Jesus is the Bread of Life

Grace and peace to you from our Lord, Jesus Christ, who is our bread of life

In today’s gospel we encounter Jesus trying to explain to the Jews who he is.  He is not just a neighbor kid grown up. No, Jesus is “from God.” He has “seen the Father,” and no other human has seen the Father.  In other words Jesus is telling his people that he is the Son of God.  That unique relationship is intended to save the world by putting people back into a right relationship with God.  Convincing his fellow Jews, however, is not an easy task, even for Jesus.

In today’s reading we hear that Jesus gets less respect and much disbelief from people who have known him as a child. They have watched Jesus grow up, and they knew his parents.  They expected Jesus to be as common as they were.

Imagine how you would react if one of your childhood friends were to tell you that he has come from heaven, so that you will not die but have eternal life? In the least I would be skeptical.  At worst, I would find him a bed in a psychiatric hospital.

Jesus used metaphors to teach.  As he did with longer parables, Jesus talked about something concrete that his audience was familiar with, such as bread. However, what he wanted to teach was about an abstract concept.  Jesus said he is the “bread of life.”  People knew about bread.  They could relate to bread. Bread was a staple in their diet. It was something that could be carried around in a pocket and would last for days. Every family table had bread on it all the time as a sign of hospitality.

However, Jesus went on to explain that he was not ordinary, like the bread that came out of their oven. The Jesus “bread of life” came from heaven, so it was very special, as it was from God.  The Jews were familiar with another so-called “bread from heaven,” that was reported in Exodus (16:35). God had sent that bread as “manna” down from heaven to Moses and his people, after they had escaped from Egypt.   They really needed that nourishment, as they wandered in the desert for 40 years on their way to the promised land of Canaan.  However, Jesus pointed out that in the long run those people died like all people do. By contrast, the Jesus “bread from heaven” would nourish them forever and would give them eternal life.

Better yet, Jesus explained, to receive spiritual nourishment and eternal life, one just had to believe in Him.  Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life (6:47).” Earlier he had explained, “This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in Him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up at the last day (6:40)”

What a gift! No work necessary. There was no “earning” such a gift. This was completely against the Jewish religious traditions of fasting and sacrifice to earn God’s favor. Even today, we are more accustomed to earning our paycheck, and we look askance at people who are so-called “trust fund babies,” and have inherited their wealth and not earned it.

So, we come into our relationship with God with the bias that we must earn what we get from God.   We think that we have to do something to earn God’s favor or earn our way into heaven.  If we could just do enough good deeds, pray enough, meditate enough, earn enough money, or donate enough money to charity, then God would look favorably upon us.  After all, don’t we have a classic image of Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates asking the deceased what have they done to earn admission to heaven?

But that is not what Jesus is telling us. No, Jesus tells us to set aside this notion.  Jesus is the gift from God.  You just have to believe in Him.

That means that you can gain access to God through Jesus, since only Jesus came to us from God.  You and I do not come from God.  Only Jesus came from God.  And only Jesus went back to God through his death and resurrection.

Just believe in Jesus. That sounds easy, and God makes it even easier.  Jesus says, “no one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me (6:44).” To be “drawn by the Father” means that God wants us to be in right relationship with Him, and God will draw us to Jesus.  In other words, you can be the worst sinner, and God will still be waiting for you to let Him into your heart.  God, in all His mercy, will not reject you or leave you alone, even if you do not believe in Jesus.  Even if you are disobedient of God.

The story of the prophet Elijah as told in today’s reading from1Kings (19:4-8) is an example. Elijah had felt like a failure as a prophet and laid down.  He asked God to let him die. But God had other plans for Elijah.  God sent an angel to feed Elijah; not just once but twice. Then and only then was Elijah strong enough to journey 40 days and 40 nights to Mount Horeb.  On Mount Horeb God came to Elijah again and gave him authority and instructed him to anoint the kings of Aram and Israel.  Historically, Elijah anointing those kings proved to be a turning point in the history of Israel. The point here is that God kept pursuing Elijah and nourished him to do God’s work with God’s people.

Jesus brings us into a right relationship with God, and this God is a God of abundance, who wants us to be well-nourished and strong.  In this way we can do God’s work by ministering to people in need.

If I were a painter, I would create an image of me with God standing behind me through all the years of my life; through all my selfishness and through all my sinful ways. God is just standing there, perhaps whispering in my ear from time to time.  God is just waiting for me to turn around and embrace Him.  At my age now, I have to ask myself, “why did I wait so long to embrace God?” The better choice would have been to embrace God and Jesus as soon as I could! I must thank God for my parents, who took me to a church that taught me the basic Lutheran faith in Jesus.  However, during college I thought I knew better and could do my life without the help of God or Jesus.  Although I strayed far during those middle years, God waited for me. And here I am today.

And there’s even more to God’s gift!

Let me introduce my brother in Christ, Ray. He has given me permission to tell you his story today.  We became acquainted when I was teaching in Kentucky about 40 years ago, and we fell out of touch until just recently.  For the past several years we have corresponded about our lives and about how God and Jesus have played a role in our lives.  Ray’s life has also been influenced by his Bipolar Disorder and, now, his advanced Parkinson’s disease. Nevertheless, Ray knows Jesus and tries to imitate Jesus in his daily life. Ray is also an accomplished poet and has published several books of his poetry. Ray is close to my age, and Ray’s Parkinson’s disease has brought him to the place he describes in the following poem, titled:

Landing
The secret times.
Walking and riding a cart
through the store. 
counting resources
to make the last CD and book
not enough

Celebrating very good
the best wife
and dearest friends

When we are born
we could fly
almost like Superman
through lovers
jobs friends
writing poetry
painting pictures
life is never really ending
it is like a flight
a flying

but now it is stopping
coming up
is the Landing

As I read this I hear Ray saying his flying through life is ending; he is coming in for a landing.  As he describes his physical condition to me, that appears to be very real.

Ray and I often talk about how God is working in his life. Ray is OK seeing God working in the life he has lived.   He has tried to live a Christ-like life.  He has mentored people. With love he has looked for and built upon the strengths of his students and friends.  He relishes in recounting the many accomplishments of the people he has mentored. And he thanks God for the blessings he has had in the time he has had with his wife, students and friends.  He does not curse what he does not have due to his illness.

However, God is also working in Ray’s “landing.”  I have not talked to Ray about this, so I am left to wonder about whether Ray believes what Jesus tells us in today’s scripture.  Does Ray know about Jesus’ promise that, ”whoever believes has eternal life” and “whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

Would that give Ray a perspective beyond his pain, his limitations, and his inevitable “landing”?  Would this give Ray the hope that his “landing” is actually a “launching” into a next stage of his life? And that this new life would be with Jesus in heaven. Do you think that this could give Ray something to ease into and look forward to?  That is the promise that Jesus makes to those who accept Him as their Lord and savior.

Jesus tells us that He is from God and promises us, if we just believe in Him as our Lord and savior, we will have eternal life.  During our life on earth, we will be spiritually nourished by Jesus and not want or need for any other.  Only Jesus promises this and provides evidence for this truth through his death and resurrection.

With such a great gift from God what are we to do?

If we cannot earn this gift or pay God back for it, then how are we to respond to such generosity? In today’s reading in Ephesians the Apostle Paul wrote his answer to this question.  “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us… (5:1).” In the previous chapter Paul offered detailed instructions about how to live in the Body of Christ. All of these instructions are derived from the basic commandment of relating to one another in love.

According to the Apostle Paul, one of the ways we relate to others in love is to “put away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors…(4:25).” And “let no evil come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear (4:29).”

The Oxford Dictionary named 2016 as the year of “post-truth.” And 2017 was even more so.  In this post-truth political climate, I wonder what has happened to this very basic instruction from God. The way we Christians are to demonstrate our gratitude for God’s great, free gift is to be “imitators of God.” We are to put on a new self, created to be like God in righteousness and holiness.

