Sunday, March 18, 2018

Judica - The Fifth Sunday In Lent

John 8:42-59; Hebrews 9:11-15; Genesis 22:1-14

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Though we may not like to admit it, the LORD had every right to demand Isaac’s life. He had every right to demand Abraham’s life, the life of our First Parents, the lives of Peter and Paul and of all the Apostles, your life and my life as well. For, hey, and you, and I are sinners – conceived and born in sin, and committing sins of thought, word, and deed daily, even this morning. And, the LORD explicitly warned Adam, “In the day that you eat of [the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil] you shall surely die.” And, St. Paul confirms, “The wages of sin is death.”
Thus, the philosophical conundrum called the Problem of Evil or something similar, typically expressed, “How can an all-powerful, all-knowing, and good God permit, or even demand, evil?” is truly no conundrum at all, if one only takes seriously God’s righteousness and holiness and the seriousness of our sin. After all, we’re not talking about human laws here, which are by nature imperfect and corrupt, able to be bent, annulled, circumvented, and enforced with inequity and injustice, but we’re talking about the divine, holy, righteous, and just Law of God which is of God before the giving of the Ten Commandments, before the creation of man, and before the creation and foundation of the universe. To put it plainly: God is good, and whatever is not of God or in alignment with God is, by definition and necessity, not good. Likewise, God is righteous, just, and holy, and whatever is not of God or in alignment with God is, by definition and necessity, unrighteous, unjust, and unholy.
However, coupled with God’s eternal, righteous, just, and unchangeable Law is His abounding patience, mercy, love, and grace. Though He had every right to demand Isaac’s life, the life of our First Parents, the lives of Peter and Paul and all of the Apostles, your life and my life, from the Fall of Man onward, God promised to redeem and to provide a substitute to fulfill the Law for us and to suffer its consequences in our place: “I will put enmity between you and the Woman, and between your seed and Her Seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”
Abraham knew of this first covenant promise and He trusted the Word of the LORD, and the LORD counted Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness. Thus, when the LORD demanded the life of Abraham’s son of promise, Isaac, Abraham trusted that the LORD would still keep His promise to provide him an heir from his own flesh whose descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens and the grains of sand upon the seashore, through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Therefore, as he and his son of promise journeyed to the mountain of sacrifice, Abraham confessed his faith in the LORD once again in answer to Isaac’s worried concern about the absence of a sacrificial lamb saying, “God will provide for Himself the Lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” And, the LORD did provide, not a lamb, but a ram, for the sacrifice so that Isaac’s life was spared. Then, over centuries and millennia, to and through His faithful people who, despite their personal sin, trusted in Him, the LORD reiterated His covenant promise until He provided His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
The faith of Abraham was a gift given and created by God. There was nothing special about Abraham. He was a sinner just like everyone else. He was a pagan and an idolater, worshipping the household gods of his father and countrymen. But, when the LORD called to him, Abraham listened and believed, he trusted in the Word of the LORD. Even when the path was uncertain and unclear, Abraham trusted and believed. “We walk by faith and not by sight.” The faith of Abraham was in the Word of the LORD, and through it the LORD promised Abraham a Son who would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. This Son was actually not Isaac, however, but He was the very same Son and Seed that was promised to our First Parents, and to Satan, by the way, Jesus. However, Isaac was a necessary link in the covenantal chain, as was Jacob and Judah and Ruth and David and Joseph and Mary and every descendent in between. Abraham believed the covenant promise made to our First Parents, as do all true children of Abraham henceforth. All who share the faith of Abraham, who trust in the Word of the LORD fulfilled in Jesus, the Seed Son of promise, are the true children of Abraham, the true Israel, sons and daughters of God, and the Bride of Christ, the Church.
Jesus came preaching the faith of Abraham, calling Abraham’s children to faith in the fulfillment of God’s Word of Promise and to repentance with the proclamation, “The Kingdom of God is near.” Very quickly, however, He met opposition from the Pharisees and scribes, the priests, and the religious leadership of Israel who had come to believe and trust, not in the Word of the LORD, but in their blood descent from Abraham. By the time of the accounts recorded in our Gospel reading today from St. John, Jesus had already had many confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders. In today’s reading, Jesus gets right to the point with them saying, essentially, “Who’s your daddy?” “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but He sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.”
