Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Exodus 16:2–15 | Ephesians 4:1–16 | John 6:22–35

Text: Psalm 145:10-21; Ephesians 4:1-16

God always provides.  This is something we acknowledge (most of the time) in our lives.  We prayed earlier in Psalm 145,

            15    The eyes of all look to you,

                        and you give them their

                        food in due season.

            16    You open your hand;

                        you satisfy the desire of

                        every living thing.

And these are fitting words before sitting down for a meal, acknowledging that what we have, even if we bought it at Safeway, Winco, Walmart, is truly from God’s gracious hand, just as our Lord says, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Matt. 6:31-32)

God always provides.  It isn’t just a platitude, even if sometimes it’s used as a flippant way to brush off concern about how.  This is a truth, and it is the antidote to anxiety about our needs in this world.  As the Psalm continues:

          18     The Lord is near to all who

                call on him,

                     to all who call on him in


          19   He fulfills the desire of

                those who fear him;

                     he also hears their cry

                     and saves them.

          20   The Lord preserves all

                who love him

When we feel like the Lord is distant from our circumstances, He is truly near.  If we worry that He will fall short on what we need, He fulfills our needs, hears their cry and saves them from all danger.  When we are ready to throw up our hands, it is the Lord who preserves His people who love Him.

So all this we believe about God providing for all His creatures, and protecting us against anxiety and fear.  And while this is an area we’re particularly vulnerable to worry, there is also another big blind spot for Christians.  St. Paul writes to the Church in Ephesians 4:

            I therefore, a prisoner for the

            Lord, urge you to walk in a

            manner worthy of the calling

            to which you have been called,

            with all humility and

            gentleness, with patience,

            bearing with one another in

            love, eager to maintain the

            unity of the Spirit in the bond

            of peace. There is one body

            and one Spirit—just as you

            were called to the one hope

            that belongs to your call—

            one Lord, one faith, one

            baptism, one God and Father

            of all, who is over all and

            through all and in all.

Even though he was bound in prison because of preaching that Jesus is the Christ, Paul’s own eyes had seen the mighty power of God at work in the Church.  He had heard the Spirit’s voice and witnessed His power to call through the Gospel of Jesus.  By the power of God, Paul had been thrown down on the road to Damascus and had his whole life’s work turned around (Acts 9).  The Churches had seen, that “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy” (Gal. 1:23)  He was the instrument of bringing scores of Gentile unbelievers to know the One True God—from those visiting synagogues to even the jailer at Philippi (Acts 16).

Suffice to say, St. Paul knows something about the calling of God to belong to Him as beloved children, and the gathering of His children into one Church.  This is what befits those who are called by the Gospel: that we “walk in humility and meekness, with patience and bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (vv. 2-3)  This begins with realizing how gracious God is to call us into His Church, that there is no resume which made us rise above others.  Rather, there was a record of debt that stood against us, but God took this and nailed it to the cross (Col. 2:14). We walk in humility or meekness, because we are not looking to draw attention to us or brag about our accomplishments, realizing there is nothing for us to boast about except in Jesus Christ crucified for us.  And we are patient, trusting that all things happen as part of God’s eternal purpose.  Just as He numbers all the hairs of our head, not one soul will enter into judgment apart from His knowledge and desire to save them.

We recognize that one thing we all have in common is we are all sinners in need of mercy and each with our own weaknesses and needs.  So, we band together in mutual support, having compassion, praying for our brothers and sisters.  Together, we also rejoice in the other thing we all have in common: Our merciful God whose Holy Spirit has knit the Church together, and it’s a joy when we can share this common bond with other Christians, no matter by what path they came to this bond of peace.  Here is the truth that there are no denominations after this broken earth passes away, because “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  And even though there are edifying reasons to be called Evangelical Lutheran, this is what we confess together, when we believe in “one holy, Christian [catholic], and apostolic Church” (Nicene Creed)

