Sermon: The Best Choice for Eternity

August 12, 2018
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

 The Best Choice for Eternity

On Our Menu
Ever since my mother came to stay with me, I have been blessed to be spoiled; I don’t need to cook at all. Nevertheless, the menu at my meal table is a lot better and plenty. There are times my mother can’t cook, and it is my turn to cook for her. However, I still don’t cook; I bring her to a restaurant.  I am not fussy or picky about food, but when I sit in a restaurant, I am careful choosing food on the menu because I don’t want to ruin the special treat for my mom.

With our hungry and thirsty souls, we come to our Rockville UM restaurant this morning. What’s on your menu today? What do you expect to get from our restaurant? By the way, I am impressed to see you all to come here this morning. To the ordinary people like us, Sunday is usually a day off; there are lots of other activities you want to enjoy or engage in on this morning, such as oversleeping, doing piled-up laundry, going on a family trip, or just rambling around the house all day long. But among lots of choices on your menu of the Sunday morning, you chose coming to the church to worship the Lord.

I am really grateful for your choice and would like to say that you chose the best on your menu. As you come to our Rockville UM restaurant, I hope today’s lesson will be filling and satisfying to all of your spiritual stomachs.

The Bread of Life
By the way, when I go to a restaurant, I want to order something special or something my mother doesn’t want to cook home. I don’t want to eat something like “chicken soup” there. You know how it smells and tastes; you know what kind of ingredients are in it. If you sit in a restaurant, I believe you want to pass it and look at other options on your menu because chicken soup is too ordinary and you want to enjoy something special for your special day.

“The Bread of Life,” which is Jesus Christ himself who comes down from heaven (v. 41), is the menu we’ve got from John’s Gospel chapter 6. This menu also kindly explains the ingredients in it: “This bread is made by God’s grace and love through Jesus Christ who died on a cross to forgive all of our sins.” And it also explains what happens when we eat it: “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…” (v. 51).

Is there anyone among us who hasn’t heard about the Bread of Life? Is there anyone among us who doesn’t know why Jesus came down from heaven? Is there anyone among us who doesn’t believe in Jesus’ gift of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life? The Bread of Life is like a chicken soup, which we all know about, for it is one of the famous parables in the Gospels. So are you disappointed at our menu today? Do you want to pass today’s lesson? Do you regret your decision to come to our worship service this morning?

If so, I want you to think about this; life without death or new life after death is something we always desire in our hearts, isn’t it? Whether we like our present life or not, our life never stops but goes on and on. Regardless of how great our lives may be, someday we all come to an end of our earthly life. Due to the reality of our limited life, it’s only our instinct that we want to look for something divine to sustain our life on blessings and even hold it forever.

What kind of food can satisfy our spiritual thirst? Who will forgive our sins and give us new life? Where can we find the gift of eternal life? From time to time, I go to a restaurant to enjoy special meals there. But whether I like my mother’s food or not, I have to confess that it is my mother’s daily food that has raised me and kept me healthy and strong. Likewise, let us not feel bored with the Bread of Life, the Gospel we believe that Jesus is our Savior who came to forgive us and offer us a new life here on earth and eternal life in God’s kingdom.

God’s Invitation and Our Act
But I still wonder how we can get this special meal of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Are we here in God’s restaurant because we are so good, smart, faithful and righteous enough to deserve God’s grace? No? If you are worried, we might not be worthy of such a blessing, remember our parents still fed us even if we are not always good to them. For this question, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him or her” (v. 44). In other words, it is God our Father who has invited us to Jesus that we are blessed to receive the Bread of Life from him. In terms of our belief, we don’t earn God’s salvation by our works but it’s all about God’s free gift! Is that all? Is there nothing we need to do to get God’s gift?

