Friday, July 11, 2008

Trinity 7

Sermon on Mark 8:1-9
For Our Father’s Lutheran Church, Greenfield, Wisconsin
June 6, 2008 (The Seventh Sunday after Trinity)

Following Jesus has consequences. Confessing Him in the midst of a world that would rather not hear it, including perhaps some of our own friends and neighbors who would rather not face the questions of sin and death and salvation and eternal life, all that has consequences. It sometimes means making decisions that run counter to what common sense would tell us is best for us. It means sometimes getting ourselves into situations from which there isn’t necessarily an easy way out, humanly speaking. It means sometimes setting ourselves up to be persecuted and slandered by the world around us. In some times and places, it has even meant the death of Christians, or at least arrest and imprisonment. It means sometimes being made to look bad even to our own fellow Christians so that we can patiently pursue the right solution to a problem rather than the easiest or most popular one. And even apart from criticism or hardship that comes from outside ourselves, we also have to deal with the energy-draining battle inside ourselves, the battle against temptation and sin and carelessness regarding God’s Commandments, and this too takes its toll on us.
For the crowd on the occasion recorded in our text, following Jesus meant getting themselves into a situation they didn’t plan for in terms of their own personal food supplies. Of course, unlike some of the situations I mentioned before, this wasn’t a matter of either following Jesus or denying their faith in Him; if they had followed Him only one or two days and then went back home before their food ran out, no one would accuse them of denying the faith. Nevertheless, to these people hearing Jesus’ preaching was so important that they were willing to risk starving to death rather than missing what He had to say. Jesus was the Messiah whom the prophets had promised for centuries. He was the One whose coming was the entire point of the Old Testament, the One whose birth was the entire reason for ancient Israel to exist in the first place. And He taught with authority, not like the scribes and Pharisees whom the people were accustomed to hearing. And so, even though it wasn’t a matter of either following Him out into the desert or denying Him, we still can’t blame these people for putting themselves in this situation in order to hear and learn what the Messiah had to teach them. In fact, we really need to seriously consider if we measure up to their level of commitment to hearing and following Jesus Christ, or whether we in our day have become too soft and complacent for that.
What Jesus says when He looks out at this crowd who had risked their lives coming out to hear him is a statement that could form the theme, not just of this text or of this Sunday in the Church Year, but of all Christian preaching in general. “I have compassion on the multitude.” Jesus has compassion. To have compassion means to be aware of others’ distress and to desire to alleviate it. Literally it means to “suffer with” them. After all, that’s what He came to earth to do: to relieve the distress that we are in because of our own sin and the sin of everyone else in the world around us by forgiving us that sin and taking us to a new, eternal life where sin and its effects no longer trouble us. And what’s more, he does that precisely by “suffering with” us, by living our life and dying the death we deserved. Jesus’ compassion on all of us, and on the whole world, is the entire point of what we come here to celebrate each Sunday.
But that’s not all that easy to remember, is it? After all, when push comes to shove, the devil, the world, and our own old sinful natures are right there, tempting us to see only the trouble and the hardship we endure, and to forget about the salvation and eternal life that await us after our struggle is over. The temptation then is to give up and give in. Eternal life seems so far away, and the troubles come with following our Lord so near. It is then that remembering that our Lord is right along with us is so important. He’s not just awaiting us at the end of our journey, He’s here all along the way to sustain and uphold us. Even though He might not always do a miracle to meet our physical needs like feeding 4,000 people with only a few loaves of bread and a few fish, He is constantly doing miracles to support our faith in Him and eternal life. Every Sunday His body is present in bread and His blood is present in wine for Christians to eat and to drink, and further, His body and blood are present on thousands of altars simultaneously, and given to millions of Christians. And no matter how many partake of Him Sunday after Sunday, His body and blood are never used up, just as the bread and the fish were not used up no matter how many ate of them.
And in fact He does also provide for our physical needs as we follow Him as well. Usually it’s not in the form of miracles, but even the ordinary means of making a living and getting our daily bread are actually means that God uses to provide for us. Even such simple things as a helping hand from a neighbor, a kind word in the midst of a difficult time, are reminders to us of Jesus’ compassion on us. They are reminders to us of the fact that where we belong and where we are going, none of the troubles we experience now, neither those that are simply part of life in this old world, nor those that come upon us because we are following Jesus Christ, none of these will ever bother us again.
And so Jesus has compassion on us, especially in those times when our problems and troubles are a direct result of the fact that we’re following Him. He strengthens and nourishes our faith in Him by His Word and by His body and blood, which is a miracle even greater than the one we read about in today’s Gospel. And He provides for our needs even when it seems like He won’t or can’t do so. Sometimes the way He provides for us is by taking us to that place where we will never hunger nor thirst again, and very often it is by the ordinary things He gives us in this life. And He uses our friends and neighbors as well, both to remind us of the Word we have heard and the Sacrament we have received, as well as to provide us with more ordinary means of facing life in the world in terms of daily bread. Our God has compassion on us. He suffers with us and for us. And because He suffered for us, our sufferings will have an end. Amen.
✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

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