14 July 2013 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.
Our lesson from the Book of Genesis takes us back in time to the true Golden Age, the real “brief shining moment” from the play Camelot, when all was right with the world.
For “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
He was placed in a garden, a lush perfect home teeming with life, devoid of death, replete with vegetation, and where the idea of predatory behavior by man or beast was unknown and unimaginable. And the garden was watered by four magnificent rivers, flowing into one, around the lands of gold and fine gems. The man was to “work” and “keep” the garden – only this “work” was not what we have today. It was not hard labor. It was not a struggle. For there were no weeds, no destructive bugs or diseases, no mutated forms, no fruitless vines, no need for fertilizer, and no thorns. The man did not even need to break a sweat.
And the man was given rights to every tree in the garden, filled with genetically rich and perfect fruits. Every tree, that is, except one.
When we fast forward to our epistle reading, as the holy apostle writes under the inspiration of the Spirit concerning the consequences of the end of the Golden Age, the conclusion of Camelot, the beginning of hard labor and enmity with nature, and the looming enemy of death itself – the language is quite different.
Look at the words St. Paul uses here: limitations, slaves, impurity, lawlessness, and death. He speaks of fruit, but not the genetically rich and perfect fruits of paradise, but rather, the “fruit… from the things of which you are now ashamed…. For the end of those things is death.”
We are not only hereditary participants in Adam’s mortal sin, we are willing and eager purveyors of our own sins. We sin much daily in thought, word, and deed. We gripe against God, against our neighbor, against our parents, against those in authority, against our neighbors, and even against people we have never met. We are despisers of God and murderers of men, adulterers, thieves, and liars – if not in deed then in thought. We are covetous and shameful; poor miserable sinners the lot of us.
And we live in a world of hard labor, of weeds and thorns, of insects and disease, of predatory behavior both human and animal. Our hearts are filled with envy, spite, lust, and wrath. We are spoiled and generally unrepentant. We lash out at anyone who calls us to repent.
And yet we invariably describe ourselves as “good.”
Scripture tells us otherwise. We are not good, dear friends. That word “good” fell by the wayside when the prophecy, the warning, was fulfilled: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.”
And indeed, dear friends, you shall surely die. That is our common lot in life. I can’t predict anyone’s future in here, who will be successful and who will fail, who will find love and who will be lonely, who will enjoy creature comforts and who will suffer want, who will live healthy lives and who will bear the cross of lifelong sickness – but I can guarantee each person in this holy place one thing: “you shall surely die.”
“You shall surely die.” And there is not one of us here that deserves anything else.
And yet, the apostle does not leave us in the grave. For that Old Adam does not have the final say. “But now…,” St. Paul assures us, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”
Instead of the bitter fruit of death from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we have been restored to eating the sweet fruit of the tree of life. And although the wages we have earned by our sins is death, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And instead of eating bread by the sweat of our brow, we are promised the very bread of life, as a free gift: the true body of the author of life, through whose blood we have the free gift of eternal life.
In our gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ confronts another reality of this broken, predatory, death-laden sinful world: scarcity. Hunger is a reality in this world. Much of what we do concerns staving off hunger, want, and poverty. For the abundance of Eden has been replaced by the scarcity of the fallen world. There is simply not enough to go around. And mankind scrapes and competes against one another for the daily bread that ultimately comes down to us from above like the manna of old, though we seldom recognize it.
The miracle of the feeding of the four thousand is so much greater than meets the eye. It isn’t only that Jesus is God with the power over molecules, atoms, time, and space. For look at what He does with this power: He has mercy; He has compassion; He alleviates want; He sets aside the scarcity we deserve to give us a foretaste of the abundance that we do not deserve, and yet which is ours as a “free gift” from His hands, His nail-scarred hands.
He blesses the bread, breaks it, and hands it to His ministers to distribute to the people. “And they ate and were satisfied.” There was no want, hunger, poverty, or need there. In fact, there was no scarcity. There was abundance, as this holy bread was multiplied according to Christ’s Word and work.
What a glorious picture of the Church, dear brothers and sisters!
And though we yet struggle with scarcity in this sinful world, we have a foretaste of the Golden Age to come. And here in this holy sanctuary where Jesus blesses, breaks, and hands off the elements to His ministers to distribute to the people, scarcity is set aside. Sin is atoned for. Bread and wine are eaten and drunk, and they are truly the body and blood of Christ, given for you, for the forgiveness of sins.
And though in this time and this place, we experience this abundance as a “brief shining moment,” it is truly an eternal moment, as we look forward to the consummation of the kingdom with the eyes of faith, when all will again be right with the world. That is the Lord’s promise and that is our hope. That is the “free gift… in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.
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