Sunday, March 15, 2015

Homily for Laetare - The Fourth Sunday In Lent (Lent 4)

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.
The large crowd that followed Jesus across the waters of the Sea of Galilee because of the signs and the wonders He performed on the sick were not so unlike the children of Israel who followed Moses and Aaron out of Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea. They were the ecclesia, the assembly of those who had been called by the Spirit through Holy Baptism; they were the Church. And, now they were in trouble. They were in the wilderness, just like Jesus after His Baptism, far from the villages and the cities, having only meager provisions that would feed but a few people for but one meal. Moreover, it was the Passover, and they were not prepared to celebrate the Feast. Jesus’ disciples remembered all too well how the Israelites responded to their situation when they were filled with fear and despair. They picked up stones to throw at Moses and Aaron. And, so, they, too, despaired when their Lord questioned them saying, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”
Our little ecclesia today is in similar trouble. We are in a cultural wilderness with only meager provisions, and we are tempted to despair that we will be able to survive. As the children of Israel in the wilderness, and as the large crowd across the Sea of Galilee, we too, are being tested: Will we look only to our meager provisions and despair? Or, will we trust in the LORD, who is truly all that we need? Do not be afraid. We were baptized for this. For, our Lord, who resisted Satan’s temptations by trusting in the Word of God, is able to sustain us even as He satisfied over five thousand with only five loaves of bread and two small fish.
The first thing we have to do is stop doing and just sit down and listen to our Lord and His Word. Jesus had the people sit down in the grass, and then He commanded His disciples, His pastors, to feed them. What they held in their hands looked just as foolish, weak, and impossible as what I hold in my hands each and every Sunday in this Divine Service – only enough for each to get a little, certainly not enough to satisfy. And, yet, even a crumb from this, your Master’s table, bestows His forgiveness of your sins, eternal life, and salvation! And, how much more than crumbs does He provide for you each and every day of your life? Jesus “took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.” Who’s doing the work here? And, who’s doing the receiving. That’s right. That’s why you come to Church, to be served by the Lord.
The Lord needs nothing from you, but you need everything from Him. Still, He loves the sacrifices that you bring, not bread and wine, and certainly not your time, talent, and treasures – these are already His, and they are His gifts to you – but He loves the sacrifice you bring of a broken and contrite heart, a broken spirit, the sacrifice of your body and your self, a living sacrifice. Indeed, the highest worship of God is to receive His gifts, just like the Israelites in the wilderness, just like the five thousand and the four thousand in the wilderness, and just like the disciples at the Last Supper in the upper room – so, here, in the Church do you receive His gifts and worship and glorify Him in receiving them.
Ironically, it’s hard for us to live in freedom. It’s hard for us to live in grace. Why is that? Because of our sinful flesh. Our flesh wants to do for itself and take credit for its self-providence and self-righteousness. That’s why we secretly crave the Law and seek to submit ourselves to the Law again and again. Because, the Law is clear and precise, it’s knowable, certain, and unchanging. Of course, the Law is impossible for us to do and to fulfill on our own, but our flesh is nothing if not prideful, confident, and self-righteous. After the LORD delivered the children of Israel out of bondage and slavery in Egypt, quickly they grumbled and were anxious about food. They were ready to submit to slavery in Egypt once again in exchange for the certainty of three square meals per day. And, we do the same. For the sake of comfort, or a sense of security, we readily forsake our freedoms. Moreover, spiritually, we act more like the children of the slave woman, Hagar, than like the children of the free woman, Sarah, the children of promise.
You see, anxiety and fear are a very real kind of spiritual slavery. And, worse, they are the fruit of unbelief, mistrust, and a heart turned inward upon itself. These keep us focused inward upon ourselves and our needs, and our inability to meet our needs, instead of upon the LORD and His Word and Promise to provide us all that we need to support our bodies and our lives. He provides us daily bread – that is, literally, bread for one day: today. We are not to worry about tomorrow. If tomorrow comes, the Lord will provide what is needed for that day as well. That is the lesson of the manna in the wilderness. The children of Israel were to gather only enough manna to feed their family for one day. If they gathered more than they needed, it spoiled; and, if they gathered less, by some chance, they found that everyone still ate and was satisfied. The LORD was teaching His children that He knew their needs, and that He loved them and would provide for them what they needed, even if that was sometimes not what they believed that they needed, or wanted. And, so, our Lord Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” Literally, we pray, “Give us our bread, our manna, for the day.” If tomorrow comes, by the grace of our LORD, we’ll pray for daily bread again, and each and every day we are blessed to live in His grace.
Daily bread is grace and freedom. It’s only uncomfortable if you do not trust and believe. Then your fear, love, and trust will be captive to slavery under the Law, a slavery of anxiety, worry, and unrest. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. Jesus is the Bread of Life of which a man may eat and live. And, Jesus is the Word of the Law fulfilled. Thus, those five loaves of bread represent the five books of the Law written by Moses. Jesus took them and fulfilled them, and His disciples gathered twelve baskets full of leftovers after all had eaten and were satisfied. For, the Law finds its goal and fulfillment in Jesus Christ, whose people continue steadfastly in the doctrine and fellowship of the twelve apostles, and in the breaking and receiving of the Bread of Life, which is the body of Christ together with His precious blood, and in the prayers, the liturgy of Christ’s Church.
And yet, we look at our world and our culture, and we look at our meager provisions, and we begin to fear, and panic, and despair. We look longingly at the fleshpots of Egypt, and wind up submitting to slavery under fear and anxiety, submitting ourselves to the judgment and condemnation of the Law rather than living in the freedom of grace and the Gospel. What are the fleshpots of Egypt for us today? Well, there is the temptation to not trust in the LORD to provide for His Church through Word and Sacrament, and to think that we must devise some new program, some new marketing campaign, some new form of worship, some new outreach scheme, or whatever else, in order to attract new admission paying customers to our little sinking ship. There is also the temptation to compromise and soften the Word of God to make it more palatable to our world and culture, particularly when it comes to those hot-button topics like life, sexuality, and marriage. But, all of these temptations are temptations to submit ourselves once again to slavery under the Law, to be the children of the slave woman, Hagar, for, they are responses motivated by fear and anxiety and worry, not by faith, and love, and trust in God. They are the temptation to believe that we have to do something, because whatever God is doing isn’t working.
No, we are not the children of the slave woman, Hagar, but we are the children of the free woman, Sarah, children of promise. We live under grace and the Gospel, not under the Law. Yes, because of the weakness of our sinful flesh, grace and freedom can be frightening. Do not be afraid. Fear, love, and trust in the LORD. The LORD knows what we need – the LORD knows what you need – and He graciously provides you everything you need for your body and life. Therefore, set your hearts and minds on the spiritual things, and let God take care of everything else. But, first, stop doing, and sit down and listen. Eat and drink and be filled and forgiven with the overflowing life of Jesus. The LORD receives us as His children and provides for all our needs of body and soul. May we heartily acknowledge His merciful goodness, give thanks for all His benefits, and serve Him in willing obedience.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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