Sunday, July 26, 2009
In those days, again a great crowd came to be, and they did not have anything to eat, He called to Himself the disciples; He says to them, "I am gut-wrenched upon the crowd because already three days they have remained with Me and they do not have anything to eat; and if ever I dismiss them fasting into their house, they are going to faint on the way; and some of them, a great way, have come." And answered to Him, His disciples, that, "From where is someone here to be able to satisfy these of loaves in the wilderness?" And He was asking them, "How many loaves have you?" And they said, "Seven." And He directs the crowd to recline upon the ground; and taking the seven loaves, He gave thanks, broke, and began giving to His disciples in order that they place before, and they placed before the crowd. Also, they had a few small fish; and having blessed them He said also these were to be set before. And they ate and they were satisfied, and they picked up an abundance of pieces, seven baskets. And there were about 4000, and He sent them away.
Today's Gospel reveals a couple truths about Jesus. The first: He must have really loved fish-wiches! He multiplies bread and fishes to feed the 5000 two chapters earlier, and now he feeds the 4000 with the same food again. The second: Jesus had true compassion for these hungry folk. He is literally gut-wrenched over their hunger and need for food. But His compassion is not just for their bellies. He cares also for their hearts, for their spirits, for their eternal souls, as this story reveals.
Now, I know what you are thinking: "Really Pastor? It sure seems that this is a story only about food. There's no preaching or teaching, no miraculous healings, no signs and wonders other than Jesus creating extra bread & fishes. Then He just sends them home." Now, I know that on the surface this looks like it is only a simple stomach-filling story...but it is really much, much more, if you only take the time to look at it carefully. For there are a few things here beyond the bulging bellies!
St.Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians that it's the enemies of Christ who are concerned most with filling their stomachs. Such people set their mind only on earthly things and make their bellies into their god. So if you are tempted to think that your satisfied stomach is the most important thing, think again. For those who care most about such worldly things end in destruction. But not so for you. You have been freed from such slavery to sins like gluttony, to belong now to God.
No, Jesus' gut-wrenching compassion is not just about satisfying your earthly hunger. Oh, He does that too, by providing your daily bread today and throughout your lifetime. But He does so much more, as this story reveals. Jesus doesn't just provide food for the 4000, but provides an over abundance–an *additional* 7 large baskets full! What is this all about? It certainly is not for Jesus and His disciples to take home to their refrigerators for a late night snack that evening.
You know that you have a Savior Who does much more than simply meet your normal needs. In addition to filling your physical bodies, He fills your heart as well. He has cleansed your heart by the waters and words of baptism, but He does not leave it empty after that. In blessed exchange, He takes His Holy perfection from the cross, and in exchange for your unrighteousness of sin, which He becomes in death, He fills your heart with His righteousness, to make you worthy of heaven!
Jesus also fills your spirit with a nourishment it can consume by the gift of faith. His very body which He gave up as the wages of your sin in death at the cross is given to you in the bread of the Eucharist. In a few moments your pastor speaks of Jesus "giving thanks," and "breaking bread", and placing it before you to eat for your salvation. Then He will likewise bless something else, not fishes this time, but the cup of the new testament in Jesus blood for the remission of your sins.
Christ also fills your soul today with the life-giving nourishment of His Word. Not only do you read your bible, mark it up, and learn from it, but you also *inwardly digest* it as its word is proclaimed to you from the pulpit, or whenever you need to hear it from your pastor as from God Himself in the sacrament of Holy Absolution. This word of Gospel love from your sole-caring Pastor is life for your soul, each and every time it God's Strong Word bespeaks you righteous for the sake of Christ Jesus.
So what happened to those 7 baskets of extras? God doesn't say–on purpose. For the sign is in the number seven, the number of how God (represented by the number 3 )deals with the world (represented by the number 4), loving it in such abundance you may not parish, but that you may feast also, one day, on the tree of life in heaven above, to abundant life–everlasting!
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Don't think that I came to do away with the Law or the Prophets? I didn't come to do away with, on the contrary, to fulfill. Amen, for I say to you, until heaven & earth pass away, one iota or one stroke, no, it will not pass away from the Law, until everything comes to be. Whoever then breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches other men, "least" he will be called in the kingdom of heaven; and whoever does & teaches, this one will be called "great" in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness is abundant, more than the scribes and the Pharisees, no, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.You heard that it was said to the ancient ones, "you will not murder"; and whoever murders will be guilty in the court. And I Myself say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother, guilty he will be in the court; and whoever says to his brother, "empty-head" guilty he will be in the Sanhedrin; and whoever says "fool" guilty he will be into the hell of fire. If ever, then, you are presenting your gift upon the altar, and there, remember your brother has something against you, leave there your gift before the Altar and go; be reconciled to your brother, and then coming, you present your gift. Befriend your opponent quickly, while you are with him on the way, that your opponent not deliver to the Judge, to the officer, and into the prison you will be cast. Amen, I say to you, no, you will not come out of there, until you have given back the last coin.
Sometimes you come across a perplexing bible reading, and in today's Gospel, we sure have a doozy! First, Jesus seems to be making it easy to get into heaven. If you break one of the least of the commandments, or tempt others to do the same, you will be called *least* in the kingdom of heaven, but at least you are in, right? But then, Jesus says that your righteousness has to surpass that of the most moral and ethical folks of His day, the scribes & Pharisees, or you won't even get into heaven.
So what gives? Can you just not worry if you commit lesser sins, and hope God lets you slide, grading on the curve to let you squeak by into heaven? Or should you be striving, struggling, and stretching yourself to be even more pious than the church leaders of Jesus' day, lest you get shut out of paradise completely? How holy does your life have to be for you to be considered worthy of life in heaven? Just exactly how much righteousness is *enough* to get you eternal life?
To figure this out, we must take Jesus at His word, and take His word quite seriously. Have you ever called anybody a name in anger? You are guilty before God.Have you ever hurt someone, not bothering to go apologize so that you can be reconciled? You are guilty before God. Have you ever lusted for someone not your husband/wife? You are guilty before God. Have you ever gone to church as a hypocrite, putting your offering in the plate as if nothing is wrong. You are guilty before God.
It is clear that our own, personal righteousness is far from the moral, ethical standards of the Pharisees. Even if it were that good, Jesus makes it plain that it still would not be enough. Even St. Paul, the Pharisee other Pharisees looked up to, knew that his own righteousness was nothing but dung. For all human righteousness is but filthy rags before God. All the philosophical ethics & morals earn nothing before the Lord. For the true righteousness of which Jesus speaks, isn't of the Law.
True, saving righteousness isn't from human works of obeying the Law, but from God's works of Gospel love! That is why Jesus says that He came to *fulfill* the Law. He, as God, could keep the commandments you fail to obey. He was holy, perfect, completely righteous in all he thought, said, and did. Jesus is your saving righteousness, the only holiness to which you can look, and hope to be saved. Christ's righteousness far exceeds any human goodness, because His is holy and perfect!
You desperately need Jesus' righteousness for your salvation, for without it, you cannot even enter the kingdom of heaven. You need more than forgiveness, which removes your sinful unrighteousness from you. You also need the gift of Christ's righteousness, credited to your account by faith. In Holy Baptism, your sins were washed from you directly to Jesus, at the +, where He became your sin. In blessed exchange, you become His holy righteousness, all Jesus' goodness now yours forevermore!
Have you broken the least of God's commandments? Indeed we all have. But that need not exclude you from paradise, for Jesus succeeded where you failed, keeping God's Law fully, in your place, and taking your place at the +, giving His body & shedding His blood for you there. For He is the One called *Great* in the kingdom of Heaven; He is your abundant righteousness, for your life eternal. . .
Sunday, July 12, 2009
And it happened in that the crowd was pressing toward Him also to hear the word of God, and He was standing along the lake of Gennesaret, and He saw two boats standing along the lake; and the fishermen, having departed from them, kept washing the nets. And having gone into one of the boats which was Simon's, He asked him to set out a little from the land; and having sat down, from the boat He kept teaching the crowds. And as He stopped speaking, He said to Simon, "Set out into the deep and lower your nets into a catch." And answering, Simon said, "Master, through the whole night we worked, taking in not one thing; but upon Your spoken word I will lower the nets." And having done this they caught a great many fish, and their nets were breaking. And they called to their partners in the other boat coming to help them; and they came and filed both the boats up to sinking them. And seeing, Simon Peter fell to Jesus' knees saying, "Go from me, because a man of sin I am, Lord." For amazement came upon him and all those with him at the catch of fish which they took; and likewise also James and John, sons of Zebedee who were partners to Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Stop fearing; from now you will be catching alive, men!" And having brought down the boats upon the land, having left all, they followed Him.
Changing jobs can be difficult. As you gain experience in one occupation, you become rather comfortable with all the tasks it requires. But if your job is terminated, or something opens up in another field that you just cannot pass up, you find yourself leaving everything behind from your old work, and heading off to a new venture. It may be scary. It will have its share of challenges to be sure. No doubt it will take a lot of faith in God to help you get through the rough patches.
That's just what happened to Peter and some other disciples of Jesus. Peter, Andrew, James and John had already been called to follow Jesus, but not yet full-time. They were still fishermen, by trade. But even experienced anglers like these would have an off night. The didn't catch a single fish. Along comes a carpenter who suggests they try fishing in all the wrong ways, in deep water at mid-day. If any ordinary carpenter recommended this, he'd be laughed at. But Jesus was no ordinary carpenter!
Peter knew Jesus was special, that God's power was with Him even to do miracles. But he hadn't yet confessed Jesus as the Christ and Son of the living God, Who had the words of eternal life. Yet Peter allows Jesus to use his otherwise useless fishing boat for some preaching. Then Jesus makes His teaching personal for Peter and the disciples. He gives them a law/gospel sermon in a sentence–lower your nets for a catch. He tells them what He expects them to do, and adds a promise of providence.
This carpenter from Nazareth had proved Himself a better fisherman than these professionals, providing an over-abundance of fish! Isn't that just like God, to require so little from us, yet to give so generously. All He asks of you today is to come and be in His presence, and He does all the rest. He proclaims His promises to you from the pulpit. He drowns sinful you, resurrecting you in Holy Baptism to new life. He feeds you with His Own body and blood in His Supper for your forgiveness and salvation.
And we learn much from Peter's humble attitude here, openly confessing that he is but a sinful man before His Holy Lord and God. Peter knew he was unworthy to be in God's presence, and feared that he could not remain with Jesus. But Jesus tells him to quit being afraid, for Jesus would provide the worthiness Peter lacked, through forgiveness and His gift of Holy righteousness. Like Peter, you too are forgiven, your sins nailed to Jesus at the cross, and His righteousness given to you as a free gift.
That's when now-made-worthy Peter is given his new marching orders. He no longer will be catching fish which die soon after they are brought out of the water. He now will be bringing up from the waters of baptism, Christ's disciples–those who are caught alive, to keep on living unto life everlasting! At this new job description, these first disciples do the unexpected. They leave everything behind to follow Jesus in this task of rescuing souls, forgiving sinners, and proclaiming Jesus as Savior of all.
Now, God has not called you to be evangelists, or apostles, or even preachers as He did with the 12. But He has called you to a special vocation of church member. In that he requires of you very little, that you allow His Spirit to gather you to where Jesus is, following His word as it is taught & proclaimed, receiving His gifts as they cleanse you from sin & nourish your soul. He calls you to be caught up alive in Christ, in the overwhelming abundance of His love for you, forevermore.