Blame it on reading a little Boethius recently, but in reading the feeding of the 5000 two things jumped out at me. The first was the repetition of “a desolate place.” Jesus wanted to bring the disciples to a desolate place, and when the action starts the disciples mention that they are in a desolate place. The second phrase that jumped out is the summary that “all ate and were satisfied.” What does it mean to be satisfied? This sermon looks at the ways we typically answer that, or how we look for satisfaction. And then it puts forward one more. Call it the foolish, the wise and the gospel. Only one truly gives satisfaction in a desolate place.
It happens occasionally, July 4th falls on a Sunday. And unless you’ve got your head in the sand, the role patriotism and nationalism is a cultural divide or some magnitude. This is my attempt to think through a Christian patriotism. The divide is between those from somewhere and those from anywhere. And I think this puts forward a fair case that even though the worries of anywhere are real, somewhere is necessary for the gospel.
As I was preparing for this sermon this week I kept bouncing back and forth between two parts of the text. Jesus visiting his hometown is just a fascinating text, especially for someone like me who has lived a few different places in his life, but my kids have only really lived in one. But I was also pulled toward Jesus’ directions to the twelve apostles right after that hometown seen. He is sending them out two by two, but one of the restrictions he puts on them is if a place receives you, stay. The other restrictions, basically go out with nothing, would feed into that stability. After bouncing around it ended up a meditation on a paradox of the Christian life. The Christian life has a motion and a direction to it. We are sent. We are not at home here. The Christian life is one of stability. It can be lived anywhere it is received. How do we reconcile that paradox of sent stability? That is what this sermon ponders. How the spiritual life of the Christian moves out from the childhood home and can’t really stop until we reach the New Jerusalem, but it also it a spiritual life full of stability. I hope it might be a fruitful meditation on living the paradox for you.
(Recording note: Sorry I forgot to start the system, so I didn’t start recording until the gospel text. The OT and Epistle lesson of the day which I usually include are missing.)
The text might or might not be the familiar episode of Jesus walking on water. In the Gospel according to Mark the story is a little shorter and has a little different purpose than Matthew. Matthew has Peter getting out of the boat. Mark is about Jesus “passing by” and deciding to get into the boat. The two main points from both are: 1) this Jesus is God and 2) trust him, but with different context. The trust in Matthew is more a focus on Peter and hence our ability to trust Jesus in or out of the boat. When we get out, Jesus will put us back in, more like the lost sheep parables. In Mark we have Jesus deciding to get in the boat and those inside deciding how to react to God being with them.
What this sermon does is examine two common reaction to God passing by and the third that he text desires you to do – trust Jesus in calm and in storm. This is looked at in the context of how we pass through life. We have a tendency to sand of the edges and use euphemisms to avoid dealing with the really bad stuff. What Jesus does is not bid us to euphemize ourselves, but to “be not afraid”. The Christian calls a thing what it is. They life in trust that Jesus has this.
The text is the feeding of the 5000 which is portrayed as a foreshadowing of the Last Supper, so this sermon is about communion. A moment of self reflection here, compared to most of my sermons which are unified pieces around a single theme and following a single outline. This one is a little more Pointillistic. Two parts, a catechism part which builds up pictures around a review of Luther’s Catechism on the Lord’s Supper and a compare contrast section looking at the Crowds desires and reactions and Jesus’ desires and reactions. Jesus’ desires, expressed in the Lord’s Supper form us into His people. And that is often at cross-purposes with what we think we desire (i.e. the crowds). For me the picture that ultimately emerges is which people to you want to be a part of: those invited to the meal or those looking for a general/king. And that has a surprising number of personal applications.
The normal way we talk about free and bound is in regards to sin. That comes under the doctrine of the keys. But in this sermon we are looking not at that doctrine, but at the bets we all place at the foundation of our lives. We all place some. Sometimes we might not know it, but they are there. What these two passages do is give us a glimpse of two foundations and how they bind and free us.
There are several applications, but today we were saying good-bye to a man and family that is off to study for the pastorate. We as a congregation were wishing them farewell and Godspeed. We were freeing them for this larger call as much as it pains us, but we along with the entire church were binding them to the Word. The plumb line that makes us free from sin and the crookedness of the world, binds us all to Christ. We might be separated in the World, but we are still one in Christ. The hymn at the end – The Church’s One Foundation – perfectly expresses this.
Under the biblical text I put the full text I was drawing from. The reading is only Mark 6:1-13, but I think that cuts off a significant element of interpretation. What we see in this text is Jesus marveling at his rejection by his hometown because of what they “know”. They don’t really know anything, but what they “know” gets in the way of actually seeing. What this represents is the start of the hard opposition and rejection of Jesus. His ministry which has been one of crowds and superficial acceptance up until this point makes a turn toward the cross. At the same time he sends out the twelve. This is the beginning of their ministry. So we have the beginning and the beginning of the end in the same story.
What that highlights for us is the nature of Kingdom growth. The Kingdom grows not because of any individual ministry, but it grows through multiplication, through death and resurrection. A seed falls to the ground and produces a hundred fold. Jesus’ successful ministry healed people one at a time. We he was nailed to a tree, he healed the entire world. God’s power is revealed most sure in weakness, in the midst of the trial. And that is what the stories the church tells, the lives of the saints reflect most clearly.
Recording note: The hymn left in is Fight the Good Fight (LSB 664). The lyrics and the music reflect that cruciform nature of discipleship in this world. Success is not about the outward appearance, but about Fighting the Good Fight, Keeping the Faith, because God’s definition of success is found in Christ.
It is a truth of this world that the really important things are usually hidden right in our midst. Think “rosebud” from Citizen Kane. All the great stories are about going out and returning home. When we leave, we don’t know what we are leaving. Think the prodigal. And when we stay, we don’t recognize the good. Think the older son. The good stuff is hidden in our midst. And it takes a revelation for us to see it. [By the way, this is the story of the Odyssey. In The Aeneid, Aeneas stops in the underworld to talk to the mighty hero Achilles and asks him if he would rather have the glory of renown promised, or the years at home. Achilles the shade answers he’d rather have had the stuff he turned down to get on the ship.] And in our moderns world – it is usually the things that shout the loudest that get our attention. The 6-year old sees a commercial and asks for whatever piece of junk it is pushing. He mocks me now he’s heard it enough, but I usually answer him “if it has to be advertised it’s a piece of junk”.
This is true for congregational life is spades. All the really important things God has hidden in our midst: The sacraments, the Word proclaimed, the communion of saints. None of them call out. All of them tend to be neglected. We don’t always recognize them for what they are. Yet these are the real, the important things. Yet we so often react or treat them as the residents of that town of Nazareth. We are scandalized that they are not bigger, or grander, or that they claim too much. This is how God acts? Water, Bread, wine and some fool flapping his mouth? The Word Hidden in our Midst.