As I studied this week’s lessons I was struck by a pattern that I saw in our lectionary texts for the week. It seems to me that this week’s lessons can illuminate the three articles of the Creed (and vice versa). Part of the reason I started to see this pattern, in fact, is right in our reading from Exodus 16. When the people see the Manna for the first time, they ask: What is it? Which in Hebrew, is actually the word “manna”. Now, I’ve known this for many years – that manna means, “What is it?” – and, in fact, I’ve even mentioned it in sermons before. But it wasn’t until I started to see the pattern of the Creed in these lessons that I connected it to that question that’s at the heart of Luther’s Catechism. Over and over the question: “Was ist das?” in German, or “What is this?” in English, is asked and answered. And it struck me that it’s “manna?” that’s being asked. What is this? Was ist das? Manna? It’s all the same question in different languages!


So, please turn to page 1162 in the back of your ELW, and let’s look together at the First Article of the Creed: On Creation.


I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.


What is this? or What does this mean?

And let’s read Luther’s explanation together:


I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties.

In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property— along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.

(Luther’s Small Catechism with Evangelical Lutheran Worship Texts. Copyright © 2000, 2006 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved.)


God created all that is out of nothing. That’s what the Church throughout the ages has confessed. Luther says: God created me and all creatures. And we should feel free to tack on that phrase: Out of nothing. The fact that Luther goes on from this point and teaches that God continues to preserve and to protect and to provide for our every need serves as a strong connection to our reading from Exodus 16.


The people are a people created by God out of nothing. They are descended from Abraham and Sarah who have a son at a ridiculously old age, and these descendants, in spite of hardships and hundreds of years of slavery at the hands of the Egyptians, have become a great multitude, miraculously delivered by God from their captivity, and miraculously fed by God’s provision of quail in the evening and manna in the morning in the wilderness. It’s all creation out of nothing. Daily provision. Daily bread, in fact. Or, to use Luther’s language: it’s “all the necessities of and nourishment for this body and life.”


And this is not at all because they, or we for that matter, deserve God’s provision. This is nothing else but a matter of “pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all!”


The people are complaining and saying they wished they had died by the hand of the Lord – a very ironic twist from the words of the psalmist from last week’s readings where, in Psalm 145 we sang: “you open wide your hand, and satisfy the needs of every living thing.” God’s hand is usually called on to save God’s people, or to make a way where there is no way, in other words, to create something out of nothing, but here the people wish that God’s hand had struck them dead in Egypt. They have so little faith, they’re so undeserving, that they’re ready to completely reject God’s salvation, and they long for a return to bondage. And, still, God daily and abundantly provides for their every need, as God continues to do for us, fully apart from what we may or may not deserve. And for this, we owe God thanks and praise, service and obedience, through love of God and neighbor.


This is most certainly true!…


So, now let’s move to the second article of the creed: On Redemption.


I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.


What is this? or What does this mean?


And let’s read together again what Luther has to say:

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father in eternity, and also a true human being, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. He has done all this in order that I may belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true. (Ibid)


John’s Gospel, as you probably know, is very different from the other three. For instance, there is no “Lord’s Supper” per se in John’s Gospel. Sure there’s a gathering on the night of his betrayal and arrest, and they probably ate together, but John doesn’t tell us about the meal, as much as what happens around the meal. Jesus washes feet, and teaches, and prays, but he doesn’t give the disciples bread and wine, saying: Take and eat. This is my body. Take and drink. This is my blood.


Most biblical scholars agree that John’s twist on the Eucharistic meal happens here in the discourse that follows the miraculous feeding. It’s here that Jesus calls himself “the bread of life”, using one of those “ego eimi” statements we talked about last week. “Ego eimi.” “I Am.” The name of God. A claim of divinity. I am, Jesus says here, as he said in last week’s reading, only now, instead of saying: “I am. Don’t be afraid.”, he says: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” God’s ultimate provision, God’s ultimate answer to our need, is not earthly bread and fish, even when these earthly things are miraculously multiplied. God’s ultimate provision and answer to our need is the bread from heaven, Jesus himself.


This only Son of God who is the bread of life, broken for the life of the world is our Lord!


In Luther’s day it was very common for competing lords in a region to kidnap and to hold for ransom those who were under the care and protection of a rival lord, and it was the responsibility of that lord to buy back, that is, to redeem, such lost and condemned persons. And so Luther says that Jesus has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person. Jesus has purchased and freed me, not from some earthly lord, but from sin and death and the power of the devil, and not with earthly money, but with his own holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. (Timothy J. Wengert, Workshop on Luther’s Small Catechism and Worship Renewal, Worship Jubilee, July 2015)


In John, instead of actually eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table, Jesus calls himself the bread of life and he promises an end to hunger and thirst for those who come, believing. Jesus is the bread come down from heaven that gives life to the whole world by and through his suffering, dying and rising, so that all who are fed and nourished by his broken body and shed blood might belong to him, live in his reign, serve him in righteousness, innocence and blessedness just as he is risen and lives and rules forever.


This is most certainly true!…


And finally, we turn to the third article of the creed: On Being Made Holy.


I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.


What is this? or What does this mean?


And one last time, let’s read Luther’s explanation together:


I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true. (Ibid)


It is the work of God the Holy Spirit to make us holy, or to say it in the more “churchy” language, it is the work of God the Holy Spirit to sanctify us and God has chosen to do this sanctifying work through the Church. The life that the writer of Ephesians calls “a life worthy of the calling” is just this, it is a holy life, a sanctified life, a life set apart for God’s purposes and for God’s pleasure, and such a life is only realized through the work of the Holy Spirit. And more, the Spirit’s work is only fully realized when we speak the truth in love, and grow up in every way into the full stature of Christ, who is the head of the body, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together is equipped, working properly, and being built up in love.


This is the Spirit’s work in the Church: to form us into the Body of Christ and to provide the gifts we need to be built up into the fullness of his Body.


This is the Spirit’s work in our lives: calling, gathering, enlightening, making us holy, keeping us in the true faith, forgiving our sins, and on the last day, raising us all and giving us all eternal life in Christ who is the bread of life come down from heaven giving life to the world.


This is most certainly true!