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the sermon for

the eleventh sunday after pentecost

16 August, 2009


John 6:51-58

In John's gospel, god redeems what god created...
the whole world!

For about a month, now, we've been reading through the sixth chapter of John.  This is week number four and we have one more week to go.  Then, it's back to "the holy gospel according to Mark!"

Ever since seminary, I've known that there is something different about how John tells the story about Jesus.  Something unique that sets him apart from the other three.  But, this week, one of those differences popped out at me.  It was John's use of the word 'life' - the noun... and his use of the word 'live' - the verb. . .

Out of curiosity, more than anything else, I pulled out a concordance and flipped it open.  A concordance is one of these reference books that lists where every word in the bible is used.  The one I grabbed was one of New Testament words only.  Anyway, like I said, I pulled out a concordance, flipped it open to the word 'life', and I started counting.  In Matthew, the word was used seven times.  In Mark, it was used four times.  In Luke, five.  And in John... in John, the word 'life' was used a total of THIRTY-SEVEN TIMES!  THIRTY-SEVEN TIMES!  That's more than twice as often as all three other gospels combined!  The contrast in usage for the verb 'to live' isn't quite as stark, but it's still there.  Six times in Matthew.  Three times in Mark.  Nine times in Luke.  And sixteen times in John!  And of all the times that John writes of 'life' and of 'living', half... half... is right here in chapter six!  One out of every two is right here in the story of the feeding of the five thousand!

51I am the LIVING bread that came down from heaven. . .

"Whoever eats of this bread will LIVE for ever. . .

"and the bread that I will give for the LIFE of the world is my flesh....'

I read through the lesson and the words were everywhere!  Well, I thought about those words.  And about those statistics.  And, frankly, at first, I couldn't get it all down in one, single thought on which to base a sermon.  But, then, on Friday morning, as I was reading through the lesson one more time, it all fell into place.  Because there was one more word... one more word that caught my attention.  From John, chapter six, the last part of verse fifty-one... "and the bread that I will give for the LIFE of the world...

"and the bread that I will give for the LIFE of the world is my flesh...."

It was that last phrase:  "for the LIFE of the WORLD"!  "for the LIFE of the WORLD!"  I pulled out my concordance again.  And I looked up the word 'cosmos'.  That's the word John uses.  The word we translate as 'world.'  And I started counting.  Matthew:  nine times.  Mark:  three times.  Luke:  three times.  And John... John... SEVENTY-THREE TIMES!  SEVENTY-THREE TIMES!  Life... Living... Those are important words for John.  Unique.  Special.  And if that's true of those words, it's especially true for the word 'world!'  That one, simple phrase gives us a glimpse... an insight... into the heart and soul of the fourth gospel!

You see, in John... in the holy gospel according to John... what Jesus did, he did not just for the few... what Jesus did, he did not just for the many... what Jesus did, he did for all the world!  He did for all the world!  "and the bread that I will give for the LIFE of the world...."

In John, it's never about just two or three.  But it's always... it's always about the world... It's always about the cosmos... Just think about all those passages from John that are near and dear to us. . .

The baptizer points to Jesus along the Jordan and he says, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin... OF THE WORLD!"

And there's John 3:16 :  "For God so loved... THE WORLD... that he gave his only Son...."

Jesus said, "I am the light... OF THE WORLD!"

The words appear again and again, over and over, throughout John's book.  Always bigger... always broader... than anyone else.  And here, in this one phrase, the words appear side by side... "and the bread that I will give for the LIFE of the WORLD...

So much of our effort... so much of our energy... as god's people is spent trying to tame the very thing that makes us who and what we are!  So much of our time... so much of our trouble... to shape it... to reshape it... into something we can manipulate... into something we can manage... We can deal with the LIFE of an individual... We can even deal with the LIVES of a handful of individuals together... But a synod?  A denomination?  It's just too much for us to wrap our minds around.

But in John... in John it is always... it is always... about the world... about the cosmos... Jesus suffers... Jesus breaks... Jesus bleeds... not just for me... or for you... but for us all!  For everyone!  For everything!  Like the words we say in the Supper:  "shed for you and FOR ALL PEOPLE. . ."  What Jesus does he does not just for some... not just for many... but for us all!  for us all!  What Jesus does he does for the WORLD!

John understood what we seem to miss... There's something audacious... there's something audacious... about the gospel!  Not just the story.  But about the message!  About Jesus himself!  Something bold!  Something foolhardy!

God isn't interested in rescuing only a slice... only a sliver... of creation.  God isn't interested in redeeming only a handful when there are so many more!  No matter how committed.  No matter how devoted that handful is.  God wants it all!  God wants it all!  God isn't satisfied with congregations... or conferences... or synods... or denominations... When god acts, god acts for planets and galaxies and universes!

"and the bread that I will give for the LIFE of the WORLD...."

" for the LIFE of the WORLD...."

"for the LIFE of CREATION...."

Sure.  Not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from God.  And yes.  Even the hairs of your head are all counted.  But for John... For John... the goal... the prize... is so much more!  God will redeem everything god has created!  And John - of all the gospel-writers - helps us see that vast horizon!

"and the bread that I will give for the LIFE of the WORLD. . .

is my flesh...."

That, my friends, is the gift that fourth gospel offers us!  And it's all there in those two words:

"for the  LIFE... of the WORLD...."

