Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sermon: Trinity 7

6 July 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Mark 8:1-9 (Gen 2:7-17, Rom 6:19-23)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The word “flesh” has a lot of negative connotations – and given our sinful state, this fact is well-deserved. Scripture typically speaks of flesh in a mortal and sin-laden sense. But, of course, it wasn’t always this way. We were created as fleshly creatures in the image and likeness of our Creator: immortal and without sin. And God the Son took on our flesh – and yet that flesh is not sinful, but perfect – as we were originally created, and as we shall be again.

But our human sin has rendered our human flesh mortal. For flesh cannot sustain itself. It needs outside nourishment – or it dies. A fleshly creature must breathe, must eat, must drink. Our Creator designed us this way, and provided for the ongoing maintenance of our flesh: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat.” Furthermore, the garden was placed in the midst of not one, but four rivers of life-giving water. Our flesh would want for nothing, its every need tended to by the Creator.

But for reasons we may never entirely understand, our ancestors were beguiled by the devil in the form of a serpent, who taught them that the flesh needed more than what God provided, indeed fooling them into believing they needed to overthrow God and seek that which was off limits to them.

Thus, human flesh was imbedded with an ungodly desire, a sinful desire, a lust for what was not given, yet is craved. These kinds of yearnings call God a liar and do not “fear, love, and trust in God above all things” to provide for the provisions of our flesh.

And though hunger is not a sin, a hunger that does not trust in God is a manifestation of sin. For the flesh makes war on the spirit. Hunger and poverty, like wealth and riches, can be a great source of temptation. For hunger will drive a man to steal, to become violent, even to such unnatural things as cannibalism. For our flesh, above all else, seeks its survival. And our flesh, left to its own devices, will seek its own path to life rather than God’s path, apart from the provisions made for our life by our loving Father and Creator.

But in spite of all of this, our God is a God of compassion. And though our flesh is tainted by great weakness thanks to sin, our Lord doesn’t abandon us. In fact, He takes on our flesh, our mortal flesh, our flesh that can be driven to sin by hunger and want. Our Lord fasted and did battle with the devil for 40 days, suffering fleshly hunger, being sorely tempted by the same vile serpent who caused the fall of the First Adam. But this New and Greater Adam, though equally comprised of flesh, would not seek maintenance of the flesh outside of God’s gracious will.

We see the compassion of our great High Priest at work in our Gospel. After preaching to the crowds, our God made flesh says: “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat.” He who knew the temptation and the pain of hunger feels empathy for them. For He knows the weakness of their flesh. If that flesh is not fed, they will pass out along the way. And if God does not step in, their flesh will overcome them, either urging them to sin, or even bringing about their death.

And thanks be to God that we have a Creator who has compassion on His creatures! We have a God who doesn’t merely create us and leave us on our own. Rather, we have a God who provides for us, who “richly and daily provides [us] all that [we] need to support this body and life.”

In a preview of the Lord’s Supper, our Blessed Lord provides for the needs of the people using His very own flesh to work a miracle. He uses a miracle of bread to provide for us in our need, our fleshly need, our spiritual need, our need for communion with our Creator, our need to be brought back to Eden anew, for life and salvation.

And on that day, our Lord gave life and salvation to those who heard His Word. He took bread. He gave thanks. He broke it, gave it to His disciples, and distributed the miraculous bread through them for the refreshment of this salutary gift. “So they ate and were filled.” They were filled, satisfied, their lack, their need in the flesh done away with, through the loving and miraculous intervention of their God made flesh.

And though they didn’t know it, that same flesh was to be sacrificed for them. The fleshly God was yet to become their fleshly sacrifice. The Bread of Life Himself would give His flesh “for the life of the world,” flesh that is “food indeed,” His blood that is “drink indeed.” That flesh and blood was to be sacrificed on the cross, and on the third day, rise again. The people who heard Him preach the Word of God for those three days were fed and filled by Him who said: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”

And ponder, dear Christians, how much comfort there is in this word “never” in the mouth of our Lord. “Never” is unequivocal. It is final. It points to eternity. And it is the Word of God spoken by the Word made flesh to us fleshly people, we whom the Word of God leads to hunger and thirst for righteousness.

All of this was prefigured by our Lord’s miraculous feeding of the four thousand.

And that same fleshly Lord is here in His Word. You heard Him speak with your own ears, pouring His grace into you, giving you the very same compassion, and we will witness anew our Lord’s holy miracle, that “on the night when He was betrayed, our Lord took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: Take eat, this is My body, which is given for you,” and “Drink of it all of you, this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

Our Lord never wishes anyone who hears His word to go away hungry. He has compassion on His fleshly creatures. The Good Shepherd feeds His sheep. He leads us to still waters. He provides sustenance for our flesh. And so we eat and we are filled, not only with bread, but with the Holy Spirit. Not only with wine, but with the forgiveness of sins and life that has no end!

This, in spite of what we have done to our flesh, how we, by our sins, permit our flesh to be corrupted, allow our flesh mastery over us, and indulge in the flesh’s ungodly desire and lack of trust that the Lord’s will is best for us.

As St. Paul points out: “I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.” Indeed, our flesh is weak, just as the apostles had willing spirits but weak flesh as our Lord was going to His passion and cross. And yet, our Lord’s suffering and death was for the fortification and redemption of that weak, sinful, and mortal flesh. For “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Our Lord took on flesh to redeem our flesh. He took on flesh so that He might share His flesh. His flesh and blood are food and drink, and they are also life. Let us, who live in this flesh do so in the joy of the grace of the Word made flesh, who fed the multitudes, the fleshly God who feeds us in the flesh today, the Lamb who will feed His sheep for all eternity. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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