Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sermon: Laetare (Lent 4) - 2018

11 March 2018

Text: John 6:1-15

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Man does not live by bread alone, but … by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord,” says Moses when he preached about Manna to the children of Israel. And thus says our Lord Jesus when He preached about stones to the devil.

And the children of Israel were certainly vexed by the devil as their flesh got the best of them in the desert. Their growling bellies made them irrationally yearn for their former bitter days of slavery, forgetting the signs and wonders given them by the Lord’s prophet Moses.

The Lord heard their pleas, and literally rained bread from heaven upon them. Even in their unbelief, He reminded them to believe. Even as they complained against His prophet, the Lord commanded His servants Moses and Aaron to oversee the feeding of the Lord’s people.

Every year, at Passover, the children of Israel would call to mind their escape from Egypt under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. This memorial took the form of a meal, a meal in which the sacrificial lamb’s blood brought about the passing over of the angel of death. A meal in which blessed bread and blessed wine were consumed.

And it is as Passover approaches that our Lord took bread, “And when He had given thanks,” broke it, gave it to His disciples, and invited the five thousand to sit on the grassy hillside and eat with Him. This miracle was a kind of a memorial of Passover, though the people did not realize that the Passover Lamb Himself stood in their presence, that the One who is the Word of God, the very One through whom all things were made, the One who sustains us not only by bread, but by His every Word – was Himself distributing miraculous bread through His ministers, bread that combines with the Word of God to nourish, strengthen, and give life.

Like the Manna and like the Passover, this feeding of the multitudes was a great sign of something better to come, a foretaste of the real feast. That later Passover feast would be the day before the Passover Lamb to end all Passover lambs would be sacrificed, that He would once more take bread, give thanks, break it, and give it to the disciples saying: “Take, eat,” giving His flesh for the life of the world. He would also give them the cup of the New Testament, saying: “Take, drink,” giving His blood for the forgiveness of sins.

It is through this miracle, the feeding of the five thousand, that our Lord would proclaim Himself to be the bread of life. And it would be through this proclamation that the Lord would explain that in eating the bread of life, we are eating His flesh – given for the life of the world. Indeed, unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we have no life in us.

Our Lord, in His mercy, doesn’t only feed the five thousand because they were hungry, but also because we are hungry – not merely for earthly food, but for supernatural food. For we live not by bread alone. The Word of God that creates, also forgives, also re-creates, also makes new, also gives eternal life.

And just as not everyone in the days of Moses would receive this blessing, refusing to heed the words of the Lord’s prophet, seeking to hoard, acting without faith in the Lord’s providence, so too we see such rebellion in the days of our Lord’s earthly sojourn. For after using the feeding of the five thousand as a lesson of the Eucharist to come, one third of our Lord’s followers would abandon Him, refusing to accept and trust in His Word that we are to eat His flesh and drink His blood unto eternal life.

And we see a similar lack of faith in these last days. Many of our brethren in the Christian Church refuse to believe our Lord’s clear words that “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” Many in our own communion believe these words, but attach greater importance to turning worship into entertainment, measuring “success” according to numbers. And even if we confess the Lord’s presence in the sacrament, and even if we profess it to be of the highest importance, and even if we strive to do so reverently - our lives do not bear out this confession and profession.

Too often we ponder things earthly minded instead of the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world. Too often we find other priorities competing for our time on those days when the Lord’s ministers are distributing the miraculous bread of life and the holy blood of the New Testament to starving sinners who trust in these words: “given and shed for you.” Too often we see the liturgy as a show of reverence that comes to an end when the final chord of the postlude sounds, and when we leave the sanctuary and return to our secular vocations. And far too often, we, like the Israelites in the days of Moses, grouse and complain, gripe and moan, rant and rave – all in the face of the Lord’s abundant and boundless mercy.

And like the multitudes that wanted to make Jesus a king by force, we too depend on our own means, seeking to take the will of God into our own hands – rather than humbly submitting to Him and to His will.

How often do we try to make the Kingdom of God into our own image? What kind of faith is shown when we think we have all the answers, when we try to impose our vision of the kingdom of God into others instead of, as Luther said, letting God be God.

The Christian life is about submission and surrender, about putting our faith and trust in Him by whose every Word we live. He will give us this day our daily bread. He will not let us starve in the wilderness. He will feed us according to His own means and measure. And look at His measure! None of the children of Israel lacked food in the form of daily provisions of Manna. And when the True Son of Israel provided bread for those who came to hear the Word of God, twelve baskets of this miraculous bread were left over!

Dear children of God, “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her; that you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom.”

Let us receive the Bread of Life Himself. Let us commune with the Word of God, from whose mouth comes “all that we need to sustain this body and life.” Let us continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Let us repent of our complaining and lack of faith. Let us joyfully receive the good gifts of the Lamb of God, who gives Himself for us, “for us men and for our salvation,” “for the life of the world.” Let us continue “daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house,” eating our daily bread “with gladness and simplicity of heart.”

And “let us give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endureth forever.” Amen.

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

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