Sunday, July 26, 2020

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

         Trinity 7
                                                                                                Mk 8:1-9

            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.



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