Sunday, March 26, 2017
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.
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 God and heavenly Father who wills for you to have a 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 lie 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 automatically. 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, in His Sacraments, 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.
“So the men sat down, about five thousand in number.” St. John further tells us that there was much grass in the place, a subtle reminder that, as God provides for all living things, like cattle and livestock, the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, so too, and how much more, does He provide for men created in His image. Jesus took the meager offerings of bread and fish, gave thanks to God for His providence, and gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. He did not wave His hands. He did not speak a magical incantation. He did nothing to draw attention to Himself or to glorify Himself, but, in the distribution of the bread and fish, miraculously, by God’s providence, all ate their fill and were satisfied. Then Jesus instructed His disciples to gather the leftovers into baskets. When all the fragments were gathered, twelve baskets were filled to their brims.
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.
Of course you know that there are starving people in the world, even in this rich and abundantly blessed country. You know that there are people who do not have adequate clothing and shelter. This is not because God has not provided, but this is because of man’s sin, greed, and lack of compassion and mercy. There is enough food in the world, perhaps in our nation alone, to feed the entire world’s population and have multitudinously more than twelve basketfuls leftover. But men would rather let food spoil or destroy it rather than give it away. And the same goes for clothing and shelter. Greed and selfishness, mercilessness and lack of compassion are the fruits of unbelief that you bear when you do not take rest in the Lord and confess Him as the good giver of all things needful. Your heavenly Father would have you take rest in Him and receive His gifts. And, from the abundance of your blessing He would have you bless others that they may take rest in Him and receive His gifts also. This is the true worship of your God and Lord, for the highest worship of God is to receive His gifts.
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, though 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 of rest and keep it holy.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.