Thursday, September 6, 2018

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 17)
September 2, 2018
Text: Mark 7:14-23

            If you follow your heart, as is the conventional wisdom, where will it lead you?  The heart can only lead you in what it knows, and Jesus teaches us this morning what the heart of man knows and that with which it is filled.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22; ESV).  So your heart will lead you in these things.  “Evil thoughts” is the heading, and then follows a list of the works of the flesh, vices that correspond to the Ten Commandments, in no particular order.  First, sexual immorality, and then specifically adultery, the Sixth Commandment.  “We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.”[1]  But our hearts do not fear and love God so that we do this.  Instead, we lust.  We look.  We desire the bodies of those who are not our spouse, and we desire them for our own pleasure.  Jesus tells us, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).  Increasingly, Christians see nothing wrong with fornication, which is to say, sexual activity prior to marriage, in spite of the clear Word of God prohibiting sex outside of marriage.  Young people live together prior to marriage, and this is not only condoned by their Christian parents and families, it is celebrated, and now older couples are following suite.  It is considered the normal course of action.  Beloved, this should not be.  Let it not be so among  you.  But that’s where the heart leads you.  How many of us condone or even celebrate same-sex relationships because our hearts tell us that is what is right and good.  We allow our hearts, which our Lord tells us are full of sexual immorality and adultery, to inform our ethics instead of the Commandments of God. 
            Then we have theft.  There is, of course, outright theft, where a criminal robs a fellow citizen of their rightful property.  To be sure, the Commandment forbids that, but I suspect most of you in the room are not guilty of this apart from the occasional cookie or candy bar as a kid.  You already know that is wrong.  But you also know as a Christian that the Commandment goes so much deeper.  “We should fear and love God,” not only “so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in a dishonest way,” but also so that we “help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.”  We should actively promote his prosperity and rejoice in the blessings God gives him.  But we don’t, do we?  We are jealous.  We envy him.  We begrudge him.  We boast of our poverty, and our contentment in our poverty, though we are anything but poor, and we despise our neighbor for what we consider to be ill-gotten gain.  Christ have mercy upon us.  That is where our heart gets us. 
            Next is murder, the Fifth Commandment.  Sure, maybe we haven’t actually, physically taken the life of a neighbor, but Jesus tells us whoever is unjustly angry with his neighbor or calls him a fool is guilty of sinning against this Commandment (Matt. 5:22), and the Apostle John reminds us, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15).  “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.”  Have you ever hit your neighbor?  Embittered his life with your words or actions?  Despised him in your heart?  Failed to help him in his time of need?  The heart leads us to look out for number one, not for the next guy.  Full of murder is the heart.  If you don’t believe me, consider how so many wonderful people you know and love justify the slaughter of babies as a right to be protected by the state at all costs.  People who wouldn’t hurt a fly insist on the right to murder, of all God’s creatures, human babies.  That’s where the heart gets you. 
            There is coveting, the Ninth and Tenth Commandments.  Coveting is to desire a thing you do not have in such a way that you do not believe you will be happy or complete without that thing.  St. Paul tells us that covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5).  There is the First Commandment.  We should have no other gods.  When we covet, we make that thing or that person we are coveting into our god.  That is where the heart gets you. 
            Then there is wickedness in general.  We bring shame upon the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that we bear in Holy Baptism, when we engage in wickedness.  That is the Second Commandment.  There is deceit, which is the Eighth Commandment.  We give false testimony, bear false witness.  There is sensuality, which is the worship of the self over against the worship of God.  There is the Third Commandment.  Envy, the Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Commandments again.  Slander, the Eighth.  Pride, the Fourth, for I have authority over myself and need not respect or obey the authority any other, and the First, for I fear, love, and trust in myself above all things.  And just to wrap it up with a nice bookend, there is foolishness.  The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’  They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good” (Psalm 14:1).  Well, so much for following the heart.  That is the ultimate foolishness, and we plaster it all over our daughters’ t-shirts and apparel.  It is the conventional wisdom, but it is not the wisdom ancient and true.  The Prophet Jeremiah declares, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). 
            Here is the thing about us, if we’re being honest.  We’re so worried about the things going in, that we fail to see that it is what comes out of us that defiles us.  We diet.  We watch what we eat.  We worry about germs.  We don’t want to touch things that are gross.  We carry around hand sanitizer to kill off anything we touch.  We wash with antibacterial soap.  Now, this is not all bad, but we do sound and awful lot like the Jews with all their dietary laws and distinctions between clean and unclean.  Those were good laws that set them apart from the nations in the Old Testament, but they did not make the person righteous or unrighteous.  They were signs of a righteousness given by God to His people Israel, a righteousness from outside of them, the righteousness of God Himself, received by faith, which is credited to them as righteousness.  No, the unclean things coming in do not defile a person.  The sin coming out from within, that is what defiles a person.  And that is all the heart has.  Sin is deadly heart disease.  And what is needed to cure this heart sick unto death is nothing less than a heart transplant, the heart of Another donated, given to the sinner to be his own.
            And there is such a One.  You know Him, and you love Him, because He has first loved you.  It is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He has a heart for you.  He has the heart of a man, for He is a man, born of the Virgin Mary.  But because He is God of God, of one substance with the Father, His heart is not infected with our disease.  He is not defiled.  He has no sin.  Unlike us, what comes out of Him is good and pure and holy.  And that is what He gives us, by grace.  When we pray with King David in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (v. 10), God answers us with Jesus.  Jesus is our clean heart.  Where your heart is full of sexual immorality and adultery, Jesus is faithful to His Bride, the Church, you.  He gives Himself up for her, to make her holy, spotless, adorned with His own righteousness.  Where your heart is full of murder, Jesus is full of compassion.  For the sinner.  For you.  Barabbas and you go free while Jesus is murdered for your sake.  Where your heart is full of greed, envy, and theft, Jesus gives up everything to prosper you and give you eternal life.  He who knew no sin becomes sin for you, that you might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).  The heart of God’s Son was stilled in death on the cross to pay for the filth of your sinful heart.  And it is enough.  The sacrifice is complete.  It is finished.  It is the end of all that defiles you.  And it is the beginning of life cleansed and made new.  For the heart of the Savior in the tomb beats again on the Third Day.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. 
            And now He puts what is new into you.  His Word in your ears, the Holy Gospel, the Absolution, forgiving your sins and declaring you righteous, justified.  His Baptism, killing you and making you alive, ripping out your heart of stone and putting Jesus in its place.  His Supper, the Bread of Heaven, the medicine of immortality, Jesus’ very body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, placed on your tongue and poured down your throat.  Far from defiling you, what goes into you, when Christ feeds you, purifies you, enlivens you, justifies you, sanctifies you.  It nourishes you and makes you whole. 
            There is more good news.  Jesus here declares all foods clean (Mark 7:19).  That means you can eat bacon.  That’s not a sin.  Thanks be to God.  But there is more.  There is a food that cleanses.  It is Jesus Himself.  What comes out of you defiles you.  What comes into you from Jesus saves.  Don’t follow your heart.  Follow Jesus’ heart.  Repent of what comes from you.  Rejoice in what comes from Him.  And so rejoicing, come and receive it now.  For you, for the forgiveness of sins.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

