Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sermon for Lent 4

4th Sunday of Lent – March 14th, 2010 – John 6:1-15

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
So there is the crowd. They had been following Jesus because of the signs that He had been doing. When the Healer doing the neat tricks heads East, they all headed East too. And so, they followed Him out into the rough and rugged land on the coast of the sea of Galilee, a desolate, rocky place. And then Jesus sits and looks at His disciples, those whom He is training, and He asks them a question – “Where are we to buy bread that these people may eat?” This is how the stage is set for the feeding of the 5000. Jesus is going to test His disciples, to see what they have learned, so see how well they know and understand Him. But before we move on to the disciples reaction, seeing what we learn there – let’s consider this question, this problem, itself. Jesus wants to “buy bread” that these people may eat. Now that in and of itself is interest – why would Jesus feel compelled to provide food for these folks? It’s odd. I mean, if I run into one of you in the mall, and I start following you around hoping that you’ll entertain me with a funny joke or conversation, I don’t think any of you would be compelled to buy me dinner.

See, here’s one of the things to commend the disciples on – none of them seem surprised in the least that Jesus would want to feed these people – and it makes sense. First and foremost, Jesus desires to care for people, to show love. He’s been healing folks left and right – He’s been caring for their physical needs in miraculous ways – so of course He’s going to care about their every day needs. And the fact is that these people have followed Him out into the wilderness, most likely unprepared for such a trek. So Jesus is going to take care of them. Now then, dear friends – let us learn two things from this. First – as Christians, we are to care for our neighbor and be concerned about our neighbor’s health and well being. That is your job, that is part of your calling as a Christian – and what is sad is that in this day in age, we are so used to passing that buck. We see someone in need, and we think, “Man, someone should help them out. Isn’t there an agency, or a program to help them?” or maybe, “Man, his daughter ought to do something,” – “Boy, her cousin should help her out more.” We see needs and then we can expect other people to act while we remain passive. That’s not what Jesus does here. He doesn’t say, “You know, I hope that dad there brought enough food for his son, otherwise he’s a lousy person.” He doesn’t say, “Look at these dunces, running into the desert without food, what are they thinking!” No, His response is to show love. Learn from this, let it become your response as well. But another thing to learn from this – this is how God looks at you. Jesus’ love for you isn’t based upon the fact that you are witty and wise and charming and always prepared. A lot of times we aren’t. Rather this – He desires to care for you, even though you do things that are foolish, even though you get yourself into trouble. His desire is to save – and you are in need, just as much as those folks in the desert there were in need.

On now to the disciples’ response. Phillip answers, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Buying bread for these folks – that’s going to be expensive, Jesus! Even if we pooled our resources, they’d only get a little. Phillip takes a logical, reasonable approach to the problem – look at resources, looks at opportunities. Very good. His problem, though, is he completely leaves Christ out of the loop. He doesn’t see how he himself can do anything, and so he assumes nothing can be done. He’s partly right – Phillip isn’t going to be able to fix this problem – and that’s something that we ourselves need to learn. There are problems that are often beyond our ability to handle. However, when those problems arise, we must move beyond simply seeing our weakness, we need to shift our focus to where it should have been in the beginning - to the One who is strong. And so then we have Andrew, and Andrew says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what they are for so many?” The loaves here are probably closer to dinner roll size, the fish are probably small fish – the boy’s carrying a meal, maybe two. And again, Andrew sees this as not enough – which is good – but at least Andrew brings everything to the Lord, which is even better. Even though Andrew is at a loss, He brings things to Christ – I don’t know how I can help these folks, Jesus – it’s going to have to be up to you. Likewise, dear friends, this is to be the direction and shape of your life. Take your problems to Christ and let Him handle them, let Him use you to handle them as He wills.

We know what Christ does – He makes everyone to sit down, blesses the bread, the fish, and then there is enough for all. He has the disciples gather up the leftovers. It is a most amazing miracle – a powerful demonstration of God’s desire to care for His people, His creation. A wonderful reminder of His bounty. However, let’s note today how the disciples played in – Jesus had asked them how this was going to get done. Now, it was not done by their own power or strength – but did you note that the disciples are still active – Jesus says to them, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” Even though Jesus is the one who feeds the 5000, He’s putting the disciples to work. Even though those disciples couldn’t do things on their own, Jesus still has them do stuff. Dear friends, this is the very picture of your life as a Christian. There is much that you can’t do – that in and of yourself you are incapable of doing. But Christ Jesus, when He sees people in need, will provide for them through you in ways in which you could not have expected. Christ our Lord acts, and He uses you as His tool, His instrument to accomplish His designs. As you approach your life this week, remember this. Understand and know that God will work through you and accomplish things in service towards your neighbor that you could not have expected, could not have done without Him – this is His delight, this is how He works. But also remember that God will serve you through your neighbor as well – remember that you yourself are one who receives His service and care in this world, that He supports and sustains you yourself through the unexpected in your life as well. In all things, whether it’s the good we do or the good we receive, or even the bad which God sees us through, as Christians we see the hand of God behind it all, doing all things for our benefit.

Now, there is one more warning or note that we need to observe this morning. The people there who are fed know that they have received, that they have been blessed by a great miracle. “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” That’s good – but then, they fail. Perceiving that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him King, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself. It’s good that we pause in Lent to remember God’s physical blessings and care for us. Lent can be a season where we abstain, where we hold off on those blessings – and so it’s good to be refocused, to remember all these earthly blessings, all these first article of the creed things, all this daily bread that God provides. However, even though these are wondrous and amazing – they aren’t the main point. The blessings of this life fade. No matter how well fed you are today – none of us here are going to be making dinner reservations in 2121. We live in a fallen world, and as such, things fall apart, and we fall apart. In fact, the truth that in this fallen world we are still alive should show just how much God continues to care for us by preserving us – but God wants more than just to preserve us, than to just sustain us. He wants to redeem us. Jesus doesn’t just want to sustain life in this fallen world, He desires to give new and eternal life, everlasting life, life far outstripping this fallen one here. And so, when the people come wanting to make Him their bread king, want to hope just for their best life now, Jesus slides away. His eyes, then as always, are upon the Cross, are upon winning the prize of life and salvation for His people.

Likewise, dear friends, you are called to maintain a balance that can be so hard to keep in this life. On the one hand, see, recognize, be thankful for all the gifts and blessings you have received from God. On the other hand, remember that the much bigger gift is the forgiveness of your sins which Christ Jesus won for you upon the Cross and freely gives to you through His Word and Sacraments. We cannot let our desire for earthly blessings overshadow our need for the heavenly and eternal blessings. Of all the blessings in your life, this place here, the Word here, the font where you were washed clean, the altar from which our Lord gives you His own life-giving Body and Blood – these are the highest blessings in your life, for they last, they extend beyond just this life – they pull you through this brief time into and unto eternity. See and behold the great love, the great miracle that God does for you through His Word – for He forgives you, He makes your hard heart to bloom forth in love and care. This is what Christ accomplishes for you and in you and through you. This is how He cares for you – for indeed, our Lord provides for you, Body and Soul. Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

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