+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Of what does your life consist? I suppose it’s a bit of an awkward question, mainly because it’s one you’re probably not asked very often. But, I’ll ask it anyway. Of what does your life consist? When people think of you what do you suppose they think of? In this current political season we’re frequently reminded that Presidents are always concerned about their legacy, what sort of mark they’ll make on history. One way or another though we’re all going to leave our mark on history.
So, let’s contemplate it for a few moments. Of what does you life consist? As children of God, we can begin by eliminating possessions from the discussion. While the philosophy of our culture toward possessions is summed up in the phrase “the one who dies with the most toys wins,” the Bible cautions us against buying in to such a philosophy. “Take care (Jesus says), and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
So, our lives do not consist of our possessions. What is more difficult for us, enamored as we are by our perception of our relative goodness, is to deny ourselves the pleasure of defending our worth, or, of defining who we are by recounting all the good we’ve done. The tendency is perhaps nowhere more clearly witnessed than in obituaries and eulogies written at the time of a person’s death. He loved everyone unconditionally, we say. She always had a smile on her face and never met anyone she didn’t like. He was the world’s greatest dad. She was the world’s greatest mother. All of the sudden someone you may have known personally as a bit of a scoundrel becomes a model of the virtuous life.
Please don’t misunderstand. There is nothing particularly wrong with remembering someone in a positive light. But, the question is how do our works fit into our legacy? Interestingly, theologians in Luther’s day thought of good works in the Christian’s life as “the bread of their life.” They tended to look at passages in the Bible, like the one before us this morning in John 6, where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” and interpret them in an active sense. Consequently, they saw a person’s good works as the bread of a fruitfully productive Christian life. By living like Jesus one could produce the bread that merits life.
In 1530 to 1532, Luther wrote a series of sermons on chapters 6 – 8 of John’s Gospel. In one of those sermons he identified the error of the “good works mongers.” He wrote, ““(Some people say) when I perform good works, I merit life. Indeed, faith in Christ is nothing if you do not also do good works.” Yes, they claim: “If I do good works, I obtain everlasting life.” To live, to have everlasting life, you must produce works, the bread that will give you life!
Luther, of course, was appalled by such a corruption of God’s word. Consequently, he spent the better part of his life preaching the Gospel of God’s forgiveness and grace, apart from the works of the Law. Again, in preaching on this passage from John 6, he wrote, (Christ wants to say:) “This is what I have announced to you: He who believes in Me has everlasting life. And also: I am the bread of life.” It is enough for you to believe in Christ and thus to eat the bread of life. Good works will follow in the train of faith; they will not fail to appear. Wherever true faith is present, they inevitably follow.”
Truly good works, which are present only in the life of the Christian, since only that which is done through Christ is truly good and pleasing in the eyes of God, do not merit anything. Rather, they are the fruit of the justified life. Not only do they not merit anything before God they can become detrimental when we begin believe that they do merit us favor with God.
Consequently, “every Christian (Luther says) should be prepared, equipped, and skilled to explain what purpose good works serve and what purpose they do not serve. You must love your neighbor and do good to him wherever possible; but do not let those good works be your bulwark, your consolation, your bread of life, or your spiritual food, by means of which you would merit eternal life and be justified before God. For the Lord Christ says here: “I am your life.”
The point is, God doesn’t need your good works. In fact, as meritorious works, He doesn’t even want them. Your neighbor, however, does need your good works. You are declared righteous before God in Christ. But, you must prove your righteousness to your neighbor. Your righteousness before God is according to the Gospel, in which Jesus declares you holy and pure in His eyes. Your righteousness before your neighbor is according to the Law, by which you perform acts of kindness and love, which are desperately needed by your neighbor.
The Apostle Paul gave us his view of his life in Christ, his legacy, if you will. By inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote, “I died to the law (that is, to the works of the law), so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Paul knew there was nothing he could do, or, needed to do for that matter, to impress God, or, to earn God’s favor. His life was “in Christ, who gave Himself for him.” It is the same for you, my friends. Jesus is “the bread of life.” Your life, the life you have only in and through Him, consists in Him! Therefore, what the Father says of His Son, He says also of you! You are my beloved son! You are my beloved daughter! In you I am well pleased!
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven (Jesus says). If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” While theologians in Luther’s day and many today, think of eternal life as actively attained by the fruit one produces in life, the Scriptures identify it as a pure gift of God’s grace. In other words, you and I are completely passive recipients of eternal life. We receive the flesh and blood of Jesus in faith, the faith that has been given to us by God. Thus we receive the blessings won for us on the cross as a free gift.
Of what does your life consist? There are a number of books on the market titled “His father’s Son.” Probably the best known among them is the one about Tiger Woods. A less popular book by the same title is about a Jewish man who marries a Christian woman. It’s a serious proposition, particularly among those who hold orthodox Jewish beliefs. So serious, in fact that Jewish families whose sons marry outside of their faith, are counted dead by the family. They even hold a funeral-like service for their son.
You can’t help but see the irony. In converting to Christianity the dead son of a Jewish family is given life by Christ, the bread of life. You too are your Father’s Son, your Father’s daughter. Born anew in the water of Holy Baptism, you are now alive to receive the bread of life that came down from heaven. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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