[1] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Thirteenth and Fourteenth Sundays after Pentecost

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 15)
August 19, 2018
Text: John 6:51-69

            Even Jesus has people leave when He preaches about eating His flesh and drinking His blood.  It isn’t just a peculiar Lutheran teaching.  It is Jesus’ teaching.  Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:53-54; ESV).  This offends the Jews who are following Him.  This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (v. 60).  And they all desert Him.  All but the Twelve.  It’s not so different today.  The world rules this teaching archaic and foolish.  Christians, even Lutherans, even you find the saying hard.  Next to justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, it is this very issue that divides so much of Christianity since the Reformation.  It is not just a question of the Lord’s Supper, but of the very incarnation of Christ, His taking on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, so that we can say our God is a man, Jesus of Nazareth.  So what Jesus says in our text about His flesh and blood is an offense both to human reason and pious Christian sensibility.  Our God is a flesh and blood God.  He is a man.  And we eat Him.  Really.  With our mouths, we eat His body, and with our mouths, we drink His blood.  And in this way, by this eating, He gives us eternal life and marks us for bodily resurrection on the Last Day.  
            Do you find that teaching offensive and hard to hear?  Join the club.  Everybody leaves but the Twelve, and I suspect the Twelve thought it was a hard saying, too.  But, as Peter says on behalf of them all when Jesus asks whether they also want to leave, and as we sing with him in the holy liturgy, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  We really don’t know what else to do.  For “You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (vv. 68-69).  And here’s the thing about believing in Jesus.  When you believe in Jesus, you believe His Word, no matter how hard it is to hear or accept.  Because this man is God.  He cannot lie.  So when He says He is flesh and blood, and you are given to eat His flesh and drink His blood, you believe it, whether you like or not.  Because He says so. 
            This text, John 6, has been an endless source of contention in the Church, really since Jesus said it.  Is it about the Lord’s Supper?  Is it not about the Lord’s Supper?  Pick your team.  Well, of course it’s about the Lord’s Supper.  John preached this text and wrote it down for the congregation of believers gathered around the altar to eat Jesus body under the bread and drink His blood under the wine for their forgiveness and life.  It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to figure out what Jesus is talking about.  But it’s not only about the Lord’s Supper.  As we discussed last week, according to our Confessions (FC SD VII), there are two ways of eating Jesus’ flesh.  The first is by faith when we hear the Gospel in all its forms, and the second is orally, with the mouth, when we receive the Holy Supper.  So it’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and.  And when our Lord says you have no life in you if you don’t eat His flesh and drink His blood, no, that doesn’t mean we should commune infants on the day they are baptized.  He doesn’t exclude infants or catechumen who don’t commune from eternal life.  They receive Him by faith in their Baptism and as they hear and learn His Word.  We Lutherans are really good at talking about the real presence of Jesus in the Supper, but we aren’t very good at talking about His real presence in the Word and in the water of Holy Baptism.  Jesus is really in the font when you are baptized, the flesh and blood Jesus, in the water because His Word is in the water, washing you clean and forgiving your sins, giving you new life by virtue of His death and resurrection.  And it is really Jesus speaking to you in His Word, in Holy Scripture and Absolution and preaching.  That is why the Word is so powerful.  It does what it says, because it’s not mere sounds out there in the air and vibrating off the walls, but the speech of Jesus Himself, the Word of God made flesh.  And we don’t mean He’s here in these gifts just in some sort of spiritual, non-literal way.  We mean the man, who is God, the very Son of the Father, Jesus Christ is present in all His fullness.  Flesh and blood Jesus is here.
            And since that is the case, it really shouldn’t surprise us that it is true of the Supper.  We know Jesus is bodily present in the Supper, His flesh under the bread, His blood under the wine, actually not from this text, but from the Words of Institution.  That is where we get our doctrine.  There Jesus clearly says of the bread, “This is my body,” and of the wine, “This is my blood” (Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:24-25).  He’s not being cute.  He gives no indication that He is speaking figuratively.  Surely we can agree that Jesus knows what He is saying and He knows how to speak clearly.  And why does He give it?  For you” (Lk. 22:19), and “for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28).  And this goes very nicely with what Jesus says in our text this morning from John 6: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (v. 54), for as Dr. Luther reminds us in the Small Catechism, “where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”[1] The Words of Jesus are what make the Sacrament so powerful so that it forgives sins and gives life and salvation, because the Words make Jesus Himself present, flesh and blood, orally received, in your mouth, down your throat, because that is what He promises. 
            And you receive Him orally, by the way, whether you believe it or not.  It’s just that if you receive His body and blood without believing it, you receive it to your harm, as St. Paul teaches us, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord… For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:27, 29).  This is why we practice closed Communion, out of love for our brothers and sisters who have not been fully catechized concerning the Supper or have a different theology of the Supper.  Because there are serious consequences for eating and drinking without discerning the body.  Again, St. Paul: “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (v. 30).  I know you don’t like it, and I know it doesn’t sound nice, but you have understand that the practice of closed Communion is from the Bible and it is done out of love.  And it never, ever means that we don’t want someone at the altar with us, nor is it to say the person isn’t a Christian and saved (they may even be a better Christian than I am, which isn’t saying much).  It is simply to say that there is a process by which they can join us for the Supper, and that process is catechesis, teaching, pastoral care.  And we say this not just to guests, but even to our own children.  You have to wait until you are catechized, taught.  If the Supper were just bread and wine, it wouldn’t matter.  Who cares who receives it?!  But because it really is Jesus’ true body and blood, and because of what the Spirit teaches us in the words of St. Paul, this is powerful stuff.  We don’t get to play around with it.  It can be deadly.  That’s not just me saying it.  It’s Jesus, and St. Paul.  If you have issues, you’ll have to take it up with them.    
            But for those who believe what Jesus says of the Supper, it is a meal that imparts forgiveness and life and every grace and blessing, because it imparts Jesus Himself.  There are two sides to this coin.  There are the Words of Jesus, which put Jesus, flesh and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine.  And then there is the faith that receives these benefits.  Dr. Luther reminds us just how bodily eating and drinking can do such great things: “Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’  These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament.  Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins.’” 
            So there you have it, a real, flesh and blood Jesus for real, flesh and blood sinners.  Which is to say, for you.  It is a real, flesh and blood death.  And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).  It is the flesh of God that hangs upon the cross.  It is the blood of God that pours out of His head, His hands, His feet, His side, and every pit of flesh ripped off by Roman scourge.  It is flesh and blood that is crucified, dead, and buried.  And it is a real, flesh and blood resurrection.  Touch, see, my hands and my side.  It is I (Cf. Luke 24:39; John 21:27).  Or better, I AM.  Our God must be a flesh and blood God to die the flesh and blood death of flesh and blood sinners.  And He must rise from the dead flesh and blood for this very reason, to raise you flesh and blood on the Last Day.  And that is the very Promise of our text.  Beloved, Jesus says to you this morning: Eat my flesh.  Drink my blood.  In this way I forgive you all your sins and give  you eternal life.  And I will raise you up on the Last Day.  For real.  In the flesh.  Don’t be offended.  Don’t leave.  These are the Words of eternal life.  Alleluia.  Come and eat.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

