Sunday, August 2, 2015

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2015

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: John 6:29
Theme: Divine Work

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

They wanted more of Jesus. The phenomenon of people flocking to Christ would seem to be the ideal situation. But their motives were complex and confused. We continue this week with the storyline of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the crowds. The next day they track Him down on the other side of the lake. They were surprised He had gotten so far away. Without even as much as a “Hello!” Jesus addresses their motives. “I tell you the truth, you are looking for Me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”1 And so begins a lengthy exchange that ends with many parting ways with the Breadwinner who seemed more concerned about spiritual food.

But first they make some very relevant enquiries of the Lord. “What must we do to do the works God requires?”2 They were searching for more detail on what it would mean to be a follower of Christ. What were the obligations? What would it cost them? We might expect Jesus to tell them, as He did elsewhere, to love God wholeheartedly and the neighbour sacrificially. Those are the requirements of the law. But what does He say here? “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”3 The work of God is to believe.

Dear friends, the hardest part- of Christianity- is the believing; the doing follows as a matter of course. Now you might tend to disagree, claiming your faith is simple; you just believe what God says. But Satan is busy like a skilled attorney presenting “hard” evidence to undermine your faith. He’s always raising the question within us, “What’s in it for me?” What is the most damning expression of self-centredness? It’s not necessarily the crass way in which we fail in those outward acts of doing kind things for others. The most incriminating evidence of self-focus is the belief that we’ve done enough, or we’re good enough to please God; what’s more, that we’d like praise and recognition for it. In truth, we’re no longer trusting in God at all because we don’t need His grace; we don’t believe He’ll really provide.

There is a long and infamous history illustrating how quickly people lose faith. The Psalmist says this about the Israelites in the desert, “They continued to sin against Him, rebelling in the desert against the Most High. They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the desert?’”4 The Lord showed Amos a vision of a plumb line, a builder’s tool to measure the straightness of a wall. Amos said, “This is what He showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in His hand.”5 But the house of Israel had become a crooked structure. They had departed from the standard of true wisdom. They had to be brought back true-to-plumb lest they come crashing to their end like a structure toppling off its foundation. And so John the Baptist came re-publishing the words of Isaiah to prepare for the coming of the Christ, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him…the crooked roads shall become straight, and the rough ways smooth.”6

The hardest thing is to believe but God doesn’t leave us hanging. Personal faith is a work of the Holy Spirit that enables an individual to trust that Jesus is the Christ, the Saviour of the world. Sometimes this is called saving faith. Faith is the vehicle, the conduit to Christ. Faith also has content. Faith must have an object, something, someone, we believe in. Faith itself doesn’t save us; Christ saves us. Our trust is not generic; it has a specific point of reference: The crucified, risen, and living Jesus and all that He teaches. It’s not quite so simple as to say that the full content of faith is the person of Christ Himself. All the necessary implications are included.

Why? Because faith desires to be obedient. It dares to take God at His word. Consider the relationship between a parent and child, one built on trust. We might say the child has faith in the parent. But if a child has a personal relationship with a parent that excludes the provision of daily needs, protection from danger, and participation in the inheritance, then that relationship is significantly compromised and no longer comprises a healthy relationship. Its content has been truncated. The relationship is incomplete or distorted if the child doesn’t honour and obey the parent and their instruction. The same holds for our faith in Christ. It’s a package deal.

So, your faith is not immune to scrutiny. What does the Scripture say? “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.”7 Last week Jesus questioned Philip about the multitudes only to test his faith.8 We are all likely to have beliefs that involve felicitous incongruity. That is, we happily believe things that are inconsistent with the teaching of God and reality. It’s not even uncommon to unwittingly believe things that are mutually exclusive. Part of Christian maturity is recognizing whether these are trivial matters or serious departures from biblical truth.

The dynamic of faith is well-defined biblically, and it is decisive. If the matter under consideration can be accomplished by human means then it doesn’t require faith. God doesn’t require faith in things that are humanly reasonable. It’s when we come up against impossibilities that faith is needed. We tend to play probabilities out to the limit, sometimes based on evidence, other times based on hearsay. It doesn’t take faith to believe you will eventually win the lottery; you’re simply playing probabilities, as remote as they may be.

The same is not true of our trust in Christ. Resurrection from the dead is beyond mathematical or biological probability. The forgiveness of sins is not a matter of human ingenuity. Rescue from the accusations of Satan cannot be reasonably achieved through human effort. These things require divine intervention. Miraculous, yes! But not simply as isolated interventions- a healing here, and a fortuitous rescue there- but as the entirety of God’s divine embrace in His love for the world. The God-in-the-flesh Messiah reconciles us to the heavenly Father so holistically we live in two over-lapping worlds at once. This is the reality of our faith.

This Christ was nailed to the cross for your sins. He suffered the harrowing horrors of hell to spare you from its devastation. He thwarted death in His resurrection so that you could be raised spiritually now and bodily on the Last Day. You are baptized into His death and you participate in the power of His resurrection. You share in His life through the sacred meal of Holy Communion. All of these are blessings and certainties that you possess through faith. This faith radically reorients your life. The apostle says it this way, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”9

In binding you to Christ faith also frees you to serve others without fear. The African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of greater than 7 meters. Yet these magnificent creatures can be kept in an enclosure in any zoo with a 3-foot wall. The animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall. Faith is the ability to trust what we cannot see, and with faith we are freed from the flimsy enclosures of life that fear traps us in. Dear friends, we are not ruled by fear because Christ has overcome. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
2 August, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 6:26-27 2 John 6:28 3 John 6:29
4 Psalm 78:17-19 5 Amos 7:7 6 Luke 3:4-5
7 2 Corinthians 13:5 8 See John 6:6 9 Galatians 2:20