Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pentecost 8 (Proper 11), Series B

Sermon on Mark 6:30-44For Holy Cross Lutheran Church and Iglesia Luterana Santa Cruz, Elmwood Park, WI
July 22, 2012 (The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Series B)

You know, multiplying fish are not all that unusual. All of us know about catches of fish that are bigger when you tell others about them than they were when you first caught them, and about fish that are bigger in your memory than they were against a ruler. Fishermen seem to have this knack for making fish grow and multiply between when they catch them and when they tell their friends about what they caught. But there are differences between these multiplying fish and the multiplying fish which our Lord distributes in the Gospel lesson. The fish our Lord multiplied are real, not “fish stories.” Also, our Lord didn’t multiply these fish in order to brag or show off. He did this out of love and service to His people who needed to be fed at that time.

With the huge crowd that had gathered, it was probably a big question in just about everybody’s mind how Jesus could possibly provide food for all these people. Ordinarily God does indeed work through things in this world like jobs and money and the grocery store, or like hunting and fishing sometimes, to provide us with our daily needs. And so it seems perfectly reasonable to look for enough of those sorts of resources to feed these people. When these kinds of ordinary ways that God provides for us are functioning properly, that is, when he gives us enough money by means of our employers to buy what we need, when the production and distribution network of our nation are in good working order so that the products we need arrive in good condition to convenient locations where we can purchase them, or at the very least when we are able to grow or hunt or fish what we need—when all of these things are happening the way they are supposed to, it is easy to forget that behind all of this is God, fulfilling His people’s prayer to “give us this day our daily bread.” It is easy to think that it is really our own hard work that is behind the fact that we are well-fed and well-clothed. And then when we encounter a need which is not covered by these ordinary means, it is tempting to despair and believe that since we don’t have the resources to meet this need, whether its expensive medical care or the loss of a job or whatever, the need will not be met; we will not be provided for.

What we so often forget, is that He who is the Provider of all our needs is right here with us. Christ in our Gospel lesson had stopped to teach these people even though He Himself was very tired precisely because He had compassion on them. Now they needed food. He is God, the One who provides them with food and clothing and everything they need. Is it really conceivable that He will simply abandon them in their need simply because the ordinary, natural means of providing for that need have given out? Likewise with us when we experience hard times and difficulties in providing for our sustenance. He who gives His own body and blood for our eternal nourishment will sustain us even when the ordinary means of such sustenance have given out, whether through some extraordinary providence or through the charity of our fellow Christians, or even in the worst case, by taking us to that place where we will never hunger nor thirst again. God does provide.

But our most important need, of course, is not for earthly bread. You eat bread and fish (or steak and potatoes, or whatever else it may be), and you will get hungry again. His most important provision for us was accomplished by winning eternal life for us, giving us that food which will satisfy us for eternity. He became the first one to rise from the dead, and His body which was given for us and His blood shed for us is the beginning of an entire new creation, a new heaven and earth. Instead of staying to give people only the food which perishes, He gave all of mankind the food that does not perish by giving Himself on the cross. He now gives us that food at the altar, where His body and blood are presented to us to nourish and strengthen us, not just for this life, but for eternity.

Of course, the fact that Jesus went on and didn’t stay behind to keep giving these people perishable bread, does not mean that He was unwilling to help people in their needs for this life. It just means that everything needs to be kept in proper perspective. After all, He did provide miraculously for their hunger on this occasion, and healed and fed and otherwise miraculously provided for people on other occasions. What happened in our text, and the other times that Jesus did miracles, is that a little bit of what will happen in eternal life, leaked into our world. In heaven nobody will hunger or thirst, nor will there be any disease or death. Being in heaven means being where God is, being where we can perfectly praise and worship Him and where He can lovingly provide all our needs. Where Christ is present, both in first-century Palestine, and today in His Real Presence in the Word and the Sacrament, there heaven has come to us. There the hungry are fed, and the sick are healed, the lonely are comforted, and on and on and on. Many, many hospitals, schools, retirement homes, and other charitable organizations were founded by churches for this very reason.

Where Christ’s presence in Word and Sacrament as the crucified and risen Lord is the center of the Church’s life, of course there will be other activities and institutions founded, because where He is, there He will provide for His people. We need not doubt in tough times that He will be with us, even when we don’t have the obvious means to get by. Even the Church itself can sometimes have tough times. This congregation is smaller now than it once was, and it is often tempting to worry and wonder what will happen to it if the trend continues. But do not worry and do not fret. He redeemed us; He will provide for us in His own way, in His own good time. There is always the temptation that the other things that flow from Christ’s presence, either in their abundance or in their lack, will distract us from the one thing needful, Christ Himself. But Christ is still present in His Word and His body and blood to call us back to unity with Him. He is the one thing needful, and, having Him, we have everything we truly need, for this life, and eternity. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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