[1] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 16)

August 26, 2018
Text: Mark 7:1-13

            Beloved, whenever you make the Word of God all about what you do to be righteous before God, you make it void. That is to say, you empty it.  You empty it of its power.  You empty it of Jesus Christ.  And so you empty it of salvation.  Now, of course, the Word of God does tell you what to do and what not to do.  These are the holy Commandments of God, His righteous Law, given for your good and for the good of your neighbor.  You should do what God commands in His Word.  But that is not the main point of the Bible.  The main point of the Bible is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, made flesh for you, living under the Law and fulfilling it for you, so that it counts for you before the Father, dying for your transgression of the Law, your death, for the forgiveness of your sins, rising again for you, that you may have new life in Him now, heaven when you die, and the resurrection of your body on the Last Day, and that He lives and reigns to all eternity for you, seated at the right hand of the Father.  That is the Gospel, the Word of salvation.  Jesus is the point of the Bible.  Not a bunch of rules and regulations, and especially not a bunch of manmade rules and regulations.  Not the secret of living your best life now.  Not the best way to manipulate God into being on your side.  Not the way to gain favor before God, or make up for sin, do satisfactions, win at life, be healthy, wealthy, prosperous, or whatever nonsense we come up with and make the Bible all about.  What we do is we take something God actually said and twist it around and put it through our own filters, add to it here, subtract from it there, so that it says whatever we want it to say.  And we’ve fallen for the old trick of the serpent.  Our Old Adam follows the tradition of his father, the first Adam.  Did God really say?  Well, here’s what this verse means to me…  If you ever attend a Bible Study and the leader asks what the verse means to you, run away!  That’s always an Old Adam question.  I don’t care what it means to you!  I love you, but with all due respect, you’ll get it wrong!  The question is, what does it objectively mean?  What does God mean when He says it?
            This is the conflict Jesus is having with the Pharisees in our text.  The Pharisees know the things God actually says in the Scriptures, but in their quest for self-righteousness, self-justification, and outward perfection, they add all sorts of human traditions to what God says, a man-made moral hedge around God’s Law to keep them from transgressing it.  So they add to the Law.  But then what happens is the hedge becomes more important to them than the actual Law, the actual things God has said, which ironically ends up subtracting from God’s Law.  Add in a few twists and turns and personal interpretations a la “What does the verse mean to you?”, and you have the Pharisaical concern that the disciples are eating with unwashed hands. 
            Now, you should wash your hands.  Let’s be clear.  Mom was right about that one.  Jesus is not against hygiene.  But you should recognize that washing your hands is a man-made rule, not a commandment of God.  The Pharisees had actually made this a matter of righteousness before God.  It was a tradition of the elders, a hedge around God’s Law.  There are all the laws about uncleanness from touching this or that or the other thing, so let’s make sure, in case we accidentally and unknowingly touched something (you know, like a common person or filthy Gentile scum!), that we wash our hands.  The Greek is “baptize.”  We baptize our cups and our pots and pans and even our dining couches and anything else some dirty sinner may have touched.  That is surely what God worries about all day long in His heaven.  And this whole business about the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother”… If taking care of Mom and Dad financially is a good thing, even better to take what we would have given to Mom and Dad and call it “Corban,” given to God, given to the Synagogue, the Church.  See, that’s a good hedge around the Law.  Take whatever God says and go one step further, and Mom and Dad can fend for themselves.  After all, if they are righteous like we Pharisees, God will take care of them.  If they’re not righteous, then they deserve whatever they get. 
            So this is what has happened to the Holy Word of God in the hands of the Pharisees, sons of Adam, all.  They’ve crossed out the actual Commandment of God in favor of their own tradition.  And they’ve completely denied the whole purpose of the Word of God, which is not to make it about what you must do to be righteous, but about what Messiah does for you to declare you righteous and give you His own righteousness.  “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men… thus making void the Word of God by your own tradtion that you have handed down.  And many such things you do” (Mark 7:8, 13; ESV). 