The Apostle Paul in Ephesians marks this holy life by taking off falsehood, letting go of lying and speaking truthfully.  Lying speech is a selfish, possessive act that rejects the Holy Spirit and has dire consequences. Not least of these consequences are mistrust and mutual deceit and conflict. By contrast, speaking the truth is an act of love, and love is returned to us as a gift.  Truth leads to trusting relationships and interactions that are mutually beneficial.  Of course, speaking the truth also leaves us vulnerable.  Lying would have created defenses for our weakness, and by speaking the truth those defenses are down. However, our strength in truth comes from knowing the unconditional love of God and the promises of God through Jesus for everlasting love, forgiveness for our sins, and eternal life.  That should give us the courage to speak the truth to power and to stand up for the needy; those people who are oppressed, persecuted, impoverished, ill, and, yes, even those who do not know Jesus yet.

As Christians we cannot be silent.

Silence is the enemy of truth, and our truth is Jesus Christ.  AMEN

Submitted by Paul Stratton – Lay Preacher

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 11-12, 2018

1 Kings 19:4-8,  Psalm 34:1-8,  Ephesians 4:25-5:2, John 6:35, 41-51-31

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A Note From Your Council President

“I think Holy Trinity is on the verge of something really great!”

This comment came up in a conversation I had last week with a few of the Holy Trinity staff – and I totally agree! I am very excited about all that is being planned for the upcoming months at Holy Trinity and I would like to thank everyone for their work – Pastor, the staff, the council, committee members, the congregation and most importantly, thanks to God!

I challenge each of you to get involved – try something new; invite your friends and neighbors; help with planning and implementation; suggest new ideas. God has gifted each one of us differently – it is essential that all members of the congregation bring their gifts to the table to completely fulfill Holy Trinity’s ministry. Our congregation is abundantly blessed by God!

Here is a glimpse of things that are in store for the coming months at Holy Trinity – these are in addition to the Men’s and Women’s Bible studies, Confirmation, Kids Jam, Choirs and other activities that are well established.

  • Homecoming, September 9 – The first Sunday after Labor Day has traditionally been a time when we start the new church year and rally to get everyone involved. It is also the day the Synod celebrates God’s Work, Our Hands. Our focus this year will be Homecoming – a time for all of us to reconnect, renew our faith and serve others.
  • Life of Faith Initiative, September 9 through October 21 – This initiative, implemented as part of our worship service, will help us shift our focus from what we do as the church gathered to what we do as the church scattered. We will begin by reflecting on the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer – “give us today our daily bread” – and what that means for us in our everyday lives. The following Sundays will examine the Ten Commandments and how we can take God’s Work, Our Hands beyond a Day of Service into living a Life of Faith.
  • Fellowship of Faith, starting September 16 after worship – EVERYONE (young, old, and everyone in between) is encouraged to come for coffee, juice, snacks and fellowship after worship every Sunday. See Dale’s Dabbles for more details.
  • Bible Study on Affirmation of Baptism, starting September 16, after Fellowship of Faith– See Dale’s Dabbles for more details.
  • Women’s Tea, September 8, 11 am-1 pm – The women of Holy Trinity will gather for fellowship and to make plans for the upcoming year. I hear there is talk about wanting to do more bible study! This would be a great opportunity to invite a friend to church with you.
  • Blessing of the Pets, October 6, 11 am-1 pm – A day for the community to bring their pets for a special blessing.
  • Trunk or Treat, October 27, 1-3 pm – A day of fun and trick-or-treating for children from Holy Trinity, United Faith, Tiny Tots, Randolph and the surrounding neighborhood.

Yours in Christ, Debbie

A Pep Talk in Each Drop: God Speaks in Unexpected Ways

Recovery from knee replacement surgery has proceeded on schedule to the point that just a few muscle groups have yet to recover. Unfortunately, when I try to sleep, the muscle group that stretches from my knee to my hip sets off alarms and I awaken frequently. So, last night was rough.

