Laetare (Lent 4) – John 6:1-15

10. March 2013
Laetare (Lent 4)
John 6:1-15

We are in the midst of difficult times as a congregation. We overspent our offering receipts from last year by eight thousand dollars, drawing these funds from our reserve. The current economic climate has not improved and 2013 offerings are already falling significantly behind last year. The “writing is on the wall” and significant revisions are needed to this year’s budget to prevent the depletion of our entire reserve. Difficult choices were made and we’ll need to continue to be attentive as the year goes on.

Some think we should, as a congregation, “go gracefully into the sunset,” a euphemism for closing. Others think that we should continue to slash the budget. Others think we can do fundraisers to make up the deficit. Some say that we should cut the pastor and return to a vacancy situation. Some would have us investigate how to share pastor(s) or merge with another parish. Fiscally and physically speaking, one can understand these suggestions. Responsible and frugal actions should be taken as responsible stewards of God’s material gifts, gathering up the what remains of His miraculous barley loaves.

Something critical is missing in these discussions. There is a great spiritual danger lurking underneath the surface. Answer this question: Who built this church? If you answer, “we did,” you’re both right and wrong. You’re right in that your hands, monies, and time invested in the life of this congregation. But you’re also wrong. The holy Christian church is not made with money, or hands, or even time but by God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Church is built upon Jesus: the Word of Jesus, the washing in the blood of Jesus, the forgiving touch of Jesus, and the bread and wine sacramentally united to the body and blood of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies the Christian church on earth and keep it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. We do not confess that building, utility bills, organs, lighting projects, air conditioning, parking lots, nor fellowship times make or break churches. Buildings come and go along with the congregations within them. Air conditioning systems break, roofs leak, pews get matted and torn, and hymnals fall apart. The things of this earth see rust, moth, and decay. But the church remains forever, built upon the immovable and sure prophetic Word. Your faith cannot be starved by physical hunger nor the Holy Church destroyed when steeples crumble.

God is providential and always gives us precisely what we need to hear, taste, and see. The Holy Spirit opens our ears to hear and our hearts to understand, applying the Word of Truth to our lives. Today’s Holy Gospel is no different. It is no coincidence that today’s lesson is given during the trying time of Lent. It’s no coincidence that today’s Holy Gospel fell a week after an “emergency” congregation meeting slash congregational spending. The Word of Jesus needs to be heard by us today for our confidence and comfort in the face of difficult times.

We have a bread problem. We’re hungry and we we’re going to satisfy the need. Compared  to some we’re quite full and yet we still desire more and more. We’ve dined sumptuously on rich food, of marrow and wine. We have amassed closets of clothing. We build bigger and better houses. We “upgrade” our cars, our computers, and even our spouse. The engorgement never ends There’s a hunger deep inside us and it is never satisfied.

Saying “no” to the hunger is next to impossible. The cravings of our stomach, our heart, and our mind overwhelm us. They are irresistible. “Feed me,” says the ravenous beast within. Only later do we realize that satisfying our appetite actually increased it. “I used to get by on much less,” some say. “How did we ever live without that, “ others ponder. Our greedy sinner selves are insatiable.

This misplaced desire leads to sin and death. To want what is not given is to covet. To take what is not yours is to steal. To lust after another leads to adultery. To damage another’s reputation is to artificially inflate yours. To hate is to take life. To break God’s holy Law is desire what is not yours to have, to do, or gain. You do not want to know both good and evil but to have clean and pure heart, holy in thought, word, and deed.

Desire is not in itself evil. Only when desire is perverted into use contrary to God is it sinful. It is God-pleasing to desire your husband or wife. For your spouse been given to you for your blessing. It is God-pleasing to show love to the neighbor. This desire is a fruit of God’s love for you. It is God-pleasing to desire to help and not harm the reputation and income of the other. It is God-pleasing to desire to protect and wisely use the many gifts of body and soul He has given you.

Thus, desire can be used to be faithful to God and love neighbor. Or desire can be twisted to love oneself and hate God. Desire is always distorted. Because we are both sinners in the flesh and holy and righteous in the blood of Jesus, our desires are at odd. We both are faithful and despise God. We love and hate our neighbor. Simultaneously. Duplicitously. Even when we love what is given, we also seek to use it for our own self-interest. Even while we love our neighbor, we secretly would rather have nothing to do with him.

Confident that your desires are holy and right can only come from the Holy Word. Only by listening to the voice of Jesus can you accurately weigh your thoughts and deeds. The Word exposes the wickedness of the flesh, crushing the old Adam to death. The Word raises up a new Man, righteous and pure in the blood of Jesus. This Word is a refining fire, a two-edged sword, a bone-saw that exposes the joint and the marrow. The faithful desire to hear this Word so that their sin would be annihilated by Christ’s death and holiness be given by Christ’s Spirit.