            Now, it’s easy to be hard on the Pharisees.  Jesus was hard on them because He loved them, and they were so close to getting the Scriptures right (incidentally, this is just an opinion, but it is quite possible none other than Saul, the future St. Paul, is among this particular group of Pharisees and Scribes from Jerusalem, undoubtedly from the school of Gamaliel!).  But you are hard on them because you can sit back and say, “Well, at least I’m not a Pharisee!”… Which makes you a Pharisee!  Old Adam is always a Pharisee!  He’s always trying to find a way to justify himself, make himself righteous.  At least he wants partial credit for his salvation.  He’ll confess salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but then he’ll turn around and in the next breath thank God that he’s not like that sinner over there.  “Boy, I’d better wash my hands.”  Beloved, repent. 
            We make up plenty of our own rules, by the way, man-made traditions, hedges around the Law.  Don’t smoke.  Don’t drink beer.  Or especially whiskey, which is extra evil.  Don’t watch a movie rated worse than PG.  Remember, I’m always watching to catch you in a sin.  I won’t actually talk to you about it, but I’ll despise you for it, thank God I’m not like you, and I’ll tell a lot of other people about it, secretly, out of Christian love and concern.  Our culture, of which we are all participants, does this on a grand scale.  Make sex the absolute center of your whole existence, and have it with whoever or whatever you want, but remember, no means no, #metoo.  Pornography is great, but don’t objectify women (by the way, pornography is not great, it’s demonic, which is to say, it brings demons into your life, and it does objectify women and men, and if you’re into it or addicted to it, you need your pastor’s help… let’s talk.  There is hope).  Don’t be a square, man.  Smoke marijuana, but not tobacco, because tobacco is sinful.  Save the spotted owl, but kill the unborn babies.  Get climate change right, or else… And whatever you do, do not judge!  Tolerate everyone.  Everything.  No matter what.  Because if you don’t, we won’t tolerate  you.  That’s Pharisaism by another name.  That is self-righteousness, self-justification, a way of feeling good about yourself and believing you are saved because you are right on all the issues of the day, and anyone who disagrees with you is just evil.  Bring on the hand soap.
            Thank God, Jesus comes to rescue us from this crazy cycle of self-justification and virtue signaling.  Do you know what the real purpose of the Law is?  We’re talking God’s real Law, here, the Ten Commandments, not the traditions of men.  The Law’s real purpose is to kill you!  To slaughter you!  To show you that you are dead and damned in your sins and you cannot save yourself, you cannot make yourself righteous, no matter how hard you work or how much you wash your hands.  And Jesus comes, Almighty God, the only-begotten Son of the Father, and assumes our flesh in the womb of His mother, and He steps under His own Law to take our place.  And He gets His hands dirty… with us!  Bloody, in fact.  He is sinless.  He never sins.  He fulfills the Law perfectly, for us, so that we get all the credit.  But because He stands in our place, the Law kills Him.  That is what happens on the cross, for us, for you.  Divine justice meets Divine love at the intersection of the cross-beams, in the body of God nailed to the wood.  Sin is put to death in the death of the Righteous One, Jesus.  And all your sins are forgiven.  All your self-justifying, virtue signaling, what-does-the-verse-mean-to-me interpreting, Law hedging, judging your neighbor, hand washing… all of it is forgiven.  You are loosed from it.  Set free.  And in its place you are given the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  His death is your death.  His resurrection is your life.  Eternal life.  Because He doesn’t just baptize your hands or your pots and pans and couches.  He baptizes you.  With Himself.  You are in Him.  And when God looks at you, He doesn’t care whether you’ve washed your hands or touched a sinner.  He looks at you and sees His spotless child, washed and clean, covered by the blood of Jesus, holy and righteous, loved.  And the Law, the real Law, the Ten Commandments?  Yes, do them, by all means, not because they help you be righteous before God, but because your neighbor needs you to do them.  That’s what love demands.  Give your neighbor a break and don’t kill him, don’t commit adultery with his wife or his future wife, don’t look at his daughter or son doing dirty things online, don’t steal from him or covet his stuff.  It is good to do the Commandments of God.  And of course, when you fail, you are forgiven.  That’s not the point.  The point is love.  As one forgiven and declared righteous by God for Christ’s sake, love your neighbor. 
            But don’t make the Bible void by making it all about you and what you should do to be righteous before God.  The Bible, the Word of God as it is read and proclaimed and given in the holy Sacraments… is full of Jesus.  It is full of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.  For you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 14)
August 12, 2018
Text: John 6:35-51

