Sunday, March 2, 2008

Lent 4 Sermon

Lent 4 – March 2nd, 2008 – John 6:1-15

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

My sermons are short. I don’t expect that any one of you here thinks that there is the slightest possibility that I am going to still be in this pulpit, say, 20 minutes from now. 15 minutes is a long one from me. And as for the Church service, if we go over an hour, that’s a long one. You all expect to be well out of here by 12:30. This is how we think, this is what we are used to, and because of this, we don’t get the full setting of what is going on in our Gospel. After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberius. And a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples. We aren’t referring to a short little period of time, no longer than a tv show, but hours upon hours – that’s what these people have spent listening to and following Jesus. They didn’t drive to Church, rather they walked miles following Jesus. They didn’t sit on padded pews, but sat on a rocky hillside to hear what He would preach.

And then, Jesus pauses, and He looks at His disciples and ask, “Okay, how are we going to feed all these folks, since they’ve followed Me out here into the middle of nowhere?” Jesus knows what He’s going to do, but He wants to see what the disciples are thinking. And they are stumped. Well, we’ve got a kid here with 5 rolls and a couple of small fish – but that won’t do much good. And we know what comes next – Jesus feeds the 5000. Has them sit down, blesses the food, and it just doesn’t run out. In fact, there are leftovers, 12 baskets full of leftovers, each disciple gets to lug one around. And the people know what they’ve just seen. When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, “This is the Prophet who is to come into the world!” **THE** Prophet – the Messiah, the promised one. That must be who this Jesus is. And then Jesus just slinks away – Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself. Jesus slides away. I’m not here to get into politics – I’m not here to overthrow the Romans or give you a national health care plan – and so Jesus slides away.

Dear friends, this text is instructive. Do you see how Jesus chooses to care for these people? He cares for them in two vital ways. The first way is that He cares for them Spiritually. Jesus has been preaching, Jesus has been teaching – He has been expounding the Word of God for them – a great and wonderful thing. And they can’t get enough. He goes to the other side of a lake and they follow Him there – give us more, preach more, teach more. A good and wonderful gift. Jesus provides for these people Spiritually. However, our Lord does more than just provide Spiritually. He provides for their physical needs as well. Jesus looks out upon them, sees the crowd that has gathered, and He sees that they are hungry, that their bodies are tired and sore, that stomachs are starting to rumble. And so He provides for them. And He does so without a lot of hoopla. Just has them sit down, blesses the food, and hands it out. Sort of simple and straight forward – I will provide for them. And when suddenly the crowd gets fixated on what He provides physically – this Jesus can mean free food for life – Jesus slides away. I’ve provided, you are taken care of, and that is good enough.

The fourth Sunday in Lent is a pause, a break in the season of Lent. The last three Sundays have seen intense Gospel lessons with Law that comes and smacks us right upside the head. What we see today, what we remember today, is that God indeed understands the difficulties we face in life, understands the intensity with which we struggle against sin and Satan, the hardships we struggle against in this life. We look at this Gospel lesson today with this in mind. Our focus could be on how this is a fantastic demonstration of the truth that Jesus is True God. Our focus could be on how much those people wanted to hear God’s Word – do we? Our focus could be on the disciples’ confusion, and how often we don’t understand what God is doing. Each of those could make a fine sermon, but here, in the midst of Lent, we hear this text for another purpose. Just as God cared for those people in the midst of their hardships, we learn and know and understand that God cares for us in the midst of our hardships, in the midst of our trials. Let’s compare – how does God care for you in the exact same ways in which He cared for those 5000 there?

First, God cares for your Spiritual needs. Lent is a season of spiritual trial. Lent is that long look in the mirror, that time of self-examination knowing that you aren’t going to like what you see all time. The simple fact is that there is struggle against sin – people that you have to love, that are sort of hard to love. Sacrifices you have to make for the sake of your neighbor that you don’t look forward to. As Christ will put it in the Garden of Gethsame, bitter cups yet to be drank. And that’s the way life always is, and sin has spilled out aplenty, and we can see it in our lives easily – families hurting and seemingly broken, friendships that have fallen on hard times, neighbors that scorn and mock. It’s not easy. But know this. Christ Jesus your Lord sees your struggle, knows what you are facing, for He Himself faced Satan’s temptations, He Himself was mocked and scorned, in fact, His brothers thought He was an embarrassment to the family. Jesus understands. And Jesus provides for you what you need to endure, to conquer. He provides you with His Word. And He does always. Has there ever been a time where Jesus has refused to come to You in His Word? Ever tried to open your bible and found out that God glued shut? I didn’t think so. Has there been a time where Christ’s death and resurrection for your forgiveness hasn’t been trumpeted from this pulpit and thousands like it all over the country, where the message of God’s salvation hasn’t resounded? Shoot, we can turn on our radios and hear Lutheran preaching on it. Has there been a time where God has ever said, “Eh, I’m going to ignore your baptism, your on your own again”? No – God continually offers you spiritual care in His Word and Sacraments. That’s what He does. We see this from our Epistle, Acts 2, the day of Pentecost, birth of the New Testament Church. And what do people do? And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Same thing we are doing right now. John was an apostle, and oh look, a sermon, teaching from what John taught us about Christ in His Gospel. Check. Fellowship and the breaking of bread – On the night when He was betrayed, our Lord took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it! Check. The prayers. We’ve done the collect, those words are probably 1200 years old or so, and then we will do the Lord’s Prayer, we know they were saying that one, we end with the Aaronic Benediction, they’ve been doing that since the time of our Old Testament lesson. Check. Same thing, same ways, God is consistent. God provides and will continue to provide for the Spiritual needs of His people. And this He does for you, this is His love for you.

And there is more. God not only provides for you Spiritually, but we see and remember that God provides for you Physically as well. Now if you followed the old tradition of giving up something for lent, of fasting, you’d be noticing it by now – so this point that God provides physically would stand out all the greater. But it is true – has God ever stopped providing for your physical needs? No, He cares for you, and until the day that He calls you to heaven, you can be sure that He always will. Doesn’t mean that there aren’t times where we cease to be satisfied – the 5000 wanted to grab Jesus, make Him King and say to Him, “We want more bread.” There are times where we want to grab on to Jesus and see if He’ll give us more stuff – where we think clinging to Jesus means turning Him upside down and shaking to see if any more loose change falls out of His pockets. When we get caught up in the cares of this life, when we are worried and frantic and nervous – which I know can happen this time of year – crops are in the field and what is going to happen to them, calves are popping out, doing all the taxes for last year, spring and storms are on their way – it can be a mighty anxious time. And we can fret, and we can worry. But when we pause, when we relax, we see and remember that in all times and in all places God has indeed provided for us. Like the 5000 we follow Him and hear His Word – and then we look up and behold, He has provided for us. This is why in Acts the believers could day by day attend the temple together and receive their food with gladness – because they understood that God provides for them. Is this not true in your life? Pause for moment – Has not God seen to it that you are provided for, even in the times when you had no clue how things were going to work out. This is His love for you – this is what He reminds us of in this Gospel text.

With this in mind, we have confidence, even in the face of trials in this life. We follow our Lord’s footsteps as He strides towards Holy Week, and it’s culmination on Good Friday. We follow our Lord to Gethsemane, we too have our trials from Satan and our struggles and our hard times – but all of these, all of these we face knowing God’s love for us – indeed we have seen it all of our days, and we know that come what may, in whatever difficulty we find ourselves in, Christ Jesus is still our Lord, still our God who never fails to show us His love, who never fails to provide us the forgiveness and strength which we need for matters both spiritual and physical. This is His love for you, which endures forever. Amen.

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