12th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 17) LSB #685, 730
Text – Matthew 16:24
Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself & take up his cross & follow me.”
TAKING UP YOUR PILLOW
“Six days shall work be done, but the 7th day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.” (Exodus 31:15 ESV) That sounds like a perfect opportunity to take a break & get some rest. Would any of you like a pillow? No sense getting executed over forgetting to take your nap.
The older I get, the more I’m finding this to be true: “I really like taking naps.” Whether it’s a recliner chair, the couch, or even the floor, naps are peaceful & calm. It’s reinvigorating & brings to life in your veins – new energy. A nap can clear the mind & help you see things from a different, more creative perspective.
Nevertheless, the Word of God commonly has a balancing point, something that tips the scales in the other direction as well. It’s difficult to find one-sided challenges in the Words of Holy Scripture.
So while rest was the prescription for the Sabbath, & death was the penalty for working on one, when Jesus calls you or me to be His disciple, He calls us to sacrifice, to deny ourselves, & the end result of death is the same:
“Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself & take up his cross & follow me.’” The cross, though now a popular Christian symbol, was in Jesus’ day always an instrument of death.
The ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ is raising a lot of money for research right now, & that’s good. Yet, if you compare it to Jesus’ call, it’s a sissy challenge, on the order of taking up your pillow. Jesus calls us to a holy rest on the Sabbath, yet He also calls us to deny ourselves & take up our cross. In the thought world of Law & Gospel this text makes it very easy to preach the Law. These words of Jesus can be pointed like a laser beam to illuminate the dead center of your heart.
However, if I’m to do my job as preacher faithfully, I have to point that laser first at my own heart. So for the purpose of preaching, I was pleasantly surprised about a week ago when I came upon this quotation: “When Christ calls a man,” says Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “he bids him come & die.”
I’ve used Dietrich as an example before, but as the Lutheran pastors in the Lansing area get together almost monthly, during this school year, we’re reading one of his books. I just picked it up about a week ago. It’s titled The Cost of Discipleship, & it has to do with exactly the theme of today’s sermon.
As I read the lead sentence in the forward to the book I knew immediately I’d use it this morning. The type of Christianity Mr. Bonhoeffer is talking about is totally unlike the sort of Christianity being preached in many of the churches across our nation today.
A lot of pastors across the United States are calling people to a sissy kind of Christianity, one more like an ice bucket challenge than a call to take up your cross. In both cases you are denying yourself, yet how long does that denial last as the ice cold water streams off your body? Not very! In the book of Hebrews, chapter 3, we’re called to:
“…exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13 ESV) Looking at the churches & the people across our land, there appears to be a lot of that hardening going on. Sin’s deceitfulness is having its way because pastors are not calling their people to deny themselves & take up their cross. Instead, we’re watering down Jesus’ teaching & calling our people to just do what they can. As the saying goes, if you aim for nothing you’ll hit it every time. Yes, there is complete forgiveness for our every failure, but that’s only one side of the coin, of life as a child of God. Receiving our Lord’s forgiveness is like taking up our pillow because it’s time for a nap.
We need that rest in order to see things from a different & more creative perspective. Sin deadens our ability to think. However, the other side of the coin, as a child of God, is to deny ourselves & take up our cross. That is how Jesus said we are to follow Him. St. Paul described this ‘other side’ of the coin in the 12th chapter of Romans:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice…” (Romans 12:1 ESV) That means ongoing, day after day, hour by hour, moment by moment, denying yourself & taking up your cross.
Due to the overwhelming flood of blessings our Lord has bestowed upon our nation, many of our people are able to avoid confronting that reality. They believe they’re living the ‘good life,’ when in fact, avoiding God’s calling, is to become one of the living dead. Jesus described the religious leaders of His day with these words:
“…you are like whitewashed tombs – beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones & all sorts of impurity.” (Matthew 23:27 NLT) There is a time & a place to rest in our heavenly Father’s kingdom. Even Yahweh rested, from the work of creation, on the 7th day. Yet Ephesians 2 tells us that we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works.