            Jesus is the Bread of Life.  He is the true Manna, the Bread come down from heaven.  As God sustained the bodies of the Israelites in the wilderness by sending them manna every morning, and quail every evening, and as He sustains our own bodies by giving us each day our daily bread, so our Father in heaven sustains our souls with the true Bread that comes down from heaven, our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Father gives us the Bread of Life in the Person of our Savior.  What this means, our Lord Himself tells us in the last verse of our Holy Gospel: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  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” (John 6:51; ESV). 
            Jesus is the Bread of Life.  He gives it on the cross.   There His body is given into death for you and for the world, for the forgiveness of sins.  And in so forgiving your sins, Jesus erases the wages of sin, which is death.  He pays the wages.  He dies.  Your death.  In your place.  And the result is that you live.  Jesus is the Bread of Life that bakes in the hellfire of crucifixion, that when you eat of it, you never perish, never die.  You live.  Forever.  And you live whence He came.  In heaven.  The very Kingdom of Heaven is yours in this Bread.  And no less than three times in our text alone Jesus promises that He will raise you up on the Last Day (vv. 39, 40, 44).  That means in your body, a glorified body, to be sure, like unto the risen Christ’s glorified body, but your body, the very one put into the grave when you die.  Jesus will raise that body up and reunite it with your soul to live forever, perfect, happy, whole, with Him in the new heavens and the new earth.
            That’s pretty good Bread.  So good, in fact, that Jesus promises that as the Bread of Life, whoever comes to Him shall never hunger, and whoever believes in Him shall never thirst (v. 35).  That is to say, Jesus is finally and fully the answer to your every need.  You hunger and you thirst… physically.  Daily you need food and water.  These are the basic necessities of life.  These hydrate and nourish your body to make it strong and keep it functioning.  Don’t miss what is going on here in our text.  This Jesus who calls Himself the Bread of Life says here, “I AM.”  That is to say, “YHWH.”  The God who sustained His people in the wilderness with manna and quail and water from the rock?  That is the very God standing before you in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth.  So He is more than capable of providing you with food for your belly, a roof over your head, clothing, shoes, family, friends, good weather, good government, and all that you need to support this body and life.  Not only capable, it is His will.  He does it.  So when Jesus claims to be the final and full answer to your every need, He even means those bodily needs.  Are you sick?  He is the Great Physician.  Look at how many He healed.  He will heal you, too.  Perhaps in this life.  Certainly in the life to come.  Are you unemployed, or underemployed?  Are you worried about money?  Are you worried you won’t have enough at the end of the month, the end of the day?  Jesus fed 5,000 men plus women and children from five loaves of bread and two fish.  He is more than capable of feeding you, O you of little faith.  See how He fed Elijah by the broom tree with the miraculous cake and jar of water, and the prophet went forty days and forty nights on the strength of that food (1 Kings 19:1-8).  That God is your God.  Don’t you know He loves you?  Have you never cast your eyes upon a crucifix?  Look what He did for you!  He died for you.  Willingly!  So greatly does He love you.  And He is risen from the dead.  If He did all that for you, how can He fail to provide for you now?  He has sustained you thus far.  He will never forsake you. 
            But really, beloved, you are thinking too small.  You are so wound up in your day to day needs and desires that you fail to see how Jesus satisfies your greatest need.  You hunger and thirst for righteousness.  That is to say, you hunger and thirst to be justified before God, declared innocent, nay, righteous, perfect, holy in the Diving tribunal.  We all do.  Even unbelievers do.  The question is where you seek your justification.  Our fallen human nature always seeks to justify itself.  We’re always making excuses or claiming innocence.  We insist that we are right.  That’s why kids fight about whether the car was blue or purple like it’s the most important question in the history of mankind.  They start early.  They’re practicing the art of self-justification.  This is why, when you talk to people (even all too many Christians!) about what they think will happen to them when they die, they say something along the lines of, “I certainly think I’ll go to heaven.  I mean, I’m not perfect, and I have my regrets, but I’m basically a good person.  And I’m certainly no Adolf Hitler or Osama bin Laden.  God could do a lot worse than me.”  But good luck pleading that case when you stand before your Maker.  It won’t get you to heaven.  It will get you a one way ticket to hell.  Those who eat the bread of self-justification may be satisfied for a while.  They may be able to deceive themselves and other people that they’re righteous.  But like a steady diet of Coca-Cola and cotton candy, it may go down sweet and it may fill your belly, but in the end, it cannot satisfy.  In fact, in the end, it will kill you.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness,” Jesus says to the Jews in our text, “and they died.  This,” Jesus, “is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die” (John 6:49-50). 
            Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus says in the Beatitudes, “for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).  Why are they blessed?  Why are you blessed?  Because Jesus Christ is your righteousness, readily accessible as the Bread of Life, fully satisfying your hunger and thirst.  Your righteousness is not in your works.  It’s not in your perfectly obeying the Law, God’s or man’s.  It’s not in your ability to cover your tracks, be right about your stupid arguments, or be a basically good person, not as bad as the other guy.  None of those things make you righteous before God.  Nothing within you or about you or from you makes you righteous before God.  Jesus is your righteousness before God.  And that drive to always justify yourself is finally satisfied when Jesus alone justifies you. 
            And here’s how it works.  The Father sends Jesus to be your Savior.  Jesus is the revelation of the Father’s love and the Father’s plan for your salvation in action.  Jesus is how we know the Father.  The Father draws you to Jesus, which is to say, gives you faith in Jesus.  Implied here, but not specifically mentioned in our particular text, is the Holy Spirit’s work as the Agent by which the Father draws you to Jesus and gives you faith in Him.  Now, when you have faith, which is simply trust in Jesus, you have Jesus Himself.  And having Jesus, you have eternal life, and He will raise you up on the Last Day.  Having Jesus, you have the Father.  Hearing Jesus, you hear the Father, for Jesus speaks what He hears from the Father.  And the Father declares in Jesus that you are His dear child, forgiven of all sin and free from death and the devil.  You belong to God.  This is what it means to receive Jesus as the Bread of Life. 
            And you don’t have to wonder how to go about getting this Bread.  He comes to you.  He comes in the way that He has promised to come.  In Baptism.  In the hearing of His Word.  And, of course, in the Holy Supper of His body and blood.  But more on that last one next week.  There is more than one way to feast on the Bread of Life.  Our Confessions are very helpful here (Here I’m quoting from the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article VII): “There is a twofold eating of Christ’s flesh.  One is spiritual…  This spiritual eating is nothing other than faith.  It means to hear God’s Word (in which Christ, true God and man, is presented to us, together with all benefits that He has purchased by His flesh given into death for us, and by His blood shed for us, namely, God’s grace, the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal life).  It means to receive it with faith and keep it for ourselves.  It means that in all troubles and temptations we firmly rely—with sure confidence and trust—and abide in this consolation: we have a gracious God and eternal salvation because of the Lord Jesus Christ.
            “The other eating of Christ’s body is oral or sacramental, when Christ’s true, essential body and blood are orally received and partaken of in the Holy Supper by all who eat and drink the consecrated bread and wine in the Supper.  This is done by the believing as a certain pledge and assurance that their sins are surely forgiven them and that Christ dwells in them and is at work in them.  This supper is received by the unbelieving for their judgment and condemnation” (FC SD VII:61-63).[1]  In other words, you eat the Bread of Life by faith in all the Means of Grace.  You eat the Bread of Life in the Supper whether you believe or not; if you believe, to your eternal benefit and life, if you do not believe, to your judgment and spiritual and bodily harm.  We’ll address this second eating more thoroughly next week in our continued mediation on John 6.
            But here is the great joy and promise for you this day, and every day: As the Father sent His Son to be your Savior, who gave His flesh into death on the cross for the life of the world, even so now He sends Jesus to you in the Holy Gospel as it is read, preached, applied to you in water, placed on your tongue and poured down your throat in the Holy Supper.  He sends Jesus as the Bread of Life for you.  Receiving Him, eating Him, you are satisfied.  He is your righteousness.  He is your life.  He is the answer to your every need.  He feeds your body.  He feeds your soul.  Jesus is the Bread of Life.  He is enough.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

