Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent - Laetare; Mar. 11, 2018
Rev. Michael Larson
In the OT lesson this morning you heard about the miracle of bread from heaven. The sandals of the Israelites were still wet, still drying out from walking through the Red Sea. They had been delivered from bondage in Egypt and cruel Pharaoh. They were baptized into the sea and came out on dry ground. Their enemies were dead - they were free. God had delivered on all his promises. They had seen with their own eyes the power of God on full display! A pillar of fire by night to lead the way and a pillar of cloud by day. They had seen the Red Sea miraculously part and they had also seen those waves roll down like thunder upon all their enemies.
They have absolutely no reason to doubt the Lord! But just listen to them this morning. The congregation grumbles against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. “Why, oh why”, they say cry “have you brought us out into this wilderness to kill us all with hunger?” It’s a bit like every kid who comes home after school. They all say the same thing, “Mom, I’m starving!”
A bit overdramatic - over the top, you might say, but God, nevertheless, in His mercy, responds. The glory of the Lord appeared. The Lord spoke. In the evening he covered the camp with quail to eat. In the morning he rained down bread from heaven. They ate till they were full.
Now fast forward to our Gospel this morning. Our Lord is teaching among thousands of people. They’re on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. It’s a wilderness sort of area. The folks are flocking out to see him - and we Lutherans of all people ought to see the problem here. Nobody signed up for sponsoring the coffee hour that day! There’s no nescos, no crockpots, and no chic fila.
The disciples should not have been worried. Like the Israelites who had crossed the sea - these disciples had seen plenty of miracles. They had witnessed water turn into wine. They had seen the blind receive their sight. They had seen the sick made well.
But when it comes to stomachs, and hunger, it’s easy for anyone to lose their head! The disciples get panicky and nervous. So Jesus puts the question to them. He is testing them of course. Jesus asked Philip – “Where are we to buy enough bread for each of them, so that these people may eat?” Philip answers “Two hundred denarii won’t even get them enough for just a little bit of bread.” Andrew too thought things were out of control. “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
You know the rest of the story. Our Lord tells the people to sit down on the grass, in little congregations. He took five loaves, and gave thanks, a eucharist, and distributed bread to all who had need. They ate till they were full. And the leftovers were spilling over 12 baskets.
When they all saw this sign, this miracle, they were overwhelmed, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!”
There is much to preach on this morning, but the plain and simple message is best. The Lord is showing you that he is a God to be trusted! That we should fear him, and trust him, and love him above all things.
You see, our Lord does not lay before you trouble, and difficult situations, to find out how bright and ingenious you are! He is not trying to test your will power. God isn’t really interested in how resourceful or clever you can be. Do you see what the congregation Israel in the wilderness forgot to do? Do you see what the disciples, with Jesus, forgot to do? Do you see what you so often forget to do?
When the Lord lays a heavy burden on you – when he throws you a test and a problem, he’s not so much interested in how you can wrack your brain and solve it. He’s more interested in how fast you’ve learned to toss that problem, or that heavy burden, right back at him.
Now I know, I know, that you trust God and thank him for his Son Jesus. In him, you know that you have forgiveness in his blood and eternal life. You know that no one but him can raise your body on the Last Day. Sin, hell, and death, are a problem too big for the likes of you. So you trust in him for that. You trust him for the big stuff!
Good! God be praised you do! But what about all your other worries and concerns. You know, the day to day stuff. The things you call the real world – the worries and concerns nearly crippling you. A dead end job maybe. Student debt. Stress at home. Uneasiness. Children not living up to expectations. What about your retirement, maybe less than secure and far from what you thought would be relaxing? How about a new roof on the house, a car you thought reliable, now junk?
These things are not below God! He is the God who made heaven and earth. The God who gives daily bread – the daily bread Luther describes in the catechism – such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, money, goods, and so on. The Lord is supremely interested in what you call the “real world.” He’s got an invested interest in your day to day. It’s his, after all! And he’s a jealous God. He doesn’t want you running around, looking for help, everywhere and anywhere. No, he’s wants you to come to him.
He doesn’t want you fuming and fretting, worrying yourself to death. In fact, even now, consider your greatest frustration. Think now about whatever troubles you. Take whatever impossible mess you have in your hands. Hand it all over to him.
He’s eager to help and help he will. This morning he says to you, dear child, learn about my kingdom, hear my Word, and believe in me! Trust in me. Remain in your holy station in life, be patient, and persist. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Be still and know that I am the Lord. Live, work, pray, and let me worry about the rest.
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? In other words, if God can be trusted with your greatest need, you know the big stuff! – like rescuing you from hell, saving you from your sin, and opening heaven to you - how can you possibly doubt that he’s up to the task of your day to day needs. The real world stuff.
After all, he entered this real world of yours. Became a real-world flesh and blood man. Knew every possible painful experience in this poor life of labor. Every annoyance and inconvenience, he knew that too.
He came into your world suffering even hell and condemnation on the cross to redeem you. And now, risen, and up from the grave – he speaks words of pardon that provide refreshment and rest for seared consciences and tired souls. He reaches out to you – gives you something better than manna in the wilderness. He gives you himself.
What was once a shadow and sign has become the reality. The mystery hidden is now revealed. Jesus says “I am the bread of life…this is my body…this is my blood…truly, truly, I say to you, whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
So learn again the art of the Christian life – to be content in every circumstance. To trust that God is eager to help. Every Christians heart prays “the eyes of all look to you O Lord, and you give them their meat in due season. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”
Learn again to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things - the truly good things that God is so eager to give – well, those will be given to you as well. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Prayer of the Church
Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.
Almighty and eternal God, worthy to be held in reverence by all people everywhere, we give You humble and sincere thanks for the innumerable blessings that You have bestowed on us without any merit or worthiness on our part. We praise You especially for preserving for us Your saving Word and the Holy Sacraments. Grant and preserve to Your Holy Church throughout the world purity of doctrine, and provide faithful pastors to preach Your Word with power. Help all who hear the Word rightly to understand and truly to believe it.
Heavenly Father, in mercy bring to repentance the enemies of Your Church, and grant them amendment of life. Protect and defend Your Church in all tribulation and danger, and sustain with Your Spirit our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who experience persecution. Strengthen us and all fellow Christians to set our hope fully on the grace revealed in Christ, and help us to fight the good fight of faith, that in the end we may receive the salvation of our souls.
Loving God, bestow Your grace on all nations of the earth. Continue to bless the international outreach at Luther Memorial Chapel. Bless all of the volunteers and equip them with wisdom, compassion and your grace, that they would make your love known – through word and deed.
Compassionate Lord, graciously defend us from all calamity by fire and water, from war and pestilence, from scarcity and famine, and from every other evil. Protect and prosper all who labor in their rightful callings, and let all useful arts flourish among us. Be the God and Father of the poor and homeless, the helper of the hungry and needy, the comforter of the distressed and those who sorrow. Look with mercy especially upon those who have requested our prayers, including those in the mission field – Rev. Jacob Gaugert, the Sovitzky family, and Dierdre and Temish Christiansen.
Accept, we implore You, O Lord, our bodies and souls, our hearts and minds, our talents and powers, together with the offerings we bring before You as our humble service. Fill us, Your children, with hearts moved toward generosity in supporting Your ministry among us and with compassion to help all in need, as we are able.
Grant Your Holy Spirit, O Lord, to those who come to the Lord’s table this day, that they may receive the heavenly manna of Christ’s very body and blood in sincere repentance and firm faith and to their abundant blessing.
Father, as we are strangers and pilgrims on earth, help us by true faith and a godly life to prepare for the world to come, doing the work You have given us to do while it is day, before the night comes when no one can work. And when our last hour comes, support us by Your power and receive us into Your heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.