St. Mark 8:1-9
July 10, 2016
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, X and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The First Article of the Apostles’ Creed and the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer are in sync with one another. To believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth is the pre-requisite for praying “Give us this day our daily bread.” Without faith, there is no prayer. Without an expectation that God can give you what you ask for, there is no motivation for praying. Even if you pray because you think you should, or someone told you you should, there has to be at least the slightest expectation that God will hear your prayer and have the ability to grant it. Faith has to be present. Sometimes our prayers come from pain and suffering. Sometimes our prayers spring from weakness and distress. Sometimes our prayers come out of despair of everything else. But they always come from faith—no matter how faint we feel that faith is. Prayer can be proof to ourselves that faith is alive in us. And what do most of our prayers revolve around? First Article things—the things of creation, things in our daily life.
These are good prayers and our heavenly wants us to pray to Him for them. He cares about them, because He cares about us. When you pray for food, or health, or employment, or a good house, you are confessing that you believe that God has made you and all creatures that He has given you your body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses, and still takes care of them. You are confessing that you seek your daily bread from Him which includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. You believe that He richly and daily provides you with all that you need to support this body and life.
But it goes beyond this. You also confess that God defends you against all danger and guards and protects you from all evil. This is where the rubber of our prayers usually meets the road. Nothing prompts prayer like danger or tough circumstances. This is where the theology of the cross informs us and keeps us from despairing of God or our faith Christ. Bad things can happen to us in this world, and unfortunately they usually do. Each of you probably has a story of something that has happened to you. And that’s something to marvel about. Each of you have probably had something happen either from your own sin or from the sins of others or a combination of the two. You are not as alone as you might think. You are not as isolated as the devil, the world, and your sinful nature would have you believe. You are God’s child. He never leaves you or abandons you. He has promised to be with you in all circumstances. But here is that marvelous thing. Your fellow Christians are here for you, too. They have gone through difficult circumstances of their own. They can relate to you in a way that you may not realize unless you talk with them. By sharing your story, you are opening yourself up to the love and concern of a Christian brother or sister. You might think it’s embarrassing or too burdensome to let people into your world, but that’s exactly what Satan and your sinful nature would have you think. The devil feeds off of your loneliness. That’s how he attacks. He divides you from God and from your neighbors. And soon, it’s your own pride keeping you from finding comfort in the mutual consolation and conversation of the brethren—like-minded Christians.
A First-Article gift from God is the person sitting next to you. This is what Luther explains with the words: good friends, faithful neighbors and the like. Now this comes with personal responsibility. We need to be there for one another. We need to care about our brothers and sisters in the faith and build a relationship with them that will open ourselves up for good, Christian consolation and conversation. You might not think you’ll know what to say, but you’d be surprised how far a listening ear will go. The disciples were surprised with how far a few loaves and a few fish could go in the hands of Jesus. So too, the Lord can use a few minutes of listening to go a long way to someone in need.
Last week and this week, there has been a common theme in the actions of Jesus. He is making it clear that only God can rescue them from dire situations. Last week it was a focus on the inward man. The Law is put under a microscope and shown to be impossible for anyone to keep, except the perfect Son of God, who did not only keep it for Himself, but fulfilled it for everyone. The proper use of the Law isolates your sinful man and always accuses the old Adam. There is no hope of salvation in the Law. All hope must be placed in Jesus Christ, your neighbor, who came to complete the Law and remove the curse of the Law from His people. He brings everyone to the point where they need to rely completely on Him for salvation.
This week Jesus focuses upon the physical needs of the people to show their reliance upon Him for all of the First-Article gifts as well. He leads them out into a desolate place, so that all hope in the flesh is lost. The people could not get back home without fainting on the way, because many of them had come from a long distance. It was at this point, when they had no hope inside or even outside of themselves for sustenance, that Jesus shows himself to be the creator and sustainer of life. He provides food where no one except the true God could provide food in this sinful world. This calls to mind the desert-wandering children of Israel on their way to the promised land. God took care of them through manna and water from the rock.
The combination of leading people to despair of themselves and their flesh, and His gracious teaching about himself and His Messianic purpose work faith. It is still so today. And faith is not worked in isolation or in a vacuum. Faith is worked in community. The Christian Church is the congregation of saints. Faith is strengthened where two or three or three hundred are gathered. Faith is begun and strengthened in a Christian community. And the community can be as small as another Christian friend and fellow parishioner. Sharing Christian hope with people happens formally right here in the Nave in the Word read and preached. It happens from pastors in those settings. But it also happens among you in the Narthex, in the hallway, in the Undercroft and the nursery. It happens in the parking lot, in a car ride, and in your homes. Christian faith is not something confined to Sunday Worship or even to this building. When you comfort one another and take the time to invest in a friendship, it opens the door for you to give the hope of Christ to someone who may find themselves in a desolate place. Jesus had compassion upon the 4,000 in that desolate place. His compassion took him to the cross, where He died for them. His primary mission was not to provide bread today, but salvation for eternity. And His compassion to people by the forgiveness of sins extends today through you to others.
These relationships flow naturally out of what happens here in the Nave. As we pray in the post-communion collect, we implore [the almighty God] that of His mercy, He would strengthen us through the Lord’s Supper, that salutary gift, in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another.
Life in the Christian Church is lived in Christ’s compassion for us and also in Christ’s compassion through us. May He “put away all hurtful things and give to us those things that be profitable for us.”
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.