One of my sabbatical resources I enjoy is going fishing during my day off. I always bring my bucket, hoping to put many fish in it. After about 2 hours sitting at the water’s edge, however, I just had to come home with my empty bucket. The problem is that fish never hopped from water into my bucket… Here is one thing fish have to do to after I toss my fishing line, that is, fish have to come and bite my bait, so that I can draw it into my bucket.

Likewise, God’s grace is everywhere in our lives but we have to come and bite it if we want to experience God’s grace. In John’s Gospel, Jesus promises to give us the Bread of Life, but he says beforehand “Come.” … “Invite and give” is what God does for us, but “come and receive” is what we should do by our own faith. We need to dedicate our lives to hearing God’s words and practicing God’s commandment of living a good life as Christ’s servants.

But as the spiritual blinded, we are not always drawn to Jesus. Rather we sometimes choose, by our own will, to turn away from the way of God. Why? It is because we are given many options and God’s calling is just one of them.  The Bread of Life looks like ordinary chicken soup that doesn’t deserve our attention: “Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, I have come down from heaven?’” (vv. 41-42).

If you remember, I told you last week about “The Lord’s Prayer” that points to our human reality that we not only need spiritual bread but physical bread – “Give us this day our daily bread.” In order to sustain our daily life, we have to spend time seeking our daily needs and supplies. But how much time do we spend seeking out spiritual meals? How much time and energy do we spend for our prayer, meditation on the Bible, and coming to worship and praising the Lord?

God is holy, faithful, righteous, compassionate, and merciful enough to feed his children. If we want to get closer to God, we must also strive hard to be like Christ our Lord as we discipline our spiritual life. The Epistle lesson from Ephesians give us the list of how we should live and behave as God’s children (v. 25-32). We here at RUMC live that list, volunteering in our community at events such as “National Night Out” last Tuesday, where we gratefully worked together in God’s grace.

 The Best Activity in Our Lives
What do you think is your best activity you have done during the last week? Based on today’s lesson, we might believe coming to God and listening to the Lord Sunday after Sunday is the best we have done among many others.  And why not?  Here in God’s house, we receive the Bread of Life which alone gives us eternal life. Here in God’s house, we are challenged to live a life of goodness. What would be better than this spiritual meal on our menu of life this week and the next?

Grace to you, who chose by your own faith to come forward to receive the Bread of Life from the One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is delighted to offer us the bread of heaven. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: The Bread of Life Beyond All Things

August 05, 2018
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:24-35

The Bread of Life Beyond All Things

The Daily Bread
Jesus Christ taught his disciples how to pray together; we call it “The Lord’s Prayer.” When I meditate on this prayer and visualize each line of it, I find that this prayer is so rich and clear for our faith’s journey in our earthly life.

Most of the petitions of the prayer are very spiritual sounding. They have to do with our trust in God. Even that political-sounding petition about “Thy kingdom come” is a prayer for our faith. God’s kingdom will come someday on its own for the sake of God’s final victory even though we don’t seriously seek it in our everyday life. Yet when we meditate on it, we may think about God’s kingdom and humbly submit ourselves to God’s reign.

But in this spiritual prayer, there is a mention about our physical reality: “Give us this day our daily bread.” What kind of bread are we supposed to ask in the Lord’s Prayer? Well, it can be simple bread we can bake at our home or buy at the bakery shop, or it can be anything we eat such as chicken soup, salad, rice, spaghetti, or stake, etc.

If I want to expand the concept of bread, it includes all the necessities that we need for our daily life. If I need to name the kinds of “bread,” it should be things such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, job (materials); garden, nature, neighbors, school, hospital, government (circumstances); upright spouse, good children, companionship (relationship); health, peace, vacation, safety (well-being), and the like. These kinds of bread would be far larger than we can imagine. The bread we eat or we look for is something to sustain our lives. Jesus realizes we need all those things and allows us to seek out them in our prayer. Based on Jesus’ teaching, I encourage you to go on your vacation and take rest there! What you are doing on the beach is to pray for the bread to refresh your body and mind!

