Monday, August 10, 2020

Commemoration of Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

 

Today we remember and give thanks for Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr.  Early in the third century A.D., Lawrence, most likely born in Spain, made his way to Rome. There he was appointed chief of the seven deacons and was given the responsibility to manage church property and finances. The emperor at the time, who thought that the church had valuable things worth confiscating, ordered Laurence to produce the “treasures of the church.” Laurence brought before the emperor the poor whose lives had been touched by Christian charity. He was then jailed and eventually executed in the year 258 by being roasted on a gridiron. His martyrdom left a deep impression on the young church. Almost immediately, the date of His death, August 10, became a permanent fixture on the early commemorative calendar of the Church.

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, You called Lawrence to be a deacon in Your Church to serve your saints with deeds of love, and You gave him the crown of martyrdom.  Give us the same charity of heart that we may fulfill Your love by defending and supporting the poor, that by loving them we may love You with all our hearts; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity - Lk 16:1-9

 

Trinity

Lk 16:1-9

                                                                                       8/9/20

 

            The one year lectionary is the selection of Scripture readings that has been used in the Lutheran church for five hundred years – since the days of the Reformation.  With some small modifications, it is same basic lectionary that had been used in northern Europe during the medieval period. It is a classic example of the Lutheran approach to the Reformation.  Where teaching or practice contradicted Scripture, it had to be changed. Where teaching was true, and practice taught the faith and provided unity in the life of the Church, it was retained.

            This is all great.  But once in a while you look at a Scripture text that is assigned and want to ask: “What were they thinking?”  Covering fifty two Sundays and all of the feasts and festivals of the Church, no lectionary can include all texts of the Bible. It is, by definition, selective. But out of all the parables that Jesus told that we have in Scripture, one struggles to understand why the parable of the unjust steward was chosen.  I say this because it is one of more challenging parables that Jesus told.

            Now from the outset we are going to rule out one interpretation.  Jesus is not teaching us that cheating and stealing in a clever way is good.  I think we can be very certain that this is not the point his is trying to convey.  But in the parable a manager lies and cheats in order to help himself. And the person defrauded by this praises the manager for acting in this way. It’s very strange stuff.

            In the parable, Jesus says that there was a rich man who had a manager who was responsible for overseeing his business operations.  We are not provided many details about the exact nature of the arrangement. This may have involved land that was rented to others to farm. But there is no way of knowing for sure.

            What we do know is that the manager had been doing a very poor job.  We learn in our text that charges were brought to the rich man that the manager was wasting his possessions. So the rich man summoned the manager and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” The rich man fired the manager and told him to turn in the account records that would have been written on papyrus.  Paperwork and financial records are nothing new, and we have many examples from Egypt that demonstrate the care and sophistication with which this was done.

            The manager suddenly found himself in a moment of crisis. He said to himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” Suddenly about to find himself unemployed, the manager’s prospects were bad and worse.

            We are not told why the manager’s oversight had resulted in a wasting of the master’s possessions. Perhaps it was laziness.  But whatever the cause, it apparently wasn’t a lack of intelligence and cleverness. For immediately a plan formed in his mind and he said, “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.”

            The manager still had the financial records – he had not yet turned them in to the owner. So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked “How much do you owe my master?”  He then proceeded to reduce the amount owed. And we are not talking about a small amount of money.  Each of the reductions mentioned in our text equaled about five hundred denarii of value, where a denarii was a day’s wage. This was a huge benefit that he was giving to these people.  Obviously he presented himself as the source of the reduction.  No wonder the manager was confident that when he was removed from management, people would receive me into their houses.

