Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lent 4 Sermon

(I forgot to post this)

Lent 4 – John 6:1-15 – March 18th, 2012
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
And now we have reached the midpoint of Lent. Three weeks down, three weeks to go, and we have reached a time of rest and contemplation, time given to us in the Church Calendar to reflect upon God’s goodness to us. The text that we use to ponder this is the familiar feeding of the 5000. And while we see in this a reminder of God’s goodness, we will also note a brief warning that will shape us and prepare us for the rest of Lent. Let us cease dilly-dallying and rather dive in.

“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.” Now, consider what John tells us about this crowd. They are following after Christ because they have seen the sick healed. They are observers, they are watching to see what He will do – they are viewing Jesus as we might view a celebrity or a reality TV show – oh, how interesting, I wonder what Jesus will do next. Jesus is at arm’s length for these people – He’s dealing with the sick, not with them. I might read the headlines about the celebrities while standing in line at the grocery store – but I don’t expect them to actually interact with me.

Christ Jesus is not a movie star or a rock star. He is not simply some distant face out there in the spotlight or shining from the silver screen. He has come to deal not just with the people we think are sick and lowly, but He has come to deal with us because in fact, we are sick and weak and lowly. Listen to how Jesus views the crowd. “Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews was at hand. Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Phillip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’” When Jesus sees the crowd, He knows that He will not let them remain as simple observers of what happens, He will not let them simply watch as He cares for others – no, He will care for them personally and directly. Of course He will, He is Immanuel, God with us. He is the God who delivered His people from bondage in Egypt in the time of the first Passover who has now come to truly deliver all man kind with His own death and resurrection. Jesus is here for all, not simply for all to see, but for the benefit of all. And as He sees these people who are simply waiting to see how He will help someone else, Jesus plans to feed them.

But everything is always a teaching moment for Christ, for He knows how much we need to grow and mature in trust and love, and so He asks Phillip how this crowd would be fed. “Phillip answered Him, ‘Two Hundred Denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’” Phillip is caught totally off guard. He starts running the numbers through his head – it would take $20,000 to cater even a cheap meal for this crowd, and we don’t have that kind of cash on us. Do you hear how Phillip is caught off guard, how he doesn’t know how to respond to the question? He thinks automatically of the worldly, the civil, the nuts and bolts economics of life. Forget the where to buy bread, just think of the cost! It will be impossible. But the where is the key – the where is Christ. Christ will not make bread to satisfy Himself, but Christ will act to show love and care for His neighbor. Where will you find bread, you will find it in Christ, who with His own precious blood and innocent suffering and death will buy not only bread, but will buy us life and salvation and forgiveness. But as of yet, Phillip doesn’t quite get it yet.

So, a second disciple tries. “One of the disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barely loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many.’” Now, have in your head the right image – these aren’t loaves of sandwich bread… these are dinner rolls. These aren’t 10 pound bass, freshly caught – this is a can of tuna fish. This is a small child’s lunch. That’s is. Andrew is saying to Jesus, “There’s nothing here, Jesus, nothing to buy. You’ve set us an impossible problem, and we can’t feed these people. Even if we bought this kid’s meal, it wouldn’t do any good.” And Andrew is right – neither he nor Phillip will be able to provide for these people. But it does not matter what Andrew or Phillip can or cannot do, what matters is that Christ is determined to show love, and so He shall.

“Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in that place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number.” I know this was this past Wednesday’s sermon, and it comes up later in John’s Gospel, but why do you think John notes for us that Jesus makes people sit down in a place where there is much grass? Remind you of a Psalm, the 23rd one, perhaps – He makes me to lie down in green pastures? Because that is the point here, precisely the point. Jesus is the Lord, and He is the Good Shepherd of these people, and they will not want for food on this day. They will lie down and be fed. Again, this drives at a truth that we must remember – Christ is involved in our lives, whether we know it or not. We will speak of how God causes rain to fall on both the just and the unjust. We learn in the catechism that God gives daily bread with or without our prayer, and even gives it to the wicked. He gets involved. These folks who thought that Jesus was just a show, just something for them to see and observe – no, they will be shown that He is there for them. They will receive the miraculous as well. So they sit down.

“Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.” And Jesus gives them their fill. He is God Almighty, all of Creation is His, and He will make creation serve Him. And so more than enough food goes out, and the people are fed. And these people receive the benefits. They are no longer cold and callous observers, they are participants in receiving the blessings that Christ brings, and they know it. This is a wondrous thing.

Now, I would have you note the language John uses here – “and when He had given thanks, He distributed them”… does that sound familiar to any of you? They parallel the Words of Institution by which Christ Jesus gives us today His own Body and Blood to eat and drink under bread and wine. And note – the feeding of the 5000 is not a communion service, but John wants us to make a connection. While we do not receive bread that miraculously appears, miraculously multiplies from Jesus, we do receive from our Lord His gifts in the Lord’s Supper. In that meal is it not just our bellies that are filled, but rather we are given forgiveness and life. We receive not just some bodily care, but we receive the full fruits and benefits of all that Christ Jesus has come to win for us, and we are refreshed, prepared to face life in this world until we are brought to the life of the world to come.

And the people there, they understand that they have seen a wonder. “When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” So the people see, and they know something wondrous is going on. Jesus, He is mighty and powerful, look at what He can do. But alas, there is a slight problem. “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.” This is the twist to this feeding that always gets me, that always hits me hard. Here these people have just received a miracle from God, Jesus has just taught them wonders… but they don’t want to learn, instead they want to rule. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy Will be Done”. These people wanted things to be done their way now – look at how good Jesus is, let’s use Him, let’s make Him do what we want Him too, we could eat high on the hog every day. And Jesus slips away – no, He has come to serve, but serve on His own terms, to serve by being the suffering servant who dies for the sins of the people as the prophets of old had foretold.

Here we get a warning. Yes, Christ comes to serve, but His service is all focused on the Cross. We don’t remain at Jesus’ Grassy Buffet gorging ourselves, we don’t get to turn Jesus into the Blessing King, giving us what we want our way right away – although that is how many are tempted to treat our Lord. If we look for merely temporal blessings that our flesh might crave, then we will fail to see Jesus, for Jesus always goes to the Cross, always moves not to give us the best of this world, but to free us from bondage to sin here in this fallen world. Just as Jesus withdrew to the mountain by Himself here, so our Lord will go to Mt. Calvary Himself, and there He will bear the burden of our sin and destroy it. He refreshes us now: rejoice in this but do not be distracted by it. His greater task is the cross which wins us for eternity. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

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