Like in all wealthy civilizations before, Christianity has grown soft in the United States. As demonstrated by the beheading of reporter James Foley, the radical Muslims will not allow a soft Christianity to stand. Even Yahweh Himself states in His book of Revelation: “…because you are lukewarm, & neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16 ESV) Whenever God’s people grow soft, in their practice of faith in Christ alone, He sends discipline for the purpose of turning them back to Christ. When they refused to turn back, the nation of Israel faced the Philistines & the Assyrians. The nation of Germany faced Adolph Hitler & for his opposition to Hitler, pastor Bonhoeffer was executed.
What will our nation be faced with for the purpose of turning our hearts back to our Savior? In our own personal lives, what challenges will come our way to teach us the importance of remaining connected to the life-giving Vine, which is Jesus Christ?
In the Gospel of St. Matthew, up until the point of today’s reading, the life of Jesus has been about miracles & parables with the occasional confrontation with the leaders of the church thrown in for good measure. Those actions & words of Jesus enabled Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
In the Gospel reading for today, & for the benefit of His disciples, Jesus turns the world absolutely upside down & inside out: “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem & suffer …& be killed, & on the third day be raised.” If this could happen to the Son of God, these things could also happen to those who follow Him.
That puts a little different twist on the question, “Do you believe in Jesus?” Who are you today, as a child of God? Are you one who strives to follow Christ by taking up your cross? Or, when other people look at you, when your heavenly Father looks at you, are they more likely to find you with a pillow in hand, than with a cross?
Those are questions we should consider. Our Lord & Savior wants us to think them through because there does come a time in everyone’s life when their faith is challenged. For some people it’s a lot more than once. The truth is, if we are striving to do the good works Jesus prepared in advance for us to do, then our faith is going to be challenged at least every day, if not every moment of every hour. Just on a practical note, can you name the last time you denied yourself anything in the name of Jesus Christ? Our Lord & Savior calls us to think the very thoughts of God, & to will the very will of God. That is Jesus’ call to us right here, right now. But the denial we’re called to is a denial of our will, not of our life.
The cross to which we are called is one of sacrifice & generosity to our neighbor. It is a cross that knows the sin which so controls this broken world. However, the cross that Christ calls us to is also well aware that Jesus’ cross has redeemed us from this broken world. Having been redeemed, we are now enabled like Peter to confess Jesus as our Lord & Savior.
That knowledge is given us by the Holy Spirit & He then empowers us to serve others. We give up the things of this earth, in order to receive the things of heaven. We are called to lose our earthly honor & life for the sake of the Gospel. We then gain true honor & life in the resurrection from the dead.
The eyes of faith recognize that as a glorious trade. Our physical eyes struggle mightily to see. Like Peter, we too set our mind on the things of man rather than the things of God. So we should ask ourselves: “On this weekend in which we celebrate, & take a holiday for, our ability to do physical & mental labor, what kind of work is it that we do for Christ?”
Finally, the question we ask, which enables us to do God’s work, is this, “What has Christ done for me?” He’s done everything & given it all to us freely, even His own life. It’s in that good news that we truly find rest for our soul. Amen.
Let us suffer here with Jesus & with patience bear our cross. Joy will follow all our sadness; where He is, there is no loss. Though today we sow no laughter, we shall reap celestial joy; all discomforts that annoy shall give way to mirth hereafter. Jesus here I share Your woe; help me there Your joy to know. Let us gladly die with Jesus. Since by death He conquered death, He will free us from destruction, give to us immortal breath. Let us mortify all passion that would lead us into sin; & the grave that shuts us in shall but prove the gate to heaven. Jesus, here with You I die, there to live with you on high. Amen.
11th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 16)
LSB #645Text – Isaiah 51:1
Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, & to the quarry from which you were dug.
DUG FROM THE QUARRY
Monday, August 11th, the news hit that Robin Williams had died. I knew of him, as did so many people, from his work on television, in movies & as a comedian. He was, by popular opinion, a genius at making people laugh. When I saw the headline that he had died, I remember thinking, “I didn’t think he was all that old.” Then I read about the suicide.
With such a tragic end, I began to wonder, “Who was Robin Williams, besides the genius actor & comedian?” Unless one of you had some kind of personal relationship with him, all of us knew him only from quite a far distance. Not only did he live far away geographically, economically he was just as far away from us, living in Marin County, California.
In Biblical terms, Robin Williams was not our neighbor because God never brought him into contact with any of us. However, if his tragic death caused people to wonder, “Who really was Robin Williams?” then our life as neighbors to each other, brought together by our heavenly Father, should cause us to wonder about the people here this morning, “Who are you?”