Jesus laid it out straight for them: Either your Father is God, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, or your father is Satan, the father of lies, the antithesis of all that is righteous, good, and holy. Jesus said the same two weeks ago in St. Luke’s Gospel, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Then, they accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Here, in today’s Gospel, they accuse Him of this once again. This is nothing other than the sin against the Holy Spirit, for it is calling the LORD’s good and holy work evil and sinful. If a person so blasphemes the Holy Spirit of God, there is no hope for him and he cannot be saved, not because God is unmerciful and unforgiving, but because it is by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God that faith is created. If the means of faith is rejected, then there can, and never will be, faith.
Jesus spoke the Truth, and He was rejected because of it. However, the Jewish religious leaders were not merely rejecting Jesus and His teachings, but they were rejecting the Truth of God, they were rejecting God Himself, and they were teaching others to do the same. That is why Jesus rebukes them so very harshly. They couldn’t convict Him of sin, of breaking God’s Law, but they could only accuse Him of breaking their laws, man’s laws. “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God,” Jesus answered them, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” “Now we know that you have a demon!” they shouted. “Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”
It is interesting that the demons know whose Son Jesus is, and they reject Him, while the religious leaders of Israel do not, and yet, they reject Him because they reject the Word of God. They claim to be children of Abraham, and yet they reject their father Abraham’s faith in the Word of the LORD and His promise. That is why, at another time, Jesus told them that He could raise up children for Abraham from the stones on the ground. On the one hand, blood descent has nothing to do with being a son or daughter of Abraham. And, on the other, the Jews often referred to Gentiles as “stones.” This points to the greater sin of the religious leaders of Israel: Not only did they reject the Word of the LORD for themselves, but as the teachers of Israel they failed to teach it faithfully to the people they were called to care for and to protect. They were wolves in sheep’s clothing, devouring the sheep of the LORD’s flock. Whereas Abraham taught the faithful to trust in the Lamb that the LORD would provide, the Pharisees, scribes, priests, and religious leaders of the Jews rejected Him and sent the Lamb of God to the cross to die.
“You are not yet fifty years old, and have you see Abraham?” they protested. “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’.” “So they picked up stones to throw at Him.” But, Jesus was before Abraham, before our First Parents, and before creation itself. For, Jesus is the Word of God, who was with God in the beginning, and who was God. All things were made through Him, and apart from Him was not anything made that has been made. And, Jesus is the great “I AM,” the Name of God revealed to Moses in the burning bush. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, the Son of God, and God Himself. He is the one that was promised to our First Parents after their Fall. He was the one promised to crush Satan’s head. He was the one promised to Abraham, in whom Abraham put his faith and trust. And, He is the one whom all children of Abraham confess still as both God and Lord.
And, Jesus is our Great High Priest who has “entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” “He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” And, though He had every right to demand your life, your LORD gave the life of His Son for you that you may live. And, He is here for you now as both Priest and Sacrifice, Host and Meal, to forgive your sins anew, to strengthen your faith, and to preserve you in everlasting life in Him in the body of Christ, the Church. On the Mount of the LORD it is still provided for you. Believe, trust, and receive.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Lenten Vespers In the Week of Laetare

John 19:16b-30; Isaiah 66:10-14

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Fourth Sunday In Lent has the Latin name Laetare, which means rejoice. Laetare is a brief respite in an otherwise penitential season. This respite is traditionally acknowledged in the church by the changing of the liturgical color from purple to rose (pink) for this one week. A similar tradition is observed during the third week of Advent which is called Gaudete, which also means rejoice. The first verse of our First Lesson this evening served as the Antiphon to the Introit on Sunday: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.”
The image is one of motherly love and nurture, and of bountiful comfort and peace. We are to rejoice because Jerusalem herself has been redeemed and restored, and because she has been made to be for us a nurturing mother from whom we receive the LORD’s ever-flowing comfort and peace. And yet, Jerusalem is a nurturing mother and a source of comfort and peace only because the LORD has chosen her to be so and has filled her to overflowing with His love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and peace. Of course, we are not speaking of the earthly Jerusalem which, despite it’s name’s meaning, “Yahweh’s Peace,” has never been at peace, but of the heavenly Jerusalem which comes down from heaven adorned as a bride to be presented to her Bridegroom, to Jesus.
