Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Seventh Sunday after Trinity + August 4, 2019
Text: Mark 8:1-9
Recently in the news, there has been a story about a USDA rule change that would render 3.1 million people ineligible for food stamp benefits. Of course, an outcry ensues, because food is important for people to have. Every sane human being would agree that it’s vital to have enough to eat. In fact, as those who know the Lord, we know a bit more about this. Hunger is part of the curse of sin on this creation—“cursed is the ground because of you…by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
It’s also true that hunger and lacking in the things needed for life is unpleasant, and we try hard to avoid it. If given the choice, we’d much rather have our choice of what and how much we could have, than to be restricted. But that’s not always possible because of finite resources.
People are right to be concerned with making sure everyone has enough to eat, especially children who rely on adults to provide for them. Speaking of fathers and children, hunger is important to God as well:
In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”
It’s true. Hunger is a problem, but the curse of sin did more than make food harder to come by. It changed the way we think about food—and really all the things we need. Bigger than the problem of world hunger is the problem of covetousness in your heart and mine.
Covetousness looks at
what we have and doesn’t think it’s enough.
It wants to reach wide and gather as much as it can and still have
enough for what we fearfully assume the future will bring. Covetousness looks at the things we do have
and says they’re not good enough and not the “right” things. We look at our car and find all of its flaws,
our spouse and see nothing but negative, one crack in the screen and suddenly
we need to have a new cell
phone. In Colossians 3, the Apostle Paul
admonishes us to “Put to death what is
earth in you” and two of the examples he mentions are “evil desire and covetousness, which is idolatry” (3:5) Those evil desires (evil lusts) combined with
turning our eyes to things we aren’t given, constitute idolatry. Why?
Because it’s a denial of who the true God is and what He is always
doing. Whenever you blame God for not
giving enough or taking away what you have, you’ve set up in incompetent fool
for a god who wishes you evil.
The Feeding of the Four Thousand shows us that scarcity is not a problem for God—never has been and never will be. He is the God who created out of nothing, so why are we such materialist fools to think our lives are limited to what we see at this very moment? No, it’s not scarcity that’s the problem; it’s our weak faith in Him and contentment with what He actually has provided each of us.
It says in the Explanation to the 4th petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” Daily bread means a whole lot more than just flour, water, oil, sugar, and yeast; it “includes everything needed for this body and life.” The lack is less in the daily bread, than in the faith and thankfulness.
This is one of our biggest weaknesses as people, trusting like the birds of the air or the lilies of the field that God really is a faithful provider. It’s more than we can comprehend that God is able and willing to provide for all of His creation. The Lord teaches man in Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” And, yes, this applies to our daily bread, too. While we’re busy fretting about our lives by the smallness of our vision and vastness of the future, God is at work from eternity. Understanding has its part in planning that belongs to us, but faith leans on God to do the actual provision.
In Psalm 104, after listing a series of activities God actively does to care for His creation, the psalmist summarizes: “These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.” (Psalm 104:27-28) God even provides for those whose hearts are far from Him, because He still has a Fatherly goodness and mercy toward them. But for us who do believe, it’s still a lifelong battle of putting to death what is earthly and letting the Spirit renew our hearts.
The fear of not having enough is serious. When your job or your living situation are on the rocks and the future of your family is in limbo, that anxiety can do some real harm. If you’re one of those people whose Oregon Trail benefits are in question, you’re wondering how you’ll meet your needs on an even thinner shoestring. And none of us is in a place to judge another for their lack of faith, because we all struggle with doubt, especially if it was happening to us.
Repent, all of us, before God gives us a scarcity both of daily bread and of His mercy. Open your eyes and take a fresh look at what you do have, and if there is scarcity, learn how to make faithful priorities. God will provide what we need for this body and life. Take that as a constant, because it is His solid promise. Jesus was not commanding us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” in vain. But then pray God for a trusting and thankful heart, that doesn’t measure His infinite power by finite quantities and our own inability to foretell
4 And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” 5 And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8 And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand people.
As much as God is gracious to provide for our bodily needs, His mercy gushes out to care for our souls. Through Jesus, He has satisfied our true hunger—the one we often don’t identify correctly—the forgiveness of our sins, the need for our hearts to be cleansed and made anew, so that our minds think of Him and what He has provided rightly, and our appetites are content with the daily bread He gives.
But now, come, receive the food and drink which feeds your souls and strengthens your mortal body. It is Jesus’ own Body and Blood, given and shed for you. It is no coincidence that the Lord uses bread, the food of the curse made by the sweat of your face. But this is not your daily bread, liable to lost tomorrow; it is the Bread of Life, and even though a small quantity, its benefits never expire. Eat and drink, for in this you have life and salvation.
To conclude today, I’d like to end with a sung prayer from hymn 774 – Feed Thy Children, God Most Holy:
Feed Thy children, God most holy;
Comfort sinners poor and lowly.
O Thou Bread of Life from heaven,
Bless the food Thou here hast given!
As these gifts the body nourish,
May our souls in graces flourish
Till with saints in heavenly splendor
At Thy feast due thanks we render. Amen.
 Explanation to the 1st Article of the Creed