Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent - Laetare - Ex 16:2-21

                                                                                                Lent 4
                                                                                                Ex 16:2-21

            I certainly didn’t realize how easy I had it.  My experience of meals during most of my life required no thought on my part – no effort.  When I was growing up I just knew that mom would make dinner.  It didn’t matter what else was going on..  When it was dinner time, I knew that a meal would just appear on the table.  It would be there – you could count on it.
And it would be good … very good. My mom is a great cook and we had so many tasty meals.             
            When I went to Concordia College in Ann Arbor, MI I lived in a dorm all four years and ate at the cafeteria.  Once again, I never had to worry about what I was going to eat, and on the whole the food was good.  When I went to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis as a single student I was required to live on campus in a dorm.  I lived in that existence of a monastic frat house and ate at the cafeteria.  Yet again, I never had to worry about what I was going to eat, and during my time there the food was quite good.
            Things did change when I married Amy.  But it was a good change.  Amy is a good cook and I helped out where I could.  I became the household grill master and discovered the joys of grilling.  It was just the two of us, and if schedules made things difficult it was easy to improvise and make do. 
            And then we added four children.  There are now six mouths to feed – and while I am trying to eat less, the four of them keep eating more and more.  The schedule is also busier than it ever was before with sports, school and church activities.  Keeping enough food in the house, having ideas for meals and then actually carrying out those plans in the time constraints of our schedule is a challenge.  I didn’t realize how easy I had it all those years.
            In the Old Testament lesson today the people of Israel ask what they are going to eat.  They grumble against Moses and Aaron and complain that they had it so much easier when they were back in Egypt.  They say, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
            Now when they complain they are ignoring two key pieces of information.  First, they were slaves in Egypt. They were used by the Egyptians as forced labor.  They suffered and the book of Exodus tells us that “Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.” And this leads to the second thing they are ignoring: God has just rescued them in a dramatic and amazing way.  He had sent ten plagues on the Egyptians, while sparing Israel. In the Passover he had forced the Egyptians to release them and then he had delivered the people of Israel by bringing them through the Red Sea.  Yahweh had just given them water to drink in a miracle as he made bad water into that which was sweet and drinkable.
            Yet here they are, grumbling against Moses and Aaron. And in our text Moses calls the people to account when he reminds them that he and Aaron are only Yahweh’s servants as he says, “Yahweh has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him--what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against Yahweh.”
            It shouldn’t be all that hard to understand how this text applies to you.  We do the same thing as Israel – in fact we cut out the middleman and just grumble directly against God. We look at our circumstances and decide that they just aren’t good enough.  We want more.  We want better.  We ignore the many blessings that God’s has given to us.  Being thankful for the ways that God provides us with daily bread is beneath us. We expect so much more than just those things needed to sustain our body and life.  After all, look at what my neighbor has! Look at the trips my friends on Facebook are taking! Why isn’t my life like that?
            God knew Israel’s need.  He also heard Israel’s grumbling.  And in our text Moses says, “At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against the LORD.”  Yahweh said that in the morning they would see the glory of the Lord.  And right then the glory – the perceptible presence of God – showed up in the cloud that accompanied Israel as God said through Moses, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’”
            In our text we learn that in the evening God provided quail that came upon the camp.  And then each morning he provided something they had never seen before.  They called it manna, which in Hebrew means “What is it?”  In answer to the question Moses told them that it was the bread Yahweh had given them to eat.  It was what the Psalms would later describe as the bread from heaven.
            We need to stop and ponder this manna – this bread from heaven.  God says that in it his glory is revealed.  It is after all, a miracle as God provides for his people.  Yet when the people first see it, they don’t even know what it is.  And later, they complain about it and say that all they have to eat is this worthless manna.  God’s glory is revealed in a miracle, and yet the nature of this miracle is such that it can be overlooked and even spurned.
            This is how God works.  And this is how God worked in his greatest miracle – the incarnate Son of God.  In the first chapter of his Gospel John tells us about Jesus, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  John tells us that in the One conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, God was revealing his saving glory.
            Jesus showed this in the feeding of the five thousand recounted in today’s Gospel lesson.  He took five loaves of bread and two fish and used it to feed a huge crowd.  He provided food in such abundance that there were twelve baskets full left over.
            The next day the crowd sought out Jesus.  He said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
            In spite of the fact that Jesus had just fed them in a miracle, they asked what sign Jesus would do so that they could believe him.  After all, Moses had given the Israelites manna in the wilderness.  But our Lord replied: “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  And when they asked for this bread, Jesus answered, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
            Jesus Christ, true God and true man is the true bread from heaven.  He is the bread who gives life to the world.  Jesus went on to say, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. 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.”
            The Word –the Son of God – became flesh in order to offer himself on the cross.  He came in the flesh to die for your sins – to die for all of the times you ignore what God provides to you and grumble about what you don’t have.  He came in the flesh to die so that in his resurrection on the third day he could defeat sin’s evil progeny – death itself.  By his death he has given you forgiveness and life.  He has given you eternal life with God – a life that will include a resurrected and transformed flesh when Christ returns on the Last Day.
            Jesus said to the people, “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 eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”  We learn that the answer by many of Jesus’ disciples was to respond: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” And after this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.  They left Jesus. The saving glory of God was being revealed in Christ, and yet they found it easy to overlook and reject him.
            It is the same today.  In Jesus Christ the saving glory continues to be revealed.  He is the bread that has come down from heaven – the bread which gives life to the world.  He continues to be someone that many find easy to overlook. They find him easy to reject because he speaks hard sayings about who we are as sinners and that no one can come to the Father except through him.
            But in Jesus we do see God’s saving glory.  In his crucified flesh we find forgiveness for the times we grumble against God. In his risen flesh we find eternal life that will include our whole life – body and soul.  In his love for us we find the love with which we now love one another.
            In order to give all of this to us, Jesus Christ has instituted the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus who said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day,” uses bread and wine to give us his true body and blood.  We come to his altar because here we receive the bread of heaven.  Here the saving glory of God is revealed to us.
            Like the manna in our text; like Jesus himself it is possible to overlook and reject this gift.  But all who believe in Jesus and his word find here the gift of forgiveness and life. We find the guarantee of our own resurrection. We find the love that enables us to love others. So let us now come to the Sacrament for here we see the glory of God.    



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