This morning I was on the phone praying with my prayer partner for other people to recover from illness or surgery and for other blessings from God. I was feeling sorry for myself, tired and hurting from last night. In front of me were several cough drops with their paper wrappers covered with the company’s logo. As I scanned over this pile, one wrapper caught my attention.

Centered on the wrapper in clear black letters it read, “”you’ve survived tougher.” I examined the other cough drop wrappers, and they either displayed no words or the writing was partially obscured by the twisted end of the wrapper. Before this I had never seen such a pep talk on a cough drop wrapper.

I looked at “you’ve survived tougher” and chuckled out loud. It raised my spirits and offered me hope that God had equipped me through earlier tough times. So, I can expect better times ahead. That was just what I needed at that moment.

I think of this as a God Sighting, partially because I have had so many God Sightings during this surgery and recovery process. It just fit with the others. I could have not thought about it, eaten the cough drop, and thrown the wrapper away. I could have written it off as a “coincidence” or as just “good luck.”

However, those attributions do nothing for my spirit or for my faith in a merciful and compassionate God, who is always with me, offering loving support. I believe that God is with me and that should be my first interpretation of events around me, whether those events are big or small.

Thank you, God, once again.

Submitted by Paul Stratton

What Our Confirmation Kids are Saying

I liked the baptism because I liked the words that Pastor said,  “People of God do you promise to support Amelia and pray for them in their new life in Christ

What part of the service did you like best?

  • The sermon because it was a good message about why Sunday is the Sabbath Day. [6-2-18, Blake W.]
  • The sermon because I like the song “sign” that the Pastor sang. [6-2-18, Ben W.]
  • I liked the skit part of the service because it explained a lot in a different format. [6-10-18, Haylee S.]
  • I liked the play that was done and thought it was a different way to send the message. I liked how each table was their own tribe and how it was like we were in Babylon days. VBS should be very cool this year and I am looking forward to working there. [6-10-18, Sean V.]
  • The sermon because it talked a lot about God. [6-17-18, Ben W.]
  • The Sermon because it made sense and wasn’t just words put together, but seemed like it actually made sense. [6-23-18, Aaron S.]
  • I liked the baptism because I liked the words that Pastor said,  “People of God do you promise to support Amelia and pray for them in their new life in Christ. [6-24-18, Faith C.]

How does the sermon relate to your life?

  • It relates to my life because it reminds me that the Sabbath is a day to reflect. Also, I should help others. [6-2-18, Blake W.]
  • It reminds me that the Sabbath is the day that I recharge my faith. I can also help others who need it. [6-2-18, Ben W.]
  • This week did not have a traditional sermon, however, teachings were around God’s support and love. God will always be there for us. [6-10-18, Haylee S.]
  • Sometimes life and school are hard and full of stress and changes. You have to learn to deal with all of this and remembering that prayer and God’s presence in your life makes it easier to manage. Change will always be there. You just have to have faith and believe. [6-10-18, Sean V.]
  • It relates to my life by God will bless my actions. Also how I thank God. [6-17-18, Ben W.]
  • It relates because I sometimes don’t feel safe obeying God.  But I know he’s always right, so I should. [6-23-18, Aaron S.]
  • I know that God is always the one that cares. I also know that God is always there for me. [6-24-18, Faith C.]

Collected comments from June 2018 submitted by Susan Mount-Campbell, Ed Team

Why Does God Let me Hurt So Much?

God’s work in my life is most evident to me during times of crisis. My recent knee replacement surgery has been one such occasion.  My last God sighting reflected on how I was encouraged when I accepted that my leg and knee were more God’s doing than my own.  I was encouraged when I accepted that God designed this body with the skeletal architecture, blood flow and immune system to make rebuilding after surgery possible. My contribution is minor by comparison; take my medication and do my exercises.  I closed that thought with, “God does not design junk.”

That begs the question, “why did God allow my knee to break in the first place?”  If God is a God of love, mercy and compassion, why did God allow me to hurt so much as to make surgery necessary, much less the pain after surgery?