[1] McCain, pp. 572-73.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 5, 2018
Text: John 6:22-35

Guest Pastor: The Rev. Tom Wolbrecht

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Eighth and Ninth Sundays after Pentecost

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 10)
July 15, 2018
Text: Mark 6:14-29

            St. John the Baptist was beheaded by the government for preaching traditional marriage.  Let’s not mince words on this.  Herodias was offended by John’s preaching, because he declared it unlawful, ungodly, for Herod to have his brother Philip’s wife while Philip was still alive.  As we all know, hell hath no fury… and Herodias was furious at the scorn and shame brought upon her by John’s preaching.  How dare he make her feel bad about her domestic situation!  How dare he question the sanctity of her love.  How dare he suggest, nay, proclaim, that her marriage to Herod is sinful before God.  And so John finds himself in the dungeon.  Herodias wants him executed, but Herod protects him, if you can call the dungeon protection, because he fears John and knows that he is a righteous and holy man.  Herod even appreciates a good John the Baptist sermon now and then, although he finds John’s message perplexing.  You know how it is when a sermon hits a little too close to home.  The Law of God tears you apart at the seams.  And it hurts.  It’s the crucifixion of the old man, the old sinful nature.  That always hurts.  But it must be done, so that your God can raise you up to new life, a new creation in Christ Jesus.  That preaching hurts, but you love it, because you know it’s true, and you hear in it the voice of the living God.
            But the enemies of the Gospel are always watching for an opportune time to rob you of such preaching, and Herodias and the demons identified the opportunity to silence John on the occasion of Herod’s birthday.  There was a big bash, a serious feast, a wining and dining of the elite of the elite.  These included Herod’s nobles and his generals and the leading citizens of Galilee.  Such feasts always serve a political purpose.  They offer an occasion for the ruler to show off his wealth and his power.  He shows the leading men a good time and shores up their loyalty.  The free-flow of alcohol looses up the tongues.  Stories are told.  Boasts are made.  And hearts are merry.  And they’re all the merrier if Herod’s pretty step-daughter gives us a dance.  It’s not in the text, but we assume the dance was lewd.  Whether that’s true or not, it was certainly a crowd pleaser, and it exceedingly pleased Herod.  Caught up in the spirit of the moment and the spirits in his cup, Herod makes a rash vow.  “Ask me whatever you wish, and I will give it to you… up to half of my kingdom” (Mark 6:22-23; ESV).  It has been suggested Herod was offering to trade in the mother for a newer model, make Herodias’ daughter his wife.  It’s hard to say.  But this had been a set-up by Herodias the whole time.  Daughter asks mother, “For what should I ask,” and mother advises daughter, “The head of John the Baptist” (v. 24).  She wouldn’t be the last mother to demand a preacher’s head on a platter.  But she meant this quite literally.  She had trapped the king in his words.  Herod didn’t want to execute John.  But he also didn’t want to be embarrassed in the presence of his prestigious guests.  So rather than do what he knew to be right, he sold his soul for a dance.  Isn’t that the way of the world?  Herod promises to give up to half his kingdom, as if he were a powerful god, but in the end, we see he is nothing but a weak and insecure slave of his subjects.
            Well, John is beheaded.  So it goes.  But there would have been an easier way, you know.  If he had just tolerated the illegitimate marriage, this never would have happened.  He could have done so much more good if he’d just kept his trap shut this one time.  But that wasn’t his office, was it?  He was sent to be “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Mark 1:3).  He was sent to proclaim “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 4).  To everyone.  Even to sinful kings.  He doesn’t stay out of politics when the Word of the Lord is at stake.  He is not ashamed to proclaim the Lord’s testimony before kings (Psalm 119:46), even if it costs him his life.  Divine truth is worth dying for.  We forget that, living in a culture where the very existence of objective truth is denied.  But John knew it.  So did the prophets and the apostles and the martyrs of all ages who loved not their lives even unto death (Rev. 12:11).  What about you?  Are you afraid to bear witness to Christ?  Do you fear to speak His truth because your friends and family might rebuke you, or think mean thoughts about you, or defriend you on Facebook?  Repent.  It’s getting harder, isn’t it?  The Lord knows your weakness, and has taken your failure into Himself and put it to death in His flesh.  And He gives you His Spirit, to make you bold, that you confess His Name and His Word, even if it means your death.  For you know that whoever lives and believes in Jesus, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Jesus shall never die (John 11:25-26).  And you know that whoever confesses Jesus before men, He will also confess before His Father in heaven; but whoever denies Jesus before men, He will also deny before His Father in heaven (Matt. 10:32-33). 