 “I will extend peace to her like a river,” says the LORD, “and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream.” The new Jerusalem is for all people, both Jews and Gentiles. That was always Israel’s calling, to be a light to the Gentiles and to draw them into her fold. Throughout her history, however, she at times succeeded at this missionary endeavor, and at other times she failed miserably, even adopting the false gods and idols of the nations surrounding her. The new Jerusalem will gather her children from all the nations and will be the mother of all.
Of course, her firstborn was Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man. Though she was His mother, He was her Savior and Redeemer. And, though it is confounding to man’s reason and wisdom, she is also His Bride, and He her Bridegroom. For, when it comes to the heavenly Jerusalem and to Her Lord, Son, and Savior Jesus, relationships have been redefined and realized anew. Thus did Jesus say to His mother Mary from the cross concerning His friend and Apostle John, “Woman, behold, your son!” and to John, “Behold, your mother!” A new community, a new family, the Church, was born at that moment at the foot of Jesus’ cross. It is a family in which brothers and sisters of different mothers are born again in Holy Baptism from the watery womb of Mother Church, the new and heavenly Jerusalem, represented here by Mary, the Mother of our Lord. Christians are born again from Her watery womb in Holy Baptism, and they are fed, nourished, and are satisfied from Her consoling breast on the pure milk of the Word of God.
You will recall that Jesus taught the same throughout His ministry. Just a week ago on Oculi, The Third Sunday In Lent, you heard Jesus’ reply to a woman who shouted, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed,” saying, “Blessed, rather, are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” And, another time when someone informed Jesus that His mother and his brothers were present, Jesus answered them saying, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it.”
Truly, the Church of Jesus Christ is His Bride, for whom He laid down His life unto death on the cross that She might be presented pure, holy, and undefiled. And, the Church is also our Mother, from whose watery womb we are born anew in Holy Baptism, and from whose breasts we are nourished and sustained on the pure milk of the Word of God, and that Word made visible, touchable, and tasteable, the Blessed Sacraments. Thus, the Church is a family, and we are all sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters in Christ, and together we are His body, His Beloved, and His Bride.
But, we are not such for ourselves alone, but as was intended for Israel and for Jerusalem, we are for the sake of the world. The Church of Jesus Christ is a light shining in the darkness and a city on a hill. And, the light that shines through us is none other than the True Light of the World Jesus Christ. We must take care to hear His Word, to keep it, and to do it. We must not keep His Light to ourselves, or hide it in any way, but we must let it shine brightly in our worship, in our marriages, in our families and in our homes, in our words and our deeds out there in the world where we live our lives and carry out our God-given vocations. However, we must also take care to maintain and keep the Light shining amongst us against the temptation to cater to or to blend in with the surrounding darkness of this world and life. For, as we cannot give to others what we do not first have ourselves, so we cannot be a light shining in the darkness if we blend in with the darkness.
The Church, the New Jerusalem, was born from Jesus’ riven side upon the cross in water and blood. Peace like a river, an overflowing stream flows from Him through Her, that is, through you who keep His Word and do it. “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you love her.” Rejoice that She is your mother, that you are her sons and daughters. Rejoice that She is Jesus’ Bride and that you share in His life and righteousness and Sonship with the Father. And, as you have received comfort and nourishment and peace, so extend the same to others, like an ever-flowing river, to the glory of God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, in His Most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Westgate Circuit Conference – Week of Laetare

John 6:1-15; Galatians 4:21-31; Exodus 16:2-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There is a saying, “The devil will find work for idle hands to do”. That’s because the devil is always busy; he never rests, and he wants you to be always busy and never resting too. In contrast to the devil is your LORD and heavenly Father who wills for you to have regular and consistent times of rest. He Himself worked for six days in creation and then He rested on the seventh day and sanctified that day to be a day of rest for all generations. Rest is a necessary and important part of our lives. We need our eight hours of sleep each night to keep our bodies healthy and our minds sharp. Most of us get much less than that. But, even during our waking and working hours we need to take a break and sit down, or lay down, and rest a bit.
Your God and Creator knows this about you, and so He designed your bodies to take rest, even if you try to resist it and continue working. But, what about rest for your soul, rest for your spirit? Yes, you need spiritual rest as well, but that doesn’t happen autonomically, you have to make that time, you have to take that time, you have to set that time apart and keep it sacred and holy. Perhaps this is because your spirit doesn’t count hours, days, months, and years, for the life of your spirit has no end. Thus, it is in conflict with your flesh which is dying, which is all too aware of the passing of time. But still, your spirit needs rest, and that rest is not found in sleep or in taking a break, but it is found in the Lord, in His Word and in His presence, and in prayer, meditation, and contemplation upon these.
Ultimately, rest is about faith and trust in God, that God will provide, that you will have enough of whatever it is that you need, that you will persevere, no matter what may happen, that eternal life with God cannot be taken from you, even if your physical life perishes. Satan wants to keep you so busy living this life, which is really death and leads only to death, that you lose sight of the promise of true and lasting life with your heavenly Father.
It was this lesson about rest that the Lord wanted the children of Israel to learn in the Exodus, to put their fear, love, and trust in God to provide and protect and to keep His promise of deliverance from their enemies and the hope of a promised land of milk and honey in which to dwell. But, not long after the Lord delivered them from harsh slavery under the hand of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, the Israelites began to grumble that they had no food and they longed to be slaves again in Egypt where at least there was meat and bread. In response to their grumbling, the Lord literally caused bread to rain down from heaven upon His people. Each morning a flake-like substance appeared on the ground as the dew dried. The Israelites did not know what it was and so they called it manna, which means, “What is it?” They were commanded to gather as much as each of them could eat for the day. And, when the amount gathered was measured against an omer, both those who gathered less and those who gathered more found that they had the amount that they needed. No one had lack or need, but all had as much as they could eat for the day. The Lord provided them their daily bread just as Jesus taught His disciples and you to pray for – literally, bread for the day. Still, the people did not trust in the Lord. They tried to leave some of the manna till morning, but it bred worms and stank. And, later, the children of Israel began to grumble again saying, “there is no food and water, and we loathe this worthless food.”
All this fretting and worrying about food for the body – Your Lord would have you find rest from these. He says to you, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus, the New Moses, had lead a large crowd of people into the wilderness after performing wondrous signs in the towns and cities in the region of Galilee. It was near the end of the day and the Passover was about to begin when the people could do no work. To test His disciples, Jesus asked the question they all were thinking, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” The disciples answered according to the ways of the flesh, exclaiming the hopelessness and despair of unbelief – “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said to them, “Have the people sit down.” In the midst of their despair and hopelessness, when their minds and hearts were overwhelmed with impossible concerns about feeding the flesh, Jesus tells the people to rest. The Lord will provide what is needed; as it was in the beginning, so it is now, and ever shall be.
When you take rest in the Lord, in His Word, and in His gifts, you will find that you have all that you need and more. You receive plenteous forgiveness, plenteous mercy, plenteous grace, and plenteous love. You have food for your bellies, clothing for your body, and a roof over your head. As David sang, “My cup overflows”. And, as Jesus taught, “Give, and it will be given to you, a good measure, shaken together, pressed down, filled to overflowing will be put into your lap. For, with the measure you give will it be measured back to you.” For, taking rest in the Lord and in His gifts means trusting in Him to know your needs and to provide for them because He is your God and Creator and He is good. Taking rest in the Lord means living freely and not in bondage and slavery to the desires and passions of your flesh and the values and virtues of this world. Do not sell yourself into slavery once again as the children of Israel were ready to do in order to fill their bellies with Egyptian meat and bread. Satan is always tempting you to feed your flesh and to live not by the Word of God just as He tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread as He tempted Him in the wilderness. Jesus resisted that temptation and defeated the devil, and He obeyed His Father’s will and trusted in His Word for you. Thus He did for the five thousand what He would not do for Himself, He took man’s meager offering of bread and fish and He miraculously fed them till they were satisfied, trusting that the Lord knew their need and that He would provide.
In the beginning, the Lord created the world and all things in it in six days. On the seventh day He rested and He sanctified the seventh day to be a Sabbath, a day of rest. Our First Parents were tempted by the devil to forsake that rest and to strive and desire food for their bellies in defiance and unbelief of God’s Word. The result of their rebellion and disobedience was that the providing of bread for their bellies would become difficult and grueling work and that the end result of our striving for food would be death. Thus, in His mercy and compassion, God set Himself to work again, to recreate the world that man, His creation, cast into ruin. He sent His Word, His Son, to be conceived and born as a man, under the Law, to be obedient to the Law and to suffer and die for the sins of men. Jesus fulfilled all that God’s Law required. He did it in perfect faith, love, and trust, without grumbling, out of love for God and out of love for you. He suffered and died on Good Friday. He rested in the tomb on the Sabbath. And he rose again on the Eighth Day, having fulfilled the Law, having destroyed the power of death and the grave, and having fulfilled the Sabbath rest of God’s command. Now, there is no need to observe the Sabbath on any particular day, for it has been fulfilled, but Jesus has become for you God’s Sabbath rest. Through faith in Jesus, you have rest from your labors. Through faith in Jesus, you have the forgiveness of sins. Through faith in Jesus, through Holy Baptism, you have died and have been raised in Jesus, a new creation. Through faith in Jesus, you live, now, and forevermore. His mercies are new every morning. To receive them in faith is to worship Him in the highest way possible. Let us be glad to come to the House of the Lord. Let us be glad to remember His Sabbath Day and to keep it holy.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Laetare - The Fourth Sunday In Lent

John 6:1-15; Galatians 4:21-31; Exodus 16:2-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
You’ve heard the saying, “Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and he’ll eat forever.” In case you’re wondering, however, that isn’t in the Bible. In fact, it’s really a very non-Christian saying. Knowing how to fish won’t keep you eating, or living, for a single day or longer than the LORD wills to grant you life, let alone forever. It’s a very humanistic saying, focusing the individual back to herself and her efforts, knowledge, and wisdom. It’s actually very similar to another popular saying that’s not in the Bible: “God helps those who help themselves.” Nothing could be further from the teaching of the Scriptures, the teaching of Jesus, and the teaching of the Apostles thereafter. You are not called to become more and more self-reliant, but you are called to become less and less selfish and more and more selfless. The chief way in which you make this regression, which is really progress, is by dying to yourself and living in Christ. That is to say, by realizing your spiritual (and physical!) helplessness and dependence upon God in Christ, you become ever more receptive to His gifts, life, and spirit lived in and through you, for man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Thus, your Lord teaches you to pray for daily bread – literally, bread for the present day. This was the lesson of the manna in the wilderness. The children of Israel were commanded to collect only enough manna for their families for one day. If they collected less, providentially they had enough for all to eat and be satisfied. And, if they collected more, the surplus spoiled and bred worms. What about tomorrow, then? Pray again for daily bread, if the LORD should grant you a tomorrow. The lesson is this: Trust in the LORD who provides bread for the day, namely all that you need to sustain your body and your life each and every day He grants them to you.
“But, Pastor, you’ve still got to do something, right? You’ve got to collect the manna, right? You’ve got to work and earn money and buy your bread, right?” Yes, of course you do. Adam and Eve were created to work the Garden. Yet, still, the LORD provided them fruit from the trees, crops from the field, water from the stream, and all else they needed for their bodies and their lives. The point is that the LORD provides what you need through the hands and the hearts, the labor, and the efforts of the creatures He has created and given you as a gift. Thus, you are a vital and necessary part of the system the LORD has created to provide for and to sustain His creatures. You must do what you have been given to do – this is your vocation, – but do not put your faith and trust in your efforts, your work, your merit, and in your presumed independence, for this is a lie of the devil and it leads you away from God to death for yourself and for others who suffer for your failure to live your vocation in service of others to the glory of God.
The feeding of the five thousand was a test of faith, faith in God’s Word of Promise, faith in God’s providence despite what the natural eyes see and human reason and wisdom think. The great crowds that followed Jesus were not there because of faith but because of the wondrous signs He had performed. They were like the children of Israel, who were mighty impressed by the LORD after the wondrous signs of the Exodus, but when they found themselves in the wilderness without food and hungry, how quickly their disposition changed. “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Jesus asked Philip. He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” That was merely a statement of fact. Philip had no delusion that they could provide bread for the crowds in a natural manner. So far, so good. But, then, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” That was also a statement of fact, but there was a just a twinge of despair in it. Contrast Andrew’s statement to Mary’s, the Mother of our Lord, when they ran out of wine at the Wedding In Cana – Mary simply stated that they had run out of wine. However, she fully believed that Jesus was capable of fixing the problem. Andrew? Not so much.
Similarly, the children of Israel grumbled in the wilderness. Despite the wondrous signs they had witnessed by the LORD in their Exodus out of Egypt, when they began to be hungry and their resources and resourcefulness were depleted, how quickly they began to despair and disbelieve. The crowds on the mountaintop were no different. And, sadly, we are often no different either. When we have plenty, and things are going well in our families, our nation, and our church, we tend to credit ourselves for our success. But, when things begin to go south, someone or something else is to blame – maybe even God.
Thus, the feeding of the five thousand is not just another wondrous sign. That’s what the unbelieving crowds wanted. It is likely that, if that was all there was to it, our Lord Jesus would not have granted the sign at all. But, what is key here is that it was just before the Passover. Though the Passover involved the children of Israel eating and being sustained throughout their time of pilgrimage, it’s central purpose was to foreshadow the atoning work and sacrifice the LORD would make in the death of His Son Jesus for the sins of the world. The visible reality was that there was not enough bread for every man, woman, and child to get a crumb. But, the greater reality was that the Bread of Life, whom the manna in the wilderness represented, was among them to care for and to provide for them. As the LORD provided the children of Israel daily bread throughout their wilderness pilgrimage to the Promised Land, so the LORD has provided His Son, Jesus, the Bread of Life and the Passover Lamb of God to sustain and redeem all the world in body, soul, and everlasting life.
Jesus blessed the bread and the fish and had His disciples distribute them to the crowds. There were only five loaves and two fish. That’s all there was. According to physical reality, what the eyes could see, what human reason could understand, the situation was hopeless. Yet, as the food was distributed, there was enough – there was simply enough. Just as Elijah promised the widow of Zarephath, “The jar of flour shall not be spent and the jug of oil shall not be empty.” No one saw it happen. Jesus didn’t make a big scene, waving His hands in the air, speaking in tongues. He simply blessed the food, giving thanks to His Father, and had the disciples distribute the goods in their normal, vocational way. The LORD continues to provide for and sustain you today in the same way. In fact, you are an important, necessary, and essential part of His means of distribution.
The lesson is that things are not always what they appear. What we value according to the flesh and world is not always truly valuable. What appears to be weak and humble, even despised, can be pressed into service to do wondrous things. Very soon, Jesus would go to the cross for the sins of the world. He would look weak, helpless, and pathetic. The religious leaders of the Jews, the Romans, even Satan and his demons would think they had won. His disciples would despair saying, “We had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.” Thus, the feeding of the five thousand is a test, training, and preparation for that day and the days that would follow. We walk by faith and not by sight. We must have eyes that hear and ears that see. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.
Like Moses in the Exodus, Jesus has come to lead you out of slavery and into freedom. That is what St. Paul would teach you in his Epistle to the Galatians. The two women, Hagar and Sarah, are like two covenants, the Law and the Gospel, and two mountains, Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. “Abraham had two sons, one by [Hagar] a slave woman and one by [Sarah] a free woman.” St. Paul says that these women can be understood allegorically as two covenants, “One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar,” and “she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.” The other, Sarah, corresponds to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, and is free. It is Sarah, the new covenant, the heavenly Jerusalem, the Gospel that St. Paul says is our mother.
Your life comes from the Gospel, not from the Law. But, your flesh both loves and hates the Law, at once boastfully believing that it can keep it and do it, but then cursing it when you fail. The temptation you continually face is to strive to fulfill the Law like the slave children of Hagar, Mount Sinai, rather than to live in the Gospel freedom of the children of Sarah, Mount Zion. Your temptation is to put your fear, love, and trust in signs and wonders and in your own works rather than in the Word and Promise of the LORD fulfilled and kept for you in Jesus Christ. Signs and wonders are fine and good, should the LORD choose to grant them. But your faith and trust must not be in these. As our resurrected Lord spoke to Thomas the Sunday after Easter, “Have you believed because you have seen? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Your Lord Jesus calls you by His Spirit to a living faith – a faith that lives, not by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. This is the Gospel and it brings true and lasting freedom, for you are saved, not by works, and not by signs and wonders, but by faith in the Gospel Word and Promise of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Yet, because of your flesh and humanity, which God created good and redeemed from sin and death, He also gives you bread and wine and water that you may eat and drink and be forgiven. These elements, when the Word of God is attached to them, deliver what His Word of Promise says: They give the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to those who believe these words, “Given and shed for you.” Receive and believe what the LORD gives, provides, and delivers, and you will remain free in His grace and live.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.