August 12, 2018

What to Do About Stuff (and One Bit of Stuff Particularly)

12th Sunday of Pentecost

First Lesson:  1 Kings 19:3-8

Second Lesson:  Ephesians 4:30-5:2

Gospel Lesson:  John 6:41-51

Sermon Text:  John 6:41-51

It’s got to be one of 5 for biggest events to ever happen in West Bend. The project was tossed around for years. Questions were asked: sill they, won’t they, where? Citizens held their breath to find out what the verdict would be. Now we know.  What was this game changing event?  What brings joy to many hearts and smiles to many faces? We got a Pizza Ranch.  We’re now truly among the elite cities. New York, LA, Chicago… West Bend.  Because we got a Pizza Ranch. Maybe I’m overplaying that a bit. But as the dad of teens, they and their buddies were very excited to have a Pizza Ranch. You know why - variety.  Pizza, salads, sides, chicken, fish... There’s so much, you often have a hard time choosing what to eat.

Choices on what to consume, to fill ourselves with. That isn’t limited to food. Daily we decide what entertainment we are going to consume – read a book, binge watch a show, play Fortnite for 7 hours. Daily we decide what interactions we will consume – who we are going to reach out to and communicate with.  Daily we decide how much time we will commit to consuming all the things we will have to deal with that day. We make such consumption choice every day, all day. And let’s be honest, some were poor choices. Food we chose made us sick.  Watching that show was a waste of time.  You washed the car, then it rained. With all the choices we make, they are going to be some foolish ones from time to time.

All that we have said thus far could be a conversation held between two atheists. So let’s bring God into this. You can probably guess why. For our own good, God is very concerned about our consumption choices.  He knows that some of those choices will fill our souls like Pizza Ranch fills our bellies. We are happy, content, satisfied. He knows other choices will leave us frustrated, annoyed, feeling empty, and maybe even sick to our stomachs and our souls.  So, as we turn to our lesson, keep this question in mind: What does God have to say here about my choices regarding what I consume?

Prior to our text, Jesus had fed the 5000 and walked on water.  He did so to prove he was who he said he was.  He wasn’t some whacko trying to make a few bucks or create buzz. He said he was the Son of God and then did things only the Son of God could do. There were confirmatory miracles. They confirmed he was who he said he was and could do what he said.

And what did he say he came to do? To save. In our text, Jesus uses a food metaphor.  He talks about how during Moses’ time, the people ate manna and they lived. Jesus came not to feed bodies but souls.  Eat of him – meaning believe in/trust him – and a person would live forever in heaven. “Bodies need food - souls need me” is what Jesus was saying.  He is very clear about the choice of consumption he wants them to make. “Don’t feed on stuff that is temporary.  Don’t feed on stuff that will not satisfy.  Feed on me, be filled up by me, and you will have anything and everything you need, now and forever.”

Well, some didn’t want to hear this. Not only were his claims very bold.  They knew Jesus. The son of the carpenter.  The child of Mary.  Maybe they remembered him playing in the streets or hanging out at their house for a community meal.  How could this local kid of rather humble birth be bread from heaven? How could he do all the things he said he would do? 

Jesus does have an answer for them.  We’ll come back to that. But focus on something else first. The people had a hard time accepting Jesus because they didn’t think he would be able to satisfy their needs and cravings in the way they need to be filled.  As a result, they choose someone/thing else. Is that ever us? No one would raise their hand and say, “Yep!  That’s me!”  But isn’t it true we have a Pizza Ranch buffet of choices before us all the time?  Isn’t it true all those choices scream out to us, wanting us to take and eat, to consume, and to feed?  And, isn’t it true that the way it is in an actual buffet like is the same way it is in a spiritual one, that some of the choices will leave us wanting, less than fulfilled, and maybe even sick?

There are a lot of things we could talk about now: money, stuff, pleasure, etc. because we struggle with the choice thing in so many areas.  But I want to focus on something I’ve been quiet about in sermons.  Catechism kids, you’ve heard me go off about it and we’ve brought it up in BC from time to time. But we need to mention it because it is such a huge part of our lives – technology, esp. phones. Realize tech is just a thing. It is neither good nor bad.  It all depends on how we use it.  

How do we? To entertain ourselves. To escape reality. To pass time. We put out an image of ourselves we want people to see that isn’t really reality. We make ourselves feel important by contacting friend after friend. We get lost in games, shows, and movies. That’s a cynical way of looking at it, but you know what I am talking about.  Phone addiction/withdrawal is real. 

But have you ever heard of Bible addiction?  Has someone you know been diagnosed with church withdrawal?  Have either of those terms ever been applied to you?  Or think about it this way – do you crave being in God’s Word and God’s house as much as you crave the constant approval of peers via social media?  If you itch when someone calls and you can’t answer or respond for whatever reason, do you have that same itch when you are unable to get to church? Time for brutal self honesty. Which would be easier for you to give up – your phone or going to church?  We all know what we should say. But how many of us would struggle?  How many of us, in our sinful hearts, would fail to make the Jesus choice?

I know I sound like an old man.  But I have watched and dealt extensively with pre-teens and teens for close to 2 decades.  What do I see?  Literacy is not nearly what it used to be.  Eye contact is a thing of the past.  The ability to carry on a functional conversation is being lost.  Children are more depressed than ever, because they see how great the lives of all their friends are.  And they are obsessed with everyone knowing what they are doing, which leads to total self-absorption.  

