Sunday, August 9, 2009

No Better than My Fathers

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 9, 2009
John 6:35-51

Elijah was in despair but he was right, he was no better than his fathers. How many times had he seen the hand of God in his life and in the life of the people of God, and yet, there he was, wanting to give up on it all.

The people in dialogue with Jesus in the Gospel reading did a pretty good job of showing that they, too, were no better than their fathers. They just couldn’t get their minds adjusted to the fact that this man they knew, the son of Joseph and Mary, was God and the only one in whom there is salvation.

It would be easy for us to sit here today and content ourselves with the notion that we know better. We have seen with our own eyes the Scriptures which tell us of the death and resurrection of Christ for salvation. We have been Baptized, we have the assurance that we are a new creation in Christ. We believe what our Lord tells us in the Gospel reading “that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Does this mean that we are better than our fathers? Have we come to a point where we can say that we are better than those who have gone before us? It’s easy enough for us to look around us and compare ourselves to those we know, thinking of ourselves as better because we don’t use profane language like they do, and we don’t treat others condescendingly like they do, and we are here every Sunday, unlike them. And, well, we could go on and on, couldn’t we?

We do think we’re better than others, don’t we? But how does Paul talk to the Ephesian Christians in our Epistle reading? They are distinct from those who “are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. [Those who] have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” Why then does Paul go on to exhort the Ephesians to live like they are distinct? Why does he have to tell them to live the way God commands us to live and not live in the way He commands not to?

The answer is simple: they are no better than their fathers. And we must hear the words of Paul in the same way they did, as the Word of God to Christians who are always on the verge of despair as Elijah was, because there is never any hope of ourselves but only hope in the one who has made us a new creation. That’s why we must continually confess that we are no better than our fathers.

Jesus is blunt because He tells us what we need to hear. He says in the Gospel reading: “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.” I don’t mean to sound morbid, but this is a great verse. They were fed bread from heaven. God gave them manna so that they could live. And yet, they all ended up dying, didn’t they? Food will keep us alive only in this world. The Bread of Life will ensure life without end. There’s really no point in trying to fool ourselves. Elijah was right. He was no better than his fathers. The people in the Gospel reading were no better than their fathers. All those in the church at Ephesus who thought they could be Christians and keep living in the way of the world were no better than their fathers.

Jesus has no interest in helping us get better than those who have gone before us. He has one goal in mind and that is to slay our sinful flesh. Beat it down and bring it to an end. His work is to bring us to life eternal. To give us life in which we are a new creation. To free us up so that we may freely serve.

All this talk in the Gospel reading about fathers was going nowhere so Jesus turned things in a new direction. He would talk to them about the Heavenly Father. Jesus is equal to the Father. His claim to be so irritated them to no end. And yet, Jesus’ claim to be God, His declaration that He and the Father are one, did not detract Him from submitting to the will of His Heavenly Father. He did not consider Himself slighted in the least that He would give Himself up for the life of the world.

He had no problem stating straight out that He is God and that salvation is only in Him. He’s not simply better than our fathers, He is the only one born of a woman who is without sin. The only one in whom there is no guile. The only one who has lived in accordance with the perfect and holy will of the Heavenly Father. The only who can stand and not need fear to fall.

His purpose is not bragging rights, as if to say, we’re no better than our fathers and He is better than we are. No, His purpose is simply to make clear that it’s not that we’re no better than our fathers, it’s that we stand before God condemned, in a state of spiritual death. That our only hope is in Him but that our life is wrapped up in Him so that we may have hope. That He who is without end chose to die so that we who deserve eternal death may live forever.

Today, take a page from the life of Elijah, and realize and confess that you are indeed no better than your fathers. You are by nature sinful and unclean. But realize also that you need not despair as he did, because confessing your sin is for the purpose of repenting. Your confession is responded to by your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with Absolution. He forgives you all your sins. Elijah needed to be lifted up, to be fed. So that’s exactly what God did for him, He fed him.

It’s what He does for you as well. He forgives you. He feeds you with His Body and Blood often in His Holy Meal. He strengthens you for the journey ahead, which ultimately leads to eternal life in heaven. Amen.


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