July 18th and 19th - 8th Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 6:30-44
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
I think sometimes we don't really understand how insidious sin is. So often we think of sin just in terms of things that are big and bad - naughty actions, bad deeds. That's not the full picture. Sin is pervasive, it infests us. It taints and corrupts what we do, like an illness that is still there even if you don't have symptoms boiling over. Luther described sin very elegantly as being "incurvatus se" - being curved in on yourself rather than focused on your neighbor. And in today's Gospel lesson is the feeding of the 5000, but Mark does something very neat with it - he gives a lesson not just of Jesus doing a miracle, but Jesus dealing with that subtle, pervasive sin. Let's go dive into the account.
"The apostles returned to Jesus and told Him all that they had done and taught." It's a very subtle thing. Did you note who did the stuff, who ran the verbs? The apostles tell Jesus all that *they* had done and taught. Oh listen Jesus, I cast out a demon here, and then I got one over there, oh, and I preached an awesome sermon in that place - I, I, I. Me, me, me. It wasn't "Your Word is powerful, Jesus! Your Word cast out demons, how great Thou Art" - it's how great I am. Boy, Jesus, you could build a really good church upon me, because I'm awesome, listen to everything I did. And so Jesus will teach the Apostles a lesson. He says to them, "'Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.' For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure to even eat." Oh yes, you, you, you. You must tired. Let's give you a break. And off they go - but just like our lives so often, you try to take a break but work and problems just keep following after you.
"And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw that they were going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them." And here's where the rub is going to kick in. The disciples we going to get a reward break. It's just so hard being so wonderful all the time, we need a break. And even as they go off - oh, look, there's a crowd. 5000 men. Lots of folks. And you can almost imagine the crestfallen sigh of the disciples. Ugh. More stuff to do. Sigh. But here we get a great truth. That's not Jesus's response: "When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion upon them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things." Jesus is not curved in upon Himself, His primary concern is not how things will impact Him - but rather His focus is simply and completely upon the neighbor. When He sees the crowd, He doesn't think, "Oh drat, break time is over". He doesn't grumble. He doesn't complain. He teaches. He loves and serves the neighbor They need the teaching, they need to be instructed - they are like sheep, they need a shepherd, I better get to work shepherding.
But alas, the disciples are not quite as chipper. In fact, they are kind of grumbly. "And when it grew late, His disciples came to Him and said, 'This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat." Alright Jesus, let's call it off. You're talking on and on too long -- well, I was going to say service can't go longer than an hour, but for them it was it can't go past dinner time. Let's wrap it up, they've gotten enough - we want our rest time that we have earned.
And this is where Jesus sets the hook. "But He answered them, 'You give them something to eat.'" Oh, yes, that's right. It's all about what you disciples do, how you did such great things and did such awesome teaching - in fact, you want to cut off My teaching and get on to your own stuff. Alright - so since you guys are so awesome - you feed them. If it's about you and what you've done - you fix things, you take care of them. So there's the problem, the challenge tossed out to the disciples. Here's the situation - how will you fix it. And the disciples fail, miserably. "And they said to Him, 'Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?'" What - are we supposed to blow our savings on a giant Casey's run? Is that what you are wanting Jesus? Two hundred denarii is basically $20,000 - should we go and see what sort of meal we can cater for four bucks a plate? What do you want *us* to do?
And they miss the point. The point isn't about you and what you yourselves can do, oh disciples - the point is Jesus. And He said to them, 'How many loaves do you have? Go and see.' Go scrounge something. And they don't get much - 5 loaves -- don't think a full loaf of bread, think five dinner rolls. Don't think of 2 big trout, think 2 cans of tuna fish. Not much - but don't worry, we still won't need the Denarii, we won't need a Casey's run. "Then He commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking up the five loaves and the two fish He looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And He divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied." Do you see what Jesus is doing? He is teaching the disciples the way things really work. It's not about what you did, disciples. You were simply distributing the blessings I provided. And did you note that Jesus looks up to heaven - this is a heavenly thing, a spiritual thing, a holy thing. It's not about what you do disciples, the focus, the center must always remain upon what God does, how God shows love to people, even if that love is shown or handed out through you. Always focused upon God and what God does.
Do you see now the background undercurrent of sin in this text? Think on the first commandment - You shall have no other gods. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. At the beginning of the text, who were the disciples fearing - that is, who did they they had all the power and oomph. They thought they themselves had it. We cast out demons! Who were they loving? Themselves. We were great teachers! Who were they trusting? Themselves - look at what we did. And to all the world, what they did was great - they cast out demons, they preached. And yet - they were full of sin. Why? Because their focus was upon themselves. This is what Jesus was talking about when in the sermon on the Mount He says, "On that day many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me you, you workers of lawlessness.'" Did you hear it again? We. Over and over. We, we, we - all the way home, to where they are standing before God and they point to their own works. And Jesus will call them workers of lawlessness - If you brag about what you've done, then you don't understand the Law of God. The Law shows that you are sinful, that you are corrupt, and yet you are still going to point to your own actions before God almighty come the judgment? You can go we, we, we all the way to your home in hell. That's what your works will get you.
It's not about what you do. And this isn't me telling you to just kick back and relax - no, go love and serve your neighbor - focus on them and not yourself. But it's not about you and what you do. If there is to be any hope, any real lasting hope for sinners like you and I, sinners who can twist and turn everything back onto ourselves - it must be about what Christ does. In our Gospel lesson - it's Jesus who truly teaches, it's Jesus who truly cares for the folks in the wilderness, it's Jesus who gives them food to sustain their lives. All on Jesus. And our Epistle is great for this as well - we passed over the famous Ephesians 2 verse on this - "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." No boasting, there's no place for that. Rather, everything depends, is built upon, has as its foundation as we just sang, Jesus Christ our Lord. Listen: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility." Now, immediately in the text, Paul is speaking about the big, glaring divide of his day - Jew versus gentile - as nasty a feud as you could find.
But we can apply it here, today, now. Do you, o Christian, struggle with sin and pushy away God? Are you, O Christian, struggling with your neighbor? Hmmm... if only there was a place where we would be brought before God in the Blood of Jesus Christ, maybe a rail where He would call us so that we receive the Blood that brings us safely before the throne of God. If only there was a place where could be gathered together around Jesus's Body that breaks down the sin and hostility that destroys us, and instead of being focused on our own selfish and hurtful desires, we could be united in a common-union in Christ's Body and Blood. And it would be especially neat if when we approached this place, we walked by something that shows that God indeed knows us, that He has called us by name, so we approach with confidence not in ourselves but in God and His love for us and at His bidding. Are you seeing the ties to the Lord's Supper, the ties to Baptism? And the Lord's Supper isn't about us and what we have done - who receives this sacrament worthily? Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin." It's not about what you do - you personal piety, your preparation - that's good, but that's not the center, the focus. It is that Christ has given His body for you, it is that Christ has shed His blood for you upon the Cross, and thus in Him your sin is forgiven, defeated, and destroyed. Everything centers on Christ.
And know what your sinful flesh will do. It will try to shift the focus back onto yourself, back onto what you have done. And your sinful flesh will love to try to focus on the best and kindest things you do. It's a trap, a trap to lure you away from Christ. Rather, let us confess with Isaiah that all our righteous deeds are but like filthy rags, and look to Christ Jesus who has washed us in His blood, and though our sins were as scarlet, we are white as snow in Him. To God alone be the glory for the great love and mercy He has show to us with His death and resurrection, even now and forever and ever. Amen.