30 July 2017

Homily for Trinity 7 - 2017

"Our Rich and Bountiful Lord"
Mark 8:1-9

Listen here.

What a rich and bountiful Lord we have! The people had been standing and milling around Jesus for three days while He sat and taught them. (That must have been some sermon and Bible class to keep them there for three days!) Jesus knew they had nothing to eat. So He said, “I have compassion on the multitude.” And He did not just speak of compassion; He did not merely say the right words. No, He did something about it! He took the seven loaves of bread and the few small fish, and He made a huge meal out of them. What a rich and bountiful Lord we have! “And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.” Not only were they filled to the full, but they also had plenty of leftovers to give away. What a rich and bountiful Lord!

Notice how our Lord nicely tangles up the spiritual realm and the physical realm. He was teaching them, and then He fed them. He was nourishing their souls, and then He sustained their bodies. You see, the Lord can tangle up the physical and the spiritual because, well, that’s the way He created His world. We heard from Genesis 2 how God put Adam in the garden to tend and keep it. Adam, Eve and all humanity were originally created to have the most intimate spiritual relationship with the Triune God, and they were also designed to tend and manage God’s physical world. What a rich and bountiful Lord to tangle up the spiritual and physical realms of His creation!

So why do we like to untangle what God has graciously tangled together? Why do we choose, time and time again, at home, at work, and at church, to separate the spiritual from the physical? Why do we insist on keeping a mental brick wall between our spiritual life and our physical life? What do I mean? Consider this example. After a typical Sunday service, when you go down to coffee hour or go home for brunch or dinner, do you talk about the Scripture readings, the sermon, the hymns? Sure, if something goes haywire or something goofy happens, we talk about such things then. But what about rehearsing with friends and family the divine truths we heard in the readings? What about discussing what the sermon was about, or how the hymns fed us on Jesus and His mercy? Or consider another example: When your paycheck comes, do you think first and foremost, “Wow, look how much money God has graciously given me, even though I don’t deserve a dime of it, because the money really belongs to Him”? Or do you keep God in His Sunday morning box and think that the money is actually yours? Do you write the first check for your thank offering to God and His Church, or do you first figure out how to pay the bills, how to fix the car, and how to play, and only then give any checkbook leftovers to God? See how easy it is to untangle the spiritual and physical realms that God has so graciously tangled together?

The disciples were victims of their own untangling of what our bountiful Lord has joined together. They looked at the crowd—4000 people! And they did not see any shops or stores nearby where they could buy even a little food. And the seven loaves and the few small fish? “What are they for so many?” (Jn. 6:9). Like us, they saw the physical things—the great need on the one hand, the meager resources on the other—but they failed to see the spiritual stuff tangled up with those physical things. They failed to see and trust that our rich and bountiful Lord would have compassion on the crowd and feed them. We also fail to see and trust our rich and bountiful Lord.

This is exactly why the disciples needed to see and take part in the breaking of the bread and the distribution of the fish. When we hear that Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, broke them and then gave them to the crowd, we certainly think of how He takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it and gives it to us at His altar. This physical meal for the 4000 sure opens our eyes to what’s going on in the spiritual meal before us today. Jesus still provides for us sinners. Even though we often fail to see and trust our Lord, He is still rich and bountiful to feed us in body and soul, to feed us on His mercy and life.

But the disciples also took part in the distribution. Jesus gave the loaves “to his disciples to set before the people.” Instead of letting His disciples wallow in their doubts and unbelief, Jesus made them part of His plan to provide from His bounty. The people were hungry and in need. He, our rich and bountiful Lord, had compassion to take care of their need. And He chose to work through the disciples. When it comes to the Lord’s Supper and Jesus feeding His Church on spiritual food, Jesus still uses weak, sin-laden disciples called pastors. And when it comes to Jesus feeding the multitudes on physical food, He uses all kinds of people, but especially His Church—yes, you and me!

Our rich and bountiful Lord provides for both our spiritual and our physical needs. He feeds us on His message of mercy, that is, the word of His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection to life for us. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). And as our crucified and risen Lord feeds us on Himself, in Word and Meal, He strengthens us to live and do as the disciples did: to set bread from Jesus before the multitude. As St. Paul reminds us yet again today, we have been set free from sin and now we have become the slaves and servants of our rich and bountiful Lord. What a great honor it is to serve our Lord and bring His food—both spiritual and physical—to people around us.

St. Augustine had a nice way of tangling together the feeding from God’s Word with Christians feeding the multitude, that is, Christian works of mercy. Augustine told his congregation, “In expounding holy Scriptures, I am, so to speak, now breaking bread for you. If you hunger to receive it, your heart will sing out with the fullness of praise. And if you are thus made rich in your banquet, why would you then be niggardly in good works and deeds of mercy?” (Sermons on NT Lessons 45:1). When our Lord Jesus feeds us on His mercy and life in Word and Meal, He frees us from our sin to live with Him. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And once we have been made “slaves of God,” we are free to serve our neighbor in works of mercy. When our Lord gave the bread to the disciples to set it before the multitude, He gave us a picture of how His Church is to live and serve. Arthur Carl Piepkorn once wrote an essay called “The Life of God in the Life of the Parish.” Here’s how he tangles together the spiritual and physical realms of life: “The life of God in the parish implies an end of commercialism in the financial affairs of the parish. If we cook, it will be for the hungry; if we sew, it will be for the needy; if we collect clothes, it will be for the ill-clad; if we eat, it will be for the joy of being together as children of God and not to raise funds for Him who is the Creator and Owner of the world’s wealth. The kingdom of God is not buying one another’s pies, but in being faithful stewards of the gifts with which God has bountifully endowed even the poorest. The problem of parish finance is not getting into people’s purses, but getting God into people’s hearts” (The Church, 117-118).

Just as He did with the 4000, our rich and bountiful Lord has compassion on us. He so graciously tangles us up in His spiritual and physical life. He so wondrously feeds and sustains us, and we get to serve Him by bringing His food, both spiritual and physical, to people around us. Amen.

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