07/05/2015 – Ruth 4:13-17 – “Full of Grace and Ruth”

Mark Wheeler

Ruth 4:13-17

“Full of Grace and Ruth”

July 5, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Remove, O Lord, any tension or anxiety, any stress or worry, anything, which may keep us from fulfilling Your wishes of who we could be. Fill us with the grace of the Father, the strength of the Son, and the hope of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

This past month has been one of those months when we realize how difficult following Jesus can be:

Hate-filled tragedy in Charleston, terrorist attacks, global financial instability (Greece), US Supreme Court decisions, legal and political posturing from candidates and government employees, at least 7 predominantly Black churches (from several denominations) burned to the ground in the last 10 days!, social media bombardment.

Many people outside the Church, and just as many inside the Church, feel discouraged, disheartened, and disoriented.

Some are feeling hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone.

Can anyone here relate to any of that?

You are not all on your own!

We are in a series which explores the depth and the height of God’s Grace – how it is more than we deserve and how it is greater than we can imagine. Our scripture today comes from the Old Testament story about a woman named Ruth. How many of you have read (or heard) this story before? This Old Testament story of Ruth is in the context of despair, depression and doom.

The story starts with the news of a severe famine in southern Israel, surrounding the town of Bethlehem, a little more than 1,000 years before Jesus was born. The famine was so severe that families were packing up and moving into neighboring, semi-enemy, countries, including Naomi and her husband and two sons. But once they got settled, Naomi’s husband died; and her two sons married women from this enemy territory, and then her two sons also died! Naomi was suddenly a widowed mother with no living children!

So she decides to go back home, traveling by herself, to be with relatives who knew her customs and religion. Talk about despair and depression and doom; hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone! Have you ever wondered if you might never escape the misery you were in? Darkness, fear, abandonment, estrangement … It is a terribly lonely experiencenobody, and it feels like no God!

But then this Old Testament story of Ruth also speaks of HOPE and GRACE.

One of her widowed daughters-in-law decides to go with her. Ruth was her name. She tells Naomi, “Your people will be my people (think how huge that would be – she left her own homeland and family to be with this strange mother-in-law and her extended family!), and your God will be my God (and this is even bigger than moving into a strange community – it’s a strange community and their stranger religion!).

So these two widowed women, unrelated except by marriage, move into town with no job, no family, no means of support, no children or grandchildren, no hope ….

And God provides a job, more food than they can eat, and the attention of a handsome, wealthy, land-owner, farm-manager who falls in love with Ruth and eventually wins her to himself. From the Jewish heritage in which they lived, his title was “kinsman redeemer”. He saved her, and her mother-in-law, from destitution, and he saved them for God’s plan of Redemption for humankind.

We read in Ruth 4:13-17 (almost the end of the book) where …. —-

13 … Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails.

Some of you will remember that way back in Genesis 12, God called Abram from the land of Ur and Promised him a new Land, and a Nation, and a people, and that one of his offspring would be a Savior for the world. And before that in Genesis 6, God promised a first salvation through Noah and that there would be a second salvation for God’s people. And before that in Genesis 3, God promised Adam and Eve that one of their offspring would crush the head of Satan and be a Savior for the people.

The story of this desperate foreigner woman named Ruth invites us into God’s perfect story of His perfect grace.

Almost without any regard for how valuable and important this information is, we are told, that “they named [their son] Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Who was David? Does anyone know? Yup, the second-greatest King Israel has ever had! Who was the first-greatest King? C’mon – someone say it: Jesus!

Are you ready for some hope and grace?

1,000 years after Ruth, her ultimate descendant is JESUS, the Savior who comes full of Grace and Truth.

John’s Gospel tells us this truth with poetic beautyJohn 1: (*read with breaks at the asterisks to explain some key points) “1In the beginning* was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God*. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made*; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind*…. 14The Word became flesh* and made His dwelling among us*. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and only Son, who came from the Father*, full of Grace and Truth*…. 17For the law was given through Moses; Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ*!

I am going to close early this morning, because we are about to move into a time of prayer, where I know some of you are living with some sincere fears and worries, some anxieties about uncertainties, recovering from surgeries and preparing for treatments, and still hearing the national and local news reports about how people suffer at the hands of other people, by natural disaster, because of less-than-smart decisions – and some of those people are very close to our hearts.

We feel discouraged, disheartened, and disoriented; hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone.

But follow the story of Ruth. Her story leads directly to Grace and Hope – we can live lives full of Grace and Ruth – simply by trusting in the One who is the Way and the Truth and the LifeGod’s perfect propitiation and expiation for our sins and our struggles.

Right after the prayer and our offering, we will be invited to the Lord’s Table where we might just experience God’s gift of Grace and where we might receive ruth-ful Hope.

And may we never forget the challenge of Hebrews 12:15: “Let no one fall short of the grace of God.” Let’s pass God’s invitation on to our children, our grandchildren, our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates; let’s invite them to come into contact with the GRACE of God! Amen. 

“Dear God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill this room again, with Holy Spirit power take hold of each person that is open to Your spiritual gifts and anoint us in ways everyone will know is from You. Fill this place, ignite our faith, fan the flame, and burn brightly through Your people into our neighborhoods, by Your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Resources:

Fellowship Community; 8134 New LaGrange Road; Suite 227; Louisville, KY; 40222; invite to Annual Conference in August 2015.

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 66-75.

03/29/2015 – John 11:17-26 – “There’s Hope in the Possible”

Mark Wheeler
John 11:17-27
“There’s Hope in the Possible”
March 29, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Dear God, thank You for bringing us all here to this place. Help us to open our eyes, our ears, our minds, our hearts, and our spirits to better understand who You are and to know You more. Please be with us as we draw near to You and closer to one another. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Seriously God? Really? This is what You planned? Why? What am I supposed to do now?

Have you ever cried to God something like that? Where were You, God? Where were You?

Five weeks ago we read from the Old Testament book of Exodus – and we listened as God told Moses who God is. Do you remember what God said when Moses asked Him, “Who do I tell people You are?” God said, “I-AM who I-AM. Tell them ‘I-AM has sent me to you.’”
Seriously God? I-AM who I-AM? So, why weren’t You?