Hearing that question, what comes to mind? Is it your name? Or do you answer with something like, “I’m the daughter of Tom & Wanda, or my children are Jacob & Jordan.” You might say you’re grandparents of children in our school. When they hear the question, “Who are you?” others will answer by saying, “I’m an electrician, or a nurse, or teacher.”
There are numerous ways to think about our identity. How we define ourselves says a lot about what we value in life, what’s important to us, & what we see as our purpose here on earth. If you define yourself by your occupation then what you do is what you see as important. You’re probably a task oriented person. If we define ourselves by our relationships, then we likely value who we’re with as more important than what we’re doing. As with all issues in this broken world, human beings tend to view things through the ‘either or’ glasses. Either you prefer to be one way, or you prefer to be the other. Balance is ever the elusive goal.
From the first part of the Bible verse this sermon is based on, we see a task oriented outlook, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness…” Isaiah, there, is writing to people who want to accomplish something.
Following right on the heels of that are the words, “…you who seek the Lord…” In that case we have an example of a person who is valuing relationship, yet to both of them, Isaiah writes, “Listen to me…”
So we’ve already asked the question, “Who are you?” Now we move on to an expanded version, “Who are you today?” This morning, some of you might say, “I’m an usher, or an acolyte, or an elder.” I would answer that, “Today, I’m a pastor.” Other’s might say, “I’m a visitor, or a teacher, or just a member of this congregation.”
One of the first things we do, near the beginning of the service, is referred to as the Confession & Absolution. In theology those two are always connected. Lutherans never do one without the other, because it is the Absolution part which actually enables us to do the Confession part. However, for the sermon, I’d like to focus only on the Confession for now.
“We have sinned against you in thought, word & deed, by what we have done & by what we have left undone.” Those words speak from a task orientation, & in them we are defining ourselves by the evil we have done, as well as, by the good that we have failed to do. Think of all the excuses you’ve made up in this past week; how those excuses bare our soul!
In another version of our Confession, we begin with these words, “I, a poor, miserable sinner…” & end with these, “a poor, sinful being.” Those are not flattering words, yet they get right to the crux of our identity. They truthfully & honestly define, “Who are we today?” In that version we’re defining ourselves in relationship to God, as poor, miserable & sinful beings.
If you’re not convinced that sin defines you in relationship to our Lord, just listen to King David’s words in Psalm 51: “Against You [O God], & You alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in Your sight.” (Psalm 51:4 NLT)
Task oriented & relationship oriented; our heavenly Father interacts with us on both levels. Having looked at the Confession of our sins, we are lead us into the final portions of the text for today’s sermon. We begin that, by expanding the question even further, “Who are you… today…, as a child of God?”
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, & to the quarry from which you were dug.” The final portions of Isaiah 51:1 get to the Absolution. These are the words which enable & empower us to say in all honesty, “I, a poor, miserable sinner…”
This latter portion of the text reminds us that our sins have been made as white as snow & they’ve been removed from us as far as the east is from the west: “…look to the rock from which you were hewn, & to the quarry from which you were dug.”
In other words, we are righteous people, we are saved people, we are eternal people, because of the quarry from which we were dug. Abraham is our spiritual father & we are his descendants, those as numerous as the stars of heaven, & as the grains of sand by the seashore.
If you tire of hearing another chapter of encouragement & reassurance from our Savior, then you do not know how tirelessly patient our heavenly Father must be if He’s to overcome the doubts of His despairing children. It is neither simple nor easy to persuade poor, miserable sinners to believe the promise of righteousness & salvation that has been made over the millennia. Remember, it is only that change in relational identity with our Creator which can bring about the change in what we do, or fail to do. Without being a child of God, we can never even begin to confess our sins, let alone battle against them.
Conversion always begins with a change in relationship. St. Paul describes that in his letter to the Christian church at Colossae:
“This includes you who were once far away from God. You were His enemies, separated from Him by your evil thoughts & actions. Yet now He has reconciled you to Himself through the death of Christ in His physical body. As a result, He has brought you into His own presence, & you are holy & blameless as you stand before Him without a single fault. (Col 1:21-22 NLT)
Yahweh takes us as He finds us, His enemies, & then changes our heart by sacrificing His own Son to pay for our crimes. Some people think the language of being a poor, miserable sinner is too strong & unfriendly, but it accurately describes the identity of our sinful nature. If we underestimate the evil within us, we certainly will fall prey to Satan’s temptations.
