Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 36:22 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s a little strange and kind of disconcerting, when you think about it. We were just dropped into this life. No one asked us what we thought about. No one gave us a choice. We didn’t have a say in where and when and to whom we would be born. We were just dropped into this life—given into this life; given by the one who knit us together in our mother’s wombs.
And for us who were baptized as infants, we were just dropped into—given into—eternal life in Christ. No one gave us a choice in the matter; no one asked us. And thank God my parents didn’t wait until I was old enough to “decide for myself”! It is good to bring little children to Jesus for Him to put His hands on them and bless them with eternal life.
We don’t come naturally to God or to believe in His Son. Jesus says that only those whom the Father draws, only those whom the Father gives to Jesus come to Him. We confess that we would not, on our own, believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, speaks God’s word into us, and creates faith out of nothing. So even if we are baptized as adults, it is not of our own will. For us to ask for baptism, which is to ask for Jesus according to His own promise and gift, we would only do so if the Father gives us to Jesus. Either way, God gives us into both physical life and into spiritual, new life.
And when we are given into this physical life, that is not an ending but a beginning. We need to be nourished and fed; our parents clothe, shelter, and love us. Likewise, when we are given into eternal life in Christ, we also need to be fed and nourished by God, by His words, His forgiveness, His life, His Supper. When we are given into physical life, we are put on a road, put on a way, on a journey. We even call the markers along the way milestones; mile stones. They mark the distance we have traveled, and how far we have come. And it is the same when we are given into spiritual life; we are reborn onto a road, a way, the way that Jesus walked ahead of us. We are born onto the road to follow Jesus, through life to death, and into resurrection.
When we are born into this physical life, it doesn’t take us long to learn the word “mine.” My toys, my house, my family, my school, my job, my possessions, my life. What matters is my life, and how I fit everything, including God (or not), into my life. But we all know that our life, and everything we call ours, comes to an end. This road of my life ends when I die. And every person who has ever lived—except Elijah and Enoch—has died. It is unavoidable. And what becomes of everything I’ve called “mine” then? What good is it? As good as all the gifts of God are—and every single thing that we call “mine” is actually a gift from God—as good as all those gifts are, they are not eternal life, and they can’t give you eternal life. They are for this life, for this time, for this body. When “my” life comes to its end, what then?
And then Jesus comes along and says that what is most important, what is most significant, what matters most is not what your life and what you call yours; not my life and what I call mine; what is most significant, Jesus says, is what is Mine: My life; My flesh and My blood. Not because Jesus’ flesh and blood are fundamentally different from ours. He has the same flesh and blood we have, which He received in His conception in the womb of His mother, Mary. But He is not only a man of flesh and blood; He is the eternal Son of God, who has taken up flesh and blood as His own. So the man Jesus is both a man and God. He is not just flesh and blood, but the divine Son in flesh and blood. And so His flesh is not just the flesh of a man, but divine flesh. His is divine blood, Spirit and Life.
And this is what He gives. My flesh is true food and My flesh is true drink. Don’t work for the food that perishes, that ends when you end, but for the Food that endures into eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you: His own flesh, and His own blood, so that you will believe Him, whom the Father has sent and given into this world. If you eat His flesh and drink His blood, even if your body dies in this world, it cannot stay dead. Jesus, who is God in flesh, could not stay dead, because His flesh and blood has the divine life. God’s life cannot die, so Jesus could not stay dead. And if you have His life, then you can’t stay dead either. The Father is living, and the Son is living, and everyone who has Jesus has the same divine Life.
Isn’t this what everyone is looking for? Eternal life? We do what we can to deny death, to put it off as long as possible, to pretend it won’t come for us. We think that someone, somewhere, will come up with the technology to make it possible for us not to die. But that is a false hope. And yet Jesus here is saying that what everyone is looking for, He actually gives. He gives a life that death cannot kill, that will put you beyond the reach of death, and we say, no, Jesus, I’m going to shop around a little first.
And even those who have believed in Him sometimes leave His way and His life. This is a hard word, an offensive word, that I need to have some other life than the one I have, some other flesh and blood. And so many of those whom John calls disciples of Jesus, turn and go back to the things that they had before, back to what was “theirs,” and they no longer walked with Jesus on His way. Jesus turns to His chosen twelve and asks them: You are not going to go away also, are you? And Peter speaks on their behalf: Lord, to whom, and where, would we go? You have the words of eternal life, the words of Spirit and life, and we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God, the One whom God has given into the world, as bread for the world, to give life to the world. There is no eternal life anywhere else.
But even one of the twelve turned from Jesus’ road. Later, in the upper room on the night He was betrayed, He quoted Psalm 41 and said, One who has eaten My bread has lifted up his heel against Me. He who has eaten My bread has lifted up his heel against Me. Even people who walk with Jesus on His way leave Him and go back to what they had before, to their life, to everything they call theirs.
But Jesus has put us on His way, into His life, and He feeds us with His flesh and blood, so that we will never leave Him, never be cast out; so He will bring us through this life to eternal life. Our life ends in death, but Jesus has cleared the dead end and brings us through death into eternal life. He promises that anyone who has His life He will raise up on the last day.
This is the house that Wisdom has built, Wisdom incarnate in the flesh and blood of Jesus. Come eat My bread and drink My wine, Wisdom says. And Paul says, Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise. Not as those who look for eternal life in all the things that die and end in death, but those who have received the eternal life of Jesus in His flesh and blood.
Walk as wise ones, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. All our time and all our days, everything we call “mine” is given back in Christ, redeemed. In these evil days, our time is given back—how much time we’ve wasted!—for us to walk as those who are wise. We walk in the wisdom of God, knowing the people whom we are to serve. We walk in the wisdom of Christ, down the road He has laid out for us. Whatever is right in front of us to do, we do it in the full confidence that we belong to Christ, who is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. And nothing we do in Christ will turn out empty and worthless.
Put onto the way, into the life, by God in Christ, we follow Jesus. He feeds us along the way, and the day is coming when He will raise us up. Then our baptism will be completed and our life will find its fullness, both physical and spiritual, in body and soul, in us who are in Christ.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/14/21