            But with John there is even more at play.  John is sent to prepare the way of the Lord quite literally.  John’s life, and his death, parallels that of Jesus on every level, except that what happens to Jesus is greater, what happens to John is lesser, just as he said it would be: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  So John’s birth is foretold by the angel Gabriel, who promises he will be great before the Lord (Luke 1:15), and Jesus’ birth is foretold by the angel Gabriel, who promises the Child to be born is the Son of God (v. 35).  John’s birth is miraculous, born to elderly parents.  Jesus’ birth is even more miraculous, born of a virgin.  John baptizes for repentance, but Jesus offers a greater Baptism that not only washes away sin, but makes you God’s own child.  John has disciples, but he sends them to follow Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  And John prepares the way in suffering and death.  He is arrested and beheaded.  His disciples put his headless body into a tomb (Mark 6:29).  Jesus is arrested, tried, and crucified.  Joseph and Nicodemus put His pierced Body into a tomb.  And now it is Jesus’ turn to blaze the trail.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!  Herod worries that Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead, and his fear is not completely unfounded.  Because the risen Jesus will raise up John on the Last Day.  And He will raise you.  You’ll see John and Jesus with your very own eyes.  And you’ll praise God for the blood John shed, preparing the way for the Blood of the Savior, shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
            So you need not fear the enemies of the Gospel: Not Satan, nor the demons, nor sin, nor death; not Al Qaeda, nor ISIS, nor the abortionists, nor the homosexual marriage crowd.  You need not fear the unfaithful who claim the Name of Christ, nor your own sinful flesh.  Jesus Christ is the end of fear.  The enemies of the Gospel are always watching for an opportune time to get you.  But they can never get to you when you are in Christ Jesus, in His Word, in Your Baptism, in His Supper.  The Lord also gives a Feast, and He outdoes Herod.  He, too, gives Food and Drink.  But He invites the weak of the weak, dying and dead sinners.  His Feast is the medicine that brings the dead to life.  His wine also looses tongues, not for boasting, but for confessing and singing songs of praise.  His wine makes our hearts merry, so that we rejoice, and we’re caught up in the Spirit, His Holy Spirit, who opens our lips to speak His Word with joy.  He makes no rash vow, but He does make a vow: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14).  It is the promise that He hears our prayers and answers them.  And unlike Herod, He delivers.  He is not trapped in His Words.  He holds Himself to them.  He is a powerful God, the only true God, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Though it is true that His Words result in a death: His own on the cross, for the life of the world.  For sinners.  For you. 
            Jesus Christ is crucified by the government that He might form for Himself a Bride, the holy Christian Church.  He sleeps the deep sleep of death, that from His side the Church be formed.  Water and Blood, Font and Chalice, filled with Jesus Christ crucified for you.  You are His beloved.  You are His spotless Bride.  As with any marriage, what is yours is His, and what is His is yours.  What is yours He has taken away: sin and death and condemnation.  What is His He has freely bestowed upon you: righteousness and life and resurrection.  In the Church, we preach traditional marriage, not because we’re ignorant, or prudes, or haters.  We preach it because it is God’s gift for our good: for companionship, and procreation, and holy sexuality.  And we preach it because it is an icon of Christ and the Church, a living picture of the Gospel.  The husband gives himself for his bride.  The bride receives the sacrifice of the husband for her good.  And in this pattern of giving and receiving, husband and wife live together in love and fidelity and so provide a safe haven for the nurture of children.  We all fall short of this in our marriages.  But this is what marriage is designed by God to be.  Until the Day the Lord Jesus comes again and bids us join Him at the wedding Feast of the Lamb that has no end.  Then St. John will have His head again.  And all will be made whole and right and good.  Indeed, come, Lord Jesus.  Come quickly.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 11)

