March 22, 2009, 4th in Lent, John 6:1-15
This is a time in our nation for worry. Financial stress is triggered merely by the mention of words like bailout, recession, stimulus package, and the like. People worry about the effects of the national deficit on our children and grandchildren. People worry about losing their jobs, and losing their investments. You do not have to be a big Wall Street stock trader to fear what may happen.
Christ teaches today that you should not worry, whatever may happen. Even when you are stranded in the wilderness of life, He will take care of you. He has promised, and He will do it.
The five thousand who followed Christ into the wilderness probably began to worry. They were stranded in the middle of nowhere. How could they find a meal?
Most people eventually find themselves in a tight spot, without any apparent solution. It may seem like there's no way that things could turn out okay. At such times, you may be tempted to think that God is very distant. Although you believe that He could help if He chose to, you may doubt that He will actually do it.
Christ promises you that He will always help you in whatever trouble you find yourself. But He may not help you in the way that you want.
He may supply miraculous help, as He did with the five thousand. He may give you a miracle even if you do not recognize it at the time. Or you may experience something that seemed like a miracle, even though it may have only been God using natural resources. Sometimes, He organizes and orchestrates events in exactly the right way at the right time to help you.
The most ordinary blessings, without a hint of the miraculous, are still Christ's loving hand for you. If you buy and enjoy a candy bar or cheeseburger or glass of wine, all these are from the Father who showers you with every kind of gift.
Sometimes, instead of removing the problem, He may allow it to remain. He may choose to have you suffer the hardship for a time, even as He supplies you with the strength to endure. This, also, is Christ's loving hand.
Or instead of removing the problem, He may choose in His wisdom to remove you. In other words, He may take you to Himself in heaven, where all problems and troubles cease.
Yet, with all these ways that He expresses His love to you, how easy it is to worry! You know that He promises to protect you always. You ought to trust Him easily and naturally, all the time. But like all men, you cannot trust your Lord as you should. Worry is inevitable, if you are a sinful person. It comes to everyone as naturally as breathing.
Sometimes, you may worry because you are not in the circumstances you wished you would be. You may find yourself sitting on grass eating plain bread and fish, when you wanted to sit in a restaurant eating steak.
You may find yourself thinking, "If only I saw the great miracles of the Bible, then I would trust God more, and worry less." But that is not true. The Israelites saw the Red Sea part, and were fed Bread from heaven, yet they worried and complained. The disciples saw Christ work miracles, yet they worried whether the people would have enough to eat.
If you could cease worrying by trusting God completely, then you would be able to keep the First Commandment perfectly, and every other commandment would be easy for you. But you do not trust God as you should, because your flesh cannot.
But in place of your sinful flesh, Christ has given His holy flesh. He has given Himself as the Bread of heaven.
That is what Christ wanted the people to see. He did not want them to merely be fed one meal, and then be none the wiser. He wanted them to see that there is one Bread better than any other. This one holy Loaf is divided up, not between five thousand, but is given for all the earth. This Loaf is Christ.
After all, the Jews were about to celebrate the Passover, also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Christ is the Bread that has no leaven of sin, and no impurity, but is only holy and pure.
This Bread is not made by human hands, but descends from heaven as surely as the manna in the wilderness. No man could make the Bread of Life. Christ had to be conceived by the Spirit in the Virgin Mary. For Christ is Bread so powerful that anyone who eats Him will live forever. This eating is faith. Faith receives Christ and takes Him into yourself. He gives you strength and life, since He is the Food from heaven.
So this perfect Bread entices you to hunger for every fragment and crumb and every little piece that falls from the Master's Table. He awakens a desire in you to devour every Word of grace. There is no need to ration His forgiveness, or go on a spiritual starvation diet. Christ richly provides an overabundant feast of His grace.
Most of all, this hunger is driven by the awareness that you are a sinner, in need of Christ always. Of yourself, you are empty. But Christ gives you of His fullness, with basketfuls left over.
For it is the emptiness of your sinful worry and mistrust that He fills. Because of your fleshly complaining, you should be left in the wilderness to starve. But He fills you with the best food ever.
Instead of allowing your death, He was broken in death for you. He was burned in God's oven of wrath, so that you could receive His life for salvation.
He had to be broken and burned. Death and fire had to touch Him, just as earthly wheat must be crushed and baked before it becomes bread.
Christ also had to be crushed. The yeast of mankind's sins had to be placed upon Him. Such torture He endured, yet He submitted to it willingly. Out of compassion and tender mercy for you, He was willing to be broken in death.
Yet He could not remain dead. Even broken and burned and crushed, He remained Life incarnate. This is the Bread of Life who never dies, and who gives the same life to you.
Now He has given a wonderful Sacrament of life. His own Body is the Bread that is eaten. Here is the great Sign of all signs, that with our mouths we eat the flesh and blood of God. Every crumb and drop is so precious - how could we waste the tiniest amount?
This Sign is not for all. He did not give His Body and Blood to the Five Thousand; only to those instructed who had confessed Christ.
What a great gift He gives! Here we eat the true ambrosia, the food of immortality, the food of God who died and rose again.
He has rescued you from death and hell and satan. He has already done the best thing that could ever be done. Since He gave His life in agony, how would He not give you a thousand other blessings? He could never fail you, since He has already put His life in you.
Only this Bread from heaven truly satisfies sinners. People who want their physical needs met by the Church will not be filled. Although we may feed such people, their heart is not set upon the True Bread, only on earthly bread. Like the people who followed Christ for His miracles, they do not truly believe. Like those who wanted Christ to be King because He fed them, they will never be filled. To believe merely that Christ cares for your daily needs is not saving faith. Any heathen can believe that.
That is why the Spirit's main work was to show you that you are sinners, and then turn your eyes upon Christ, the Savior from sin. The Spirit gave you first the Kingdom and His righteousness. All the other things will follow after.
So you are safe and absolutely secure, no matter what happens around you, because you have Christ. Let all the world threaten you. Let demons surround you. Let family, friends, and even your life be taken away. If all these things happen, you are still forever founded upon Christ and His life. You cannot be destroyed, whatever may come.
In the Name of this holy Lord whose death has made you alive. Amen.
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