Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 7

26 July 2009 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.

“How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?” Doctor Luther asks in the Small Catechism. Of course, his question is specifically aimed at Holy Communion, but we can ponder the good doctor’s question in another context: the Fall in the Garden of Eden.

For gardens are places where plants grow – and Eden was a place where food literally rained from the trees, “pleasant to the sight and good for food” – food which practically fell into the mouths of Adam and Eve with no work, no worry, no weeding, no tilling, no toil, and no struggle against disease and disaster.

And, there was no death. Even had Adam and Eve avoided eating, they would not have starved. They did not know what it was to be faint, sick, hungry, or in peril of death. They did not know what it was to eat something harmful – until the day that they did eat that which God commanded them not to. “For in the day that you eat of it,” warned God in His Word, “you shall surely die.”

“How can bodily eating… do such great things.”

In the catechism’s answer that addresses Holy Communion, we confess: “Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the Words written here” at which point Luther quotes the Word of God.

The result of both obedient eating and disobedient eating is not caused by the eating and drinking itself, but is rather a result of the Word of God. For even as the Lord promised wrath and death to those who hear His Word and break it, he also promises forgiveness and life to those who hear the Word and keep it.

The power is not in eating and drinking, but rather in the Word of God, in the promise attached to the element – be it the warning of punishment for eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, or the promise of mercy through eating of the Tree of Life.

The Word of God is attached to the eating and drinking, for even as the Lord has revealed in His Word: “man does not live by bread alone,” but by “every Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

In this context, eating and drinking can indeed do great things – both giving life and bearing death; granting forgiveness and binding us to our sins; delivering mercy and bringing wrath. The Word of God is indeed “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,” cutting in both directions, calling us to repentance with a frightful word of correction, and declaring us righteous with a compassionate word of grace.

And it all gets back to eating and drinking.

Our Lord Jesus Christ has compassion on those to whom He preaches, including us. He knows that our lives are dependent not only on bread, but also on every Word from His own divine mouth. He preaches to the crowds, giving them life and forgiveness, grace and mercy, comfort and joy – and yet he knows that thanks to the looming angel of death that hovers over all fallen creatures, if these same crowds do not eat, they will “faint on the way.” They will become ill. Some will die. Our Lord’s compassion is not limited to the articulation of sound doctrine and solid theological formulations and catechesis. It includes all of this, but goes further: the Lord Jesus Christ feeds the four thousand in a miraculous way that uses real bread combined with His creative and miracle-bearing Word.

He gives thanks. He breaks the bread. He distributes the live-giving nourishment created by the power of His Word alone, to His ministers, who in turn feed the people according to the command and Word of their Lord and Master, who is both the “Bread of Life” and the “Word made flesh”.

“And they ate and were satisfied.”

Death was not to have its way on that day. The hearers of the Word were not to be condemned by this sermon. Those who were fed by the miraculous bread of Jesus, bread consecrated by His Word and distributed by His ministers – were the recipients of life, of grace, of compassion, of forgiveness, of the divine protection of God Himself over and against sin, death, and the devil.

“And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.”

This bread, sanctified by God’s Word, never runs out. The Lord is always able to consecrate more, using His ministers to pronounce His Word, to bless the bread made from matter created by Him in six days, in order to feed and satisfy the thousands, myriads, millions, and even billions of people with the life-giving bread of His body, with the wine of His blood – all consecrated with His holy Word, delivering His promises.

The Apostle Paul picks up on this theme that food can lead to either life or death. He uses the image of fruit: “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?” asks the holy apostle. “For the end of those things is death.” St. Paul is repeating the curse that man invited on himself when he first ate of the forbidden fruit – whose end was indeed death.

For not all food is good for us. We know this. Some food tastes wonderful, but is terrible in its effect on our bodies. Some of it can even kill us – all the while our taste buds send us the false message that the poison is good. And the spiritual fruit of sin similarly leads to death. For we know that sin is destructive, and yet we fall for temptation in this realm as well.

But St. Paul does not leave us with no hope. For the Apostle, who is often symbolized by a sword, cuts back in the other direction, giving us good news as he wields God’s Word: “But now that you have been set free from sin and become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”

“How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?”

St. Paul teaches us by God’s Word: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In eating and drinking the Lord’s body and blood, sanctified by His Word and imbedded with His promise of eternal life, we are indeed satisfied. For our Lord has compassion on the crowds: upon us sinful men who crucified Him on the tree that has now become our Tree of Life. His perfect, obedient life has born fruit, and we drink from the cup of His blood, the fruit of the vine of the incarnate Word of God. We eat of the bread He blesses with His Word, He, the Bread of Life come down from heaven, so that we shall never be hungry for lack of the Word, nor faint along our way.

So, “how can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?”

“Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things,” as we confess, “but the Words written here: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’…. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: forgiveness of sins.”

And “where there is forgiveness of sins,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ, “there is also life and salvation.” Amen.

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

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