Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
A couple of years ago, I was headed to a conference in St. Louis at the seminary. While there, I decided that I would try and connect with a family friend who was attending the seminary. I called him up and asked him if we could meet to catch up, and he agreed. We agreed to meet up for a meal together, but then it dawned upon me that we never decided where we would eat. Now this is a big deal for me. I love food! But even more, when eating with someone else, I want to know that they will love the food as well. So I sent him a lengthy text offering some suggestions, and I will never forget his reply. He texted back, “Adam, I get the impression that you are one who lives to eat. I eat to live, so wherever you decide will be just fine.”
Contrary to my mode of operation for life of living to eat, Jesus instructs those who are listening to him in our text for today that they need to ‘eat to live’. [Jesus said:] I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat? So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:51-54).
People of God, if you want to live eternally, then you need Jesus. It’s as simple as that. Eat, drink, inwardly digest Jesus as if your life depended upon it. Because it does. Jesus is to be our appetizer, main course, dessert, and even that evening snack we sneak in. We are to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things as the first commandment instructs. There is simply no other way to eternal life. As it says later in the book of John, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).
This very truth is what we mark today with the Lord’s blessing in the giving of Bibles and Catechisms to our incoming third and fifth graders. Today, we mark the passing on of the faith from one generation to the next. Today we provide our children with the food for their souls.
This milestone also serves as a great reminder for all of us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest God’s Word. All too often in the busyness of life, we lose sight of that priority. And don’t get me wrong, I get it! Life is crazy! Life is busy! There are days where devotions and prayer do get lost in the shuffle. There are days when a quick bedtime prayer is all that happens. But the key is to not let this exception become the rule.
Consider it this way. What if you skipped a meal? I bet you would be hungry, but you would survive and get over it. But what if you made that a common practice? The eventual result would be that you would starve to death. So it is with our faith life. Jesus doesn’t want us to starve to death, so He rightly orders us to eat His flesh and drink His blood. He tells us that if you want to live, and live eternally, you gotta eat.
The people that were listening to Jesus in our text didn’t like hearing that. It wasn’t as much because of the cannibalistic way that He was speaking. Though that was no doubt disturbing to them. Rather, it had more to do with what He meant by what He was saying. They knew where he was from and who his family was and what his family did. But in no way were they willing to accept that this guy here before them was the promised Messiah. He didn’t fit their mold. They wanted somebody else. So they left. In other words, they left to dine elsewhere.
It is estimated that there are over 650,000 different restaurant companies in the United States alone. This means that when we dine out, there are a lot of options. We love options. Which also happens to be the reason that so many of us like buffets.
Buffets provide numerous food options for us to dine on in one sitting. My parents took full advantage of buffets when we would travel as a family. My parents were no dummies with a couple of growing boys. They would take us to eat in the late morning with the whole idea was that if we ate well then, we wouldn’t need much more than a snack to make it to supper as we would travel. My brother and I didn’t really care. We just loved the vast amount of options that we could select from in which to eat. Sometimes I went for waffles, other times I went for eggs. Sometimes I went for waffles and eggs and whole lot of bacon. It was great! Gotta love those options when ya eat!
Here’s the thing though, those who were listening to Jesus that walked away had gotten it stuck in their mind that there were more options when it came to eternal life. They could walk away, and in their minds, they would be just fine. But that just isn’t true.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, when it comes to eternal life, there are not a whole lot of options. In fact, there is just one. Imagine that! Going to a restaurant, and there being only one thing on the menu. Well that is the way it is when it comes to the gift of eternal life. If you are going to eat in order to live, then the only course to dine upon is Jesus.
Unfortunately, in our day and age, more and more are walking away looking for other options. How many of us remember a day when there were no businesses open on Sundays, or no activities scheduled on Sundays? There was a respect, a reverence for the Lord’s Day that no longer seems to exist. Now there are options. How many of us remember a day when it was expected that the whole family got up on Sunday morning and went to worship, no ifs, ands, or buts about it? But now there are options. The question is, are the other options good for us? Do they carry with them the promise of eternal life?
Going back to the buffet illustration, have you ever been there trying to decide on whether you will have the salad or another piece of fried chicken, the fruit or more dessert? I am sure we all have. I am sure we have all weighed the options, and if you are like me, on countless occasions, you have taken the option that is not as healthy for you.
The same is true when we take the option of anything other than being in the presence of Jesus in the Divine Service on Sundays. We are choosing the option on the buffet of life that is the slippery slope to joining those that walked away from Jesus. And I know, we may argue that it is only one Sunday. But, just like we indulge in a dessert or two, it doesn’t take long before unhealthy dining becomes a habit.
Just like unhealthy dining is bad for us, Jesus doesn’t want us to dine in an unhealthy way spiritually either. He doesn’t want any of us to walk away from Him as if life was a buffet of options. He knows that all the other options out there lead to death, so He wants us to come here and be with Him. And not just be with Him, but feast upon Him.
I am reminded of my first time in Kenya when we went to the village of Duca Moja, literally 100 miles beyond the middle of nowhere. The morning after we arrived, we woke up and walked to the building they had built to use as a church. It was a tin shed, large enough to hold 50-60, give or take a few. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, people started showing up. People walking from all over came to this tin shed in the middle of nowhere. They came to hear Pastor May teach on God’s Word, which he did for nearly two hours. They filled the place, and then some. People were overflowing outside the building as well. I sat there and marveled. Here, these people didn’t have a dime to their name by my standards for shelter and food, yet here they were in droves to be fed by the Bread of Life, the Word of God. As I think back, it is as Jesus said on the sermon on the mount in the beatitudes: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).
Like those people in Duca Mojo, here on this day as we eat, drink, and inwardly digest Jesus, we will be satisfied. It is a guarantee. You see, nothing else or no one else can tantalize our taste buds like Jesus can. Nothing else can please our palette like He can. Nothing else can satisfy our stomach’s grumbling like He can. Though there may be so many more options out there on Sundays, nothing else can provide satisfaction like Jesus can.
It’s no wonder that Peter answered Jesus the way that He did when Jesus asked if he and the other disciples wanted to leave as well, to go and dine elsewhere, if you will. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God (John 6:68-69).
Jesus is the living bread that came down from heaven. He is the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us to save us so that we may have eternal life. He came here to live the perfect life we couldn’t live and die the death that should have been ours all for the sake of providing satisfaction. He served Himself by drinking the cup of God’s wrath to deliver satisfaction for our sins. Crucified, dead, and buried, He delivered the satisfaction we so desperately needed so that we would not die eternally…so that we would have eternal life.
And that is what He promises to us here on this day as we hear His Word and feast upon His Holy Supper. Here at His table is where Jesus Himself comes to us. His flesh is true food, and His blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on Him will live forever.
When we follow Jesus’ command to eat his flesh and drink his blood, when we eat to live, His life is given to us. His body, His blood, the work He did on the cross, the life and salvation He won, the resurrection, all of it is now ours. We are now given new life, and with that new life we are transformed. Our desire is changed. The more we eat His Word and His Sacrament in order to live, the more we will desire to live to eat. As the Psalm said last Sunday, Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34:8a).
It is good to rightly order our daily lives around the Bread of Life. It is good to prioritize being in the Word of God and praying daily. It is good to rightly order our weeks by beginning them with being served by our Savior in the Divine Worship Service. It is good, because there is simply nothing that compares to being fed and nourished by our Savior who promises eternal life.
People of God, if you want to live eternally, then you need Jesus. It’s as simple as that. Eat, drink, inwardly digest Jesus as if your life depended upon it. Because it does. Eat to live; live to eat. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.