In a real sense, sin keeps us in bondage of a type that we can never free ourselves from. As rock does not dig itself out of the quarry, Israel did not make itself into the nation of God’s people. So also, you & I have not chosen to become children of Yahweh, but He has chosen us. That is who you are today, as a child of God – chosen & dearly loved. St. Paul wrote:
“…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male & female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29 ESV)
As Isaiah is writing about Israel’s release from the exile in Babylon, he’s assuring them that it was but a first step on the path to heaven. Today, as children of God, we’re still on that path. We have the guarantee of the life to come in Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Jesus said, from the cross, “It is finished,” we just don’t yet have the full realization of that life. Sin is still dogging us at the heals; yet God’s righteousness or deliverance is near.
Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, & to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father & to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him & multiply him. For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places & makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy & gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving & the voice of song. (Isaiah 51:1-3)
Though our lives are full of struggle, & clearly Robin Williams’ life was as well, the never ending message of Jesus Christ is that we are His own, bought & paid for. Yet we aren’t slaves but children & fellow heirs of the kingdom. Satan hates that news, but it is who you are, today, in Christ Jesus. Amen.
10th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 15) LSB #802, 814, 820
Text – Isaiah 56:1
Thus says the LORD: “Keep justice, & do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, & my deliverance be revealed.”
Back in the year 1855, a man named William B. Ferguson deeded 10 acres of land to the Wabash Railroad in exchange for a new train depot & naming rights. The settlement that sprang up around the depot was called Ferguson Station. In the year 1894 it incorporated as the city of Ferguson. Ever since, it’s been just one of many small cities across our nation.
On Saturday August 9th, of this year, it gained notoriety as one of its police officers shot & killed an 18 year old teenager. Understandably, the family & loved ones of the teenager want justice. Likewise, the family & loved ones of the police officer want justice. Depending on who did what, which left this young man dead, those two groups may want very different outcomes.
There are also outside groups horning in on the emotional nature of this tragedy to serve their own personal agenda. One sign being held up during the protests stated: “Stop trying to criminalize the victim. Mike Brown was murdered. We want justice for Michael. Hands up don’t shoot.”
That last phrase is a reference to one of the witness statements, by a friend of Michael’s, who claims, Mike had his hands in the air when he was shot.
Naturally, the police department has a differing version of the story. They claim the officer felt his life was in danger & he shot Michael in self-defense. In other words, he was forced to administer his own justice in order to protect his life.
A store owner gave the police a security camera video revealing a man looking a lot like Michael Brown stealing cigars from a store, just 15 minutes before his deadly encounter with the police officer. No doubt the store owner is looking for justice after having been threatened & robbed. None of us here know the truth of any of those allegations. We aren’t aware of the sins of Mike Brown, or of the sins of the police officer who shot him. However, there is someone in this room whose sins are intimately familiar to each of us.
You know your sins & I know mine. Yet even that knowledge of our own sin is clouded by the corrupted nature that lives within my heart & yours. There’s an undying desire within us to excuse our own bad behavior. That same fallen nature will easily default to pointing out the sins of others in order to draw attention away from our own.
You’ve probably heard it in person. Little Johnny gets caught hitting little Susie & what are the 1st words out of his mouth? “She hit me first!” If true, Susie has already administered her own justice, so Johnny was just delivering his own.
