you in salvation.  Your splendor comes from Jesus’ righteousness.  Your status comes from bearing his name.  Your life comes from Jesus Christ who gave his own life is the dowry for you.
     Thanks to the Groom, the Bride has life.  And this heavenly Bridegroom rose from the dead so that he can continue to serve you.  He never tires of his love for his Church.  He mercy is boundless.  His faithfulness is unfailing.  He grants divine comfort and protection to his Bride.  That is why the Church submits to Christ – because we know that we receive such good things from him.  And we know that only Jesus has these good things.  Though many religions and friends may try to seduce us with promises of more fun and greater thrills, they have no mercy, forgiveness, or salvation to offer.  Where else would we go?  Only Jesus has the words of eternal life.
     This is the life that God also desires husbands and wives to have toward one another.  You are still sinners, but love covers over a multitude of sins.  Love delights in showing mercy.  Love does not keep track of wrongs, but forgives them.  Husband and wife continue to see one another as God’s gifts to each other.  Your delight is not in what you can get out of each other, but in how you live for each other, love each other, and serve one another.  When you do this, you get to enjoy the life God intends through this blessed union.  And you reflect the love of Christ and his Church.
     You are the Church, the Bride of Christ.  Thanks to your heavenly Groom, the Bride has life.  You bear his name and receive good things from him.  His love is greater than your sins.  He is pleased to feed and care for you today, already inviting you to partake in the heavenly banquet.  The blood from his side is given in Holy Communion and continues to be the source of your life.  You are the Church; you are always beautiful to him.  He is your Savior, and he is forever faithful to you.

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

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