The faithful act beyond reason and pursue this Word at all costs. They give up bread, clothing, home, family, and even their life to hear and meditate upon this Word. They will sacrifice everything to sit at the feet of Jesus and receive His life-giving bread. “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) By their Baptism they have undergone a priority reversal. Those under the curse think of themselves first and God enters the frame only to fill in the needed blanks. Those redeemed in Christ, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) knowing full well that all else will be given to due measure.

Thus five-thousand men (with women and children) left everything behind and followed Jesus into the wilderness. They pursued Him to hear His every Word and receive His gifts. They were not concerned about food for the journey, shoes to make the distance, water for the desert, or even a blanket to sit upon. They desired rightly every Word that proceeded from the mouth of Jesus. Whether they knew it or not, Jesus would take care of them. The would be fed with the Holy Word, bread from heaven, for their aching souls and barley loaves, bread of the earth, for their aching bellies. Like their fathers in the wilderness, they would have meat and bread as they needed. God even provided a soft grassy earth from them to recline and feast upon the Him.

You may have the inclination to wring your hands in despair or panic, to worry about what tomorrow may bring, or to give up and throw in the towel on Grace Lutheran Church. May it not be so! Hear the Word of Jesus: “Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” (Psalm 34:9-10) Learn from the faithful whose holy desire led them to purse Jesus into the wilderness, rightly desiring first to hear the Word of God, confident that Jesus would later take care of their other needs.

We do not know what is in store for our body, our life, or our congregation.We trust that He will preserve His Word and our faith until our end or He comes again. The fact that we here at all is testimony to the miracle of God’s grace and mercy. We give thanks for the multitude of blessings the Father has given our body and life. But we all the more store up the treasures of Jesus Christ, desiring first His Word and the holy Sacraments, confident that upon this bread from heaven, the church will remain forever.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Laetare ’12 – John 6:1-15

Old Testament: Exodus 16:2-21
Epistle: Gal. 4:21-31
Holy Gospel: John 6:1-15

Sermon summary: By the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, we learn that Jesus is both the prophet who as come into the world (Messiah & Christ) and the Lord who supplies our every need of body and soul. We hear how Jesus gives us eternal things each week. We often forget He gives our every bodily need, daily and yearly. Teach us to pray: forgive us our trespasses and give us this day our daily bread.

Trinity 7 2011 – Mark 8:1-9

7. August 2011
Trinity 7
Mark 8:1-9

Jesus draws great crowds to Him by His teaching, preaching, and mercy. Not too long ago, Jesus walked on water. He healed the sick in Gennesaret. He rebuked the Pharisees. He taught us that “what comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, comes evil thoughts [and deeds]. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” He has healed the Syrophenician woman’s daughter and commended her faith. Finally, he has healed the deaf man by spitting on His fingers, placing them in the man’s ears, and calling out “Ephphatha,” that is, “be opened!”

Jesus doesn’t merely walk about the earth, waiting for the time to ripen for His death and resurrection. He is actively involved in the lives of the people, first – teaching and preaching and second – providing for their needs of body and soul. Jesus establishes this two-fold pattern through the narrative of his ministry. He cares first for the spiritual needs of the people and then the physical needs.

His method shows great wisdom. Providing us with with food, drink, house, and home does not give us faith. Without faith, we just as easily attach these blessings to ourselves. We says silly things like, “I deserve this new car” or “I’ve earned a comfortable life.” Jesus, in His divine wisdom, first provides for the spiritual needs of the people. He teaches us about sin, which comes from within, and mercy, which comes only from Him. It is a truly great gift that we are not expected to save ourselves but rather are taught to acknowledge our great weakness of flesh. We daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment.

On first glance, this doesn’t seem empowering but actually destroying. But as St. Paul teaches us in the Epistle, this is quite true. He uses the analogy of slavery to help us understand. In sin, we are slaves to impurity and lawlessness. To many, this is freedom. To live, enjoying all the pleasures of the flesh. By this is is truly slavery, for it binds us to the eternal fate of hell.

On the other hand, the Christian is made a slave to God. To many, slavery or bondage is negative. But slavery to our Lord’s righteousness, we are given a sanctified life, lived according to His commands, and  leading to eternal freedom with Him in heaven.  This free gift of God is eternal life, says Paul. Sounds a lot better than wages of sin, I’d say?

Jesus begins by teaching us about our nature. We think freedom is means we can do as we please. But true freedom that leads to everlasting life is nothing something we do, but something we receive as a free gift. A good gift is something that benefits the person. Our Lord truly cares for what kind of spiritual food we receive, as He demonstrates in His own life. He nourishes his people not with freedom to sin but instead slavery to Him and his good and righteous will. We subject ourselves to his lordship, calling his the Most High, recognizing that he is the great king over all the earth.