When politicians are at their worst, we see the same attitude between Democrats & Republicans, instead of doing the work of governing our nation in the best interest of all the people. The nations of Ukraine & Russia are at it right now, & last month, Israel & Hamas had been doing the same. The prophet Isaiah hit the nail squarely on the head with these words:
They have mapped out crooked roads, & no one who follows them knows a moment’s peace. So there is no justice among us, & we know nothing about right living. We look for light but find only darkness. We look for bright skies but walk in gloom. For our sins are piled up before God & testify against us. Yes, we know what sinners we are. We know we have rebelled & have denied the Lord. We have turned our backs on our God. We know how unfair & oppressive we have been, carefully planning our deceitful lies. Our courts oppose the righteous, & justice is nowhere to be found. Truth stumbles in the streets, & honesty has been outlawed. Yes, truth is gone, & anyone who renounces evil is attacked. The Lord looked & was displeased to find there was no justice. (Isaiah 59:8b-9, 12-15 NLT)
God knows our lost condition pretty well, doesn’t He? What our sinful nature demands is revenge, plain & simple. If the rule of the day is, ‘an eye for an eye & a tooth for a tooth,’ there will never be peace, & the administering of justice will never be done. For that reason Jesus tackled this issue head on in the Gospel of Matthew, the 5th chapter:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye & a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, ‘Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you & take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.’” (5:38-40) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor & hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.’” (5:43-45a ESV)
If men take revenge as the rule of the day, sin will utterly destroy our heavenly Father’s creation. The rioting & looting in Ferguson, MO, are a perfect example of sin run amuck. Satan has come to steal & kill & destroy, but he commonly disguises that work behind a false veneer of cries for justice. Revenge & justice are totally different animals.
In this morning’s reading from Isaiah, thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, & do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, & my deliverance be revealed.” Whereas looting & rioting express what is worst of a society, the pairing of justice & righteousness expresses what is best of a society.
They are both, what people in power should do, & the essential characteristics of the good society. The pair is both means & end. The justice & righteousness of the people, & of God, produce the just & righteous civilization. In fact, salvation & deliverance are often the preferred translations of the Hebrew words for justice & righteousness.
Rioting & looting are destructive, self-centered activities. Salvation & deliverance are centered on others, rather than upon self. People, who are centered on themselves instead of the Lord, act to save themselves. Even if the police officer from Ferguson was legitimately acting in self-defense, the shooting of Michael Brown was still a far cry from Christ’s approach.
As the ultimate human being, Jesus is the highest demonstration of one who keeps justice. He lives a holy life for others, maintaining the law in every respect, & then sacrifices His own life to deliver us from our sin, from our failure to keep the law in any respect. Justice is an attribute of God. It is part of His character, not simply an attitude He chooses to follow, or a goal He seeks to achieve. That’s one problem in our seeking of justice. It’s not part of our innate character. Sin has made us characters of injustice.
The opening verse of chapter 55 states, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…” Today, people still thirst even here in the Great Lakes region which contains 20% of the world’s fresh water. In this sin-filled world, as do God’s people all through time, we thirst for justice & righteousness.
From Abel’s blood crying out for vengeance, to little Johnny saying, “She hit me first,” to the latest news from Ferguson, MO, people across the world are crying out, & thirsting even, forjustice. In the sermon text of chapter 56:1, Isaiah is responding with our motivation for living the just & righteous life. He sets the stage with the last two verses of chapter 55:
“For you shall go out in joy & be led forth in peace; the mountains & the hills before you shall break forth into singing, & all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; & it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:12-13 ESV)
Those verses present the great climax of our Lord’s work, as they tell of the salvation to come & reveal Yahweh’s deliverance of all His creation. All the universe will sing together with happiness over the results of what Christ did on the cross. All the evil & injustice that sin has brought will be removed, & the world will once again be perfect as was the Garden of Eden.
The thorns & briers that were introduced when Adam fell into sin will be replaced by plants that are productive & beautiful. These verses illustrate the changes that occur in the lives of all who come to know Christ. Then the sermon text follows: “Thus says the LORD: ‘Keep justice, & do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, & my deliverance be revealed.’”
So how does the Christian heart respond to that particular Word of God? We remember that, while we have been freed from the guilt of sin, we must hour by hour seek God’s help to overcome sin’s temptations be self-centered.
According to chapter 55, nothing a person has done or can do entitles him to attend our heavenly Father’s banquet of salvation. It is possible, however, to exclude ourselves from the feast of mercy & pardon, as our sinful nature resists God’s will. Obstinate rebellion will have no place in heaven. No one can be admitted who insists on doing what is unjust & unrighteous.
Responding to undeserved mercy & goodness – the complete forgiveness of our sins – Christians find peace in doing what is right toward their fellowman & toward God. Our saintly nature joyfully puts into practice the attributes of justice & righteousness that our heavenly Father possesses, yet enables us to participate in.
Nevertheless, because we’re sinners those gifts of justice & righteousness are painful to us, not just to the atheists or unbelievers. We too are unable to keep our Lord’s commands. They are more than we sinners are able to produce. This business of becoming holy, even while never complete in this life, is also a slow & painstaking process.
