Gospel lesson and Pastor Richard Pokora’s sermon from August 8, 2021
Pastor Richard Pokora’s message – in words
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our gospel lesson for today connects to last weeks reading where Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
The disciples could not believe Jesus. They said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” It wasn’t hard to understand what Jesus was teaching. To be sure, the disciples may not have understood it completely, but they understood it well enough. The disciples were right: Jesus teaching was hard to accept. And his response to their complaint was just as hard. What Jesus had to say offended those who heard it. But as hard as His Words were to hear and accept, His Words were Spirit and they were life. His words were the last straw for many of those who followed him as disciples. Easy enough to understand but hard to accept, the truth was too much to take and they turned and walked away.
What was it that Jesus said that they could not accept? They could not accept Christ’s incarnation, that the Son of God, who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was made man, born of the virgin Mary, suffered and died. God becoming man, this is hard to accept. And even harder to accept, as part of this incarnational reality, Jesus Christ offers His very real body and blood to eat and to drink for the life of the world. This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?
Lutherans pride themselves that they hold fast to the Words of our Lord’s teaching; that in His holy supper we indeed eat His true body and blood, not only according to His divinity, but also according to His humanity. For this reason, Lutherans, early in our history, were called cannibals. While we do not hold that we grossly eat human flesh, actually tearing Christ’s body with our teeth, we maintain, according to His word, that it is His true body even according to his human nature, that we do indeed take it into our mouths, and that we eat Christ in a sacramental and mysterious way, receiving from Him, forgiveness and life. Most Protestants understand what Jesus said, but do not accept His words. For them it is not reasonable to believe that what is received is true body and true blood, and that Christ’s flesh is real food that gives immortality. Thus they understand, but do not accept the hard teaching of our Lord, and they turn away.
As Lutherans we confess in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason and strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. Yet many Protestants, though they clearly understanding what Jesus has said, do not accept it. They turn away from out Lord and falsely teach that man is freely able to choose Jesus Christ as Savior. They teach that people are not hog tied by sin, death and the devil. They teach that people are free agents and are able to make free choices. But the Bible teaches that mans will has been made captive to sin death and the devil through the fall into sin, thus, like prisoners have no freedom to make decisions. God has made the decision for us, and he chose to send His Son into the world to save the world. He sent His Son to save us from our sin. This He chose to save the world even before it was plunged into the darkness of sin. Salvation would come through God’s grace alone.
Lutherans also face a challenge. We clearly understanding what God says, but we too have difficulty accepting it. How is it that if God clearly wants all people to be saved and He alone can create and sustain faith, why then is it that some people will be damned. Why is it that some are saved and not others. We would wrongly jump to the conclusion that it must be some favorable disposition within a person. This goes against what the Lord has said. The Lord alone saves. Man does not turn towards God; God turns man towards himself and creates faith. Even Luther could not peer behind this door. He had to say that we must leave some things to the inscrutable or impenetrable mind of God. Some things must be taken in faith. This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?
As modern day Christians, all too often we understand what the Lord has said and what he wants in our lives. All too often we find his word hard to accept. We know His Word and will for us is true but we too walk away in unbelief. We are called upon to obey the laws of our government but how often do we go a few more miles over the speed limit, because everybody is doing it. How often do we bend our own consciences and break the law, as long as nobody sees what were doing, after all the government doesn’t know what it’s doing, were right and they are wrong. Within the church, where we supposedly understand the forgiveness of sins, how often do we want to beat the sinner up. Forgiveness too, is easy to understand but hard for us to accept.
Each one of us comes to a place before the Lord where we say, “Lord this is a hard teaching. How can I accept it? Each one of us faces a different challenge to our faith and Christian life. When we meet that challenge we are like Joshua in our Old Testament lesson, where he calls to the people of Israel, “Now fear the Lord and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the Gods your forefathers worshipped beyond the river in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” When we are faced by challenges to our faith the Lord calls us to follow Him.
Our lord understands us though. He gave His life for us on the cross. Though He was rejected on the cross He opened His arms in acceptance of all people. Through His death on the cross we have life, graciously given to us through faith, which itself is a gift from God. Our Lord accepts us though we often fail Him. That is why He continues to come to us today, giving Himself to us in this Holy meal. He understands that we, on our own, cannot accept His Word or will or live it out in this life. Yet He gives us a new Spirit, His Holy Spirit, that enables us to believe and love Him as well as to love and forgiver the people around us. We sing, “Create in me a clean heart O lord and renew aright spirit within me. And He does. His Spirit brings us to our knees, recognizing our own sin, and understanding the forgiveness that we have received.
As the people were leaving Jesus, he asked the twelve disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you? Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe that You are the Holy One of God. This is our confession of faith because we know that the Words of our Lord are Spirit and Life. Though we don’t always understand Him He understands us. And though we don’t always accept Him, He unconditionally accepts us, forgives us, and grants us eternal life. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your and minds in hearts in Christ Jesus.