Sermon on Mark 8:1-9 – Trinity 7
Rev. Paul L. Beisel
In the Gospel today you heard how Jesus miraculously provided bread for 4000 people in the wilderness. A large crowd had followed Jesus out into the wilderness for three days, some of them coming from far away. When Jesus saw them, Mark says that He had compassion on them. He felt like you and I do when we see some homeless person or a beggar sitting on the side of the road begging for food or money. To dismiss them without providing for their physical needs would have been to send some of them to their deaths. So out of great pity for these tired and weary souls, Jesus makes them sit down and prepares to feed them with bread, which He multiplies from only seven loaves.
Here Jesus displays before His disciples and the crowds His kind and gracious heart. He showed the same kind of love towards the Israelites when they were wandering in the wilderness after crossing the Red Sea. They too had followed Christ into the wilderness, and had nothing to eat. So the LORD opened up His generous hand and rained manna down on them from heaven. He satisfied the desires of His people; He filled the hungry with good things.
Surely these are not the actions of someone who is unconcerned for the well-being of His followers, or of someone who is brimming over with anger and wrath towards sinners. Rather they are the works of a merciful and loving Savior, One who wants His people to be full and satisfied with His life-giving Word. He is not deaf to the cries and complaints of His people, nor is He blind to their misery.
No matter how many times we hear this, though, we never seem to be fully convinced that Christ loves us and forgives us our sins. Nor are we convinced that He can help us in our need. Otherwise we would constantly call upon His name for help. In our unbelief we conclude that the situation is hopeless, that there is no one to help, even God Himself. Our sins are too great to be forgiven. Our situation is too impossible to fix. Our mess is too great for Christ to clean up. “How is one able to feed these people with bread in this desolate place?” Like the disciples we look only at the obvious. Indeed, we are masters of the obvious. We are very good at sizing up the situation with our eyes and measuring the potentiality of success based on what we can see.
This is especially true of people in small congregations. “Look, Jesus, we only have a few hands here to help. We only have a few willing volunteers. How do you expect us to provide anything for our church or our community? We can’t do it!” “We are such a small number of people. How will we ever compete with the larger churches? How will we ever make ends meet financially? How can we ever support the work of missionaries when we cannot even support a full-time pastor?” Oh, you of little faith, do not concern yourselves with the obvious. Trust in Christ. He fed 4000 people with only seven loaves of bread and a few fish. Can He not also use your few hands to serve many? Can He not bring about growth through the planting of a few seeds? Did He not say that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain “move” and it will move?
All things worked out according to Christ’s will in this story of the miraculous feeding. Everyone ate and was satisfied. So abundantly did Christ feed these people, in fact, the disciples collected seven basketfuls of fragments. Only after He fed them did Christ dismiss them to their homes. His will was done, despite the doubts of His disciples and their inability to see beyond the obvious. It is the same for us. Christ’s will is accomplished in spite of our doubts and misgivings. And for this we give Him profound thanks.
This miracle, as great as it was, would be sorely under-appreciated if we did not recognize that it points us to an even greater miracle, one that takes place among us every Sunday in the Divine Service. In the Sacrament of the Altar, Christ Himself is the bread, and He multiplies this bread and gives it to us Christians for the nourishment of our hungry souls.
Like those who followed Christ into the desolate wilderness, we too are in need of rest and relief from the burdens and troubles of this life. And Christ says to us: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” Come to me, all you who have sinned and gone astray, and I will forgive you and strengthen your hearts. Come to me all you who have given in to the devil’s temptations and allowed yourselves to be his servants, and I will cover you with my righteousness and holiness once again. For I have overcome your sin and unholiness by my death on the cross. By the shedding of My blood I have reconciled the world to the Father. Come to me all you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, eat and drink this life-giving meal, and you will be filled. You will be satisfied.
He does not let us go until we have been fed. He does not dismiss us and send us away hungry. He loves us and has compassion on us just like He did on those crowds who had followed Him out into the wilderness. He does not want us to grow weary and faint on the way, but wants us to be strong so that we will make it to our eternal home with Him. So we come here to the communion rail and kneel in humble reverence, and Christ, using the hands of His called minister, places Himself into our mouths and on our lips, and then He dismisses us: “Depart in peace.” He sends us out into our various callings as mother, father, son, daughter, husband, wife, employee, employer and these heavenly gifts have their fruition. We are strengthened by them in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another.
Living then by faith, we cling to Christ in good and bad, trusting in His words and promises, eagerly awaiting His return in glory. And living in love, we are moved with pity for others who are weary and burdened and who come to us looking for rest. Just as Christ has opened His hands and satisfied our desires in the Holy Sacrament, so now we too open our hands in love and satisfy the needs and desires of our fellow men.
This is, in short, what it means to be a Christian, namely, that we poor, hungry beggars weary and burdened from our battle against the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, come to this place where the door of heaven stands open for us, and receive from the hands of Christ’s appointed ministers a bountiful meal, rich in mercy and forgiveness. And then, filled anew with Christ, we see our poor, despised, and wretched neighbors and feel pity for them, and serve them in love. If only this was how the majority of folks who sit in the pews every Sunday understood Christianity. Would there be any arguments then about what ceremonies the pastor used in the Divine Service, or what vestments he wore, or where the baptismal font was placed in the church? Would Christian men and women worry so much over synods and by-laws and resolutions? Would we pastors consider the work of the ministry such a burdensome and joyless task?
The answer is no. If we all valued this heavenly food as we ought, then we would eagerly look forward to every opportunity to receive it. We would gladly deprive ourselves of earthly comforts if only to have a slice of heavenly pie. Fathers would cheerfully instruct their children in the way of eternal life, so that when they grow up they will not fall away from God’s Word.
But the devil will not have any of this, so he sets our hearts ablaze with passion for everything in this life but Christ’s Word and Sacrament. And we, in our own laziness and ignorance, listen to his foul voice, and deprive ourselves of the wholesome loaves of Christ’s Word which all men need. He decreases our awareness of our sinfulness, so that we do not feel or sense any hunger or thirst for righteousness. He makes us think that we can go a long time without partaking of the Sacrament, that if we go too often we will not appreciate it. Meanwhile, we add shame to shame and never come running to Christ for forgiveness. Why must we be so blind?
Dear Christians one and all rejoice! For today once again Christ multiplies the loaves of His Body and Blood for us Christians to eat and to drink. Once again He sets before us a banquet of heavenly delights. Our cup runneth over with His bountiful love. Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life, and we shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Amen.