Lent 4 – March 30th and 31st, 2019 – John 6:1-15
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
The fourth week of Lent is known sometimes known as “Refreshment Sunday”. It’s a week where we ease up a bit on the intensity of our self-examination and penance in Lent – where we take a slight breather. If we wanted to be really prim and proper, and if we actually had them – we’d have the pink, the rose colored altar cloths on the altar, just like the 3rd week of Advent. It is the final rest stop, the final breather before Lent takes us through its intense push towards Golgotha, towards Good Friday. This is a relaxing, refreshing day. And so, our Gospel text is the feeding of the 5000. It’s a familiar text, a great text, a refreshing text. So, let us look at the text, and see what we learn about how God refreshes us.
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. So that is the setting. People following Christ, people wishing to hear His Word, listening to Him, all gathered. They’ve been there all day. They are tired. They are worn out. They are hungry. Imagine yourself there. If I go over 15 minutes on the sermon, how many of your eyelids get heavy? Now imagine a sermon that lasted all day. By the end of our hour here, how many of you are sore from sitting in the pew? Now imagine 12 hours walking after Jesus, or at best sitting on the ground looking up hill. We can imagine how sore and tired those people must have been.
But we also see and understand how tired we ourselves are. It is hard to be a Christian, isn’t it? It is tiring work. All around us we see people taking the easy way, the wide path that leads to hell. We see people backbite and stab each other – but we strive to show respect as instructed in the 4th Commandment. We see everyone else simply look out for themselves, but we strive to support our neighbor in his bodily needs, as instructed in the 5th Commandment. We see people jump from person to person in pursuit of pleasure, but we strive to be faithful, to show love to our spouses even when that can be quite difficult, as instructed in the 6th Commandment. We see people get ahead by hook or by crook – but we strive to do things honestly, as instructed in the 7th Commandment. We see people attack and speak cruelly of others, but we strive to defend them, speak well of them, put the best construction on everything, as instructed in the 8th Commandment. And all this we do – while trying not to covet, while trying not to look over the fence and see what our neighbor has and think, “Boy, they’ve got it so good.” Dear friends, I would suggest that our lives as Christians are more wearying than simply sitting, more painful than the hunger after a day without food. The Christian life is hard – God sets a high standard for us and we strive to do His Will – we strive – it is hard work, hard and tiring work.
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?” He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Phillip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of His 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?” We strive to do God’s will – and it’s hard, and oftentimes we stumble. Look at poor Phillip. Jesus lays out the Commandments to him – ah – how are we to care for these people’s bodies and lives, Phillip? And Phillip draws a complete blank. Um, I don’t know Jesus, I hadn’t really thought about it. Phillip falls flat on his face. And Andrew, well, he’s a little bit better. Uh, here’s what we have Jesus – but it won’t do any good. Do you hear the despair, the resignation in Andrew’s voice? Well, it can’t get done. The life of a disciple was hard, and Phillip and Andrew, with this task before them, fail.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? How often at the end of the day, when thinking back on something from the day, do you look at it and think, “I messed that up royally. I completely blew it”? One of the most amusing things in the catechism is what Luther writes after the evening prayer – “Then go to sleep at once and in good cheer.” I find that hard to do quite often. The folly, the wickedness I have done this day gnaws at me, and the burdens of the morrow hang in front of me. It’s hard, seeing your sin. It’s hard when you've got to do something and afterwards you realize you handled it completely poorly. Often times we don’t handle the challenges in our life the right way. We stay silent when we should speak up and defend our neighbor – or we speak up and gossip when we should stay silent. We work and work when we should be paying attention to the Word – or we see our neighbor, the stranger in need, and we sit back and lift nary a finger. We look with disdain upon the blessings we have and look with lust at what our neighbor has. And then we kick ourselves. I knew better than that! We see our lives for what they so often are – chances to do good where we do wickedness instead – chances to show the love of God where we simply show our own hate and indifference. Sometimes, we even despair, like Andrew here. Oh well, what good it is – no matter what I do I will mess up. We are beaten and broken down quite often.
Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about 5000 in number. 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 when they had eaten their fill, He told His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barely loaves, left by those who had eaten. It’s not a problem for Jesus. Phillip – he doesn’t know what to do. Andrew – eh, what good are these few loaves, these two fish? It’s not a problem for Jesus. He takes care of things. He sees that people need to be fed – and so He feeds them. He sees that Phillip and Andrew cannot, so He does it for them and through them. It’s not a problem for Jesus.
This is what we are to remember in our lives as well. It’s not a problem for Jesus. Do you see your own sin – does it weigh heavily upon you? It’s not a problem for Jesus. He stretches His arms out upon the Cross and says, “Let me take that for you.” Your sin isn’t your own any more – Christ Jesus has taken it from you. The burden of it – He has taken it. Yes, your sin is great. It’s horrible and wicked. There are probably things you are still kicking yourself for from long ago. Christ died for that sin, and He has taken it from you. It’s not a problem for Jesus. And when Satan and your flesh stir up guilt, flee to Jesus for refuge, confess your sin, for your Lord is faithful and just, and will cleanse you from all, all your unrighteousness – even the big, dark, scary skeleton in the closet ones. That is why He calls you to His house, week after week – to give you forgiveness – so that you know that the flaws and follies of the past week are done away with – put to death upon the Cross. So that you receive His forgiveness and the confidence in His love that comes from forgiveness.
It’s not a problem for Jesus. This is what we are to remember when we think about the things that will come – the challenges that we will face, the seemingly insurmountable difficulties that will come. It’s not a problem for Jesus. He has claimed you in the waters of Baptism, He has joined Himself to you, you are His now. Do you see and understand what this means? You’ve sung it since you were little. Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong. It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The Holy Spirit has made you His dwelling place – do you see what that means? Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. It’s not a problem for God. He knows our lack, better than we do, in fact – and He is the one who provides us strength. Consider what God gives to us in the Supper. This meal isn’t just symbolic play time – it’s not just us sitting back wistfully and thinking about good old Jesus. Christ supports and sustains us in this life – He strengthens our weak, tired bodies with His own Holy Body and precious Blood. In this sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given. We are forgiven. We are given life – life for today, life for tomorrow – Christ’s own strength to thrive. All these things in our life that cause us consternation – they aren’t problems for Jesus.
Jesus looked upon the 5000 with compassion and fed them. Likewise, Christ looks upon you with compassion, and He takes up your burden and gives you His forgiveness. “Hence all fear and sadness! For the Lord of gladness, Jesus enters in. . . . Thou art still my purest pleasure, Jesus, priceless treasure.” In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen