Sermon presented at
Resurrection Lutheran Church, Fredericksburg, Virginia
on 02 August 2009 -- the 9th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
The Holy Scriptures appointed for this day bring to my mind the image of a journey, and of God’s unfailing desire to love and sustain his children along the way.
This journey is the journey of all humanity since our creation. It is the journey of the people Israel and all of Christendom set apart to in faith to proclaim the Good News of God’s love. It is the journey of each man, woman, and child – from our baptism unto life everlasting. And it is the journey of this congregation now twenty years of age and growing into adulthood – breaking bread together here each week.
The first lesson today from Exodus recounts the escape of the Israelite community from Egypt. 430 years they had been in captivity under Egyptian rule. Over a million folks with their livestock leave Egypt and head out into the desert as a people freed from tyranny. Freed maybe…but thirsty.
The desert of the Sinai Peninsula to this day is a rather inhospitable place. So their first priority is to find water. In the 15th Chapter of Exodus, we find this mass of humanity going three days in the desert without water, and understandably grumbling against Moses “what are we to drink?”
And here we are about 6 weeks later and folks are grumbling again about not having food “…but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death."
Tough predicament for Moses. How’d you like that leadership challenge? But remember it is the will of God that the people of Israel are to journey together through the wilderness of the Sinai for the next 40 years. Our Lord provides bread from heaven to sustain them through that journey.
"I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. ” Ex 16:4
This bread, known to us as manna – sustains the people of Israel throughout their journey in the Sinai…along with water and quail and herds of goats and sheep and clothes and shoes and good government and devout neighbors and children everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body – all to sustain this great congregation of faith. All these are what Martin Luther writes about in explaining the petition we pray each day… “Give us this Day our Daily Bread.”
The Lord sends his children on a 40 year journey together -- as he builds them into a strong and courageous nation -- fully trusting in God for their salvation. The Law is established and these children of God are built up for God’s service in body, mind, and spirit. Of course they fail time and again, they rebel and sin against God repeatedly, but the Lord nourishes and sustains them on their anyway – because he loves them.
Isaiah 42:16 -- I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.
Into the darkness of humanity about 1500 years later the light of Christ Jesus is born and changes the world forever.
In the Epistle lesson Paul is writing to the new church in Ephesus. He alludes to the journey of the Exodus perhaps by quoting Psalm 68 – and he speaks of the Lord’s journey from heaven to earth and back again -- but his emphasis is on the gifts given by God’s grace to each of us His children. Spiritual gifts given to each of us to sustain us along our individual journeys of life. Gifts given…
“…to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…
…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature…
…speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”
Throughout the rest of the letter we find more instructions from God as to how we are to journey together. Each one responsible to God for our own conduct, loved, and nourished, and molded by God to grow up together into Christ.
In the Gospel for today, Jesus has just finished feeding the five thousand and has crossed the Sea of Galilee. The crowds find him again, and he tells them they’re only here for the chow. He teaches us repeatedly in the Gospels not to be so concerned with what we will eat and what we will wear, but that the spiritual is far more important than the physical. He reminds them of the manna that God provided for the Israelites to eat, but then he reveals that He is the bread of life sent by the Father…that our work in this life is simply to believe in Him and by strong implication then, in the instructions he gives.
In verse 6:36 right after our reading for today, you can almost hear Jesus sigh as he says:
“But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.”
If there is one thing we people can’t seem to get right it’s our emphasis on things physical over the spiritual in our journeys. Thankfully, we are not alone, but journey together through life. And it is God who calls us, who gathers us to this place each week to nourish us through word and sacrament – and he sustains and nourishes us as a congregation of faith.
National strategists often talk in terms of ends, ways, and means. “Ends” being the vision of what will be accomplished; “Ways” being the paths we can take to achieve those ends; and “Means” being the physical resources that enable us and sustain us to travel down the path we choose.
In our yearly journey through the church calendar, we are closer to Christmas future than to Christmas past. If your “Ends” for this coming Christmas involved gathering the family at Grandmothers house for example, the “Ways” might be over the river and through the woods. The “Means” would be the horse and the sleigh.
The ends for the Exodus were the people Israel living together as a community of faith in the promised land. The ways were through 40 years in the Sinai. The means were water, bread, and the Law all given by God through Moses and Aaron.
What are the Ends for your life? The Way is Jesus. And the Means of God’s Grace are provided for us in the water of our Baptism, the wine of the new covenant of Jesus who is the bread of life. We are invited to God’s table, to break bread together and participate meaningfully in the fullness of His Grace.
May the Peace of God which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds always in the Risen Christ Jesus. Amen.