            At some point the master learned about what the manager was doing.  We would expect him to be angry.  Surely he would try take action against the manger to harm or punish him.  But as Jesus concluded the parable he said, “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

            Jesus says that the master praised the manger for his shrewdness.  In the moment of crisis, he had recognized the way he could use the resources available in order to benefit himself. And then Jesus added, “For the sons of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” 

Our Lord makes a distinction between the “son of this age” and the “sons of light.” The good news is that as a Christian, you are in the latter group. The bad news is that that sons of this age – those who do not know God and live in the ways of this sinful world – are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation.  And after making this evaluation, Jesus adds: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

            Our Lord’s words this morning lead us to recognize the time in which we live and the status we have received.  Early in Jesus’ ministry, after he had been healing people and casting out demons a crowd of people wanted him to stay, but he said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.”  Jesus had come to preach the arrival of the kingdom of God – the reign of God in the world.  But Jesus wasn’t preaching about something.  He was preaching about himself.  When Jesus was accused of casting out demons because he was in league with the devil he replied, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

            Jesus Christ had come into the world to bring the kingdom of God – the reign of God – that overcomes sin, death and the devil. He knew exactly how this was to be done, even if much of it didn’t sound like God reigning.  As they prepared to enter Jerusalem for the last time, he told the disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 

            Jesus, the Son of God, came to be numbered with the transgressors.  He came to take our place and receive the judgment of God against our sin.  He came to suffer and die as the sacrifice for our sin.  But then on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. God vindicated his Servant and showed that the suffering of the cross had been the means by which Gods’ reign was present to defeat sin.  And in the resurrection of Jesus Christ God has begun the resurrection that will be ours on the Last Day.

            You have heard this good news – this Gospel.  You have been baptized and had your sins washed away.  You have received the gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism, and therefore you are sons and daughters of light.  You belong to God.  You no longer belong to this sinful age that will end when Christ returns in glory.

            These facts are not in doubt and we thank and praise God for this!  But today’s text raises the question of whether our lives show this to be case as we deal with a very important part of life: money.  This whole chapter deals with the subject of wealth and money.  In the last verse of our text Jesus says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

            Why does Jesus describe it as “unrighteous wealth”?  It is because of the way wealth takes on the role in our life that God should.  Just a few verses later Jesus says, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

            Why are the sons of this age more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light?  It is because they act in way that is perfectly in alignment with their god.  When your god is money and wealth, there is a clarity about how you make decisions and how you treat people.

            But on the other hand when the God who has redeemed and saved you through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ, is your God, then you are going to view and use money differently.  At least, you should.  And it is here that the inconsistency comes in – the lack of focus in us that makes the sons of this world more shrewd.  They are and do what they are supposed to be. 

            We are sons of light. But the temptation to allow money and wealth to function as a god is always present.  In the parable of the sower Jesus describes the seed that fell among the thorns as “those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” In an earlier chapter our Lord told the parable of the rich fool who built bigger barns to store up crops so that he could have a life of leisure, but then died before he could enjoy them. Jesus introduced that parable by saying, Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

            If we as the sons of light are to be shrewd – shrewd in the way that is true to our status - then we will recognize that we are to love and serve God, and not money.  Jesus says that we are to be rich toward God with our possessions.

            Fundamental to this is the recognition that God has promised to provide us with what we need to live – he has promised us daily bread.  But he has promised no more than that. And anything that goes beyond that becomes part of the cares and riches and pleasures of life that can choke faith.  It can become the reason for covetousness.  It can become the god of unrighteous wealth.

            Earlier in this Gospel as Jesus was speaking about how God provides us with food and clothing, our Lord said, “And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”

            If we are to be shrewd in the way that sons of light are to be shrewd, then we will seek God’s kingdom.  This means that our focus will be not upon what we can get, but upon what Christ gives to us.  We will see in the Means of Grace the treasure that surpasses all earthly wealth.  For through them Christ gives us forgiveness and eternal life.   

             In that earlier discussion, Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

            When the sons of light use their money shrewdly – when they use is in the way made possible by the reign of God that we have received – we will use our money in ways that help others. We will use it in ways that help to spread the kingdom of God – the reign of God in our community and world. We will use our money to support administration of the Means of Grace in our congregation.  We will use our money to support the mission of the Church in the many different ways that this goes on throughout the world.  We will use our money to help those in need in our community.

            Because we are sons and daughters of light, we recognize the urgency of the moment in which we live. The reign of God has come into the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are living in the end times as we look for the exalted Lord Jesus to return in glory on the Last Day. We know that through word of the Gospel and baptism we have received the status of being the sons of light. So be shrewd with your money by using it like a person who has received the kingdom of God.

