I preached this sermon (on vicarage) at Trinity Lutheran Church in Palo Alto, CA. on March 10, 2013 (4th Sunday in Lent)
Exodus 16 2-21; John 6:1-15; Galatians 4:21-31
You, fellow Christians, “children of promise,” (ref. to Epistle reading, Gal. 4:28) “children of the free woman” (ref. to Epistle reading, Gal. 4:31), you have a problem. No, this isn’t a cheesy rhetorical device to introduce the sermon – oratory gravy to grease the meat of what I want to say so that it’ll slide down your gullet without getting lodged in your Spiritual esophagus. You, like the Israelites, have a very real problem. “You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matt. 22:29)
God’s people are in the desert and what do they do? They grumble. (ref. to OT reading, Ex. 16:2) Though God had clearly revealed Himself to them, they did not believe in Him. They did not recognize the power of God right before them! This was their problem just as it is yours.
God had, without a doubt, made himself known to Israel. He sent the plagues upon Egypt, causing Pharaoh to let His people go (Ex 7:14-12:32). He passed over them as death claimed the firstborn throughout Egypt (Ex. 12:1-31) He manifested himself in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, leading them out of bondage(Ex. 13:21). He parted the Red Sea (Ex. 14:21). No doubt about it, the power of God was evident, yet they grumbled in disbelief, fearing they would die of hunger. Our Father’s children saw him and yet they didn’t.
You are a child of God as were they, yet you don’t really believe in his power either. You don’t know His Word. It’s God’s Word! You confess Jesus to be your Savior, and it’s not just lip service, you truly believe in the historical man who lived and died for your sins. That’s how I can call you by your name, Christians; that’s how I can call you “children of promise,” “children of the free woman” (ref. to Epistle reading, Gal 4:28 & 31). You confess the historical man, but you doubt that God really takes care of you today, that He really provides for you. You doubt Him. He has clearly revealed Himself in flesh and blood as the man, Jesus Christ, who willingly suffered death in your stead (Matt. 27:45-55), who verified He was the Messiah by rising from the grave and defeating death (Matt. 281-10), and in front of hundreds of eyewitnesses ascended into heaven (Acts 1:15 & 1 Cor. 15:6). Despite this, you and I doubt our God’s power.
That’s right you’re not alone. Sadly, you are not alone. It’s not just a few of us who are melting away in the hot sun all full of worms, the horrid stench of death about us like Schulz’s Peanuts character Pig Pen. (ref. to Exodus 16:21)Every last one of you has this problem, as do I. The entire congregation (ref. to Ex. 16:2)! It’s a rot that seeps through the pores of society, infecting the Church for a period of time before being scraped into the trash like mold from a piece of cheese.
Now, of course, there are historical seasons where it seems like the problem has successfully been solved, where believers actually devour the Word of God as if they were a condemned prisoner on death row, thoroughly enjoying their last meal, licking the plate of divine revelation in order to take in every last speck of delicious truth. Post-Christian America in a secularized global community is not one of those times. As occupants and participants in our day, we, sadly, breathe in the aroma of our time and Grandma’s oven is not filling the kitchen with that sweet fragrance of apple pie. Your nostrils, your lungs, your lifeblood is intoxicated with the putrid odor of burnt faith. You are living in a critical world where subjective reason is the master of all, even God’s Word.
As a result of this, one of two things has happened to you, the Christian. Either you have knowingly (or perhaps even unwittingly) succumbed to the world, allowing doubt to dance through your inner most being like Tony Dovolani and Melissa Rycroft or you have latched on to the authority of your God’s Word so vehemently that you never read it. Bibles are everywhere; you have one if not multiple copies. Perhaps you have one in your living room, maybe on the shelf by the hall, some of you probably even have a Bible app on your phone in your pocket, but you don’t read it. If you were reading it, you would know the Scriptures and the power of God (Mat. 22:29). But you don’t. Why read the Bible when you can watch the made for television miniseries on the History Channel, right?
Repent of your spiritual sloth, Christian; your God cares for you. He is present in your life, and that is not just some platitude. God is very active in your life. The Israelites grumbled for food and though their actions were driven by disbelief, our Father rained down manna from heaven (ref to OT reading, Ex. 16:2-21). You and I grumble in disbelief and the same loving God, full of compassion and mercy, feeds us too. He feeds us with his Word (Jer. 15:16). Dust it off, open it up, let the new book smell escape from the pages – feast on Your God’s Word. Don’t be those people who have “never encountered the God who spoke in thunder from Sinai and even more tragically [don’t be those who have] never encountered the God who spoke words of eternal forgiveness from the cross.” (John Warwick Montgomery, Damned Through the Church) Jesus Christ died for your sins: your neglect, your lethargic abandon, your doubt in all that He is. He is so much more than just an historical figure, though He is indeed that. He is your God! He is your Redeemer and He died that you may be with Him, not that you would grumble in disbelief like our forefathers, the Israelites (ref. to OT reading, Ex. 16:2) but that you would praise Him and hallow His name (Matt. 6:9)! Repent, and take in the splendid scent of the heavenly feast set before you today. And it really is set before you today. The Word of God is truly a feast in and of itself, truly sufficient by itself (Deut. 8:3; Luke 4:4).
