Saturday, March 21, 2020

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.
As Providence would have it, today’s propers are uniquely appropriate for our present situation. Most likely you are reading or listening to this homily, perhaps even watching it, from someplace other than the sanctuary at St. John, and not on Sunday morning at approximately 9:30am, and not with your family of faith, but with your family at home, or alone, because things are not as they should be today, nor are they likely to be anytime soon.
The children of Israel faced similar circumstances following their Exodus from Egypt. Suddenly they were in a wilderness where they coudn’t be certain where their next meal could come from or where they obtain water to drink. Have you been to the grocery store lately or tried to dine-in at a restaurant? Further, one of the chief reasons they fled Egypt was so they could worship their LORD together freely and appropriately. So far, they weren’t doing any of that. They began to long for their “salad days” back in Egypt – yes, in slavery! – where at least they could be assured of their three-squares a day, including meat, of course along with the slavery, the hard labor, the cruel taskmasters, being forbidden from worshipping their God, etc. And so, they began to grumble. Though the LORD had performed mighty miracles through Moses and Aaron, though He had promised them deliverance by His unfailing Word, and though He had lead them through the Red Sea on dry ground, destroying the pursuing Egyptians in the very same waters (which corresponds with Holy Baptism), the children of Israel began to grumble. They failed to trust in their LORD and they began to assign blame to Moses and Aaron, even to the LORD Himself – just like their, and our, first parents in the Garden.
But, the LORD kept His Word. The LORD kept His promise. He always does. He gave the people bread from heaven to eat and water from the rock to drink. St. Paul tells us that the Rock was Christ, and Jesus Himself proclaims Himself to be the Bread that came down from heaven, even the Bread of Life of which a man may eat and never die. The LORD provides, always. If you are reading or listening to this homily right now, the LORD has indeed provided it. In times like these, when we are forced to forego some of the conveniences and blessings we take for granted – things like gathering together to worship our LORD freely and appropriately and to receive Absolution and eat the Lord’s Supper – we can take account of the many and various ways our LORD provides for us.
For example, this is the first Sunday in over two years that the LORD’s Supper has not been available at St. John for those desiring to eat and drink. Just as the children of Israel grumbled at the manna the LORD provided them saying, “there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food,” some of us grumbled that receiving the Lord’s Supper too often would somehow make it less special. But, the Lord’s Supper is not special like a Thanksgiving turkey or a Christmas ham, but it is common and essential like daily bread. Bread may not be savory and tantalizing of the tastebuds, but it will keep you alive and sustain you through difficult times. In the Lord’s Supper the LORD gives us daily manna, even the Bread of Life Jesus Christ, our Daily Bread and the Medicine of Immortality. I hope that you will take this time to reflect upon the rich and multitudinous blessings the LORD provides you at St. John, healing, refreshing, nourishing, equipping, protecting, and sending you along with your family of faith on your pilgrim way through the wilderness of this world into the Promised Land of His kingdom.
The crowd had followed Jesus out into the wilderness because they had heard His teaching and witnessed His miracles. They believed because they had seen; now Jesus would see if they would believe without seeing. Jesus tested His disciples by asking Philip, “Where are we to buy bread so that these people may eat?” Philip answered according to worldly means, despairing, saying, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” Jesus took the sack lunch of a young boy, five loaves of bread and two small fish, and demonstrated what the LORD could provide from such meager means if we only trust Him and His Word of promise. The people sat down and the disciples began to distribute the bread and fish. Surely they believed they would run out before the first table had been served. But, all the people ate and were satisfied, and the disciples collected twelve baskets of leftovers. There is always more than enough when the LORD gives His gifts, for those having eyes to see and ears to hear.
Just as the LORD provided Moses to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt across the Red Sea, through the wilderness, ultimately into the promised land of Canaan, providing them bread from heaven to eat and water from the rock to drink, so the LORD provided Jesus to lead His people out of slavery to sin, death, and the devil through His death on the cross and glorious resurrection, ultimately into the Promised Land of heaven, giving us His body to eat and His blood to drink to heal, refresh, nourish, equip, protect, and send you bearing His gifts in your lives, words, and deeds toward others to the glory of His Name.
In today’s Collect we pray, “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, Your mercies are new every morning; and though we deserve only punishment, You receive us as Your children and provide for all our needs of body and soul. Grant that we may heartily acknowledge Your merciful goodness, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience.” In these days of inconvenience and deprivation, may we reflect and take stock of the LORD’s providence, heartily acknowledging His merciful goodness and giving thanks for all His benefits which we receive daily and continually through feast or famine, health or sickness, peace or war, until He comes and takes us Home. And, when He has delivered us through this present affliction, may we rejoice when, once again, we are able to go to the House of the Lord and receive His gifts together as His people, a family of faith, freely and appropriately. Until then, let us feed on His Word in the many and varied ways He provides for us, acknowledging His merciful goodness, giving thanks for all His benefits, and serving Him by serving others to the glory of His Name.
I leave you with the words of today’s Tract from Psalm 125: “Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore. Peace be upon Israel!” Peace be upon you.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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