 

              

 

 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity - Acts 20:27-38


Trinity 8
                                                                                                  Acts 20:27-38
                                                                                                  8/2/20

            When Lutheran pastors of our synod get together – especially those from our area - they share a unique bond with one another. First of all, they are committed Christians, which in this world today already makes them part of a minority. Then they are also Lutherans which in this far southern part of this state, as we know all to well, makes them part of a yet smaller minority.
            And then as pastors, they are part of an even smaller group that is unique in its own ways.  As the one placed by God to care for a congregation, pastors have responsibilities and experiences that only other pastors can really understand.  It is the fellow pastor who understands what is like to visit and provide spiritual care for a person dying of cancer.  It is the fellow pastor who knows the challenge of confronting sin, when some in the congregation don’t want that done – especially if it involves their son, daughter or family member.  It is the fellow pastor who understands the sense of grief and failure that is present when a husband and wife in the congregation divorce.
            When pastors get together they share with one another the challenges they are facing. They seek advice and counsel from other pastors about how to approach a particular situation.  They encourage one another, and seek to build each other up in Christ.
            But during my years in the ministry, I’ve never attended a gathering of pastors like the one in our text this morning.  Never have I heard a pastor who was retiring or leaving the area say:  “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”  I’ve never heard a pastor tell other pastors that some of the pastors there listening were going to become false teachers who would draw away believers.  Now that would be a circuit meeting or pastors’ conference to remember!
            Yet that is exactly what happens in our text this morning as the apostle Paul meets with the pastors who had gathered at Miletus. Paul was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem and didn’t want to get hung up with a long visit in Ephesus.  So when his ship docked at Miletus, the port that served Ephesus, he didn’t go into the city.  Instead, Luke tells us, “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.”
            Now these elders were not what we call “elders” in our church today – laymen who assist the pastor.  Instead, these were the pastors of the area.  Paul speaks a farewell to them, because as he says just before our text, “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”
            Paul is convinced that he is saying farewell to them, and so he wants to remind them about the ministry that he conducted in their midst.  He proclaims to them that despite the plots by the Jews against him, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ”.
            Repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ – that’s Law and Gospel.  Paul declares that he had not held back from calling them to repentance.  He had proclaimed God’s law.  But he had also proclaimed the Gospel – he had proclaimed faith in Jesus Christ.
            And now in our text, Paul repeats the phrase about not holding back.  He says, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Why is Paul innocent of their blood – why is he not responsible if any of them are lost?  It is because he did not hold back from declaring the whole counsel of God.  He told them God’s will and truth, not matter whether it was hard or easy.
            This raises a question that we need to ask ourselves – do we really want to hear the whole counsel of God?  For if the pastor does proclaim this we are going to hear that there is salvation in no other way than faith in Jesus Christ – not Islam, or Mormonism, or Hinduism. And that includes our family and friends who have rejected Christ as Lord and God. We are going to hear that sex outside of marriage, and the arrangement to make this easy – living together – are sins that bring God’s judgment. We are going to hear that homosexuality is inherently disordered and sinful. We are going to hear that marriage is the one flesh union for life, and that apart from clear biblical grounds, to divorce and remarry is adultery.  We are going to hear that our love of sports is more often than not a false god, no matter what excuses we make.
            We are going to hear things that confront us with our own sin. We are going to hear things that will make life harder, not easier, because they will set us in conflict with our culture and world. The whole counsel of God share his ordering of the world – the way things are supposed to work.  It will share law with us.
            But after saying how he had acted as pastor, Paul then tells the pastors how they are to act as pastor. He says, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”  Paul describes the Church of God – he describes you – as that which he obtained through his own blood.
This too is part of the whole counsel of God.  God the Father sent his Son into the world as he was incarnate by the work of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  God became flesh and blood – true God and true man at the same time. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, did this to be the One who was wounded for your transgressions and was crushed for your iniquities.  He came to be the One upon whom the Lord laid the iniquity of us all.  Jesus Christ did this for you, and by his bloody death he has redeemed you.  He has made you his own. 
How precious are you to God?  He gave his Son into the suffering and death of the cross for you.  He poured out his judgment on Jesus in your place. And then on third day he raised him from the dead.  Jesus Christ defeated death by going through it. He left the tomb on Easter as the new Adam – the One who can never die again.  And because he has, he promises that he will give the gift of resurrection life to you on the Last Day.
While we wait, we live in the time when the risen Christ, exalted to the right hand of God, has poured forth his Spirit. Paul makes a very striking statement this morning.  He speaks to the pastors gathered at Miletus and tells them to pay “careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Notice that it is the Holy Spirit who has made them overseers in the place where they are pastor.
Christ has instituted and given his Means of Grace.  He has given us his inspired word.  He has given us baptism, and absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar.  He has given us his Office of the Holy Ministry to administer these gifts in our midst - to preach the word; to baptize; to absolve; to celebrate the Sacrament.  And his Spirit then works through his church to place a man in that office in the midst of each flock – each congregation.  He gives us the pastor – the shepherd – who speaks the whole counsel of God to us.  He gives us the law that we need to hear.  He gives us the Gospel by which we have forgiveness and life.
As Paul concludes his address, he says to the pastors at Miletus, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”  Of course what was true for these pastors is also true for you.  The gracious word of God is able to build you up.  It is able to give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified – all those who are holy in God’s eyes because of Christ. It does because through that word the Spirit of God creates and sustains faith in Jesus Christ.
But for it to do so, it also must be used.  It must be heard. It must be read. We need to recognize the incredible gift that God has given to us.   Through his word the Spirit builds us up in faith so that we can receive and believe the whole counsel of God.  He gives us forgiveness which is true now, and will be true on the Last Day.  He gives us the inheritance of sharing in salvation with all who have been sanctified - made holy – by the blood of Jesus.
In this farewell address, Paul certainly holds himself up as an example as he speaks to these pastors. And he does so in another important way near the end of our text.  Paul calls attention to his own hard work.  He describes what a life created by the Gospel and built up by God’s Word looks like.  He says, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
We think about our work as providing money to provide for our basic needs, and then also for the fun things we want to do.  Yet for Paul this work calls to mind something entirely different.  It is instead something that provides the ability to help the weak – to help others.  When the Gospel is the source of our life – when Jesus Christ’s service for us shapes our life – then serving and helping others becomes the way we do things.  And in order to explain this fact, Paul provides a most interesting quotation.  He says, “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Now the interesting thing is that this statement by our Lord is not found in any of the Gospels.  Of course, Luke, the author of Acts is also the author of the Gospel of Luke.  Certainly he knew about this statement by our Lord.  But rather than include it in the Gospel, he shares it here.
Why is it more blessed to give than to receive?  It is because this action flows from the blessing that Christ has given to us.  He gave all in order to give us forgiveness and life. And because we have received this from him, living in the blessing which is Christ means giving to others. When we give we see that Christ is at work through us, and in this there is blessing. There is the blessing of being in Christ as a forgiven child of God. There is the blessing of faith active in love, and a faith active in love is a living, healthy and vibrant faith which knows that our Lord Jesus has obtained us by his own blood.”






