16 March 2015

Homily for Lent 4 - Laetare

"Rejoicing in His Refreshment"
John 6:1-15
with "Farewell and Godspeed to a Pastor Entering Retirement" for Rev. Daniel Preus

Listen here.

For three weeks we have been struggling. First, we struggled with temptations. Second, we wrestled with our Lord for His mercy. And last week we struggled with the demonic forces that influence and inhabit us.

Today we get a break in the struggle. Today we receive some refreshment. Today the Lord of the Church feeds and refreshes us. So, before we plunge into the Lord’s painful Passion and dehumanizing death, we get a breath of refreshing air. Psalm 122 summons us to rejoice in the Lord’s refreshment: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast.” So let’s consider 1) Our Need for Refreshment, 2) Our Source of Refreshment, and 3) Our Lord’s Miracle of Refreshment.

1. Our Need for Refreshment
St. John says the time of the Passover was near. The Passover was the meal given by God to the Israelites just before they left Egyptian slavery. After they were liberated from slavery, they lived in and traveled through the wilderness. There they discovered what it meant to rely on God. They had no food. They grumbled against God and His servant Moses. But God in His grace decided to provide for His people—to refresh them with bread from heaven.

When Jesus feeds the 5000, He realizes that the multitude is far from home and food. He has been teaching God’s Word, and they have been listening. He had even healed many in the crowd. But they needed refreshment; they needed food for strength and sustenance. So Jesus provided it—and in ample quantities.

We also live and walk in a wilderness—the wilderness of this world. This world is not our Promised Land. This world brings all sorts of enticements and temptations to draw us away from Christ our Savior. This world teaches philosophies and mantras that feed our self-serving egos and keep us ignorant of God’s good ways. This world is where we like to grumble and complain just as the Israelites did. Against whom do we complain? Against God and His servants. “How dare He give us salvation and forgiveness and then leave us to struggle in faith!” “How dare He leave us in this world and not make life easy and perfect and carefree for us!” “How dare God tell us not to believe or do things that are popular in the world around us!”

You see, you and I are much more like the Israelites than we want to admit. We want bellies full on food more than we hunger for God’s Word and ways of forgiveness and life. We strive for ease of bodily life but we think little of the refreshment and life that come from Jesus. We wrestle against temptations and sin, and often they put us in a sleeper hold. And so we get drowsy to our need for Christ. We struggle with trusting our Lord, because sometimes our prayers seem to go unanswered, and sometimes His great promises don’t seem to change the harshness of life. Yes, we live in a wilderness. Yes, we need refreshment.

2. Our Source of Refreshment
Our Lord Jesus knew the multitude needed Him and His provision. All they had was a poor boy’s lunch—five loaves of barley bread and two little fish. That could not provide refreshment for well over 5000 people. Neither could the Israelites provide refreshment for themselves—not in the hostile wilderness. Neither can we provide eternal, spiritual, faith-strengthening refreshment for ourselves. Even as forgiven children of God, we need help.

Your Lord Jesus Christ is very glad to give you that refreshment and help. He is your true Source of refreshment. You see, it is truly a blessing that you know and feel your need, your poverty, and your inability to refresh yourselves. It’s a blessing because Christ wants you to turn to Him for relief. He takes the insignificant five barley loaves and two fish, and makes a feast for five thousand.

But poor five thousand! If they had to depend on the disciples, they would not have had a crumb apiece! Poor Church if she must depend on us! You and I are not the source of refreshment for the Church, not even for our congregation. Our “niceness” and our good intentions are poor substitutes for the Lord’s rich feast. When we draw attention to ourselves, we give other people a poor boy’s lunch rather than the Lord’s rich feast of refreshment.

However, our Lord Jesus Christ drew faith out of the need of the disciples. He also raised the faith and expectation of the multitude when He said, “Have the people sit down.” Five thousand people sat there, eagerly waiting. Yes, waiting on Christ is the secret of the Christian faith and life. When you wait on Christ, He fills you with Himself, the Bread of Life. When you wait on Christ, you’ll never go away empty from sermon, prayers, or Sacrament. When we draw attention to Christ, we draw each other and others around us to the true Source of Refreshment!

3. Our Lord’s Miracle of Refreshment
When Jesus feeds the five thousand, He’s teaching you that He, and He alone, has the power and ability to satisfy human hearts. Your Lord Jesus Christ satisfies your human nature as nothing else can—not the world, not sin, not passing pleasures, not high positions, not great learning, not even health, wealth, or happiness. Today your Lord Jesus teaches you that He alone is Bread for you; He alone is your daily Bread. And He is the true, solid, satisfying, sustaining, life-giving Bread of Life.

After Jesus fed the 5000, He taught His disciples and the crowd what it meant. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” He said. “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” (Jn. 6:51). Notice how your refreshment flows from the Savior’s torture on the Cross. Notice how your life is found in the Savior’s death. What a miracle of refreshment!

Jesus went on to explain it this way: “My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides Me, and I in him.” (Jn. 6:55-56). This may not yet be the Institution of the Lord’s Supper in Jesus’ ministry, but who could miss the connection? Real refreshment comes from the Holy Communion with our Lord. As you eat and drink, you are abiding in Christ and Christ is abiding in you. After our Lord fills us with Himself, we thank Him for His refreshment. One prayer after Communion says, “We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift.” Another prayer says, “You have given us pardon and peace in this Sacrament.” The Lord’s Meal of Body and Blood is real refreshment indeed!

Is it any wonder, then, that the early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers”? They knew their source of refreshment in this barren wilderness of a world. And when the Lord added to their numbers those who were being saved, it reminds us that many outside the church need the Lord’s refreshment in our day too. The Church is not a place for us to think only of ourselves. No, it’s a place where the Lord refreshes us, and His refreshment energizes us to bring others to be refreshed in and by Christ.

Today we also get to rejoice in the refreshment that our Lord has given through Pastor Daniel Preus. By God’s grace, Daniel has served the Lord and His people for many years. Our Lord has used Daniel’s service to bring the real refreshment of forgiveness, life, and salvation to many. Whether Daniel served in the parish, or at Concordia Historical Institute, or as one of our synod’s vice-presidents, or as Director of Luther Academy, he has always labored to dish out the Lord’s refreshment that comes only from Christ crucified and risen. In his book, Why I Am a Lutheran: Jesus at the Center, Pr. Preus says this about the Lord’s Supper: “In this family Meal, the Lord provides the forgiveness and life that we need. In this eating and drinking, our bodies and souls receive hope and strength as we spend a moment in eternity” (122). That’s the Lord’s real refreshment!

Today we also get to rejoice in the refreshment that our Lord is now giving to Pr. Preus in retirement. We have been blessed by his faithful service here at Hope these past ten years, and we thank God for bringing him here to us. Now we say, “Farewell and Godspeed.” But we also know that our Lord will continue to refresh Pr. Preus with forgiveness and life. And, while we may say, “Farewell and Godspeed” now, we also know that we have an eternity of our Lord’s refreshment where we will all be reunited.

Rejoicing in the middle of Lent? Yes! Here we find true refreshment in the Lord’s House, with His Word and at His Table.

“O living Bread from heaven,
How well You feed Your guest!
The gifts that You have given
Have filled my heart with rest.
Oh, wondrous food of blessing,
Oh, cup that heals our woes!
My heart, this gift possessing,
With praises overflows.” (LSB 642:1) Amen.

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