The New Testament Gospel according to John records some fascinating ways Jesus also answers Moses’ question.
Jesus identified Himself with God by the way He identified Himself by saying, “I-AM the Bread of Life – I-AM the Light of the World – I-AM the Good Shepherd – I-AM the True Vine – I-AM the way and the truth and the life – I-AM the Resurrection and the Life.”
Mary and Martha, the same Mary and Martha who had that fight over who was going to sit at Jesus’ feet and who was going to make lunch for Jesus and all His disciples, the same Mary and Martha whose father was a leper – Mary and Martha, good Jewish women who knew the Old Testament stories of Abraham and Moses, who knew that God is I-AM who I-AM, are now asking, “Seriously God? I-AM who I-AM? So, why weren’t You?”
Today’s Bible story comes just before Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time. He is visiting an area across the Jordan River, near Jericho, two short-day’s-walk from Jerusalem, when Jesus gets word that His friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was very sick. Jesus prophesied that this sickness would not lead to death. He said, “This is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” And they waited for two days – and then Jesus said, “Lazarus has died. Let’s go to Bethany (a Jerusalem suburb, where Jesus’ life would be threatened).” And Thomas said, “Let’s all of us go, and if Jesus dies, we’ll all die with Him.” Listen to the Word of God from John 11:17-26 …. —-
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I-AM the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

God told Moses that God’s name means something like I-AM-THAT-I-AM – there is nowhere where I am not – always, all-the-time, I-am-there!
And Jesus has been identifying Himself with that same divine moniker. I-AM the bread of life, I-AM the light of the world, I-AM the good shepherd.
But … Lazarus still got sick and died! Mary and Martha are grief-stricken – and maybe a little in shock! Where were You, Jesus – the great I-AM?! Why did Lazarus have to die?
Is it comforting to know that even some of Jesus’ best friends felt exactly like you?
Do you know what happened right after what we read this morning? Martha, the sister who seems to take charge when things need to get done, Martha comes out to meet Jesus and question Him about why He waited so long to come. And then she goes back home where Mary is grieving, and eating the casseroles that had been brought, and Martha tells Mary that Jesus had asked for her. Did He? We’re not told, but either way, Martha wants Mary to go find Jesus and see if she can get a better answer out of Him.
So Mary finds Jesus, still outside the village, and asks Him exactly the same question: “Where were You? Why didn’t You come? Maybe Lazarus wouldn’t have died had You not lolly-gagged, but had come right away! Why did You wait?”
Jesus does not answer Mary, instead He just grieves alongside her. Jesus’ human emotion is very real. He is deeply moved and troubled, and then comes every kid’s favorite memory verse: John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” And the Jews saw how much Jesus loved Lazarus!

And we know how this story ends, right? Poor old Lazarus is raised from the dead, resuscitated, revived – not the same way Jesus would be raised from the dead on Easter, resurrected to a new body and to eternal life. Lazarus’ body would one-day have to die again, be buried again, and a whole ’nother funeral would have to be planned for Lazarus later.
But Jesus’ prophecy that, this time, Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death – but would be to reveal the glory of God and the glory of God’s Son – came true! Everyone saw this miracle and was amazed – so much so that the religious and political leaders re-started their plot to kill Jesus.

Back to Martha and Jesus. Did you catch the theological debate they had? Martha is in tears, grieving the untimely death of her brother, and she hears Jesus say all the wrong things about comfort.
A week ago, a few of us were super-privileged to attend an intro-training seminar on caring for others. One of the exercises was to come up with all the wrong things we have heard people say to people grieving the death of a loved one. What do you think some of those would be: she’s in a better place; he’s not suffering anymore; you’re young, you can have another baby; etc.
That’s what Martha hears Jesus say. 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” She completely mis-heard Him. And her response is reasonable – “Don’t tell me about the end-times – You should have been here 4 days ago so You could save him before he died!”

Jesus knew the ultimate truth. We all die. We do. And poor Lazarus gets to die twice. But had Jesus arrived 4 days earlier, and had He rescued Lazarus from his sickness, had He brought him back to health before he died – we would not have a record this beautiful truth. Jesus tells Martha – and He tells us, “I-AM the resurrection, and I-AM the life. He who believes in me shall never suffer the fate of eternal death but he who believes in me will live a new and eternal life.”
In John 3:16 we hear the words of love, “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life.”
Here, seven chapters later, Jesus claims in no uncertain terms, that He is the Son. “I-AM the resurrection”; “I-am the way and the truth and the life – no one comes to the Father except through me.”

Martha went back home to fetch her sister Mary. Did she go to get Mary because she wanted Mary to hear the same words Jesus told her? Did she get Mary because she wanted Mary to be on her side in this argument with Jesus? We’re not told exactly, but what we see is that Jesus cared very much for this family, and that He, too, grieved these women’s brother’s death.
Jesus understood the ultimate truth of salvation, and He still wept. It’s OK to have emotions. It’s OK to be sad, or happy, or scared, or courageous. But Jesus wants for us to face these real-life emotions with the truth in our hearts and minds.
He tells Martha, “I-AM the resurrection and the life – if you believe this, you will have eternal life. That’s the truth.” Then He faces Martha, I see Him looking squarely into her eyes, and He asks, “Martha, do you believe this?”

Sit quietly for a moment. Consider your own life-situation: new diagnosis, new financial condition, new relationship to understand, new losses, new gains. Everyone in this room is dealing with their own frustrations, confusions, opportunities, whatever…. Now, recognize Jesus’ eyes looking squarely into your own … and hear His voice asking you, “Do you believe this? Do you believe that I-AM the resurrection and the life? Do you trust that I-AM here with you, even in the middle of this mess or this moment? Do you believe this?”
Martha’s answer was clear and straight: “Yes Lord, I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God who has come into the world.”