Friday, July 31, 2020

Commemoration of Joseph of Arimathea


This Joseph, mentioned in all four Gospels, came from a small village called Arimathea in the hill country of Judea. He was a respected member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious council in Jerusalem. He was presumably wealthy, since he owned his own unused tomb in a garden not far from the site of Jesus’ crucifixion (Mt 27:60). Joseph, a man waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went to Pontius Pilate after the death of Jesus and asked for Jesus’ body (Mk 15:43). Along with Nicodemus, Joseph removed the body and placed it in the tomb (John 19:39). Their public devotion contrasted greatly to the fearfulness of the disciples who had abandoned Jesus.

Collect of the Day:
Merciful God, your servant Joseph of Arimathea prepared the body of our Lord and Savior for burial with reverence and godly fear and laid him in his own tomb.  As we follow the example of Joseph, grant to us, your faithful people, that same grace and courage to love and serve Jesus with sincere devotion all the days of our lives.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Commemoration of Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr


Today we remember and give thanks for Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr.  Remembered as a devoted disciple of Martin Luther, Robert Barnes is considered to be among the first Lutheran martyrs.  Born in 1495, Barnes became the prior of the Augustinian monastery at Cambridge, England.  Converted to Lutheran teaching, he shared his insights with many English scholars through writings and personal contacts.  During a time of exile to Germany, he became friends with Luther and later wrote a Latin summary of the main doctrines of the Augsburg Confession titled Sententiae.  Upon his return to England, Barnes shared his Lutheran doctrines and views in person with King Henry VIII.  The changing political and ecclesiastical climate in his native country, however, claimed him as a victim; he was burned at the stake in Smithfield in 1540.  His final confession of faith was published by Luther, who called his friend Barnes, “our good, pious dinner guest and houseguest … this holy martyr, St. Robert Barnes.”