Two steps forward & one step backward is often one of the good days. Our Savior well knows the precarious nature of our walk with Him, so He doesn’t tell us to work harder, or smarter. He calls us to rest, right here in His house, because He knows that only in our rest – from sin, do we receive His strength to work hard, or smart, or to keep justice.
Justice is the governing of our lives by God, not by our self-interest, which constantly gets in the way of our keeping His commands. Thus when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” it is not in our self-interest so to do. Our selfish & sinful nature rebels against it & hates the kingdom & will of our Lord & Savior. The only form of justice that can cure the hatred & bitterness of places like Ferguson, MO, or the Gaza Strip, is for God’s own Son to die.
“Crucify Him,” the people of His day shouted. So justice was established for all sinners by the ministry of the Suffering Servant as He breathed His last on the cross. In a way, it may be that any justice for one person is always established by the “suffering” of another. Jesus, God of God, Light of Light, begotten not made, willfully suffered on your behalf & mine in order that we might live in justice & righteousness all the days of our lives. Amen.
8th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 13) LSB #349
Text – Matthew 14:20b
And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.
THE BROKEN PIECES
It’s a nursery rhyme that everyone in this room is likely to know: “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; all the king’s horses & all the king’s men could not put Humpty together again.”
Certain people have the kind of personality that likes to fix things. It’s a stereotype for men that stereotyped women often complain about. Men don’t want to listen. They just want to fix the problem. “Yet all the king’s horses & all the king’s men could not put Humpty together again.” A lot of things will not get put together again in this world.
It’s a broken world we live in, with broken pieces, & broken people, surrounding us. The board of trustees here gets to deal with the broken pieces. The board of elders gets to deal with the broken people. It’s kind of unnerving to think about it in terms of broken people. How many of you are comfortable with openly talking about the ways in which you are broken?
Yet the nature of sin is that it has corrupted, twisted & broken every single one of us. People who refuse to acknowledge that as fact, are ultimately unable to come to grips with the struggles of living in this world. They’re unable to find purpose or meaning for the life they live.
Their entire existence is nothing more than a rat race from one broken objective to another. On the other hand, Christians are very aware of what sin has done to God’s creation. We’re taught about it from an early age & experience the effects of what God’s Word defines as rebellion against His good, gracious & loving will. Being so thoroughly indoctrinated in the reality of sin, however, can leave a child of God with an attitude of hopelessness.
We may learn to suck it up, grin & bear it, & tough our way through life. Don’t you dare enjoy living because that will spoil it & then you’ll lose whatever it was that brought you pleasure. So put on that somber face & if it feels too good to be true – then it must be a lie.
When something you value ends up broken, just forget about it because there’s plenty more brokenness where that came from. Denial & delusion on the one hand, or acceptance & despair on the other, those are the two options that Lucifer puts before us. Which one, do you think, was troubling the disciples in today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew?
“Now when it was evening, the disciples came to Him & said, ‘This is a desolate place, & the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages & buy food for themselves.’ But Jesus said, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They said to Him, ‘We have only five loaves here & two fish.’”
Clearly, the disciples were focused on the reality of sin & the brokenness of life in that desolate place. They’d accepted the damage sin does to our existence. They’d given in to the devil’s temptation & given up hope of finding a way to feed the massive crowd. In the mind of the disciples, providing food for that many people was completely out of the question.
Jesus’ disciples had resigned themselves to the Genesis 3:19 curse: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.” They didn’t grasp that Jesus had come to reverse the curse. Yet that is exactly the message Jesus is conveying through this miracle. The Messiah has come to restore His creation to the way it was before the fall into sin.
As St. John wrote in Revelation 7: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore… For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, & He will guide them to springs of living water, & God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:16-17 ESV)
That prophecy will be fulfilled in all its perfection when Jesus returns to earth on the Last Day. However, He is already now enacting that promise through His current reign in the world as well. Our problem with that is it’s almost totally hidden from our eyes. Listen to what St. Paul wrote regarding that in Colossians 3: “For you have died, & your life is hidden with Christ…” (Colossians 3:3 ESV)
If you have been washed by God, through the waters of Baptism, you are already now dead – dead to this world, dead to sin, dead to your own will & desires. Nevertheless, the true life you have, the eternal life, the perfection & glory, is still hidden to your physical eyes. That makes the life of a Christian so difficult.
