There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch
March 30th/31st, 2014
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
You’ve all heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” How true it is. Yet in our world today, people are clamoring for just about everything to be free. People want free music and movies to download on the internet. People want free shipping for what they order on line. People want free health care. People want free education. People want this, that, and the other thing to be free. But as we all know, there’s no such thing as free. Just because I don’t pay for the music or movie download doesn’t make it free. Somebody somewhere had to pay the writers, musicians, and crew for their work. Just because I don’t get charged a shipping cost doesn’t mean shipping was free. UPS and FedEx don’t operate out of the goodness of their hearts. There’s no way health care could ever be free, not when it costs millions of dollars to research new drugs and treatments, to build and maintain state-of-the-art treatment facilities. Doctors will not provide service free of charge, not while they have to purchase malpractice insurance with premiums through the roof.
Education isn’t free either. Maybe we don’t charge tuition here or at the public schools, but the public schools still have to pay their teachers and keep the lights on, so they get money from property taxes. Here, since we don’t get tax money, we rely on offerings and donation to pay our teachers and keep the lights on. You may not get a bill for sending your children here, but the cost of their education is anything but free. You pay part of it with your weekly offerings. The other members here pay part of it with their weekly offerings. The teachers themselves pay part of it not only with their own offerings, but also by continuing to work at a salary that is below fair wage. Compared to the public school salary scale, our teachers make next to nothing. That’s no big secret, and that’s true for most Lutheran school teachers across the country. But our teachers are making sacrifices for this congregation even when compared to other Lutheran grade schools in America. Did you know that the pay scale for our teachers is so low that our own Concordias won’t even place a new graduate into our school? We are blessed with a vibrant and growing school, which is truly a gift from God, but the simple reality is that we have teachers here who are underpaid for what they do. We may not charge tuition, but education here – or anywhere else – is definitely not free. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
But you know that. That’s why so many parents band together to do fundraisers for the school, like working at Comerica Park. That’s why so many parent donate their time and telnets to help St. John stay open and thriving. It’s because we know deep down inside that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Yet how much time and energy in our lives is spent trying to get things for free? The typical attitude is: If they’re not free, at least they can be free to me. Let someone else pick up the bill. I know health care isn’t free, but let someone else pay for it. I know the music on line isn’t actually free, but as long as it doesn’t affect my bank account, I don’t care. The American mantra today seems to be that we have been endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, such as life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the right to free stuff.
It’s the same enticement that intoxicated the crowds following Jesus in today’s Gospel. They pursued Jesus around the Sea of Galilee because they wanted to see his signs and miracles. They wanted to be healed by him. In today’s reading, they found themselves out in the middle of nowhere at supper time. They were hungry, but there was no food to be found. No food, that is, until this man Jesus miraculously turned 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish into enough food to feed a multitude. Now, instead of hunger, the people had so much food that the leftovers had to be gathered together. Upon seeing Jesus miraculously produce food in this way, the people tried to take him by force to make him their king. And who wouldn’t want such a king? Who wouldn’t want a king who could feed an entire nation without those people having to work for it? Think of the export and trade industry. Think of the opportunities to eliminate hunger. Think of what this miracle worker could do for them – all for free! Who wouldn’t want to be a citizen of that nation?
But that’s not who Jesus is. He is not just some miracle worker sent to eliminate world hunger. He is not just a miraculous healer sent to take away momentary earthly afflictions. And he says as much if you continue reading in John 6. In the verses that follow where today’s reading stopped, Jesus tells the crowds that it is foolish for them to obsess over whatever earthly bread he provides, for this bread will not ultimately save them from death. Even the Israelites who ate miraculous bread from heaven during their days in the wilderness still wound up six feet under. Earthly bread will not save you. Neither will having Jesus miraculously cure your blindness or sickness or any other physical ailment. It’s not that those things are unimportant to Jesus, it’s just that even if he heals one sickness, there’s another waiting down the line somewhere. Death is just around the corner. Jesus did not come simply to give people bread and healthy bodies. He came to set them free from something far more significant. He came to set them free from the chains of death itself.
In fact, that’s the one thing that truly is free for us. We will eventually pay for free health care down the line somewhere as the market adjusts, as doctors adjust, as hospitals adjust. We’ll eventually pay for free education down the line somewhere. We’ll eventually pay for anything this life calls free. Yet there is one thing that is truly free: the salvation that is yours through Christ Jesus our Lord. But for some reason that is the one thing we seem intent on paying for. Jesus has already covered the entire cost of your salvation. He lived the life we could not live, fulfilling the Law of God in thought, word, and action. He suffered the death we could not die, the only truly innocent death in the history of the universe. He rose back to life, conquering the enemy we could never conquer. And he has given it to us free of charge. He paid the cost, he charges us nothing.
Yet we insist on paying something for our salvation. We offer up our own merits and works as if they could cover the expense of our salvation, ignoring the fact that the works of man are nothing more than Monopoly money to our Lord. Orange $500 bills may be important when you want to build a hotel on Park Place, but they are useless at the grocery store, and I’ve yet to meet a cop who would accept a “Get out of jail free” card from the community chest. In the same way, our works may hold a certain value within this life and in our relationships to one another, but they are worthless to purchase our salvation. Yet we so stubbornly cling to them and shove them in God’s face to impress him. Look at the kindness I showed my neighbor, Lord. Look at how I held my tongue. Look at me! Look at me! But our Lord would have us look at Christ, the bread of life.
We hold our faith before God, the strength of our belief, and offer it as payment to get into paradise. But faith is only as good as that in which it trusts. A check is only a piece of paper with a number on it, and if the funds are not in the bank account, the check isn’t even worth the paper it’s printed on. We try to pay God for our salvation by writing check after check, I.O.U. after I.O.U., but we have no money in our account – not unless we have Jesus. We try to bargain with God, promising to go to church or clean up our act or reconcile with that estranged loved one. We try to barter and trade with God, but we have nothing to offer – not unless we have Jesus.
But we have Jesus – given to us in the water of baptism. We have Jesus – given and shed for you for the forgiveness of our sins. He is already ours. Why do we insist on paying for something we already have?
How upside down we are! We demand for free things that could never be free, and insist on paying for the one thing that is already ours!
Repent of such foolishness, and fix your eyes on Jesus, the source and object of your faith. Do not stress over food that perishes, over health that perishes, over houses that crumble or cars that break down. Seek the food that endures to eternal life, that which the Son of Man alone can give. Believe in the one sent by the Father not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him, the one who gave his life for the world. Feast on the Bread of Life that you may never be hungry again, for if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.
Do not be seduced by the falsely free things of this world. See life for what it is; call a spade a spade. This past week we had yet another funeral at St. John. Do you think you’ll worry about property taxes or health care when you’re the one in the grave? Look at the prayers page in your bulletin and see the number of names in there, maybe even your name or someone in your family, all people who are struggling with sickness and suffering, people in need of strength and healing. Look back into your own life and see how the things of this world never deliver what you truly need, see how the things of this world always come at a cost – even when they appeared to be free, look at the room around you and see. The things of this world that we struggle and fight to get for free will ultimately fail each and every person in this room today. We need something more. We don’t need Jesus the bread king to give us earthly comfort and full bellies. We need the real Jesus. We need the Bread of Life.
John tells us that when Jesus explained this to the crowds who wanted bread, they became disheartened and no longer followed him. On seeing the masses depart, Jesus asked those who remained, “Will you leave also?” Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Dear friends in Christ, Jesus alone has the words of eternal life, and those words were spoken over you in your baptism. He has called you by name, you belong to him. Dear friends in Christ, now you have the words of eternal life, for you have Jesus, the Word made flesh. He is yours. He is free. Feast on him, and never be hungry again.
 John 6:15
 John 6:25-59
 John 6:66-69