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, heavenly Father, You gave courage to Your servant Robert Barnes to give up his life for confessing the true faith during the Reformation.  May we continue steadfast in our confession of the apostolic faith and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from I; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Commemoration of Johann Sebastian Bach, Kantor


Today we remember and give thanks for Johann Sebastian Bach, Kantor.  Johann Sebastian Bach  (1685–1750) is acknowledged as one of the most famous and gifted of all composers past and present in the entire western world. Orphaned at the age of ten, Bach was mostly self-taught in music. His professional life as conductor, performer, composer, teacher, and organ consultant began at the age of 19 in the town of Arnstadt and ended in Leipzig, where for the last 27 years of his life he was responsible for all the music in the city’s four Lutheran churches. In addition to his being a superb keyboard artist, the genius and bulk of Bach’s vocal and instrumental compositions remain overwhelming. A devout and devoted Lutheran, he is especially honored in Christendom for his lifelong insistence that his music was written primarily for the liturgical life of the church to glorify God and edify his people.

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness, you have taught us in Holy Scripture to sing your praises and have given to your servant Johann Sebastian Bach grace to show forth your glory in his music.  Continue to grant this gift of inspiration to all your servants who write and make music for your people, that with joy we on earth may glimpse your beauty and at length know the inexhaustible richness of your new creation in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity - Mk 8:1-9


         Trinity 7
                                                                                                Mk 8:1-9
                                                                                                7/26/20