In his humility, the Father sent His son to die for us. Our sin was nailed to the tree with Him and His death was our death. The unreasonable gift was exactly the thing we needed. Without His intervention, the world would continue to lay in bondage to sin, doomed to death. He preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins, so that we might come to His saving waters and be redeemed from the cursed life. Jesus also healed the deaf, mute, the sick, and the lame. By His healing, He taught us that He had all power over our sinful flesh and could remove its dreadful curse from us. He is Lord of all creation, able to make dead bones walk.

But after he preached by voice and action, he provided for the people in the most fundamental of ways. He gave them food. Already he performed a great miracle, feeding 5000 men plus their wives and children at the shore of a desolate place. Then, where no food could be found, Jesus provided for the great crowds that followed after Him. Despite Jesus’ desire to mourn for the death of His friend and prophet John, he had compassion upon the people and from five fish and two loaves, he fed them all. Amazing!

You will recall the disciples reaction then. They said, “send them into the villages and countryside to buy themselves something to eat.” The disciples were falling into the same trap, forgetting that Christ, the Son of the Living God, is the Lord of all creation. All authority in heaven and earth had been given to Him. If anyone can feed the multitude, its Jesus. They should first trust that He will provide for the people.

But just as before, the disciples have forgotten that He is the true source of every need, both in soul and body. Again they ask, “how can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” To our ears, its such a naive question. How could these disciples not know that their rabbi, their teacher, who had revealed His power over water, flesh, and demon, would not also have the power to provide for the needs of the many.

A short time thereafter in the Gospel appointed for today, Jesus finds himself in the same position. A great crowd has joined Him. They have listened attentively to His Word. Just as before, the Lord knows the hunger not just for the pure spiritual milk but also require sustenance for their bodies. He looks upon them and has compassion. Literally, he pours himself out upon them. He gives them all that they need. Here too they have bread and fish which He miraculously distributes to the 4000 men plus their wives and children.

These words are here written that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Just like the disciples, we easily refuse the gift of faith. We refuse to believe in all the Jesus is and has promised to be. We are just like the disciples and need to hear. When we hear the Gospel account of the feeding of the 4000, we are hearing of our own weakness to see that God will take care us in every time of need. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. These promises are underscored by His daily granting us our daily bread as we pray when we wake and when we go to bed.

There is a lesson to be learned from Christ’s own pattern of life. He is concerned for providing the staples  needed for the people to continue to hear His Word and to return to their homes in safety. But His priority is that they first hear His Word and believe it. Daily bread keeps them alive in this earth but not to life in the next. He comes with His own body, the Bread of Life which nurtures and sustains for everlasting life.

We are all newborn babes who crave the pure Spiritual milk, His Word and His blessed Sacraments. Our Lord feeds us with Himself… the best gift our soul can possibly receive. It needs no attempts to richen or sweeten. Its chef is none other than the Father Himself, the author and creator of all. Just as our Lord taught the Law with all its sternness and the Gospel with all its sweetness, so we too pass this same preaching on to our children, because in them, is life.

From Christ’s example we learn that primary task of the father and mother is the spiritual nurture of their children. The first priority of every one of us and especially the spiritual father of the household is the proper nourishment of the soul. We rightfully critique everything that our children eat in order that their faith my be strengthened and not weakened. We desire first for their salvation, then for their well-being of body.

Not every gift is good. The 4000 would not have been properly fed if our Lord had given them a hors d’oeuvres of sardines on saltines. Instead they needed a full meal of fish and chips. But even more so He first fed them with the pure Word of His Law and Gospel. Without this gift which grants faith, we would not recognize Him as the giver of all things on earth.

Let us not worry about the things of this earth but let our Lord provide them to us as he sees fit. Better to be a beggar in heaven than well-fed and in hell. Let us keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Let us who feed those who are in need of hope, life, and salvation the pure Word of God, without alternation and modification to fit the whims and fancies of sinful man. Let us not preach the artificial sweetener of works-righteousness but rather the pure sweetness of our Lord’s body and blood, given and shed for all of you for the forgiveness of sins.

“The greatest, most God-pleasing work of faith a person can do, is to follow the example of Christ by helping people’s souls, so they don’t end up going to the devil.” (M. Luther) “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” (Matthew 6:25,34 ESV)

Instead, let us be anxious for our salvation and for those who have not received our Lord’s abundant blessing, especially as be breaks bread at altars of Christendom for the forgiveness of sins. Let us pray that those who need his Spiritual food would come to recognize that He comes to them here, at this altar, and that would would receive His good gift with thanksgiving.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana