SERMON FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT, 3-22-2020
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL
Pastor Michael Larson
Propers for the Fourth Sunday in Lent - Laetare
Introit: Ps. 122:1–2, 6, 8; antiphon: Isaiah 66:10a, 11a
Old Testament: Ex. 16:2–21 or Is. 49:8–13
Epistle: Gal. 4:21–31 or Acts 2:41–47
Gospel: John 6:1–15
Gradual: Ps. 122:1, 7
Verse: Ps. 125:1–2, 5b
“Philip, where are we to buy bread?” That’s the question our Lord puts to Philip this morning. And anytime the Lord asks a question in the Bible, our ears should really perk up! Because it’s not as though God is ignorant or doesn’t know the answer! Instead, the Lord asks questions for your benefit, to help you understand things of the utmost importance. He also asks questions to test you but above all, really to help you. So this morning our ears should all really perk up because God asks a real zinger: “Philip, where are we to buy bread?”
Can you think of some other questions God asks in the Bible? How about “Adam, where are you?” How about “Eve, what have you done?” How about “Cain, where is your brother, Abel?” Make no mistake about it. The Lord knows the situation. Those questions are asked for a reason – to reveal our deep mistrust of God and our deep sinfulness, all so that we may be driven to repentance and find refuge in Christ our Lord.
This morning our Lord is at it again, asking questions. Jesus has been preaching, teaching, and healing the sick. Now He’s up on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee. There are thousands there surrounding Him. Five thousand, not counting women and children. Jesus looks around. He can see His disciples getting nervous because there’s a massive crowd pressing in and there’s no food. What an impossible situation! So He turns and looks over at Philip and asks a question. It’s not “Adam, where are you?” But it’s awfully close, “Philip, where are we to buy bread?”
Philip is standing right there before the Lord of Life, but he flunks the test. Miserably! He blurts out, “A year’s salary is not enough!” Andrew, Peter’s brother, fails the test as well. “Five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many? Jesus, it’s just not enough!”
So our Lord has them all sit down on the green grass. He leads them beside the still waters of the Sea of Galilee. He takes the loaves, blesses them, and distributes to all. So also with the fish. And lo and behold, the food multiplied before their very eyes. Those thousands of troubled and hungry people ate till they were full and still plenty left over as well.
Just as God had miraculously provided manna in the wilderness after the exodus, so now Jesus miraculously provides food for thousands.
Philip failed the test. Andrew failed the test. But what about you?
Adam, where are you? Eve, what have you done? Cain, where is your brother? Philip, where are we to buy bread? Those questions go deep! Way down deep to these sinful unbelieving hearts of ours. And our answers aren’t always pretty.
So let me put those questions to you. “Baptized child of God, where are you?” God is asking you, “Where are you in relation to me?” With this pandemic, all the fear, and the anxiety of it all? God’s asking you, “Where are you?” “What’s going on in that heart of yours? Is it filled with a cheerful and confident faith in the God of love, who promises you that He works all things together for good, for you who love Him? Or is that heart of yours filled, consumed, with faithless fears, worries that are choking out the joy of the Gospel?
Daughter of Eve, what have you done? Are you hoarding and stockpiling? Are you thinking only about yourself and your own needs? Cain, where is your brother? That is, how much thought and action have you put into the needs of your neighbor at this time? Christians, we’re to be salt and light to this whole world during times of famine and plague. That’s how hospitals all started in the first place. Christians spontaneously caring for all, the aged, the despondent, and the despairing. But we’ve been suspicious of our neighbor, avoided them at all costs.
But now this morning Jesus sticks the question to Philip right straight at us. Where are you going to buy bread? That is fundamentally a question about your trust and where your hope and consolation lies. Who will you trust in to provide for you?
Philip flubs the test. We don’t have enough. This is an impossible situation.
I think this week we can relate. Our country, our lives seem to be headed into a desert wilderness of our own. There is existential dread and so much fear. I myself admit it’s been disorienting. To have our everyday rhythms of life disrupted such as they are.
This Sunday in the church year is called Laetare Sunday, coming from the first word of our Introit (in Latin), “Rejoice.” It’s otherwise known as “refreshment Sunday.” It’s intended as something of a little Mardi Gras, right smack dab in the middle of Lent.
That’s exactly what we’ve got in our Gospel text today. Jesus providing a feast to tired, hungry, anxious people in a desert. We are reminded that in this wilderness of this fallen world, there is refreshment in Christ. There is rejoicing in His church, where He is faithfully present, bestowing His gifts of salvation to provide an oasis, refreshment, and peace.
We are reminded that even in an impossible situation, with God nothing is impossible. He miraculously parted the Red Sea and led the Israelites to safety on dry ground. He fed manna in the wilderness, provided quail, and water from the rock. This morning we see Jesus’ comforting miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. God provides for every need of body and soul. And He continues to do the same for each and every one of us.
Philip, where are we to buy bread? That is, how will all these people be fed and cared for? Philip saw the impossible odds and he made a big mistake. He took his eyes off Jesus, the Lord of Life, who was standing right beside him.
We’ve got the same problem. We’ve shifted our eyes away from the Christ as well. We’re staring into the crowds of panic. We’re scanning social media, always imagining the worst. We’ve indulged ourselves in the same anxiety as the confused masses. We too, like Philip, have been paralyzed by fear. Dear Christians, that not faith. Like Philip we’ve flubbed the test.
But with an impossible and overwhelming situation, we remember today that with God nothing is impossible. Philip fails the test. We fail the test. But the good news is that when we’re at our worst, God is at His best. When we are faithless, He is faithful.
Today in the wilderness of this fallen world, filled with panic, pandemic, and the siren calls of those who want to profit from it all, we have an oasis. We have refreshment from the Lord of Life. And this is the thing you should all remember. So long as you keep your eyes on Jesus, you haven’t the slightest thing to fear.
After all, He bore every sickness of mankind on the tree of the cross. He rose from the dead to bring healing to every troubled soul ravaged by sin. The first words preached at Christmas by angels were simple: “Don’t be afraid!” The first words out of Jesus’ mouth at His resurrection the same: “Don’t be afraid!” Those are words to cling to right now in this world of ours.
After all, we’ve got no license from God to indulge in the panic and fear of the masses. We are called to follow His lead. Called to a witness of strength, courage and faith. To be a calm presence for others in time of fear.
In our second reading this morning, we see those first Christians devoted steadfastly in the doctrine and fellowship of the Lord, receiving of the bread of life, which is the body of Christ together with His precious blood. They didn’t stop praying and they didn’t stop meeting together. Such is the case today in our churches and in our homes.
Lots of things have been canceled by the coronavirus, but love is not one of them. The great news is that God is most certainly at work in all of this. Working in all His people both to will and to do that which is pleasing to Him. Therefore, you may be sure that He will supply as you need both body and soul for this current challenge. He’s calling all of us to get out of ourselves and to live in Him by faith, and to live in our neighbor in love. He promises never to leave us nor forsake us.
“Philip, where are we to buy bread?” That is, “In whom then, at this time, will you trust?” Let us look with eyes of faith to Him and say, “In my dear Lord Jesus Christ!”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Prayer of the Church
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. Protect those who preach and give spiritual care; give courage to fathers and all who teach and pray in every household. Help all who hear the Word rightly to understand and truly to believe it. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
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 cannot gather together. 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. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Loving God, bestow Your grace on all nations of the earth. Bless especially our country, its inhabitants and all who are in authority. Give us wisdom, charity and courage in chaotic times. Let Your glory dwell in our land, that mercy and truth, righteousness and peace may abound in all places. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Compassionate Lord, graciously defend us from all calamity by pestilence, scarcity, famine and every other evil. Spare us from disease and its fear. Protect and prosper all who labor in their rightful callings, especially those who remain in harm’s way for the good of their neighbors. Be the God and Father of the poor, the unemployed and the homeless; the helper of the hungry and needy; the comforter of the distressed and those who sorrow. Comfort those who mourn the death of Shari Hagedorn, especially husband, Jonathan, and sons, Ceejay and Xavier. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
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, and keep Your ministry and Your Church always before us, so that we may have compassion to help all in need as we are able. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
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. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
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.