Most of the time pain is a necessary sensation, just like seeing and hearing.  As a sensory input, pain allows us to navigate around our world and avoid things, like fire, that could hurt or kill us.  Before surgery the pain in my knee was God’s way of saying, “Something is wrong here. Do something about it.” Most often that meant that I would put less weight on that knee, support the knee with a brace, or just stop doing what I was doing. After awhile, the pain told me those things were not enough, and my knee needed professional help.  After several years of injections, which offered some temporary relief, surgery became the most pain-free option for  the long run.

But why did God design my knee to give me such pain in the first place? Why not design it to be indestructible?  I do not know any other body part that is indestructible. My eyes are wearing out. My bones are vulnerable to breaking if hit by a car.  Those bones lose strength as I age due to osteoporosis.  So, my knee is not much different from the rest of my body.  It gives me pain, when injured, and it wears out as I age.  I am grateful that God designed my knee to work as well as it did for as long as it did.

Perhaps that should be my focus. Be thankful for what I have and do not mourn for what I do not have.  The past is past and for all my crying and mourning, nothing will change that.  The future is ahead, and God has given me what is needed to move ahead.  God has given me my wife as my indispensible at-home support. God has given me excellent medical support in the doctors, nurses and physical therapists.  God has given me support through the prayer of friends and family in ministry. God designed my bones to grow into the new titanium knee to make it strong. God designed my blood to bring in nutrients and take away waste to allow my muscles to rebuild. God designed my immune system to beat down infection. God has given me what is necessary to allow me to do what I can do to rebuild after surgery, such as take my medication and exercise.

Thank you God, once again.

Submitted by Paul Stratton

An Insight From my Nightmare God Sighting

 

Have you ever asked yourself what is so difficult about being a witness for Christ?  While I cannot answer for you, I can better answer for me. I have experienced hesitating and then losing an opportunity to be a witness.  Sharing that experience may help you when you are reluctant to share your faith.

Recently I had a God Sighting that was very unusual for me. I wrote that down as “A Nightmare God Sighting,” which was distributed as an e-blast and blog.. I shared that God Sighting with great reluctance, and the process that I went through may be similar to what you have experienced.  You see, the God Sighting was a dream, like a scene from Revelation; fantastical, scary and full of symbolism.  It made sense to me, and, since it was my experience, I knew that it was real.

However, when it came to sharing my nightmare God sighting, I was concerned about what other people would think of me. Would they think that I just made it up? Was I just plumping up my own ego? Was I boasting? Would people think I was crazy for having such a bizarre dream? Or drunk or on drugs? Why put myself out there for people to criticize? Those are concerns about the “me” part of the equation that wanted me to just keep my experience to myself and to not share.

However, I did share my experience as a God Sighting, because my perspective changed. It changed from “me” to “we.” The focus of my concern had changed from how would my sharing would affect me to how my sharing could affect all of us, the “we.”  In other words, the benefits to other people could outweigh the cost to me.  That is more in line with Jesus’ commandment for us to “love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31)” and “you will be a witness to all people of what you have seen and heard (Acts 22:15).”

When I have more concern for other people, I have less concern for myself. Then I am more at ease sharing my experience of how God is working in my life with other people. That experience may be as personal as my recent nightmare, what I recently did at church, or as seemingly inconsequential as commenting on a cross that someone is wearing on a necklace.  The latter has initiated some interesting conversations about faith in the work place.  I have also had some interesting conversations with restaurant wait staff when I ask, “Before we eat, we pray. Would it be OK to include you in our prayer?” The most recent was a young woman who was to travel to Russia in two days, but her visa had yet to be approved due to international tensions. She was very thankful for our prayer of support.

Being a witness for Christ takes most of us out of our comfort zone and that makes us hesitant to share our faith. However, it is easier when we shift our concern from our self to our neighbor and focus on the healing that comes from that sharing. Being a witness for Christ is one thing that we can do to bring peace and healing to a world that needs what our faith has to offer.

Silence is the enemy of truth, and our truth is Jesus Christ.  Pass it on.

Submitted by Paul Stratton