Sunday, August 23, 2015

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2015

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

Text: John 6:68
Theme: Where to from here? Christ!

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Moments ago we confessed our belief in the “one holy Christian and apostolic church.”1 The church is apostolic because it is grounded in the witness of those men who first became Jesus’ eye-witnesses to the world. Today we have some insight into one of the formative moments of their tutoring. The episode that began with the feeding of the multitudes now finally concludes in today’s gospel account. The long dialogue about the meaning of Jesus’ person and work comes to an end. The results are emphatic. Many find Jesus too hard to swallow. Some deem His claims to be fanatical. Others, demonic. The miracles have been convincing, but God had done miracles through the prophets in the past. The immediate lineage of Jesus was hard to grapple with: He was the son of a carpenter, a commoner. The pieces of the Messianic puzzle were not coming together clear enough for many. His ministry was becoming divisive. Misunderstanding of the mission of the Messiah contributed to the confusion.

Exercising the opportunity to test the resolve of His disciples Jesus challenges them directly. It was a key moment of confession. Would this band of fisherman have the determination to stay with their Master in the face of increasing adversity? A long journey still lay ahead of them. “‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.”2 Though fearful and full of confusion the disciples nevertheless fell in line behind their Leader. The future was full of shadow, but Christ, the Light of the World, pushed back the darkness with each step according to the Scripture “Righteousness goes before Him and prepares the way for his steps.”3

We, also, are increasingly stepping into a future that is clouded in shadow. What does St. Paul say, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against…the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil.”4The apostle gives us clear perspective of where we stand in relation to the powers that be. Our greatest concerns are not threats to our material well-being, our appetites for consuming the goods of this world, or some measure of comfort we seek for ourselves. Our greatest concerns relate to our spiritual security; the clarity of our confession, the certainty of Christ’s victory, the assurance of the Spirit’s presence.

These things are not possible without regular and direct contact with the word of God and the sacraments. Your hunger is not satisfied by looking at pictures of food. Your thirst is not quenched by staring at pictures of water. Recalling a memory of a nice meal you once had doesn’t address your need for food at the moment. Jesus says, “My flesh is real food and My blood is real drink.”5
Dear friends, Satan wants to deceive you about what is truly real, while still using your real world circumstances to attack you. You may have a million dollars in your retirement fund or you may be living paycheck to paycheck barley making ends meet. But Satan doesn’t care unless he can use these facts to undermine your faith. Rich and poor alike are of no account to him. He intends, by hook or by crook, to distract you, dissuade you discourage you, and dishearten you. His arrows are aflame and they are seldom off target. He knows your propensities and your weaknesses. He knows what confuses you and what makes you apathetic. He knows how to falsely appease your conscience. He knows that you always want to have your cake and eat it too.

And Satan especially knows how to twist the very commands of God. He misapplied Scripture to Jesus Himself6. The devil tries to ease our consciences when we should be convicted. Conversely, he tries to cause us angst when God says we should be at peace. How straightforward, but how difficult to love the neighbour! Any acts of kindness we do with the wrong intentions end up being sins regardless of how they are perceived by others. Anything not done out of faith is a sin. Conversely, having good intentions that we never act upon also results in failure to love our neighbour properly. The old proverb expresses it graphically, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” No wonder when Paul was grappling with this dilemma he said, “What I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do- this I keep on doing…What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord.”7

Yes, Satan knows you well. But Christ knows you better. He is your Creator, your Redeemer; and your Lord. Only the word of God can separate the sin from the sinner. Sin so pervades human nature it is an impossible exercise to distinguish between the corruption of sin and the individual. But God does precisely what for us is impossible. And He doesn’t do it remotely; He immerses Himself right into the falleness of our condition. He makes Himself vulnerable to the temptations that beset us and the attacks Satan launches at us. He bears our iniquity all the way to the cross. He allows Himself to be born in a manger so that He can be hung from a cross. He rose and He lives immortally.

There is a common misperception that baptism tidies things up spiritually for us. Tick the box and your soul is glazed-over with a cloaking device that makes it invisible to evil. In truth, after baptism is when things start to get messy. The baptized are not mollycoddled, pampered, and spoiled. They are trained, equipped, and fitted with every necessary defence. Only believers are of interest to Satan; only those marked with the blood of the Lamb. The devil doesn’t play games; he’s deadly serious.

The baptismal life is rightly understood as a cross-shaped life. It is so, not as a cliché, but as a daily struggle against temptation and sin. Forgiveness relieves the penitent from the guilt of sin but it doesn’t mean the temptation to sin no longer exists. Therefore, Christ clothes us with spiritual armor. The depiction here in Ephesians is one of the most powerful in all of Holy Scripture. Belt, breast-plate, boots, shield, helmet, and sword, representing truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God equip the believer to withstand the conflict. Of the full battle regalia mentioned, only the sword of the Spirit, the word of God is an offensive weapon. It’s the only one we need for it is wielded by the Spirit Himself.

The disciples also needed reassurance from the Lord. He promised not to leave them as orphans. He promised to give them peace. He promised a place would be prepared for them. He promised them a resurrection. We cannot walk long through the desert without being refreshed at the Jordan. We will languish in Babylon if we lose hope in the Promised Land. This place is your oasis. It is your refuge because it is the fortress of God’s word. Here you feast on the Bread of Life. His forgiveness is imparted through bread and wine- for with them you receive real food and real drink, His body and His blood given and shed for you. He fortifies us with sacred nutriment. Sometimes the journey seems long or hard, but the destination is not in doubt.

Where to from here? Lord, “You have the words of eternal life”. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
23 August, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 The Nicene Creed
2 John 6:67-69
3 Psalm 85:13
4 Ephesians 6:12
5 John 6:55
6 See Matthew 4:6
7 Romans 7:19, 24-25