"for the  LIFE... of the WORLD...."

A life not counted in heartbeats.  A life not numbered in pounds.  But a life determined by love!  A life shaped by mercy!  A life fashioned by grace!  For John, the story ends as it once began... with god speaking.  "God said... and it was...."  "God spoke... and it came to be...."  The whole world... the entire cosmos... was created by god!  And my friends... my friends... that same world... that same cosmos... is what god will redeem!
 
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the sermon for

the ninth sunday after pentecost

9 August, 2009


topical:  baptism

In baptism, we don't appease an angry god.
We proclaim a loving one!

 

We've all heard the story before.  In fact, we've heard it so many times that it's become a part of us.  We've heard it so often, we can tell it with our eyes closed. . .

God created us. . .

Adam sinned. . .

Jesus died to save us. . .

It's always there... Just beneath the surface... Like a heartbeat... a breath... Inspiring every thought... Influencing every word... Shaping every deed... We've heard it so many times that we accept it as gospel.  Never questioning.  Never doubting.

Out of the goodness of god's own heart, god created the world.

Out of that self-same goodness, god gave life to everything... to everyone. . .

However, as the story goes, we weren't satisfied... We wanted more... We wanted it all. . .

We sinned.  And because of sin, creator and creature became enemies.

And, so, now we are condemned... damned forever... until and unless. . .

Until we confess our sins... Unless we say we're sorry. . .

Until and unless we believe in Jesus. . .

If we do that, we're saved... If we don't... If we don't. . .

We remain "sinners in the hands of an angry god!"

That's the story.  Simple.  Straightforward.  To the point.  And for many of us... maybe, even, for most of us... that is the story of faith.  "If you died tonight... If you died today... where would you spend eternity?"  We've all heard the sermons.  We've all read the tracts.

Well, over the past few weeks, that story has been bubbling up into my thoughts over and over again.  You see, this morning, I'll be doing something I've never done before... something I had never even thought about doing... I'll be baptizing my own grandson!  And I've been doing allot of thinking about it!  About the service!  About this sermon!  And the two - baptism and story - have been spinning around in my head.

I thought about how today, for Nate, is "the acceptable time. . ."  How today, for him, is "the day of salvation. . ."  The day that god chooses him as god's very own!  The day that god makes him "a sheep of god's own fold, a lamb of god's own flock, a sinner of god's own redeeming."  I read through the service.  And I reread the service.  And I was reminded of the wonder of it all.  And then, I would remember the story... Creation... Sin... Redemption... And I would think of Nate... of our life together over the past five months... And I thought of him damned... damned until... damned unless... And I realized something.  I realized something. . .

I don't believe in that story!  I don't believe in that story at all!  It isn't my gospel.  And that... that isn't my god... And to understand what we are doing here this morning... to understand what god is doing here... we have to set it all aside!  We have to set is all aside and begin with another story... a story of love... a story of devotion... I said, a few moments ago, that this was the day that god choose Nate as god's very own.  But, answer me this:  When... When HASN'T Nate belonged to god?!?  When haven't any of us!?!  When hasn't god loved us!?!  When hasn't god cared!?!  When in our lives hasn't god been there... been there with us... been there for us...

God created us... created us in god's own image... and like it or not... for better or worse... god has made us god's own... right from the start... from the very beginning... And when we fell short... when we missed the mark... when we disappointed god... when we let god down... god didn't crumple us up and toss us aside... god never once turned god's back on us and walked away... to a better world... to a more deserving creation... Instead, god stayed with us... god cast his lot with us... cast his lot for us. . .

I thought about this moment... And I thought about THAT story... and I realized that the words of the other tale... words like wrath... and retribution... like hellfire... and brimstone... have no place among us!  No place in our message!  The words we use here... now... can't be yelled!  They're softer... more gentle... They're words we have difficulty saying... words we have even more difficulty in living... Words like patience... and understanding... like sacrifice... and suffering... like mercy... and forgiveness... God has created us!  God has created us in god's very own image!  God has given us life!  And no matter what... NO MATTER WHAT... god will never, ever take that life away!

Today, we don't rescue Nate from the hands of an angry god.  We place him into god's sure and certain embrace!  Today we don't placate a judge's rage.  We reflect the grace and mercy shining from god's face!  Today, with pride... with respect... with joy... god takes Nate in his arms and he shows him... he shows his love for him... to us all!  A god who is willing to die for us... A god who is willing to give his last breath... and his last drop... and his last ounce... for people like us... is not a god to be feared!  A god who does all that - willingly... wantingly... is one to be trusted!  Trusted with out own lives!  But, even more, entrusted with the life... with the lives... of our nearest... dearest...

Today, my grandson will be baptized!  Today, he will be born again!  Born from above!  But, my friends, please don't be confused.  And please don't be deceived.  Today he will not be rescued.  Today, he will not be redeemed.  Today, he will not be delivered.  God did that a long, long time ago!  On an empty hilltop!  Outside the walls of a dusty, desert city!  No.  What god does today... What god does TODAY... is show us... tell us... that what god did then... that what god did for us all... god did even for my grandson... god did even for Robert Nathaniel...

This day, you are loved!  This day, you are forgiven!  You are mine... In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, you are sealed... and you are marked... from this day forth forever more!

We watch... We listen... We witness... And for our part... for our part, today, we say, "Amen!"  This is most certainly true!
 
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