O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on John 6:22-35
Preached on August 5, 2012
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Fellow baptized saints, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, or so they say. But what happens when you run out of apples? I ask because we have this lovely apple tree in our backyard, and it is harvest time. And harvest time means happy time. Apple crisp. Apple wine. Apple cobbler. Apple pie. Yes - it is apple time. But there is a sad side to all of this. Apple time doesn't last forever. Because apples don't last forever. They spoil. Those pesky worms get into them. Give it a few days and those lovely apples are worms, worms, worms, every one of them. Gone is the apple wine. Gone is the apple crisp. Gone are the apple pies! What happens when you run out of apples?
In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus says, "Do not labor for food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you." No more crying about wormy apples pastor. But we all know our Lord is talking about more than mere apples. Particularly that Jewish crowd that was following Jesus all around the Sea of Galilee. Here, they thought, was their modern day Moses, a prophet who was feeding bread to massive groups of God's people, just like during the Exodus. When they heard Jesus say, "Do not labor for food that perishes," there was only one thing that entered their Jewish minds. Manna. That heavenly bread that appeared on the ground with the dew of the morning, and if it were not eaten that day would be spoiled by the next day, eaten by worms. "Do not labor for food that perishes," says our Lord.
Can you imagine the offence that could have been taken at such a strong statement? How dare Jesus speak about manna that way? Manna is the bread from heaven. Manna is what our ancestors ate in the desert for forty years. And isn't this the same man who just duplicated that miracle when He fed the five thousand? Now He says, "Do not labor for food that perishes."
Yet don't we find this statement offensive as well? Jesus is saying, Don't work so hard for things that won't last. You are too focused on money. Too worried about your reputation. Your career. Providing your children with extras like sports. You actually think that you can keep yourself safe with these worldly things. That you can guard yourself? Against what? Against death? All these things will perish, they should not be your focus.
As uncomfortably true as this is for each of us, it is only the surface of what Jesus is saying. Jesus is speaking to a deeper spiritual reality here. He is honing in on the worms in the apples. "Do not labor for food that perishes." Jesus is talking about salvation. He is talking about how we get eternal life. And He says, "Stop trying to work for it." You will not earn God's favor by being a good person, because while the apple may look good to you on the outside, the inside is full of worms. All of our good works are spoiled in God's eyes. When we confidently hold out our best efforts to God, it is like pushing a writhing, wormy rotten apple in His face and saying, "Look what I have done Lord, aren't you proud?"
"Do not labor for food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you." Jesus is saying there is something far better than manna. Far better than apple pie. Far better than our good works, that worms cannot spoil, and that will not perish but will sustain us unto eternal life! Christ calls you to seek after this food, and He wants you to have it. He even promises to give it to you.
Sounds pretty tasty, doesn't it? The crowd would certainly have agreed. They wanted to know more about this spiritual food, so they asked Jesus, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" They want a piece of this eternal life, but they are still caught up in all the things they have to do. Their minds are filled with worries, like an apple with worms. "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" They are expecting Jesus to give them a list. They want to know what "works" have to be done, so they can check them off the list, so they can comfort and encourage themselves with their progress. They want a list that they can follow so they don't have to feel guilty later.
But Jesus doesn't want to give them a list, He wants to give them the food that doesn't spoil. He wants to give them eternal life. He says, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom [the Father] has sent." The work of God. Did you catch that? The crowd asks what they must do, and Christ responds with what God does for them. God is creating faith in the hearts of people, so they can eat this spiritual food that endures to eternal life, and the crowd is still looking for a list.
We might chuckle at this a little, because we know we do the same thing, don't we? We are constantly searching for what God wants us to do, and He continues to tell us what He has done for us, and promises to do for us. God wants to strengthen our faith so we can eat, and we keep expecting a list. It can be so frustrating, can't it? We work so hard to keep our conscience clear - We want to show God we are self-sufficient, that we can feed ourselves, even if we are stuffing our faces with wormy apples. Surely that is what God wants me to be - He doesn't want me to bother Him, He doesn't want me to need Him, He wants me to do things for myself and make Him proud - WRONG - All the manna, all my apples, and all of our best efforts are spoiled by worms. They are rotten because we are sinful, and for whatever reason we keep on forgetting that - we need God - we need Him - We need Him to provide us daily bread, and we need Him to clear our conscience. We need Him to strengthen our faith and we need Him to feed us the food that doesn't spoil.
And so He says, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." I am the true bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I have come that you might have life, and have it to the full. That I might satisfy all of your needs of body and soul. Not by giving you money or fame, but by giving you a new life in me. A fresh start. A fresh apple to hand to my heavenly Father. For I have completed your list for you - it is finished. I checked off the final box in blood as I died upon the cross. They laid my dead body into the earth, but not a single worm could spoil it. For I came back to life to make my promises true. Believe it. "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst."
When God the Holy Spirit works faith in us to receive this bread of life, He begins to focus our energies on Him. On eternal things, things that will last. He calms our heart to rely on Him and gives us peace about His ability to provide. He satisfies our hunger for a clear conscience, because His perfect blood declares us forgiven. There isn't a worm, a bruise or a blemish on our apple anymore, nor will there be ever again. We are free to live by faith, safe and secure.
Well, an apple a day may keep the doctor away, but your Lord, the bread of life, keeps sin and death away forever. May God strengthen your faith in His Son, that your heart may ever cry with the crowd, "Sir, give us this bread always."
In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr