Saturday, August 2, 2014

Bread and Compassion

Sermon on Matthew 14:13-21
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
August 3, 2014 (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost)

What is a god?  Luther in the Large Catechism answers it this way: “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress.”  In other words, whatever is the most important thing to us, whatever it is we look to for strength when the going gets rough, that is our god.  Of course, only the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, can actually satisfy the needs of humankind when it comes to Luther’s definition here.  Only the true God can be so powerful and yet at the same time so merciful, that He really can be, without failing, “that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress.”  In fact, it is His merciful, loving nature that makes Him God.  He is the one who made  us and all creation, and He’s the one who orders it for our good.

So, when today’s Gospel says that Jesus “had compassion” on the great crowd, it’s not just telling us what emotions the man Jesus happened to be feeling.  It’s telling us that this Jesus is the one who “made me and all creatures, … given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.”  It’s not just that Jesus has compassion, it’s that He is compassion.  It’s not just that He has mercy, it’s that He is mercy.  The very definition of the word god emphasizes that He cannot do otherwise than give and support His creatures.

Jesus had been in the wilderness before.  He had been asked to make bread before.  He had been asked to show that He’s God before.  “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”  And what does the Word Incarnate say to this?  He quotes the Word that’s written down.  “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  And yet here He is, in the wilderness, making bread.  Only, He’s making bread for others, not Himself.  God is God not in proving simply that He’s powerful and can do stuff.  God is God in having mercy and compassion.  He has no need to prove Himself, but He does provide for His creatures.

“If you are the Son of God, come down and save yourself.”  Satan spoke through the mouths of those who stood nearby and mocked Jesus at His crucifixion, with the same temptation he had given Jesus in the wilderness.  If you are the Son of God, save yourself.  Do something for yourself.  Do something besides, well, being God.  Don’t provide for Your fallen creation, do something impressive for yourself.  Don’t give Your life as a ransom for many, prove you’re God by denying everyone eternal salvation and defending Your own pride and honor.  The problem is that, precisely because He is God, He can’t go around proving that He’s God.  God is almighty and infinite and all-knowing and so on, but it’s not these things which make Him God according to the way we Lutherans talk about Him.  What makes Him God is the fact that He uses His infinite power and wisdom in a way that provides for and nurtures His creation.  God has all sorts of attributes, but He is love and mercy and compassion.

And so the God who refused to make bread in the wilderness for Himself, makes bread in the wilderness for His people.  After all, that’s what He’s always done.  Not just feeding 5,000 here or 4,000 there as we read in the Gospels, but for a whole nation for over forty years.  But even that is nothing compared to what He does for His people now.  By His death He gives us Himself as bread, as we journey through this wilderness we call this old, sin-sick world.  He allows us to live forever in His new creation, by being buried in this old one.  He who is the resurrection and the life gives us Himself.  The bread we break here is His body and blood.  It comes straight from the Cross, it is partaken of by millions of Christians every Sunday, and has been for almost 2,000 years.  If you want to talk about miracles, talk about that.  Coming down from the cross would have meant nothing.  Providing for His people by staying up there so that He could work a greater miracle and give His people the new creation, is the greatest miracle of all.  Resurrecting us who belong to this old world and who are dying its death, by giving us bread that belongs to new life, is what God does.  It’s what He is.  Compassion.  Mercy.  Pity.  Love.  That’s what God is about.  He serves us by burying Himself in us sinners under bread and wine, and thereby brings us to Himself in eternity.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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