July 22, 2018
Text: Mark 6:30-44; Ps. 23

            “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34; ESV).  The feeding of the 5,000 is our Lord’s fulfillment of the 23rd Psalm.  Christ Jesus is the Good Shepherd who satisfies the wants and needs of His precious lambs.  The shepherding, the pastoring, had been busy for Jesus and the Apostles, and He had called them away for a time, to a desolate place across the Sea, to rest and to eat and to be refreshed by their Lord.  Even pastors need a vacation now and then, and we’re very thankful when our congregations allow us that luxury.  In His compassion, the Lord Jesus reminds His ministers in this text that quiet time away from the demands of ministry is important. 
            But then again, it doesn’t always work that way.  Vacations are made to be interrupted.  If it’s true that there is no rest for the weary, there is certainly no rest for the Savior.  The people see where Jesus and the disciples are going in the boat.  And they beat them there!  They run around the shore!  If only every congregation were so eager to hear a sermon!  And as Jesus disembarks, there is probably that moment of disappointment as He realizes there will be no solitude.  But at that same moment His pastoral heart is moved.  He has compassion on them.  The Greek word for “compassion” literally means He feels it in His gut.  Even the English word “compassion” literally means “with suffering.”  What causes Jesus to be moved with compassion, to suffer in His guts for these people?  They are like sheep without a shepherd.  They are like a congregation without a pastor.  The word “pastor” means “shepherd.”  The chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, they had failed to shepherd these people.  They were starved for the Gospel.  They were hungry for the preaching.  They had been torn to pieces by wolves in sheep’s clothing.  They were very much in want.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Good Pastor, cannot let that stand.  So from that moment, until late into the night, He gathers them together into His fold and He opens His mouth and teaches them many things.
            Remember, this is a desolate place, and the disciples have a very practical concern.  The people haven’t eaten.  It’s way past supper time.  The shops in the villages are closing.  Time to send them away while they can still catch a morsel.  But Jesus has other plans.  “You give them something to eat” (v. 37).  You see, the Divine Service isn’t over yet.  We’ve had the Service of the Word: Jesus teaching His people His Word of life.  But now it’s time to gather round the Lord so Jesus can feed us by the hand of His called and ordained servants.  Jesus is teaching us how it works when He gathers His flock together, when He congregates them. 
            Now, the disciples are confused, as pastors often are.  They doubt the Lord’s ability to provide for the needs of these people.  Granted, we have here five loaves of bread and two fish.  But what are these among so many?  Jesus commands them to sit down in groups on the green grass.  “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures” (Ps. 23:2; all quotes of Ps. 23 from KJV).  The word for “groups” in Greek is “symposia,” that is, drinking parties.  It indicates this will be a feast!  Five loaves, two fish, and you know what happens next.  Everyone eats.  Everyone is satisfied.  The disciples take up twelve baskets full of leftovers, a basket for each man.  And then we find out that the number 5,000 only includes the men.  Counting women and children, there may have been ten, twenty thousand people there.  The disciples are amazed.  Pastors always are when the Lord’s gifts actually work.  Remember, one of the Lord’s favorite pet names for the Twelve (and I imagine for the pastors who follow after them) is “O ye of little faith.” 
            The Lord Jesus teaches His people, His sheep, and He feeds them.  “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake… Thou preparest a table before me” (vv. 3, 5).  That’s how He does it: Words and Food, Preaching and Supper (and the still waters [v. 2] of Holy Baptism, of course).  And it works!  The people are fed, spiritually and physically.  And as it turns out, there is no better rest or renewal for the Lord’s undershepherds than to feed His sheep the Means of Grace the Lord commands, and watch Him do miraculous things with what doesn’t look like much: words and water, bread and wine… five loaves and two fish.
            Jesus has gathered us together here this morning because of His compassion for us.  He hurts in His guts for us.  We are like sheep without a shepherd.  There is, of course, no lack of would-be shepherds calling us to follow them here, there, and everywhere.  Politicians, professors, entertainers, preachers of false gospels.  What happens in the chaos of competing voices is the division of the flock.  You’ve heard a lot about how stupid sheep are.  That’s not a veiled insult… It’s simply what the Lord calls us.  We just don’t know how to keep ourselves out of danger, and we’re always wandering off on our own, away from the flock, away from the Shepherd and the safety of the sheepfold.  The Good Shepherd constantly has to come find us, save us, wash us, heal our wounds from the dirty, dangerous, deadly places where we’re trapped.  It is no wonder when He sees us He is moved with compassion, He suffers in His guts for us.  That same compassion will lead Him to His Passion and death for us on the cross.  His whole body will suffer.  His entire soul will be in agony.  For us.  For our salvation.  His hands and feet pierced.  His sacred head crowned with thorns.  The insults and mockery and spit.  The scattered sheep.  The Blood outpoured.  The Spirit given up.  The water and blood of His riven side.  “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).  This Shepherd is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).  Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opens not His mouth (Is. 53:7).  He dies.  For you.  For me.  For the world. 
            The greatest peril for sheep who go their own way is the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23:4).  If a sheep gets lost alone in that valley, there is no hope.  Notice what the Good Shepherd does.  He goes after the sheep.  He goes into the valley.  That is what He is doing on the cross.  He is dying our death.  He is paying for our sins.  He goes right down into it to bring us out again.  He knows the way.  He is the way.  He leads us out of the tomb and into life eternal.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And with His rod and His staff, He comforts us (v. 4) and leads us out.  You need not fear this valley full of death’s dark shadow.  You need fear no evil.  Because on the Last Day you’ll emerge from it into the light of day.  Jesus Christ will raise you from the dead.  And you will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (v. 6).
            In the meantime, Jesus gathers you here into the sheepfold of His Church to pour out His compassion upon you.  He teaches you many things: His Word, Law and Gospel, convicting you of your sins, bringing you to repentance, forgiving you, enlivening you by His Spirit spoken into you, speaking Himself into your ears, and showing you what it means that you are a child of His heavenly Father.  And then it’s time to eat.  He commands His minister to give you something to eat.  It doesn’t look like much.  Bread and wine, a wafer and a sip.  But do not doubt.  This bread, and this wine, are in the hands of the Lord who fed 5,000 men plus women and children from five loaves and two fish.  These are the hands of the God who spoke the universe into existence, who made something, everything, out of nothing.  So you come, group by group, symposia by symposia, drinking party by drinking party, for the joyous Feast.  And your Good Shepherd gives you to eat, not just bread, but bread that is His Body, given for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Wine to drink, yet not just wine, but wine that is His Blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  That’s what He does.  The Lord Jesus teaches His people, His sheep, and He feeds them.  And your soul is restored.  The Lord gives Sabbath rest to pastor and people in the green grass of His pasture.  He does it out of His compassion.
            We all too often take the feeding of the 5,000 as a neat little story about how we don’t have to worry, because God will provide us with daily bread for our bodies.  That is true, of course, but we miss the greater gift for all our fascination of the lesser.  If, in His compassion, He feeds us His Body and Blood and gives us eternal life, He will also feed our bodies with bread.  If He gives the greater gift, He will not fail to give the lesser.  This feeding is about so much more than bread.  This is about the Divine Service.  This is about Jesus Christ present for you here and now, in the flesh, and in great compassion.  This is about Jesus teaching you with His own Word.  This is about Jesus feeding you with His own Body and His own Blood.  This is about Jesus, your Good Shepherd.  With the Lord as your Shepherd, you have no want.  He has prepared the Table before you.  Time to Feast.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.