But this isn’t always what the Church looks like on earth, and that comes from the way we look at the Church.  The time it’s hardest to see this in the Church is when we doubt that the Church is truly God’s creation.  We think that it’s the work of our hands—our skillful manipulation, the pastor’s golden-mouthed sermons, having fun and engaging youth programs, what good stewards we are and how proud we are of holding no debt.  But what this leads to is the very opposite of what St. Paul describes.  Out of the church of our own hands comes a panoply of adulterations of Christ’s Church: We practice pride at what we have done or might do.  We are arrogant to think we can improve upon the Means of Grace God has appointed. We are impatient with the fruit of the preached Word, which leads us to think He’s failing in our time and place (or self-flagellation that we’re doing it wrong).  The church of our hands also finds more and more reasons to divide and ascertain who are “in” or “out” or who’s “doing church” the best.

Repent, all of us, for we have made an idol of God’s Church!  “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” (Joel 2:13).   And in returning to our mighty and loving God, we see again that the Church and our place in it is 100% His work, even if it should be carried out by human hands:

          But grace was given to each

          one of us according to the

          measure of Christ’s gift.

          Therefore it says, “When he

          ascended on high he led a host

          of captives, and he gave gifts to


          (In saying, “He ascended,”

          what does it mean but that he

          had also descended into the

          lower regions, the earth? 10 He

          who descended is the one who

          also ascended far above all the

          heavens, that he might fill all

          things.) 11 And he gave the

          apostles, the prophets, the

          evangelists, the shepherds and

          teachers, 12 to equip the saints

          for the work of ministry, for

          building up the body of Christ,

God always provides for His Church from beginning to end.  And because this is God’s Church, we marvel at how He does this.  Just as we thank God for what He provides through government and grocery store, we also thank God for how He provides for His Church through human hands.  He ascended on high and gave gifts to men: the gifts which are needed for growing His Church: the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures (remember, these are the foundation, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone, Eph. 2:20).  He provides evangelists who preach this Word here and all over the world—some whose lives are devoted as missionaries (Paul, in addition to be an apostle was one), and others who share the faith in a number of ways in their daily interactions.  But the Lord isn’t done.  He also gives shepherd-teachers:[1] pastors who keep watch over people’s soul’s, study the Word, and teach all the saints (young and old).

Through these human workers, the Church is equipped, the work of ministry is accomplished, and the Body of Christ is built up.

          13 until we all attain to the

          unity of the faith and of the

          knowledge of the Son of God,

          to mature manhood, to the

          measure of the stature of the

          fullness of Christ, 14 so that we

          may no longer be children,

          tossed to and fro by the waves

          and carried about by every

          wind of doctrine, by human

          cunning, by craftiness in

          deceitful schemes. 15 Rather,

          speaking the truth in love, we

          are to grow up in every way

          into him who is the head, into

          Christ, 16 from whom the

          whole body, joined and held

          together by every joint with

          which it is equipped, when

          each part is working properly,

          makes the body grow so that it

          builds itself up in love.

Yes, it’s human hands which He uses, but it is the same Almighty Lord who is working in His Church.  When we read about the Acts of the Apostles, we shouldn’t wish for the glory days of years past, wringing our hands like old men who dream about what we used to be able to do.  With faith in the very same God, we believe that He is working in His Church in 2021 with the same powerful Word and Spirit as He did in generations before us.

In fact, we need to cling to this even more because we see the world gaining popularity and acceptance in its own wickedness.  With each passing generation, it takes more intentionality and perseverance to belong to this Christian Church.  If we look for the strength to do this in ourselves, there would be little to hope for.  One time several pastors were subjected to a presentation where the Lutheran church was compared to the Titanic sinking.  But this is not the fate of God’s Church, because even the gates of hell shall not prevail against God’s calling people to believe that Jesus is the Christ (Matt. 16:18).

But just as we have to work our jobs to have income, participate as citizens to have good government, and take care of our bodies to have good health, we also need to work in the Church.  In order for the Church to be strong, it is our duty to take hold of the treasures God gives us, to read His precious Word, be ready to share the reason for the hope with us, and support the shepherd-teachers in our midst.  So, this doesn’t exonerate us from work, but it does free us from worry.

So, to paraphrase the Lord Jesus, Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘How shall we be relevant?’ or ‘What can we do to make this old-fashioned religion last?’32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

In conclusion, let’s return to Psalm 145, and apply it to the Bread of Life, which our God gives to the world, and in which His Church delights:

            10    All your works shall give

                     thanks to You, O Lord,

                        and Your saints shall bless


            11    They shall speak of the glory

                     of Your kingdom

                        and tell of your power.

            12    to make known the children

                     of man your mighty deeds,

                        and the glorious splendor

                        of Your kingdom.

            13    Your kingdom is an

                     everlasting kingdom,

                        and your dominion endures

                        throughout all generations

            14    The Lord upholds all who are


                        and raises up all who are

                       bowed down.

            21    My mouth will speak the

                     praises of the Lord,

                        and let all flesh bless His

                       holy name forever and ever.


[1] See ESV footnote after “teachers”

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Job 38:4-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Bethel Lutheran Church, Sweet Home, OR
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost + August 13, 2017
Text: Job 38:4-18

You may notice the portraits of two hymnwriters inside the bulletin.  The hymns which they wrote are more than “songs for a heavy heart”[1] or platitudes to feed someone after a terrible loss.  These hymns were borne out of their own bearing the crosses of injustice, longing, and deep tragedy.
Georg Neumark, was a recent graduate in Thuringia, Germany in the autumn of 1641.  He was on his way to university at Königsberg to study law.  He was traveling with a number of others from Leipzig to Lübeck.  Shortly after Magdeburg they were plundered by a band of highwaymen.  They robbed Georg of all he had with him, except his prayer-book and a little money which he had sewed up in the clothes which he was wearing. He returned to Magdeburg, but could obtain no employment there, nor in Lüneburg, nor in Winsen, nor in Hamburg—gradually working his way north nearly 200 miles.  The friends he had made along the way passed him on.
In the beginning of December 1641, he went to Kiel (another 60 miles north), where he found a friend in the person of Nicolaus Becker, chief pastor at Kiel. Day after day passed by without an opening, till about the end of the month the tutor in the family of the Judge Stephan Henning fell into disgrace and took sudden flight from Kiel. By Becker’s recommendation Georg Neumark received the vacant position, and this sudden end of his anxieties was the occasion of the writing of his hymn.  In Henning’s house the time passed happily till he had saved enough to proceed to Königsberg, where he began university in June 1643, as a student of law.  While studying at university, he again lost all of his property in a fire, but later went on to work as a poet.  He was noticed by Duke Wilhelm II and was appointed court poet among other duties. He worked for the Duke until his death in 1681. (adapted from hymnary.org)
Early on, Georg Neumark found himself vulnerable.  Through no fault of his own, he was cast into poverty and left to wander from city to town looking for work.  But when God lifted him up, Georg found that he had never been truly alone or without help.  What he found to be true was that God brings low and God lifts up, but His love and care are constant.  He allows sins to happen against us that are unfair and unjust.  Think of how Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and yet became second under Pharaoh.  David was pursued by King Saul but later ruled Israel.  Jeremiah preached the true Word of God and God’s people beat him and put him in a cistern, but the Word he preached came true.   Jesus was truly the promised Messiah, the one to redeem Israel but they nailed Him to the cross.  Yet, on the third day, God even raised Him from the dead.
This is the undeserved fatherly goodness which inspired Georg Neumark to write, “He’ll give thee strength whate’er betide thee, and see thee through the evil day.” In those anxious and ever colder months, he learned, “What can it help if thou bewail thee over each dark moment as it flies?”  But without his knowledge, God knew the time when He would lift up His child and give him times of gladness, coming to him “all unaware, to make thee own His loving care.”
Horatio G. Spafford was a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago with a family — a wife, Anna, and five children. However, they were not strangers to tears and tragedy. Their young son died with pneumonia in 1871, and in that same year, much of their business was lost in the great Chicago fire. Yet, God in His mercy and kindness allowed the business to flourish once more.
On Nov. 21, 1873, Mrs. Spafford and her remaining four daughters travelled aboard a French ocean liner bound for Europe. Although Mr. Spafford had planned to go with his family, he found it necessary to stay in Chicago to help solve an unexpected business problem. He told his wife he would join her and their children in Europe a few days later.
About four days into the crossing of the Atlantic, the ship collided with an iron-hulled Scottish ship. Anna hurriedly brought her four children to the deck. She knelt there with her four daughters and prayed that God would spare them if that could be His will, or to make them willing to endure whatever awaited them. Within approximately 12 minutes, the ship slipped beneath the dark waters of the Atlantic, carrying with it 226 of the passengers including the four Spafford children.  Anna Spafford was rescued by a passing sailor.  Nine days later, she landed in Wales. From there she wired her husband a message which began, “Saved alone, what shall I do?”
Mr. Spafford booked passage on the next available ship and left to join his grieving wife. With the ship about four days out, the captain called Spafford to his cabin and told him they were over the place where his children went down. According to his daughter born after the tragedy, Spafford wrote “It Is Well With My Soul” while on this journey. (adapted from a biography by Dr. Lindsey Terry)
Spafford could likely identify with Job, after he had lost all five of his children while being completely helpless to save them.  How could it possibly be God’s will to bear such pain?   It would have been easy and understandable if Spafford and his wife had become angry at God for such a lot.  Instead, his faith was strengthened because it wasn’t built on the shifting sands of day to day life.  Horatio Spafford found comfort and hope in the words and promises of his God.  That is how he was able to believe the words, “When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say: It is well, it is well with my soul.”
That brings us to Job and the Word of the Lord.  (Read again Job 38:4-18.)
At first, these words from God put us in our place for judging God’s ways.  Are we wiser or stronger than He is?  Do we really know what’s best for our lives when all we can see is an infinitesimal sliver of time?  How can we project into the future, or be so certain that God must hate us because of a passing storm?
What’s more, who are we to talk back to the Almighty, we who are but dust and ashes? (Gen. 18:27, Job 30:19).  When we say that we are destroyed and can’t take any more, the unspoken assumption is that we deserve better from God.  But the clear response in this passage is: What makes us qualified to judge good and evil?  Can we answer why even the righteous must suffer, or why the wicked get off scot free?  “Declare, if you know all this, O man!”
Yet, this almighty God against whom we’ve spoken, against whom we’ve grumbled, who we’ve despised and ignored in our daily decisions. This God has also had mercy on your dust and ashes.  His Beloved Son is the one who received what you truly deserved.  Now, the Almighty Judge has also declared your sins forgiven.  Though the thoughts of your heart and mind testify against you, the blood of Christ speaks stronger and has gained your pardon.
Now that this is the case, these words of a gracious Father become comfort for us.  “If God is for us, who can be against us?”[2]
The God who speaks is now your heavenly Father.  It is He who laid the foundation of the earth, who sets boundaries for the sea, who commands wind and wave for your good, who rules over the nations and over men so that your cries under injustice do not go unanswered.  It also He, your God, who burst the gates of death and Hades and now holds the key to them (Rev. 3:7, 20:1-3).  He whose understanding surpasses the expanse of earth holds your whole life in His Almighty care.  What can man, or weather, or health do to you when you have God on your side?
This is no small matter!  This is the difference between peace and despair, between comfort and worry.  But even if you struggle to believe it, do you think He is unable to break through?  “Take heart, it is I.  Do not be afraid.”[3]  Amen.
[1] Proverbs 25:20
[2] Romans 8:31
[3] Matthew 14:27