May 4, 2019 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross
Medieval theologians listed the "seven deadly sins." Sometimes they were called the "cardinal sins," from the Latin word for "hinge," because they could cause your life to swing in the wrong direction. The seven deadly sins were pride - the worst of all, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. The same theologians also encouraged in people the seven cardinal virtues, the three that St. Paul mentions in I Corinthians 13 - that is faith, hope, and charity - and the four "classical" virtues from Aristotle, prudence, integrity, courage, and moderation. When God made man He had the virtues in mind. They would be exemplary human characteristics. The sins, by contrast, are distortions which the devil has brought in. As we meditate today on the words of Jesus in John 6, we want to use one of these deadly sins, namely gluttony, as an example of how the devil corrupts us. All human appetites and passions were created to serve holy purposes. The devil distracts them toward the pursuit of evil. Gluttony is what happens when food, drink, and comfort are turned away from praising God to praising Mammon.
In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis has his main character, a prince of the powers of darkness, giving advice to his nephew, Wormwood, an apprentice devil who has been given responsibility for tempting a young British man. Screwtape points out to his nephew that there are two types of gluttony. First there is the ever-popular gluttony of excess - that is eating anything and everything in sight, or drinking until you can't stand, or getting massaged until you don't have any skin left. The second is a more refined type of gluttony, which Lewis calls "gluttony of delicacy." This second type is mingled with pride, sometimes outwardly, as in conspicuous consumption of extremely upscale commodities, sometimes inwardly, mingled with self-pity, as in "All I want is a piece of toast. Is that asking too much?" Here again consider the British. His four o'clock tea will not lead to obesity, but if he doesn't get it he makes everybody else miserable. That is also gluttony, gluttony of delicacy.
By calling Himself the Bread of Life, Jesus directs our appetites toward Him. Our passion for nourishment leads us quickly to feed the body. Jesus challenges us to also consider the hunger of the soul. Does He prescribe a diet? Yes. Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. The genuine calling of every human appetite is to communicate with Jesus. Is that what everybody wants to do? It was for this purpose that He created the Church. The Incarnate Word continues His Incarnation through the Holy Church. Why is there an empty seat during Divine Service? Christian preaching feeds the soul. Was the banquet two weeks ago sufficient to feed the soul for an entire year? Do we ever use the Word of God when we aren't taking an oath? Do we really think that it is enough to merely approve of what is right, even if doing it is beyond our spiritual means? It's way beyond them if you fast from one Easter to the next.
Besides that, there are many temptations to "feed" the soul on what is not really food at all, on spiritual empty calories intended to make people feel good instead of nourishing them. How often do we hear those fatal words, a personal relationship with Jesus? What meaningless nonsense that is! What you need is to have your sins forgiven by the atonement Jesus made, which He gives you in Holy Baptism. Jesus doesn't need you to affirm Him. You need for Him to affirm you.
There are those who know better than to offer the empty calories, but get into difficulty because either they cannot relate all Scripture to the Rule of Faith, or they cannot properly divide the Law and the Gospel. The first failure means that what was presented this week has nothing to do with the liturgy, or with what was presented last week, or with the hymns, or the Sacraments. The Rule of Faith is this -- that the Son of God became Man to make substitutionary atonement for all men. We confess the Rule of Faith whenever we say the Creed. That atonement involved Pontius Pilate and the Resurrection, and the Ascension. Without that there would be no Gospel at all. As for those who do not properly divide Law and Gospel, let's continue the food metaphor. You know of a fine chef who makes excellent salads and excellent desserts. The only trouble is he serves them in the same bowl. Instead of a great salad and a great dessert you get a rather unappetizing "salert." That's what a preacher does when he dumps the Law and the Gospel together, or adds elements of the one to the other. Yes, everyone needs both for a properly fed soul, but one at a time.
Merely feeding the body can be very frustrating. Even the nicest delicacies only make us hunger for more. Yes, they lead to discontent. Does that cause your spiritual antennae to swing around? Discontent is dangerous, demonic, destructive. There is a godly sorrow that leads to repentance - St. Paul assures us of that. Such sorrow is best kept inside. Jesus tells us when we fast we ought to look well-fed and happy. That hunger is merely physical. What distorts the face is spiritual hunger. The only cure for that is the Bread of Life Himself. We need His deliverance time and again.
Brothers and sisters, the Messiah has come! John is speaking figuratively when he says that he came as Bread. He really came as a Man, in fact, the first True Man since Adam. But the figure is a good one because of what we do with bread. We break bread - as He was broken for us. We share bread - as He shares Himself with us. Bread renews us - as He renews us by forgiveness. Our very appetite for nourishment becomes a figure for all creation. All creation was a good thing made bad by abuse. Jesus destroyed the works of the devil, restored the power of creation, and lifted us to our rightful place.
His forgiveness cleanses us from all sin. Jesus knows that we have misdirected our appetite for nourishment to the praise of Mammon. He forgives that, He redirects that to what always satisfies - the Bread of Life. Both godly and ungodly passions grow with use. But the godly ones can be satisfied, whereas the ungodly merely consume us. Heavenly passions help us grow in all the virtues, great and small. That is why bread is such a good figure for the Messiah. He was broken to satisfy all righteousness. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. Isn't it amazing in how many ways that beatitude is true? The spiritual appetite can be satisfied, more than just once a year. Here in the Church Jesus waits to welcome you into His kingdom. He makes you His own in Holy Baptism, by which you become regenerate. He nourishes you with His word and His Supper. There are no "if's" in the Gospel. This is all for you. Come and get it. AMEN.