Seventh Sunday after Trinity(Mark 8:1-9)

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, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 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.”[1]  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

the future.

And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 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. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 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. (LSB 774)


[1] Explanation to the 1st Article of the Creed

Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Mark 8:1-6)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Seventh Sunday after Trinity + July 15, 2018
Baptism of Jerimiah & Natasha (Jenks) Hodson, Giovanni, Roen, and Noah
Text: Mark 8:1-6
 
There aren’t many dogs or cats that like to go to the vet. Nevertheless, compassionate owners knows when it’s the needed thing.  So, in compassion, they pack them up against their will and force them to endure it.
There are many things we can learn from the Feeding of the Four Thousand. The most significant thing is simply that the Lord had compassion on the hungry crowd that come out to hear Him, and He acted on it. The Lord also has compassion on us. He has not sent His Son to die in vain, nor merely for our future spiritual good. The Father sent Him to redeem us, to make us His children, now. He who was crucified is risen from the dead for us, in order to be with us, to keep on feeding us. And He is concerned with all of us, our bodies and souls, our spiritual lives and our family lives, our churches and our cities.
He has compassion on us and He acts on it, delivered to us in real time in Word and Sacrament. Often He makes us hungry first.  Being driven to the vet can feel like betrayal. Yet faith learns to see that the Lord acts all times in compassion and mercy, that He works all things work together for good those who are in Christ. (Rom. 8:28)
 
If we look closely at the scene in the Gospel, we notice that it looks a lot like the Church’s Divine Service. The people have come to hear Jesus, to listen to His Word, to be in His presence. They have been so caught up in this that they have forgotten their physical needs.
The Lord does not exaggerate when He says, “if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way” (v. 3). If He sends them away without feeding them some of them will likely die. They do not have the strength for the walk back to the green places. So also do the disciples answer correctly in their question, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” There is no way to feed that crowd in that desolate place. Even if there were a bakery, a field of wheat, or a Walmart, it wouldn’t be enough to feed this number of people. Go now to Costco or Walmart and buy 1,000 loaves of bread at once. It can’t be done.
The Lord has done this to them on purpose. It is an act of compassion. He exposes their need. They have come to hear Him and that is good. Man lives not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. [Deut. 8:3] They have no bread but they do have what they came for: His Word. They live, but they are dying. They cannot help themselves, but He is their Help and their Food.
In this, they are the perfect congregation, perfect Christians. They come hungry and needy, and they are in just the right place.  They are not chastised for foolishly forgetting a sack lunch. Rather, the Lord responds with compassion. They have come for His Word and He loves them in their need. He does not put them to work, organizing them into committees and work parties, assigning leaders and tasks. He simply has them all sit down. He doesn’t form a bread line. He doesn’t create a buffet. Instead, He treats them as though they’ve come to a restaurant. Though the place is desolate, and they are the poor and weak, they prepare to partake of a banquet as though they were kings and the apostles wait on them.
The Lord takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives it to them. They eat in luxury, as much as they want, and are satisfied. They receive from His bounty without merit or worthiness, in perfect passivity and trust, likely less than fully aware of the danger they were in and unable at the same time to fully appreciate the gift they were given. So is the life of faith on this side of glory. We are gladly the lapdogs that eat the crumbs that fall from our Master’s table even if He sends us now and then to the vet.
 
While no man could feed 4,000 people in the desert, the Lord can and the Lord does. So also, what is less obvious, is that no man can feed even one person, even himself, in the city or in fertile land without the Lord. Our parents are right to teach us to pray before eating for this very reason. It’s not commanded by God in the Bible, but it is very good custom. To neglect it is foolish and arrogant. The Lord gave thanks before He fed the crowd. He gave thanks also at the institution of His Supper before He fed them with His Body and Blood. Christians say grace because it is necessary for us to confess and give thanks to God that He provides what we need for this body and life and that without Him we would have nothing.  Indeed, if He were to withdraw His hand for a second, we would be destroyed. This goes right along with our confession that if Jesus had not redeemed us by His sacrifice on the cross none of it would matter, no matter how much or little we had. So, we pause before we eat. We recognize that the food we need, He gives, and we thank Him for it.
 
There are those who question or even deny the Lord’s miracles. Some have thought that the point of this miracle was sharing. They don’t think the Lord actually multiplied bread and fish. Instead, they say the crowd was inspired by the boy who had five barley loaves and two fish (John 6:9), and they were moved to pull out and share from their own stashes. They had just been selfish and Jesus taught them to be nice.
This is a deadly error because it not only denies the plain words of Scripture, but it also turns the Gospel on its head and makes the Lord’s primary purpose not to redeem us and forgive us, but simply to guide into us into a higher morality. It’s not that the idea of sharing is bad in itself, it is that the Lord’s compassion is greater than that. His compassion doesn’t help those who can help themselves; it helps the helpless. Thus the Lord had them sit down and be waited upon.
Part of the problem is that many don’t believe that the Bible is inspired and inerrant. Some think that Christ is a great man but only a man and not true God.  They don’t think that He has the power to perform miracles and He is nothing more than an inspiring moral teacher like Ghandi. Those errors need to be confronted. The Bible is inspired and without error. Our Lord Jesus Christ is true God and true Man who has redeemed us by His death and resurrection and has ascended, as Man and God, to the right hand of God the Father Almighty. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him.
But, the purpose of the miracles also needs to be clarified. Many Christians have thought that the primary purpose of the miracles was to prove that Jesus is true God. To be sure, the miracles do demonstrate this. He is the Lord of creation who created the world and is still active in it. It bends to His will. But the Lord isn’t trying to prove anything in the feeding of the 4,000. His purpose isn’t even to try and get the crowd to worship Him or be nicer to one another.  Even though those things happen, His purpose is to provide for their need. He has compassion on them and He acts on it.
The miracles do show us His Divinity. Through His Word, the Spirit does cause us to believe and worship, and to live out our faith. There’s no doubt about that. The miracles, however, do more than that. They show us the character of the Christ: “His mercy endures forever,” He has come in peace to restore creation and us to His Father, and He has overcome death and devil for us. The miracles show us the kind of God who lays down His life to make us His: the kind who has compassion on the hungry, the lame, and the downtrodden.
 
The Lord is compassionate and kind. He looks upon us with His mercy. Our crosses and hardships, our pain and sorrow, are not signs of His wrath and distance. They are His loving chastisements, like a trip to the vet which is always followed by extra attention and treats. Let the injustices you suffer cause you to long for the goodness and mercy of God. Let this world’s pain and disappointments send you running to the God who is constant in His love and keeps His promises. Let this world’s many harsh judgments and the Law’s accusations make you eager—desperate even—for the Good News of God’s forgiveness in Christ and the promise of the Last Day.
May our daily hunger make us long for what the Lord gives, for righteousness, and for what He has promised, life with Him, so that we never become satisfied and want to stay in our cities but are always ready and willing to follow Him in His death even if it is to our death.
All that to say, may we ever be unsatisfied by this life, aware that it is a desolate place, and be ready to give it up. Until the final summons, may we find constant solace and comfort in the Divine Service where Christ Himself is present for us, where He causes us to sit down and be waited upon. Here, He speaks words of chastisement and accusation and instruction. He also speaks the life-giving words of the Gospel, His compassion for us, forgiving us anew and bringing us back to Himself, making us alive with Him. May the crowd which gathers here find nourishment and satisfaction, a green place in the midst of desolation, where the Lord Himself takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and give it us as His own risen Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.  “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good and His mercy endureth forever.” (Psalm 136:1) Amen.