Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Seventh Sunday After Trinity (Trinity 7)

Mark 8:1-9; Romans 6:19-23; Genesis 2:7-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Our Old Testament reading sets the stage: God is the actor. He designs the set and then furnishes it. He selects the actors, and He gives them their roles. He writes the script, and He gives the directions. All is ready and in order. The lights dim, and the play begins. There is one God. There is one man. And, there is one rule: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Now, of course, you know how that play went. The one rule was quickly broken. The one man did not fear, love, and trust in the one God above all things. He took and he ate the fruit of the forbidden tree and, in so doing, he plunged himself and all of creation into sin and corruption and death. However, ironically, because God is good, the man’s fall was not the end of the story, but it was the beginning of a new story. For, the man’s rebellion and fall was quickly countered by the LORD’s Gospel promise: Once again He would set to work to redesign and furnish the set, a new creation, to select the actors, Abraham and the children of Israel, and to rewrite the script. This time, the climax would not be man’s rebellion and fall from grace, but, this time, the LORD Himself would become an actor in His own play. He would plunge His hands into the stuff of His creation, fallen, broken, and corrupted by sin, and become one of His own creatures, so that He could re-create, renew, and restore His fallen creation from the inside out. “And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us.” “And His Name shall be called Emmanuel, ‘God with us’.”
It was Emmanuel, “God with us,” who was present in the garden with our First Parents. The one rule was to trust in Him. The forbidden fruit was merely the necessary ramification of there being a rule at all. When you have a rule, you either keep it or you break it. You either fear, love, and trust in God above all things, or you don’t. Yes, it’s truly that black and white. No, there truly is no fence straddling, no shades of gray. You see, the righteous will live by faith as much before the Fall as after. Will you fear, love, and trust in God above all things, or not?
Likewise, it was Emmanuel who was present in Egypt, providing food and shelter for the children of Israel during the great famine through His servant Joseph. And, it was Emmanuel who was present in the wilderness providing food and shelter for the children of Israel as they made their pilgrimage to the promised land. And, it was Emmanuel who was present in the tabernacle and, later, in the temple, dwelling in the midst of His people. And, it was Emmanuel who marked the division between the good kings of Israel and the bad. And, it is Emmanuel who is the Bread of Life of which a man may eat and live. And, it is Emmanuel who is your bread for the day. For, the righteous will live by faith, then, now, and always – faith in Emmanuel, the one who is present, “God with us.”
Likewise, it was also Emmanuel who was present at the feeding of both the 5,000 and the 4,000. What had they to fear? Emmanuel, God, was with them. Would they fear, love, and trust in the LORD above all things? Or, would they fear hunger and fainting? Would they trust in their own abilities to procure food? Would they love fleshly, worldly, and material things more than the LORD and His Word? The disciples and the crowds already knew of the long and steady history of God providing for His people, often in the direst of situations and in miraculous ways. In fact, our Gospel reading today about The Feeding of the 4,000 follows shortly upon the even more miraculous Feeding of the 5,000! When will we learn? When will we finally believe and trust? The righteous will live by faith, always!
 “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall [a woman], who is ninety years old, bear a child?” “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” “Who then can be saved?” “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Do you see how all these questions are the same question? They are all questions of doubt and unbelief, questions of weak and little faith. They are questions that arise when you think that you have to solve your own problems yourself, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get to work, and be independent and self-sufficient. They are questions that you ask when you believe that you are on your own and that no one can, or will, help. Therefore, you either fool yourself into believing that you truly are alone and on your own, and that you are quite capable of solving your own problems, or, and more likely, you fall into hopelessness and despair, because you realize that you cannot make it on your own. Either way, your fear, love, and trust is not in the LORD, but it is in yourself. You have become your own god and you have transgressed the First Commandment of the true and only God.
And, when you are so very busy worshipping the god that is yourself, you cannot see and worship the true God, Emmanuel, who is present in your midst to help you. Jesus’ statement about the crowds and their hunger was meant to evoke a confession from His disciples: “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way.” The disciples immediately looked to their own meager provisions and abilities, and they despaired: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Their fear, love, and trust was not in the Lord in their midst, Emmanuel, but it was in themselves. They were so very busy worshipping the god that was their self that they could not see and worship the true God, Emmanuel, who was present in their midst to help.
Once again, the Lord Jesus took their meager provisions, blessed them, and offered thanks to His Father, and distributed them to the crowd. Once again, the crowd ate and they were satisfied. And, once again, the disciples collected the leftover fragments of bread, this time seven baskets full. They ate and they were satisfied because God was present in their midst. Truly they had no need to fear. While the LORD may not always provide what you want, He always provides what you need – and what you need is not always what you think you need, but what you truly need, that is, what serves you and preserves you for life with Him. It is the end that matters. What, then, is the end – that is, the result and goal – of your fear? What, then, is the end, result, and goal of your works? What fruits do they bear?
St. Paul addresses these questions in our Epistle reading today. Paul says that when you were slaves – that is, when you were slaves to sin, which is the sinful fruit of your self-idolatry – you bore the fruit of unrighteousness. Paul provides a lengthy list of these fruits in chapter one of his epistle to the Romans: fornication, wickedness, covetousness, envy, murder, deceit, pride, boasting, disobedience, lack of mercy, lack of charity, and lack of compassion, etc. It’s not difficult to see how, when you are afraid of losing, or not having, you can fall into these sorts of sins. Your fear of losing, or not having, bears the fruit of making you greedy, covetous, and envious, proud, boastful, and unmerciful, etc. For, when you are afraid of losing, or not having enough, you are focused upon your own needs and upon your ability or inability to procure them. However, the LORD would have you not think of your own needs first, but of the needs of others. And, the LORD would have you not trust in your own abilities first, but in the LORD, Emmanuel, who is present in your midst to help.
“But,” St. Paul continues, “now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus has set you free from your idolatrous worship of your self. You are free from the fear of having to provide all things for yourself. You are free from the fear of losing, or not having. You are free from being you-centered so that you might be Christ-centered – which is to be neighbor-centered, as you see Christ in the weakest of your neighbors and brothers.
For, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be world without end: There is one rule – You shall have no other gods – not even yourself. What does this mean? You shall fear, love, and trust in God above all things. And, when you truly fear, love, and trust in God above all things, then you will have no fear of losing or not having. You will be free – free to love and to serve and to give without fear. By dying to yourself, you are free to live to God in Christ Jesus. And, this is life, indeed.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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