Topic: Biblical Verse: John 6:35–6:51
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
John 6:35-51; Ephesians 4:17–5:2; 1 Kings 19:1-8
So you get up in the morning and roll out of bed. After (hopefully) a time of prayer, you shamble over to the bathroom to get ready for the day ahead. Turn on the lights and check how much work needs to be done before you’re presentable to the reset of the world. You might have to get the water going to shave, use the toilet, and take a shower. Drying yourself off with one a towel, you might have to turn on the blow-dryer to keep your hair from looking like a drowned animal. Once that’s all taken care of and you’ve gotten dressed, you head to your kitchen for some cold fruit juice out of the refrigerator or piping hot coffee from your fancy coffeemaker. You might even have time to toast some bread or microwave some oatmeal before stepping out the door to make the bus or the Metro, or driving over to your office or school. There, you’ll probably use computers, large equipment, or yet other vehicles in well-lit environments to get your day’s tasks accomplished. At the end of the work or school day, you return home, maybe making a run to the supermarket to stock up on supplies for the dinner that you’ll be making. If you have the night to relax – an ever-rarer occasion, eh? – you might read a book, use a computer, or go out to see a movie. Finally, you head back to bed, checking to make sure that your alarm clock is set for the next morning.
But what happens when you wake up that following morning to discover that you’re alarm didn’t go off? It’s not even blinking at you. After (hopefully) another day begun in prayer, you get out of bed and head to the bathroom; however, the lights don’t come on when you flip that switch. No power – that explains the clock. But didn’t you just change the backup battery? You turn on your faucet, but it only sputters out a few blasts of water before receding to a drip. Grabbing a wash towel in the dark, you clean yourself off as best you can. And thanks to the sun that’s well up in the sky, you’re able to pick out clothes that match – so that’s a win, at least. But that doesn’t help you when your TV and radio don’t work, your smartphone battery is dead, your garage door opener doesn’t open the garage door, and when your car won’t start. It’s a blackout, alright, but it’s not just your neighborhood or your city: this is happening on a much larger scale. Nothing that uses electrical power will turn on.
If you’ve watched any of the Olympics on NBC, you’ve probably seen previews for their new show Revolution, which has that scenario of a decades-long blackout as it foundational premise. Its characters embark on a journey of discovery, one which might reshape the world that they have come to know. How much would your life be changed if there were no electricity to power all the mechanisms and devices that we have incorporated into the basic functioning of our daily routines? No airplanes, cars, or mass transit systems to get people or cargo from one place to another? No grocery stores or restaurants for food? No water pumps or purification systems to get water to and from your home? Our world has come to depend on electricity as the fuel that makes pretty much everything go, and in a world without fuel, it would all shut down.
Have you run out of fuel in your life? Elijah had. Pretty amazing things had happened in this prophet’s service as the Lord’s messenger to the people – he’d even just been at Mt. Carmel, where God sent down fire from heaven, then rain to water the land after over three years’ drought. Elijah himself put 450 prophets of Baal to the sword as the agent of God’s judgment, then outran the king’s chariot back to the king’s seat of power some 15 miles away. But when he heard that the queen was going to try to kill him, Elijah didn’t turn to God for strength; instead, in his fear and concern he depended on his own reasoning. He thought that he’d be safe if he ran away, far to the south. He didn’t stop once he’d left the northern kingdom of Israel, or even the southern kingdom of Judah. He kept on going, out into the wilderness. And it was there that Elijah despaired in shame underneath a single, sad little shrub tree. He realized that he had run out of fuel. He saw that he was no better than the faithless people who had come before him, because he had trusted not in God’s strength but in his own. So he asked God that he might die. Elijah knew that he could go no farther on his own. He could do no more. Everything that he had known in life seemed to be shutting down. But even though he had run, God did not abandon Elijah. The message came to the messenger: “the journey is too great for you,” and the Lord provided food and drink. God gave fuel for the prophet’s journey. Because as we hear in each of our readings today, that’s what God does.
The Lord gave food and drink to Elijah, and he does the same for you and me. This week, we continue to look at what Jesus says in John 6. He is, he says, the “bread of life.” The bread that came down from heaven, the manna that God gave to the Israelites as they journeyed through the wilderness, didn’t keep the people from getting hungry and going empty the next day. Human beings need fuel: fuel for the belly, fuel for the mind, fuel for the heart. Without fuel, we go empty. Without fuel, things shut down.
There’s an emptiness in human beings, an emptiness that sits at the core of the soul. That’s the emptiness that led Elijah to despair under the broom tree in the desert, the emptiness that you and I feel when we go empty after trying to make it through the world under the faulty fuel of our own reason and rationale apart from God. The journey is too great for you, and it is too great for me. We need fuel that lasts, something that won’t leave us stranded our in the middle of the wilderness.
Jesus fills the emptiness at the core of the human soul. He is the “life-ing bread,” bread that gives life. He is the ultimate fuel. Unlike the manna that God once gave, Jesus tells us that he has come to meet our need eternally. God has given the gift of His Son to all those that He calls to journey through this life in faith. Life that is fueled by Jesus is indeed a revolution.
In Ephesians 4, Paul describes the new life in Christ by distinguishing it from the life as it is lived by people who remain under a darkened understanding of the world. The old life that Christians are called to put off is a life that is given over to its own deceitful desires. That life pursues its own course out in the wilderness in the hope of finding lasting pleasure. Trapped in the darkness of self-centeredness, however, the emptiness that the old self seeks to fill will always remain. It wants no part of God and the bread of life that He offers. The new life is quite different: life that is fueled by Christ is not selfish but self-giving. “Be angry and do not sin,” writes Paul. “Put away falsehood.” That’s not possible on our own, no matter how sincere our effort. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths… only what is good for building up” – how can that happen when the world is at odds with it? If we just tried to do that apart from our connection with Jesus, we’d be sitting beside Elijah out under that broom tree in no time flat. Paul, however, is leading up to the point that makes self-giving living possible for you and me: we have been forgiven by God through Christ. Forgiven, we can and must forgive as God has forgiven us. Jesus takes us out of the darkness of the old self and turns on the light of God, filling the emptiness. Having received the fuel of his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection through faith, we can journey on in love.
That journey through life in God’s love in Christ defines Christian living. Jesus doesn’t just give us faith to believe in who he is; he sustains us through a blacked-out world and transforms our lives to be more like his. He does so through Word and Sacrament, those means through which God delivers the “life-ing bread” that we need to survive. God does it here at St. John’s, which, as we discuss in our prospective member course, is not a country club. God did not put us here in this time and place to be a hangout for like-minded people; rather, our congregation is here for you as a fueling station. The Lord preserves and fuels our community so that you and I can be out there in the world, where we spend the majority of our days – in our homes and schools and places of work. He gives us fuel for the journey because we need it to make it through.
Take and eat the bread that gives life. They journey is too great for you, but it is not too great for Jesus. He is here for you for the journey, and in him, you are fueled.