Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sermon: Wednesday of Trinity 7 – 2011

7 August 2011 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 one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”

This is a profound question the disciples ask.

And it is still important today. For even though it looks like we live in a land of plenty, of gardens, of grocery stores, and of restaurants, nevertheless, we live in a “desolate place.” The word literally means a desert, a wilderness. And this word is the very opposite of the first place we human beings lived, where we were created to live, where we should still be living: in a garden, where “out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.”

Until we rebelled against God and were expelled from the garden, no human being knew anything about want, about hunger, and ultimately, about death. For in the garden, there was no want, no hunger, and no death. Because there was no sin: “For the wages of sin is death.”

Our Lord Jesus understands the connection between hunger and death: “If I send them,” the crowds, “away hungry to their homes,” notes our Lord, “they will faint on the way.” In other words, the lack of food will cause hunger, which in turn will cause their bodies to fail.

To the vast majority of us Americans, hunger means being a little late for a meal. We sometimes will say: “I’m starving” when service at the restaurant is slow. But real starvation is something different, something horrific.

There is a famous picture that serves for us a sobering icon of death and the corrupted and savage nature of this fallen world. It is a tiny African girl, somewhere between baby and toddler. Her belly is distended from starvation. Her gravely weak head hangs on the ground in misery. Her mother is nowhere to be found. The ground around her is desolate and dusty, devoid of life. But what lurks behind her makes the point: a vulture, nearly as large as the child, watches and waits, knowing that death is inevitable.

There is a link between desolation, starvation, and death. And the link that binds them all is sin: “For the wages of sin…”

People starve and suffer for many reasons. African children die because of famine and natural disasters of weather. They die because of corrupt politicians and greedy overlords. They die because of indifference of people like us who think starvation is missing a dessert. They die because of their promiscuous fathers who contract AIDS and because of the ignorance of superstitions and false religions that hold women and children in contempt.

They die because of sin.

“How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place.”

And yet, dear friends, we too are a starving people. We are surrounded by big houses, big cars, big meals, big entertainment, and big wastes of the resources the Lord has entrusted us with – and we routinely starve ourselves of God’s Word and of His Sacraments.

But notice something, dear brothers and sisters, our Lord does not leave us to starve in this desolate place – though we certainly deserve to. For what makes us any less worthy than that little child of the fate of starvation, of death, of being watched by scavenging vultures? Why do we deserve to live here and not there? For in sin, we live in the same desolate place: our common fallen condition of sin, death, the devil, our flesh, the world, and of the want of communion with the God who long ago placed us in a “garden in Eden in the east.”

For the Lord Jesus Christ came to our desert, to be born among sinners, to be worshipped by sinners, to be baptized like a sinner, to be tempted by the devil in the stead of sinners, to be crucified for us poor miserable sinners, to rise from the grave as a victory on behalf of sinners – all to save sinners.

And as Jesus preaches to sinners in the desolate place, He does something else for sinners. Moved by “compassion for the crowd” He offers them a different kind of bread. “Having given thanks, He broke [the pieces of bread] and gave them to the disciples to set before the people, and they set them before the crowd.”

The desolation of sin is replaced by the restored garden of righteousness. The possibility that “they will faint on the way” is replaced by the certitude that “they ate and were satisfied.” The wages of our sin is replaced by the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness. Dear friends, death does not get the final say, for though as the holy apostle teaches us anew, “the wages of sin is death,” in light of this Living Bread from heaven, this eating that leads to satisfaction of body and soul, this life-giving Sacrament and life-bearing Word – he also proclaims to us here and now: “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Life is wrenched from death – even in desolate places like Africa and Gretna. Our fainting flesh is infused with satisfaction in body and soul by means of the forgiveness of the cross, the satisfaction of the Lord’s blood, the sharing in the Lord’s body, the miraculous work of the Spirit in the Word – bringing us to a garden of life that has no end!

To the question: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” we have the answer, dear friends: the Bread of Life come down from heaven! In Christ’s work, in Christ’s Word, in Christ’s Sacraments, in Christ’s recreation of the world anew as a garden of life, and in Christ’s communion that we share in this miraculous bread that is for us, a feast that never ends!

Thanks be to God, now and forever! Amen.

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

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