In just a few minutes we will come to the Lord’s Table, and Jesus asks us again, “Do you believe?” What will be your answer? Just imagine the impact the Church could have on our city, our state, our country, if we really believed that with God, we have all hope in the ultimate Possible – even the dead are raised to life! Amen.

Living Christ, thank You for Your life that gives us life, now and eternally. Teach us how to leave the past behind and live in the power of Your resurrection every day, as a witness to the new life we celebrate at Easter. Through Christ, the resurrection and the life, Amen.

Resources:
Fuquay, Rob; The God We Can Know: Exploring the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus (Adult Group Guide); Upper Room Books; Nashville, TN; 2014; Pp. 40-45.

Stephen Ministry Introduction Seminar.

03/22/2015 – John 14:1-9 – “The Right Way?”

Mark Wheeler
John 14:1-9
“The Right Way?”
March 22, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Dear God, thank You for bringing us all here to this place. Help us to open our eyes, our ears, our minds, our hearts, and our spirits to better understand who You are and to know You more. Please be with us as we draw near to You and closer to one another. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

This month has been a more emotional month than I anticipated. It has not been a bad month (for the most part), but an emotional month. Most of you know that I lost my father last July, and I have been reminded of his death several times this month – March 6 would have been my parents’ 61st wedding anniversary, March 13 was a Friday the 13th (and my dad hated Friday the 13th, so I always called him on those days and just checked in with him), and March 20 was my dad’s birthday. So I have had weekly reminders that I can’t pick up the phone and call him any more (he couldn’t hear what was said on the phone anyway, but that’s another story).
But the good thing about these constant reminders of death, and even my dad’s death in particular, is that death always brings me to today’s Bible reading. This passage is a description of direction and hope and life and perfect love. And, in this day and age, boy do I need direction and hope, and the promise of life, and the experience of love.
How about you? Maybe we don’t all require an emotional month, but I think most of us could use some sure and certain direction, a little hope during dismal seasons, the promise of life at the other end of the valley of the shadow of death, and the experience of true love when we might feel lost and alone.

Five weeks ago we read from the Old Testament book of Exodus – and we listened as God told Moses who God is. Do you remember what God said when Moses asked Him, “Who do I tell people You are?” God said, “Tell them ‘I-AM has sent me to you.’”
Since then, and through this whole Season of Lent as we prepare ourselves for the Easter celebration we are in the New Testament Gospel according to John – because the Apostle John records some fascinating ways Jesus also answers Moses’ question.
Jesus identified Himself with God by the way He identified Himself by saying, “I-AM the Bread of Life – I-AM the Light of the World – I-AM the Good Shepherd – I-AM the True Vine – I-AM the way and the truth and the life.”
As we come to today’s Bible story in John 14, we see that Jesus has made His final trip to Jerusalem; He has ridden into the capital city on the donkey; He has washed His disciples’ feet; and He is now seated at the Passover feast – that which became Holy Communion; while at the Passover Supper Table Jesus is teaching His disciples and the opening lines of John 14 are …. —-
1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I-AM the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

What troubles your heart this morning? Are you worried for a loved one’s health? Are you missing someone who has passed or who lives too far away to go visit? Is there someone for whom you are in daily prayer for their salvation or for their faith development? Are finances a concern? Are you afraid of threats made to your way of life?
Full confession: All of these trouble my heart at some level. What are your own heart-troubled concerns?
Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled…” He was talking to His 12 Disciples who were about to lose their beloved Teacher, Leader, Lord, Savior. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. (The NIV says) You believe in God; [now] believe also in me!”
Sometimes that’s harder than it should be. “Lord, I do believe; help me in my unbelief.”

The description of the Mansion over the Hilltop (is that the old Gospel song?) is a promise that we who believe need to hear and hang on to. It’s not just a “very, very big house” (as the newer Gospel song says), it’s actually the Bridal Suite. The way it worked in Jesus’ day was, when you got engaged to be married, the groom would leave the bride for awhile to prepare their new home – which was attached to his father’s house (there may have been more mother-in-law issues to deal with, but there was always a baby-sitter ready for date night!). And the bride would, obviously, know how to get to the groom’s house!
So, when Jesus says, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going”, He was describing the Disciples’, and our, eternal Home – because the Son of God is the Bride-Groom and the Church, the followers of Jesus, those who believe in Him and submit to Him, is the Bride! Of course, the Groom is coming back for His Bride!
“Lord, I do love You and trust You; help me in my wandering lust and doubt-filled mistrust.”

So, the Disciple who is best known for being a doubter, most remembered for saying he would not believe in Jesus’ resurrection unless he actually saw for himself the risen Lord – he ought to be best known for setting the scene for one of my most relied-upon statements of Jesus. Thomas, the straight-man, sets the stage by admitting that he, and probably everyone else in the room, including you and me had we been present, Thomas says, “What? We have no idea what You’re talking about, Jesus! We do not know where You are going, and we, therefore, have no way of knowing the way to where You are going!”
Just like us, the Disciples didn’t quite get the wedding picture Jesus was painting. So Jesus says straight out: “I-AM the way … and the truth … and the life.”

Do you need some direction in life? Do you need some help navigating turbulent waters? Is this unfamiliar territory you are in? Are you trying to follow Jesus, out of the safety of the boat onto the unsteadiness of the lake-water? Are you wondering what it means to go out to places and people you don’t know, or maybe even like, and share the Good News of Jesus with them? Are you listening to the voices of those around us and wondering who this Jesus really is?
Jesus says, “I-AM the way….” using God’s own name for Himself, Jesus says, “I-AM is sending you.” Jesus says, “Do you need direction? Keep your eyes focused on me, because I-AM the way! You will not be lost, even if you don’t know where you are, you will not be lost if you remain with me, because I-AM the way!”
This week many of you read or heard the news that the PC(USA) has officially changed our understanding of the definition of marriage. Our Book of Order used to read: “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship.” It will now read: “Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and responsible members of the church and the wider community.”
Is this the worst thing that has ever, or could ever, hit the proverbial ecclesiastic fan? Not at all.
Is it faithful to what the Scriptures teach about what marriage should be? I think, not at all.
Do I need direction to know how to follow Jesus through this? You better believe I do. Does His Church, does Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church, need Jesus’ clear direction – not just what does the Bible say?, but also how do we live that out in a way that honors God and also loves our neighbor?? I believe we need it, here, maybe like never before.
“Lord, I do want to follow You faithfully and rightly; help me in my fog to see You clearly for every step!”

And Jesus also says, “I-AM the truth….” That is my ray of hope in the darkness of wondering what’s next. We worry about our future – health, longevity, cash-flow, eternity, church-fidelity. Jesus shines a beam of hope on us. “I-AM the way and the truth….” There is nothing false or wrong in Him. We can trust Him completely because He is the truth! And no matter how afraid I might get about what’s around the next corner – I can hear Jesus say, “I-AM the way and the truth…”, and maybe I’ll be able to put my feet where His have already trod.
“Lord, I do want to trust You completely; help me when I don’t, and when I worry over that which is already in Your hands!”

And Jesus also says, “I-AM the life….” Whatever is waiting around the corner – yeah, but my husband is sick, my mother is dying, my rent is due, my son is rejecting Jesus, my friend’s faith is stalled and not growing – whatever is around the corner (and those are all huge things, right? Those are life-situations no-one wants to face) – Jesus reminds us, “I-AM the way and the truth and the life.”
“Lord, I am alive in You; help me know that eternal life when this earthly life feels shaky – and if I ever cannot shake off the fears of this life, show me again Your perfect love which casts out all fear, in Jesus’ name!”

Jesus’ next words are of vital importance! He has just claimed: “I-AM the way and the truth and the life.” Not, “I am one of the ways, one truth among many, and life for those who go to church”. If that had been what He said, it would deny His claim to use God’s name. No, what He said was, “I-AM the way and the truth and the life.” Then He adds, “No one comes to the Father (who is ‘the Father’? God!), no one comes to the Father except through me!”
Why does He add that phrase? It is vitally important because without it we human beings will change His meaning to anything that makes us happy and comfortable. Without that exclusivity clause, we can make His claim of divinity and salvation into whatever we want it to mean.
But with this addendum, Jesus claims authority over all of life and death! Jesus is God. And it is only through belief in Him, trusting our lives into His hands, into eternal life, that we have any hope for salvation! And because of Jesus, we have all hope!
This exclusivity is not what some think of as a closed door to heaven – it is Jesus holding the door open for all who believe in Him – no matter who we are or what we’ve done. He offers the gift of salvation, free of charge, if we will only receive it!
This is that direction and hope and life; it is His perfect love for all – because God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that all who believe in Him would not perish but would have everlasting life!
Do you want that? It is yours for the taking.

Philip asks Jesus for just a little more proof. And Jesus, you can almost hear the hurt in His voice, says, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

Do you know what it means to “really know” Jesus? Do you have a personal relationship – a living, growing relationship – with the Father?

Living Christ, thank You for showing us the way, for being the truth, for offering life. Help us to understand that just as You have sought us and found us, You are seeking all those around us, too. Teach us to live and to speak about faith in such a way that other seekers will be drawn into a saving relationship with You. Amen.

Resources:
Book of Order; Presbyterian Church (USA); 2013-’15; W-4.9000.

Fuquay, Rob; The God We Can Know: Exploring the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus (Adult Group Guide); Upper Room Books; Nashville, TN; 2014; Pp. 36-39.

03/15/2015 – John 15:1-8 – “It’s All About the Grapes”

Mark Wheeler
John 15:1-8
“It’s All About the Grapes”
March 15, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Dear God, thank You for bringing us all here to this place. Help us to open our eyes, our ears, our minds, our hearts, and our spirits to better understand who You are and to know You more. Please be with us as we draw near to You and closer to one another. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

I have discovered a strange new companion – he’s like my best friend, but he almost always annoys me to no end; we like all the same things, but he never agrees with me about what’s best; he listens to all kinds of new ideas about how to do ministry more effectively, and he never lets me try them out. When he speaks, it’s like I’m listening to my own voice, and then he interrupts me with loud nay-saying. When I think he is sprouting new life from fresh soil, I discover he is nothing more than an old stick in the mud.
That’s when I realize he is me. I need true nourishment to grow and stay alive!

Exactly one month ago we read from the Old Testament book of Exodus – and we listened as God told Moses who God is. Do you remember what God said when Moses asked Him, “Who do I tell people You are?” God said, “Tell them ‘I-AM has sent me to you.’”
Since then, and through the whole Season of Lent as we prepare ourselves for the Easter celebration we are in the New Testament Gospel according to John – because the Apostle John records some fascinating ways Jesus also answers Moses’ question.
Using a particular Greek grammar formula, Jesus identified Himself with God by the way He identified Himself by saying, “I-AM the Bread of Life – I-AM the Light of the World – I-AM the Good Shepherd – I-AM the True Vine.”
As we come to today’s Bible story in John 15, we recognize that Jesus has made His final trip to Jerusalem; He has ridden into the capital city on the donkey; He has washed His disciples’ feet and already celebrated the Passover feast – that which became Holy Communion; and while He is still at the Passover Supper Table Jesus is teaching His disciples and the opening lines of John 15 are …. —-
1 “I-AM the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already (pruned) clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I-AM the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.…”
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

Today’s message will be different from our usual mode of “being fed” by God’s Word – it will be a little feel quicker, at first, and then it might feel intensely longer. But that’s OK.

This week was “Founder’s Week” at Moody Bible Institute, so local pastors were invited to participate in some special gatherings and then to sit in on some general sessions. On Friday I had breakfast with a brand new Chicago-based Moody Bible Institute professor, and then attended a worship service where a well-seasoned professor from the Chicago campus preached.
He preached from Luke 10, the story about Jesus and His disciples gathering at the home of Mary and Martha. His emphasis was so inspiring, that I immediately went back to my office and re-wrote most of my message for today. So, thank you Lee Eclov for allowing me to sit at Jesus’ feet for a bit.

My sermon is not from Luke’s Gospel, nor is it about Mary or Martha. I am preaching from John 15, in the Upper Room, probably after the meal, but just before the Garden of Gethsemane.
Your Sermon Notes Page asks some questions about what it means to “be pruned” – institutionally as the Church, and personally, as a follower of Christ.
And then it asks about the relationship between a healthy branch and its vine.
That’s where we are investing just a few minutes this morning.

As the Church, and as Church Members, we are often about the task of being obedient to God and God’s Word. Our Thursday Bible Class just finished the New Testament letter from James, which emphasizes being “doers of God’s Word and not hearers only”. That letter emphasizes how our faith can really only be demonstrated by the “works”, the “deeds”, of our living.
And while all of that is true – it is correct; it is right. Jesus told Mary and Martha, and you and me – and John records today’s words where Jesus identifies Himself with God and invites His followers – to stop.

Doing service, serving (the Greek word in the New Testament is the word from which we get “Deacon”) is a good thing – it is right to be of good works – yesterday we had a group of servants who worked here for nearly 6 hours on our Church Clean-Up Day – Proverbs 9 equates wisdom and being a righteous woman with preparing a table and serving our guests – Ephesians says that God’s people are made for works of service – Colossians says that when we serve others we are serving the Lord – Jesus says to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit the sick and release the oppressed (all involving good works of service) is to feed and clothe and visit and release Himself! This is a good thing!
But He tells Martha that Mary, who left the kitchen and didn’t set the table but sat on the floor with her arms around her knees and just listened to Jesus – Jesus says that Mary chose the better thing.
Here, in John 15, Jesus says, “I-AM the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me (KJV says ‘If you abide in me’, I think a better interpretation), you will bear much fruit!”

Recently I found this branch underneath a tree. I guess it had been broken off by the wind. As you can see, there are no leaves at all. It is completely dead. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a branch, I would call it a stick.
Do you think that if I took this branch out into the yard and planted it in the ground and watered it it would come back to life? No, that wouldn’t work, because the branch gets the nutrients that it needs to live from the tree. Branches cannot live or grow without the tree. Without the tree, there will never be leaves on this branch. If the branch comes from a fruit tree, there will never be fruit on the branch if it is separated from the tree. If I take this dead branch and plant it in the ground and water it, it won’t come back to life, it will just be an old stick in the mud.

That same thing is true about our life with Jesus. Listen again to what Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
If we keep our life connected to Jesus, we will grow. Our life will produce beautiful leaves and delicious fruit. But if we are separated from Jesus, our leaves will wither and die and we will never put forth any fruit.

Jesus does finally agree with James. He says, “It’s all about the Grapes!” Producing fruit will ultimately define our faith. But we cannot show good, faithful, works, healthy grapes, unless we remain/abide in Him.

What will your life be? Will you be a beautiful branch on the tree … or will you just be a stick in the mud?

Dear Jesus, help us to remember that apart from You, we can do nothing. Amen.

Here comes the part of the message which might feel like it’s a little longer – I invite you, for a bit, to join me in quiet prayer – just sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His voice – for a bit, just abide in Him – in prayer, together ….

Dear God, show us how to “abide in You”. Free us from trying to produce our own fruit, and help us to trust that You are at work and will work through us and in us. Prune from our lives the tasks and activities that steal our time and keep us from growing as You want us to grow. We ask all this in the name of Jesus, the true vine. Amen.

Resources:
Eclov, Lee; sermon at Moody Bible Institute-Spokane on 03/13/2015.

Fuquay, Rob; The God We Can Know: Exploring the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus (Adult Group Guide); Upper Room Books; Nashville, TN; 2014; Pp. 28-33.

03/08/2015 – John 10:1-21 – “What Makes for a ‘Good’ Shepherd?”

Mark Wheeler
John 10:1-21
“What Makes for a ‘Good’ Shepherd?”
March 8, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Dear God, thank You for bringing us all here to this place. Help us to open our eyes, our ears, our minds, our hearts, and our spirits to better understand who You are and to know You more. Please be with us as we draw near to You and closer to one another. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

How many of you here remember the old TV Game Show called “To Tell the Truth”?
For those who don’t remember, this was a game show with 4 celebrities whose job was to interview 3 contestants who all claimed to be the same person, and then to take their best guess at which of the 3 contestants was actually telling the truth.
Merv Griffin, that’s the host I remember, would introduce the shadowy contestants: “One of these three men works as a shepherd, but not just any shepherd, He is the ‘Good Shepherd’. He was born in a suburb of Jerusalem, but was raised in a backwater town in northern Israel. Let’s give a round of applause to our three men claiming to be the ‘Good Shepherd’.”

In the middle of February we read from the Old Testament book of Exodus – and we listened as God told Moses who God is. Do you remember what God said when Moses asked Him, “Who do I tell people You are?” God said, “Tell them ‘I-AM has sent me to you.’”
Since then, and through the whole Season of Lent as we prepare ourselves for the Easter celebration we are in the New Testament Gospel according to John – because the Apostle John records some fascinating ways Jesus also answers Moses’ question.
Using a particular Greek grammar formula, Jesus identified Himself with God by the way He identified Himself by saying, “I-AM the Bread of Life – I-AM the Light of the World – I-AM the Good Shepherd.”
As we come to today’s Bible story, we remember that in chapter 8 Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, and He condemned the men who thought they were better than her, then He told her, also, to go and sin no more. And He reveals Himself as the Light of the world, and any who believe in Him would no longer walk in darkness, but would have the Light of life.
In chapter 9 Jesus heals a blind man and tells the Pharisees that they are spiritually blind because they don’t yet see the Truth that Jesus is the Son of God – they are still walking in darkness while the man born blind could see even before he received his sight!
Which brings us to John 10:1-21; hear the Word of God …. —-
1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.”…

Let’s stop there for a minute and see if we understand, any better than the Pharisees, what Jesus is saying.
I think Jesus is simply describing for them how we might discern the difference between a shepherd and a thief.
If this were To Tell the Truth, we might hear the celebrities ask questions like:
Shepherd #1, how do You enter the sheep pen? Do You ever climb over the fence in the dark of night, or does the gatekeeper open the gate and You walk through that way?
Shepherd #2, what are some of the names of the sheep in Your pen?
Shepherd #3, did You ever have any trouble getting Your sheep to recognize Your voice? When they heard You, did they run the other way or did they follow You?

How would the real Good Shepherd answer these?
I enter by the gate – always, and the gatekeeper always lets me in.
Some of the names of my sheep are: Sigrun and Vera and Kermit and Betty and Barb. I know all their names, and they all know me personally!
Sometimes my sheep get distracted by the enticements of this world – but when they finally hear my voice, they always respond by coming straight to me. My sheep trust me, fully.

Jesus was painting a pretty clear picture of the contrast between knowing salvation through knowing the Savior, and being tricked into following someone other than the real thing.
But because it was not yet a clear-enough picture, Jesus kept painting. Go down to verse 11 …. —-
…11 “I-AM the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep….

Some of us have been in the area around Jerusalem and Bethlehem and into the wilderness of Judah. We have seen actual Israeli shepherds and seen how they live in the fields. It hasn’t changed much since the days of Jesus – today you can see TV satellite dishes with wires streaming into the tents where the nomadic shepherds live, and there’s often one vehicle so that when they have to move to fresher pastures they can haul their satellite and TV and other equipment with them – but everything looks pretty much the same as it did 2,000 years ago!
There might be one sheep pen in a field, with several flocks of sheep kept in the one pen. But when Shepherd David goes into the pen and calls for his sheep, only his sheep follow him out the gate. When Shepherd Jacob goes in and calls his sheep ….
And they also had hired hands, helpers. Starting in verse 11, Jesus describes the difference between the Shepherd and the hired help!
So now we hear the To Tell the Truth celebrities ask questions like:
Shepherd #2, how many wolves have tried to attack Your flock, and did You risk Your own life to protect Your sheep?
Shepherd #3, why would You risk Your life for Your sheep?
Shepherd #1, do you really care about Your flock?

How would the real Good Shepherd answer these?
The number of wolves out there is uncountable – but there is one leader of the pack – and he attacks relentlessly. Did I risk my life to protect my sheep? I offered it up as a willing substitution for the sheep that would be slaughtered and scattered. I died once for all, and my sheep get this.
The reason why I would offer my life as a ransom for theirs is simple – I love my sheep to the full, and my Father loves them so completely that He never leaves or abandons them.
I care so much that my flock know they can call on me, for every miniscule thing that interrupts their faithfulness, and every giant-sized struggle that darkens their faith. I-AM with them, always.

Then, because Jesus just knew His listeners needed a little more help He continued with verse 14 …. —-
…14 “I-AM the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

Did you hear Jesus’ words? He used the great I-AM identification of God, and then repeated His personal claim to be the Good Shepherd!
Who was Jesus addressing? Who were His first century listeners? Verse 1 tells us He was speaking directly to some of the biggest religious leaders of the day. And He is telling them, I-AM the God of Moses, the Word who in the beginning was with God and was God! The Word, who is the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the incarnate Son of God. I-AM He! And my sheep know me! And, since I have to tell this to you, it’s obvious that you do not know me, therefore you are not my sheep! You are walking in darkness.

Once again we hear the To Tell the Truth celebrities ask some questions:
Shepherd #3, who exactly are You?
Shepherd #1, You say You lay Your Life down for Your sheep – why would Your Father approve of that? Who told You to lay Your life down for these sheep?
Shepherd #2, tell us about these “other sheep”; who are they?

How would the real Good Shepherd respond now?
I cannot make it clearer – I-AM the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. I-AM the God who called Abram from Ur to be a blessing to the whole world, and I- AM that ultimate blessing. I-AM the God who rescued your people from bondage in Egypt. I-AM the God who spoke through the prophets. I-AM the God who is mighty to save, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. I-AM the God who will never let you go!
My Father so loves the people in this world that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life! That is why I came, why I was born in Bethlehem – the House of Bread, so that one day my body would be broken and all who partake would receive eternal life. My Father sent me for this very reason – to die for you.
In 1963 the Pope declared that maybe these “other sheep” are the Protestant Christians around the world. He was partly right. When I first said it, I was reminding the Pharisees that Abraham was blessed to be a blessing – that salvation was not limited to the Chosen people of Israel, but for all who are drawn close to God, for Gentiles of every race, for cultures across this globe, for people groups yet to be reached with the Gospel. All one need do is believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord and confess with their lips that God raised Him from the dead, and they shall be saved! In John 5:24 you can hear me say, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” That includes those who follow the Roman Catholic Pope, but only those that claim Jesus as the way, the truth and the life; that includes Presbyterians and Methodists and Pentecostals and Independents and Orthodox, but only if they know Jesus as their Savior and follow Him as their Lord.
Remember, while people worship differently and emphasize different theological doctrines, there is only One flock and One Shepherd.

At the close of every segment of To tell the Truth, the celebrities had to pick which contestant they believed was really the correct one.
In faith, so do we. This Bible story ends with some of the Jews saying Jesus was demon-possessed, and others wondering if He really might be the promised Messiah!

How about you? How do you know Jesus as your own Good Shepherd?

We could say, “Will the real ‘Good Shepherd’ please stand up?” But what we already know is that after He laid down his life for His flock – He also already was raised to new life from the grave! He’s the One who stands above the crowd. Jesus is that Good Shepherd!

Let’s pray: Loving Shepherd, You know that we tend to wander and get ourselves into tight places. Help us to respond to Your voice as You call us this morning, as You call us over and over toward the way that leads to real life. Help us this week to listen to Your whispers and to obey the Holy Spirit’s small nudging. We give thanks for Your tender care that has kept us and carried us this far. In the name of Jesus, whom we want to know more and more, and who faithfully and diligently seeks all wanderers. Amen.

Resources:
Fuquay, Rob; The God We Can Know: Exploring the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus (Adult Group Guide); Upper Room Books; Nashville, TN; 2014; Pp. 22-27.

03/01/2015 – John 8:12 – “Why We Need a Light”

Mark Wheeler
March 1, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
John 8:12
“Why We Need a Light”

Dear God, thank You for bringing us all here to this place. Help us to open our eyes, our ears, our minds, our hearts, and our spirits to better understand who You are and to know You more. Please be with us as we draw near to You and closer to one another. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

We have seen from the Old Testament book of Exodus – where God told Moses who God is. Do you remember what God said when Moses asked Him, “Who do I tell people You are?” God said, “Tell them ‘I-AM has sent me to you.’”

Today, and for the next several weeks we are in the New Testament Gospel according to John – because the Apostle John records some fascinating ways Jesus also answers Moses’ question. Jesus uses a specific Greek grammar formula to incorporate God’s “I-AM” identification into His own distinctive identity.
In most of the world’s languages one can say “I am” without ever speaking the 1st person personal pronoun “I”. In Spanish one can say “soy”, and that means “I am”, or one could say “yo soy” which is a more distinctive way of saying “I am”. In German it could be “bin” or “ich bin”. In French, either “suis” or “Je suis”. In the Greek of the New Testament, either “Eime” or “Ego eime”. When Jesus used the more distinctive version of “I am” He was making a direct divine reference to God’s “I- AM” – and His hearers would have made that connection immediately.
When we turn to John 8:12 and we read where Jesus says, “Yo soy la luz del mundo”, “Ich bin das Licht der Welt”, “Je suis la lumiere du monde”, “Ego eime to phos tou kosmou”, “I-AM the light of the world!” He was straight-out saying, “I-AM God”!

At the risk of sounding kinda dumb, asking a question with a stupidly obvious answer, I’m gonna boldly ask it anyway. “Why would the world need ‘light’?” What good is a little light? For those who are on the Internet/Facebook (or probably TV) – you saw the controversy over “what color is the dress?” Was it blue and black or white and gold? All determined by the light refractions.

We spent much of January talking about the season of Epiphany, the liturgical season of “light”. When we have an “aha” moment we call that an epiphanal moment, when the cartoon figure gets a lightbulb over its head, when we finally see the light.
We are investing these Sundays leading up to Easter looking carefully at some of the places in John’s Gospel where Jesus sheds a little more light on His identity by using a variety of “I- AM” statements (last week was “I- AM the bread of life”, this week is “I- AM the light of the world”.

But look at the context of today’s statement.
This follows immediately on the heels of the story where a woman caught in the act of adultery is arrested and brought before Jesus (the Jewish officials were trying to catch Jesus in some kind of bind – “what will He do now?”). And Jesus does the amazing thing of revealing the truth that every Jewish official who caught this woman and brought her to Jesus was also guilty of sin.
“The one among you who has not ever sinned may throw the first stone at her.” And one-by-one, people dropped their stones and walked away.
How was that for a light-of-the-world moment! Stop condemning each other, stop hating, stop pointing out each other’s sins – and stop condemning yourself as well (condemnation is only for God to do)!
And then Jesus says to the woman, “Now go on living, but stop your sinning, too!”

I cannot imagine a more en-light-ening declaration! I am forgiven – free and clear. Now, Wheeler, sin no more!
You are forgiven – completely – of every malicious act, every evil inclination, every thought of retribution – forgiven!
Now stop doing it any more!

The fact that Jesus sheds this light on everyone – the world – does not make it any easier to live out.
What is the AA motto? One day at a time. Our Christian faith motto could probably be: one moment at a time.
Jesus shines His light on the Jewish officials, and they grudgingly walk away, recognizing their own guilt against God and against humanity – we hope they walked away confessing their sin and repenting, and praying for strength and wisdom to be obedient to God’s Word the next moment when temptation comes their way.
And then Jesus shines His light on the woman – on her forgiveness first, and then He gives her the same command He gave her accusers – “Go and sin no more.”

We Evangelical Christians too quickly jump to the command Jesus gave to the woman – and forget that He also called the accusers to recognize their own participation in a world of false condemnation – false not because the sin was not real, but because it came from one guilty party against another. We Evangelical Christians need to keep our eyes open to the light of God’s whole Word – not just the words we like.
But we more progressive Christians also need to read this whole Gospel story and recognize that sin is real – and that Jesus does, in fact, call all of us to step outside of sinful living! As an ordained Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) I promise to accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to me. That means that what the Scriptures call sin, I also must call sin, and stop doing.

I struggle with how to live that out. I do not want to be condemning, but I have friends and colleagues, brothers and sisters, who feel condemned by me. I also do not want to simply condone that which God seems to condemn. So, I take the advice of James 1:5, “If you lack wisdom, ask God, who is generous to give to all who ask.”
I pray for God’s light to shine in ways that clearly mark out the steps God wants me to take.
I also admit that sometimes I choose to ignore God’s light, God’s Word, God’s command, and I do what is more convenient or more to my personal understanding of self-interest. Today, I confess that tendency to you, and to our Lord.

Your Sermon Notes Page lists several Bible passages demonstrating the definition and the purpose of God’s Light.

As we come to the Lord’s Table in just a few minutes, see if you can fill out those Bible verses, and pray for proper understanding of how they apply to you today.
And may we come to this Table of Communion, clear of any condemnation and full of compassion, and seeking God’s light, revealed through Jesus, His living Word. It is, after all, a Table of Communion with God and with one another. Amen.

Let’s pray: Holy God, we ask You to fill us with Your light. Shine Your light through us into the situations and encounters we will face in this coming week. May others see You and Your way more clearly because of seeing Your light in our lives. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Eternal Light, who shows us the way. Amen.

Resources:
Book of Order; Presbyterian Church (USA); 2013-’15; W-4.4003.
Fuquay, Rob; The God We Can Know: Exploring the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus (Adult Group Guide); Upper Room Books; Nashville, TN; 2014; Pp. 16-21.

02/22/2015 – John 6:22-59 – “Fuel for Living”

Mark Wheeler
February 22, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
John 6:27-59
“Fuel for Living”

Dear God, thank You for bringing us all here to this place. Help us to open our eyes, our ears, our minds, our hearts, and our spirits to better understand who You are and to know You more. Please be with us as we draw near to You and closer to one another. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Last week we read from the Old Testament book of Exodus – and we listened as God told Moses who God is. Do you remember what God said when Moses asked Him, “Who do I tell people You are?” God said, “Tell them ‘I-AM has sent me to you.’”

Today, and for the next several weeks we will be in the New Testament Gospel according to John – because the Apostle John records some fascinating ways Jesus also answers Moses’ question.
Let me set the stage for today’s passage from John 6. By this time, Jesus has gathered His 12 Apostles and has started His ministry of healing and teaching. A quick list of some miracles:
• He turns water into wine at a wedding – Who is Jesus? The wine-maker (and the best party invite ever!)
• He healed the son of a royal nobleman – Who is Jesus? The doctor to the elite
• He healed an invalid man who had been waiting for a miraculous healing for 38 years – Who is Jesus? The miracle man for the underprivileged
• He feeds 5,000+ people with five barley loaves of bread and two fish – Who is Jesus? The greatest lunch-lady of all time!
• He walks on water to catch up to His Apostles – Who is Jesus? Some kind of metaphysicist beyond imagination
But when we get to today’s passage Jesus gives His listeners a very different answer. From John 6:22-34 we see the crowd searching for Jesus and when they find Him Jesus says, “The only reason you’re looking for me is because I fed you yesterday!” Then He says, “Don’t be satisfied with a full belly – food that perishes – but be fed by the food that endures to eternal life – that which God the Father gives through His Son!”
The crowd’s response, oddly enough, was, “So tell us what we have to do to get credit from God.”
Jesus answered, “This is the work of God – this is what you have to do, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
Now the crowd gets skeptical, as if that list of miraculous healings, feedings, wine-making and water-walking aren’t enough, they say, “So who are You that we should believe You? Moses gave our ancestors manna from heaven. What can You do?”
Now comes the teaching moment. Jesus told them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven, but my Father gives the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” – This is like when we hear of an answered prayer and we say, with good, faithful intentions, “See? Prayer works!” Jesus says, “It’s good that you prayed, but it is God who works!” Moses was a good man, a faithful leader, but it was God who rescued the Israelites from Egypt, and it was God who sent the manna from heaven!
So the people rightly say, “Sir, give us this bread always.” And in John 6:35-59 we hear Jesus’ response …. —-
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. … 53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

Jesus did not claim water-walking winner, lunch-lady superlative, miracle-man, physician for the rich and famous, or even ultimate frat-boy status; what He claimed was simple barley loaf – he wasn’t even claiming the meat of the sandwich – He was the bread that holds the insides together!
Wait: He said, “I am the Bread of Life!” Let’s explore that a little deeper.

Out of curiosity, on my Microsoft Word I looked for synonyms for “bread” to see other English ways to maybe translate the word Jesus used in Greek. What do you think the top synonyms for “bread” were? *cash *dough (double entendre) *currency *bucks – all related to money, slang for moolah
Which got me to thinking – if Jesus spoke some kind of urban English or mafia slang, what might He have been saying? In I Timothy 6, Paul teaches us that “the love of money is the root of all evil” – so maybe Jesus was saying that He was, in fact, the opposite of that – He is the bread of Life, of love, of living.

Or maybe He was connecting in a deeper way to His audience.
He had just fed 5,000 of them with barley bread – sustained them for a few hours; He was just compared to manna from heaven – sustained the Israelites for one-day-at-a-time; now Jesus says He is the Bread of Life – the food of eternity – sustenance for-ever – fuel for faithful living!
These were all Jewish people here – good Jews, we believe; faithful. My favorite Jew of all time is Tevye from The Fiddler on the Roof, who sings, “If I were a rich man …. If I were rich, I’d have the time that I lack To sit in the synagogue and pray.
And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.
And I’d discuss the holy books with the learned men, several hours every day.
That would be the sweetest thing of all.”
That song culminates with Tevye wishing he could spend his whole life reading the Bible. Why? Because for Jews, the Bible was known as the Bread of Life – the Nourishment of Life – the Fuel for Living.
Jesus said in John 4, “I have food you don’t know about – doing the will of God”; and in Matthew 4, while Jesus is in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, the devil tempts Him to turn the stones into bread and Jesus tells the devil, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
The Jews Jesus was talking to would have had an immediate connection from “Bread of Life” to the Torah, the Bible, God’s Word.

In what ways is Jesus the Bread of Life?
He is the Word of God! John 1 opens with the poetic truth that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God!” And a few verses later this “Word” is identified as Jesus. He is the Living Word – that to which the written Word, the Bible, reveals!
Jesus reveals His Father to the world which He so loves He gave His only begotten Son.

In what ways is Jesus the Bread if Life for you?
Do you receive spiritual nourishment from Him every day? He’s available – He’s there – He’s waiting.
I think it was DL Moody who once said something about how we cannot drink enough water in one hour to keep us hydrated for a whole week; we cannot eat enough food today to nourish us for seven days; we need to eat and to drink every day, or we become weak and sick.
Jesus cannot be the Bread of Life for us if we only nibble on Him for a few minutes at church.

Toward the end of today’s passage Jesus tells these Jews, and He tells us, a very hard saying. Listen again to what He says here: 53 “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

What do you think Jesus meant? These sound like Holy-Communion-words, don’t they? But Jesus said them 7 chapters before His last supper, at least one year before He broke that bread and poured that cup.
I think He is saying that we need Him every day, like the great old hymn says, “I need Thee, O I need Thee; every hour I need Thee; O bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee.”

Let’s pray: Dear God, we know that You give us our daily bread and continually offer the bread of life. You are our only reliable source for all that we need, but our memory is short, and we easily forget. Teach us what it means to depend on You daily, and help us remember to pray for one another until we are together again. We ask all this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Resources:
Fuquay, Rob; The God we Can Know: Exploring the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus (Adult Group Guide); Upper Room Books; Nashville, TN; 2014; Pp. 11-15.