But this is far from only a young person’s struggle. Know who uses Facebook most? 60+ women. And a lot of what I’ve seen is really an online breaking of the 8th Comm. Whether is bragging or tearing down, passing on info about him or letting people know she isn’t that great, a lot of it doesn’t come from a loving heart. Where I used to serve, I had to bring two 80 year-olds into my office, sit them down, and bark at them.  Why?  They were going back and forth on Facebook about some issue, ruining each other’s and their own good names, and giving our congregation a black eye.  And the same things I see happening with kids is happening, to a degree, to adults – loss of conversation skills, all about me, comparisons games, etc.

All that is not only bad. It’s spiritually dangerous. God gave us the ability to communicate, and that ability is most important when it comes to spiritual matters.  When those tools are not honed/used, they fade, just like a muscle. They atrophy. God’s Word is a part of a conversation.  He speaks to us in it and addresses our issues, fears, and concerns.  The diminishing of communication skills can only get in the way of that message getting through. And when we lose that, how can we, as Scripture says, help each other carry our burdens? How can we show them the love that is patient, kind, humble, and sacrificing? Yes, these things can be done online. There are some great examples of it. But eventually we must deal with real life. To have a difficult time relating what God says to a fellow believer for their good is harmful, to us and our audience.

And the self-absorption thing has always been an issue, but with phones, it’s just so easy to slip into. We can brag about this or call attention to what we’ve done in seconds. We can have the instant feedback of 100s telling us how great we are.  We can post something and watch comments fly in about how witty we are or how awesome our kids are. Tech can be a blessing. Many positive things have come from the advancements we’ve made.  But realize every time we are in this area, we make choices – choices to spend our times on what is most important or do what we want. Choices to build up or tear down.  Choices to use a platform to speak as a Christian or make it all about us.  You know you, so let that sink in.

And the worst part – does any of what we’ve said help us when it comes to big problems/issues?  Depression rates are up though we’re more connected than ever.  Why? Because we don’t want to be honest/exposed. We see others with a perfect life, perfect girlfriend, perfect team, perfect kids, and perfect teeth. Are we going to open up about a struggle with temptation we can’t seem to beat? Will we let it be known our self-worth is low for whatever reason? Will we admit all the ways we fall short in our spiritual lives? Usually we hide behind the screen, suffering silently, as our faith life gets weaker and weaker.

Maybe we should have a sermon on godly use of tech. But today, realize how many bad choices that can lead down bad roads it offers us. And none of them give us what we really need – peace of forgiveness, confidence through struggles, and hope there is a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. That same things goes for money, stuff, substances, pleasure, and all the rest. To feed on these things not only doesn’t fill us up.  It leaves us empty, sick, worried, despairing, and depressed.

What do we need?  What Jesus’ audience needed – the bread of life.  “Well, of course you would say that, pastor.” Yeah, of course, I would.  But I say it because I mean it, and more importantly, because it is true.  Everything we are trying to find in all the other, wrong choices we make, can only be found in Jesus.  He, as he says in our lesson, is the one, the only one, who came from the Father. He came to make him known to us and to teach us everything we NEED to know. What is that?

The simple truth he is our Savior. “I know that!”  I know you do, but do you always realize the roots of that plant should and do find their way into every aspect of our lives? People choose tech to feel closer to someone.  How much closer can you be to someone than to have that person give their life for you? You’re closer to Jesus than you’ll ever be to anyone. People choose tech to handle tough, real life. There’s no one better to help us through real life than the one who faced all we face and came out unscathed. In him, we don’t have to avoid real life. We can embrace it and rely on him for the help he promised to give and the help he always gives. People choose tech to feel better about themselves.  Well, what better thing can be said about you than that you’re God’s child? That you’re someone he has so much love for he made the ultimate sacrifice – his Son? That you have a spot in heaven reserved for you as we speak? That he’ll work all things for your good, even the rough stuff?  No amount of likes or retweets can bring that kind of peace.  Only Jesus can.  Only Jesus does.

And people use technology to find a solution to problems. But think about your greatest problem. It’s sin, sin that shows in our use of technology as it shows up in every area of our lives.  And that sin is not a small problem.  It should be an anchor that keeps us at the bottom of God’s graceless sea.  But in Christ, that anchor is removed.  The problem is solved.  He became the dead weight, so we are lifted up. Lifted up now as God’s forgiven people. Lifted up eternally to heaven’s glory.

All this is ours because, purely by God’s grace, we have eaten this bread of life.  That feeding began at our baptisms, and that feeding is exactly what we are doing right now.  Jesus, the bread of life, is giving us eternal life.  Jesus, the bread of life, is feeding our souls.  Jesus, the bread of life, is nourishing us spiritually.  And Jesus, the bread of life, is strengthening us to face one more day on the road that ends with us at his side.  That is what we need.  Thank God that is what he is serving.

I hope what we’ve talked about comes to mind this week, one filled with choices. You’ll have plenty of options just like at Pizza Ranch. There are good choices, bad choices, and everything in between.  They’ll be choices about money, about how you speak, about how you spend your time, and yes, about technology.  And I pray that you make those choices as a child of God.  I pray you eat the bread of life as you use technology to lift up others and encourage them as a Christian.  I pray you eat of the bread of life as you use your time wisely and to God’s glory. I pray you eat of the bread of life as you use your mouth and fingers to speak and text and Instagram as a believer ought. And I pray you come back next week to eat once again and to have your spiritual strength built up, that as one body we can be the light the world desperately needs.   Amen