The Messiah has come, but given the culture of abundance that we live in it’s going to be extremely difficult for us to hear these words of Matthew & grasp their importance. We barely know what it is to be hungry, let alone destitute, with no hope of finding food. The celebration that would have occurred with this miraculous feeding of the 5000 is pretty much beyond us.
But maybe you’ve had something you really treasured that ended up shattered by the careless actions of another. Maybe you took the broken pieces in your hands & felt the regret of their demise? Have you tried to put those broken pieces together again? Have you tried to rebuild a relationship that was broken beyond repair?
Jesus reigns today, even over those events of our lives. Messiah has come to restore our hope & our joy through giving purpose & meaning to our lives. So while Jesus did feed the 5000 & they merely had to sit down in order to receive their food, the disciples had to face Jesus’ challenge first.
In the midst of their hopelessness & despair while facing the impossible situation of 5000 men in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat, Jesus challenged them. The disciples probably thought they did well in recognizing the dilemma & pointing it out to their Rabbi.
Then Jesus responds, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Maybe you’ve been in those shoes, standing there empty handed, having compassion but no resources. Keep in mind also that John the Baptist had just been beheaded by King Herod. This was not the best day in the world to be facing such a monumental task.
Here’s one author’s suggestion of what the disciples might have been thinking, at the end of the day, after all the king’s horses & all the king’s men had contemplated how on earth they were going to feed so many people.
“At the end of the evening I thought about my grumbling, my lack of compassion & understanding, & my sense that this hungry crowd approaching nightfall in the wilderness was just foolishness. ‘…you give them something to eat,’ Jesus had said to us. I wonder how much Jesus has to do to get through to us that He is the Son of God, Messiah, Lord of creation?”
If you had been with Jesus that day, would you have grumbled? Would you have thought this was a foolish mess Jesus had gotten us into? Would you have ended up embarrassed at your own lack of faith in what God’s Son could do?
In a sense, we are the broken pieces of bread & fish – left over. Christ has left us over, here on earth to continue feeding God’s sheep, even as broken as we are. Our purpose here is that others may know Christ & find life in Him. The Holy Spirit will enable us to find God’s strength in our weakness.
A perfect example of that is in our main outreach to the community. We operate a school that is continually in need of cash flow. The situation commonly looks broken & hopeless, yet that is exactly what God chooses to do His work through. He chooses that brokenness so it’s clear that whatever good is accomplished is our heavenly Father’s doing & not our own.
People, who will not acknowledge the fact of sin in this world, can never see, even in hindsight, how our Lord works through the brokenness of life to miraculously bring healing. They condemn themselves to striving after broken objectives. In order to keep us from striving for one broken objective after another, our Lord blesses us through His very own broken body & blood. Through them our heavenly Creator puts us back together again.
As in the feeding of the 5000 Yahweh strengthens & preserves us today through Holy Communion until our eternal perfection is completed. At the Lord’s Table we receive our Messiah who has come into the world, & is still arriving here each Sunday. So after receiving Christ’s body & blood we hear these words:
“Now may this body & blood of your Lord & Savior Jesus Christ strengthen & preserve you steadfast in the one true faith, unto life everlasting. Depart in peace & in joy.” We can depart in peace & joy because we trust & believe that our Savior does accomplish good things through our brokenness.
In the combination of Christ’s strength & mercy we can acknowledge sin & yet not despair because of it. So Martin Luther explained the 4th petition of the Lord’s Prayer in this way: “God gives daily bread indeed without our prayer, also to all the wicked; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, & to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”
Psalm 104 expresses that nicely: “These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When You give it to them, they gather it up; when you open Your hand, they are filled with good things.” (Psalm 104:27 ESV)
Our heavenly Father withholds food from no one. That is true whether an atheist believes it or not, whether a Christian believes it or not. Christ’s main purpose in performing the miraculous feeding of the 5000 was to have those who were eating look to their Redeemer, not merely to the food. The long awaited Messiah had arrived. The broken pieces are not simply 6 bread & fish, but you & me. Our Savior didn’t just save us from hell. He is even now putting us back together again so that we might feed the rest of God’s sheep. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet