Friday, March 16, 2007

(wma audio download link)

Nobody wants Jesus unless he’ll give them a miracle.

That’s just the sad state of the way it is. That’s the problem of having a heart of stone, a mind dense wood and a flesh that acts like a ravenous beast. “Oh, sure God, I’ll believe in you…if…” you fill in the blank. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve done it before, and you’ll probably do it again.

What’s probably more sad than anything else is that no one, not one of us, in our deepest heart of hearts, really wants the right kind of miracle. Sure, we’ll take more bread on our table, more clothes on our backs, a little less time tilling the soil, less pain in childbearing, “peace, love and tenderness.” Why not? Who’s gonna look that gift horse in the mouth? We could fill this congregation to overflowing in a matter of months if I started promising with conviction that belonging here would give you your best possible life right now. If week after week I called down the spirit, and got you up here to testify that God had changed you and given you victory over the hardships of life, the crowds would come hand over fist, handing in dollar after dollar, just to get a piece of that action.

Idols are actually really cool to worship, when they’re on. They make HUGE promises, and for at least 5% of the people, the promises tend to pan out. For the rest, who come and go with the wind, it doesn’t matter so much. The important thing is that, one way or another, you get your fleshly desires encouraged and your itching ears tickled with a bit “teaching” about the kind of miracles you would rather believe in. Miracles that are about this life, about the present, about “you.”

But what would not happen if I regularly preached those kinds of lies would be for authentic faith to grow in you. You would receive no pure God-given trust. And thus, you would never learn to long for, not the miracles you most want, but for the miracles you most need. That’s because your human nature is never going to come to that kind of praying and longing on it’s own. It can’t. Because you’re evil.

Tell me. Does the average, run of the mill teenager know what’s best for her? No. Now tell me, does she think she does? Of course. And what’s the last thing in the world she wants?... for you to tell her what’s best for her and set her on the path. It just doesn’t work that way. Why?

So, suppose with me for a minute that you actually are evil, (or, one better, believe it, because, if the Scriptures are True, then you are.) And, then, believing that you are evil, think about it: can something evil really want to stop being evil, let alone actually become good? That wouldn’t be very evil of it, would it? It’d be kind of like a rock “wanting” to be a fish. It’s completely against the nature of a rock to try to be a fish.

Being evil and staying evil is the way that an evil heart works. No matter how much it may tell you that it wants to be good, that it means well, and so on, it’s just lying to you. What it really wants is more of the “good life,” more miracles that make for fun and easier times, more self-indulgent pleasure, more gluttonous, happy, pain-free “me.” That is why you come to Church, right? To find the good life, or to somehow ensure it for your kids, just like a crowd that’s ready to make anybody into a King if he’ll give them some food. Miracle or not, it’s simple human nature to worship anything and anyone that promises a satisfied belly.

So, given that, why did Jesus feed the faithless crowds all that bread, especially since, according to John, he already knew “what was in a man”? … What does the text say?

Jesus lifted up his eyes and saw the crowds. And then he did what the Messiah does. He had compassion on people who didn’t deserve it, anyway. More so, even though it would do many of them little good, he was going to give them the miracle anyway. And he gave a sign greater than Moses and better than Elijah ever did – for both of those men prayed to God and God gave bread to the people. But Jesus … Jesus gave bread to the people. That’s what God does. He cares for his creation, anyway, deserve it or not, period.

But did this belly-filling miracle create authentic faith in the crowds? No. Sure, they were going to make him King. But was that what they needed? No. Jesus slipped away to hide. And if you read the rest of chapter six, you’ll find that he doesn’t hide for very long because the same crowds find him again, (and, go figure, they’re asking for more bread.) One sign, one miracle, any miracle, is never enough. A “signs faith” always demands more. A stomach-pleasing “belief” is no belief at all – it is greed. And a seeker chasing a bread-basket god will quickly find that he doesn’t want Jesus Christ, because Jesus Christ doesn’t give people what they want. He gives people what they need. He actually cares for you. So he knows that what all people need, even more than bread, is Himself. What you need, far more than bread, is the Word of God.

“I am the bread of life,” he says. “Eat me,” he says. “Your fathers ate the bread of miracles, and they died. You need bread that takes away death.” You want miracles and poppycock, but Jesus came to give you Truth and reality, pure, everlasting, good Truth and reality. You want things that perish and spoil and fade with time, but Jesus is an inheritance beyond the touch of even death.

Many left Jesus that day he said those things. They couldn’t handle that kind of teaching. They wanted miracles from Jesus, but they didn’t want Jesus, not if he wasn’t going to fill their bellies and tickle their ears for them. Just like you. You too, by nature, prefer a God who would give you signs and proofs and show. But there is a difference, now, between you and those crowds, and this moment is what makes it all the more real, for you are given, even now, to know, to believe, and to see, that God in Jesus was really about a sign and a proof and a show, only it wasn’t the sign and proof and show that your flesh wants, but the sign and the proof and the revelation that you most desperately need.

Jesus turned the crowds away that day because he was on his way to give a sign that will ever be above all signs. He was on his way to be crowned a King with a crown beyond all crowns. He was on his way to provide a bread for the life of the world. And these things are beyond all desires of man’s heart and greater than all expectations of man’s mind. The True sign given to the world for proof that Jesus is Lord is the sign of Jonah – for Christ lay three days and three nights in the belly of the earth. There, the body which had handed out meal after meal from a couple of fish was rock dead and stone cold and sprawled on a slab without even the anointing of burial spices. And the crown of this King left scars and wounds in his bloodied mane. But, beyond all of man’s desire and comprehension, this same dead, cold, lifeless body, broken and poured out, was, is and ever shall be the life of the world, even today: the bread from heaven, not dead, but resurrected, and in resurrection giving the power of raise forever and ever and ever.

It’s not about heaven. It’s not about paradise. It’s not about bread. It’s not about you. It’s about the love God had for creation because creation was made to be good and God will see it done. How great a thing that you have been given to see this, given to be a part of this, made into this new, coming, resurrecting world that has started with the body of Jesus Christ.

Now…I can’t close without tickling this little nugget. It is a great sadness that there are some today who would deny that what we eat and drink here is the flesh and blood of Jesus. The strictest Calvinist (who is the closest Protestantism will dare come to a Biblical understanding of the Sacrament,) when pressed on why he considers this meal merely a “spiritual” feast, will confess that the greatest dilemma is that Jesus human body A. is stuck in heaven and so can’t be here too, and B. would eventually run out if he started feeding it to people.

And I just can’t pass this wonderful Gospel text by without reveling in the lame logic of the human heart, which leans on it’s understand rather than the Word of God. The man fed 5000 men plus all their woman and children from 5 loaves of bread and had 12 basket-fulls left over… - if you really want crazy with the logical approach, then that means that after 2000 years of feeding his people, Jesus is probably several stories tall. 

The Word does what He says, and Jesus did what he said he would do all along. He went to the cross, to kill death, for you. How much more so will he not do in the present future all else that he has promised. Here, right now, is the sign of Jonah, given for you, so that you can believe not merely in miracles which fill your belly with pleasure, but far more importantly, in the power of the Word of God which creates your life, forever.

In the Name…

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