            The term “déjà vu” is a French phrase that means “already seen.”  Of course, you also know it as one of those instances where a foreign word or phrase has entered into common usage in the English language.  And so when someone uses the term “déjà vu” even if you don’t know that “vu” is a participle form of the verb “voir,” you know what it means – you know it describes the experience of feeling that you have already seen something before.
            The reader of the Gospel of Mark is certainly justified in having a sense of déjà vu as we hear our Gospel lesson this morning from chapter eight in which Jesus feeds four thousand people using seven loaves of bread and a few fish. The reason is that two chapters earlier, in chapter six, we heard about how the Lord fed five thousand people using five loaves of bread and two fish.
            On that occasion, Jesus was trying to take his disciples away to a deserted place so that they could rest.  However, the crowds followed them and even though Jesus intended a time of rest we learn that our Lord had compassion on crowd, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.
            Eventually as it grew late in the day the disciples came to Jesus. They pointed out that it was deserted place and asked him to send the people away so that they could go to the villages of the surrounding area and buy food.  But instead, Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.”  The disciples objected that that this wasn’t possible – there wasn’t enough money to give everyone just a little.  So Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish, and used them to feed thousand men, not counting the women and children.  In fact he gave them so much that there were twelve baskets full of left overs.
            Jesus had the disciples get into a boat and head out on the Sea of Galilee.  He dismissed the crowds then then went to a mountain to pray.  In the evening the disciples’ boat was caught in a storm, and Jesus came to them walking on the sea. The disciples thought it was a ghost and were terrified. But Jesus said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And when he got into the boat the wind ceased. Then Mark tells us, “And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”
            The disciples’ reaction to seeing Jesus walking on the sea and bringing about the calm is explained by the fact that “they did not understand about the loaves.”  They had seen the miracle Jesus performed, but they didn’t perceive what it meant about Jesus.  Instead of insight, we learn that “their hearts were hardened.”
            Next, in our text we hear, “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.’”  This time, Jesus initiated the discussion.  He expressed concern about the people being famished so far from home.
The disciples responded, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”  On the previous occasion, their concern had been about the size of the crowd and the cost – there was no way they could buy enough bread to feed everyone.  This time they focus on the location – it was a deserted place and they asked Jesus, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” It is as if the previous feeding miracle had not happened. They see a large crowd in a deserted setting and they tell Jesus that it just can’t be done.
Jesus learned from them that they had seven loaves. So he took them and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, who gave them to the people. He also blessed a few small fish and did the same. Everyone ate and was satisfied – a crowd of about four thousand people - and when they gathered up the left overs there were seven baskets full.
Obviously, the disciple just didn’t get it.  But to understand the true depths of this we need listen to what happened immediately after our text.  After Jesus had just performed a miraculous feeding, the Pharisees came to Jesus seeking a sign from heaven in order to test him.  Then, Jesus and the disciples got into a boat to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  We learn that the disciples had forgotten to bring bread with them, and in fact only had one loaf.
Jesus said to them, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” The disciples missed his point altogether and started discussing that fact that they had no bread. Jesus knew this and asked: “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?”  Then he reviewed with them how he had fed five thousand with five loaves and four thousand with seven loaves, and asked, “Do you not yet understand?”
The disciples see Jesus work a miracle in our text today as he feeds four thousand people using only seven loaves of bread and few small fish. He does this after he has earlier fed five thousand using five loaves of bread and two fish. But the disciples don’t understand.  They don’t perceive in the miracle who Jesus is or what he is doing.
            This is all the more surprising when you consider Israel’s history.  For forty years the people of Israel had been in the wilderness – in a deserted place.  During that time, God had fed them through the miracle of manna – a miracle the psalms described as the “bread of heaven.”  Now Jesus works a miracle in a deserted place giving them bread – in fact he does it twice! Yet they don’t understand what this reveals about Jesus.  Instead their hearts are hardened.
            But before we smugly condemn the disciples for being so obtuse, we must consider whether sometimes our own hearts are hardened.  We must consider whether we fail to perceive. After all, we are the ones who know the whole story.
Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  We know how that kingdom – that reign of God – arrived.  It arrived as Jesus died on the cross. And we know why Jesus died. We know that Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice to win forgiveness for all. He won forgiveness, and then God raised him from the dead on the third day. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ God defeated death.  We may die.  But sin and death can never separate us from God.  And death can never be the last word, for Jesus will raise up our bodies on the Last Day.
We know all of this – far more than anything the disciples understood at this point. And yet when difficulties arise, do we wonder about whether God really does love and care for us?  Do we question his plans and purpose for our life?  Do we look around at our world and wonder whether God really is in charge; whether he really is caring for his Church?
When Jesus spoke about giving his life as a ransom for many he said, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”  Do we really believe that because Jesus Christ has served us by his death and resurrection, we are now to serve others? Do we really believe that we are to place the needs of others before ourselves?
We must confess that even though we have seen what God has done in Christ, there are times when we do not perceive what he really means for us. There are times when like the disciples our hearts are hardened. We miss what should be obvious, because of all that God has already shown to us.
Jesus’ call to repent and believe the Gospel continues to address us. He invites us to confess our sin, for he has already paid the ransom for it.  He urges us to receive his forgiveness, for through his Spirit he gives us eyes that perceive the way things really are. He gives us a heart of faith that trusts and believes in Christ.
And the Lord continues to see our need to be fed in a deserted place – in a wilderness.  That is a description of our world.  It is a place that knows nothing of the true God.  It knows nothing of sin, but instead revels in all that is wrong.  It knows nothing of forgiveness because it believes there is no right and no wrong.  It knows nothing of Christ because it refuses to worship any Lord but itself, and it certainly doesn’t believe it needs a Savior.
But for us who know and feel our sin; for us who can see how ugly, and brutal, and selfish the world running by its own rules really is; for us who know that we are in a wilderness, Jesus takes bread, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to us saying, “This is my body.”  He takes wine, gives thanks, and gives it to us saying, “This is my blood.”  He continues to offer a miraculous feeding as he gives us his true body and blood.  He feeds us with his body given for us and his blood shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.
He feeds us with food that sustains us in faith.  He gives us food for the new man so that through his Spirit our eyes can continue to perceive the way things really are. He sustains a heart of faith that trusts and believes in him. He gives us a miraculous meal that is the foretaste of eternal feast to come.