With that said, our compassionate God gives us more! Just like Jesus miraculously fed 5000 with nothing but five loafs of barley bread and two tiny fish (ref. to Gospel reading, John 6:1-15), a seemingly impossible task, He continues to feed you, and millions of other Christians, with His actual, real, very body and blood. His body will literally be distributed in just a few moments, just as our text tells us was done with the barley bread. Listen to the words again; I’ll highlight what I want you to pick up on: “Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’[Ah, look at that! You’re sitting down.] … Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated… And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.’… When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” (Gospel reading, John 6:10-14) Let me read the last part of that again. “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” They would’ve had energy in their voice, I’m sure.
Jesus, broke the bread and distributed it to the congregation of people who had gathered around him. By the way, our Gospel lesson tells us that this feeding happens around the time of Passover (John 6:4). When God established this annual feast, He set it up on the first month of the Israelite calendar (Ex. 12:1-3). He established this feast, Passover, to remind them of a very significant truth: In God, the one who brought them out of bondage through the Exodus, they had their life. Every year as they ate the feast of unleavened bread, (bread!) they would recall the power of their God (Ex. 12:14). Their life was very much connected to their stomachs, as is ours.
Jesus, in an isolated location, is confronted with a crowd large enough that half a year’s wages (200 denarii) couldn’t buy enough food to feed them all. Even if they could afford to purchase bread, there was nowhere to buy it (ref. to Gospel reading). This scene looks very similar to Israel and the manna in our Old Testament reading, does it not? Isolation. No food. Large crowd.
Jesus breaks bread, just as He does at the Last Supper when He and His disciples celebrate Passover in the upper room before He is handed over to die on the cross for you and me (Luke 22:7-23). He gives thanks, just as he does when he establishes what we celebrate every week here at Trinity – communion. He distributes the bread to the people. Just as He does here at this rail as His servants bring his body and blood to you, His people, “children of promise,” “ children of the free woman” (ref. to Epistle reading, Gal. 4:28 & 31), that you may eat of it and be strengthened as were the 5000 in our reading, knowing the power of God. The fragments, the pieces of bread are gathered up that nothing would be lost. This also harkens back to the manna account where the people were not to gather more than they could eat that day, there was to be nothing left over. (Ex. 16:19) God was their life, as He is ours. He is our daily bread, our daily life, He is our daily bread of life. This too recalls, yet again, another similarity to the first Passover where God’s people did not let any of the food “remain until morning.” (Ex. 12:10) Whatever was not eaten was to be consumed by fire. We still do this today. After the distribution of our Lord’s body and blood, generally after the service, once we have shaken your hands, pastor and I consume the remaining pieces of Christ’s body and drink the last of His blood. Nothing is left over! God is our life. He is our everything, giving all of Himself to us; He quite literally holds nothing back as He cares for you, “that nothing [and no one] may be lost.” (John 6:21)
Brothers and sisters in Christ, you remarkable “children of promise,” you beautiful sons and daughters of the free woman (ref. to Epistle reading, Gal 4:28 & 31), you know the awesome power of God! He has given you His all.
He has saved you from the bondage of sin. Satan held you captive with the heavy handcuffs of sin and your God came in and burst the chains into a million tiny pieces when He died on the cross, descended into hell, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven freeing you from slavery just like He did after the angel of death passed over your kin in Egypt during the first Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12).
He gives you life, feeding your faith through the incubating work of His church, through so much more than five piddley barley loaves and a couple sardines (ref. to Gospel reading, John 6:9), through the revelation of His Word as you see it in print, hear it preached, and as you taste it on your tongue in the flesh and blood of Jesus, the Word incarnate.
How blessed you are! When the grumbling in your stomach grows louder and louder, echoing through your heart and out of your mouth in words of disbelief, your Father forgives you. He forgives you and, like He did with your ancestors, He feeds you that your faith may be strengthened.
As those who have been born of the free woman, you are only seen through the water of her womb, the water of your baptism, the water that binds you to the death of your Savior who showers you with His righteous blood and His wholesome body, freely given that those grumbles may daily be silenced by His imperishable bread of life – Jesus Christ.