But I still wonder how this physical bread has to do with God’s kingdom or God’s reign. Is it also something spiritual to deepen or strengthen our faith in God? It depends on which part you want to focus on when you seek out your daily bread? Are you willing to focus on bread itself or focus on who gives the bread?

The Bread of Life
Following last Sunday, today’s lectionary scripture from John 6 leads us to meditate on the theme, “the Bread of Life.” In today’s gospel lesson, we see Jesus dealing with the crowds who had continued to follow him; they followed Jesus because they saw his miraculous power to feed the multitudes in the desert. They challenged Jesus to show them more signs (v. 30), which means to give them more material blessings and satisfy their stomachs or desire. But when Jesus refused to show a miracle but only talked about something spiritual, they all turned away and never came back to him (v. 66).

What’s the problem with the crowds? They had seen and enjoyed all the spectacular miracles that Jesus had done for them, but they failed to see beyond those things. In other words, they were excited with all the bread Jesus provided for them but didn’t appreciate him as the source of life. I don’t want to criticize anyone in this hungry world who is looking for bread to eat. Nor do I want anyone in this hungry world to miss out on the Bread of Life. The church is available for all to experience the spiritual feast of Jesus.

In this story, Jesus was trying to lead people from the fragments of material bread to the Bread of Life, which is far better than anything else: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (v. 35). It includes everything in it and plus eternal life in God’s kingdom. Thus, the Bread of Life deserves to be our primary and ultimate concern.

Through this symbolic lesson, Jesus was trying to teach us to look beyond something temporal, put the first thing first, or build a deeper relationship with God if we want to be well enough for our daily life. Remember, Jesus says, “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and [God’s] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33).

Facing the Giants
This Scripture talking about the Bread of Life reminds me of a Christian movie, “Facing the Giants.” It is based on the true story of Grant Taylor, a high school football head coach. This awesome movie made me laugh, cry, clap and cheer! But most of all, this movie was so inspirational, I was moved to seek out the Bread of Life.

In six years of coaching, Mr. Taylor had never led his team to win a game in every football season. Finally, his school government was considering demoting him to the status of ordinary coach. This wasn’t the only problem he was facing; his car was breaking down, the parents were trying to get him fired, and he discovered that he is the reason that his wife couldn’t become pregnant. Almost all things in his life had failed.

Devastated by his miserable situations, Mr. Taylor was now looking for solutions. He didn’t seek out any supplies or daily food but tried to build his own relationship with God, based on the Scripture, “God is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer in whom I take refuge” (Ps. 18:2). He then, along with his boys, he created a new coaching philosophy, that is, “if we win, we will praise the Lord; if we lose, we will praise the Lord.” From that point on, he experienced lots of changes in his life: all of his players respected him and followed his direction; their parents came to trust in him; and he even got a brand new car from an anonymous donor.

Yet, the real miracle happened in the football season. His team had never won even in the regional league, but they were now starting to win games. At the final match, his team made a dramatic reversal and won the game. It was the first State Championship that his high school won in their history. But this was not the end. His miracles continued; he and his wife had two children of their own.

We are like Grant Taylor facing the giants, facing all kinds of crisis in life. When we feel like we’ve hit the bottom of life, we don’t know where to start or how to rebuild our life again. This movie reminds us that our daily (temporary) bread can’t keep us from troubles, but the Bread of Life (our faithfulness in God) has the power to restore us, fill us up, and bless all of our life.

Labor for the Bread of Life
What kind of bread do we want to seek out? No matter what it is, there is nothing free. We have to pay for all the supplies and necessities we want to have. Likewise, the Bread of Life is not free. We have to “buy” it as we seek out God’s grace and power. (next Sunday, we will talk about what we can do to earn God’s grace).

If we really know that God is the true source of our life, then, let us labor for the Bread of Life which does not perish but endures to eternal life (v. 27), through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit now and f