July 14, 2013
St. Mark 8:1-9
The disciples had seven loaves. That was plenty for themselves, but nothing for 4000 people. In the miracle recorded in Mark 8, unlike the feeding of the 5000, there was no one ready to give up his bread and fish for the cause. The Lord simply took the disciples’ bread, broke it, and made them give it, as charity, to the Gentile ruffians who were too stupid to bring their own provisions.
The disciples don’t know what will happen. When He had fed the 5000, He implied that there were places to buy bread nearby, but here, in Mark 8, they are in a desolate place, too far to return without food lest they faint on the way. There the people had sat down on the grass. Here they sit on the ground, in the dirt. Perhaps there will be an abundance or perhaps there will fast.
For Jesus had fasted for forty days in the desert and the student is not above his master.
To their credit, they do what He says. They take the risk.
People don’t like the pastor to talk about stewardship. It hits too close to home. It is easier to talk about bad people in Washington or history or overseas than it is to think about what our daily life in Christ is supposed to look like, how we are supposed to love our neighbor.
The fact that we don’t like it certainly means we ought to face it. So here are a few simple and practical realities.
God calls us to first fruits, sacrificial giving. That means that we should give off the top. We should set a percentage of our income as a deliberate gift for the work of the Church and then give that first. We write the check to the Church before we pay the mortgage or pay for our medicine or pay for anything else. We don’t pay for all the stuff we need, and think we need, and then give from what is left over. That is the first fruits idea. I know it is hard. Because we think we need heat and water and medicine. But that is point of “sacrificial.”
Next, and you’re going to hate this, the starting percentage really is 10%. The ceremonial law was never arbitrary.When God established the ceremonial law – weekly worship, 10% giving, no murdering of babies – He was establishing what is good for us. This is the way we were designed to live. When we veer from that, for whatever reason, even for good reasons, we run risks and we can get hurt. The percentage in the Old Testament is not vague. It is 10%. That is not binding on us in its details, but it is a model for us.
I don’t know if you’re going to go to Hell for not giving enough or not, but I wouldn’t make light of it. I wouldn’t pretend as though you’ve given plenty. And that is our temptation. We think we’ve done enough, we’ve given enough, we’re impressed with ourselves. No one here has given plenty – because no one has given all. No one has died for his sins. There is no more deadly attitude to faith than the self-righteous idea that we’ve done our part and God ought to be pleased with us. God save us from such presumption!
Stewardship is hard law. It must call us to repentance. If it calls us to a pat on the back, we’re not Christians. The law is meant to expose and accuse for the sake of showing us Christ and His fulfillment. So if first fruits, sacrificial giving has squirming, good. Because you’re not good enough. You haven’t given enough. Repent.
Jesus took the disciples’ seven loaves and blessed them. It was nothing among so many, but, of course, it was plenty. Jesus makes something from nothing.
Mark doesn’t say that all the disciples gave Jesus all the bread they had. It is quite possible that some of them held something back. But even if they did, that didn’t stop Jesus from blessing them. Jesus makes something out of nothing. He, who fed His people in the desert with Mannah every morning, doesn’t need their bread. They need to give it. And what they give, however little it might be, however grudgingly they do so, He blesses it. He not only blesses those whom He feeds with it, but He blesses them, the givers – not just in that they wind up with a basketful for each loaf – but that they learned to trust and rejoice in Him.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. The Lord gives abundantly or asks us to fast. We do not know what will happen. Blessed be the Name of the Lord. He does all things well and works all things together for good. The disciples don’t give their bread to Jesus because it is a good investment. They give it because He is good and they love Him and they trust Him.
But now for the surprise: for the most part, we aren’t the disciples giving up their bread for others. We are the idiots who wandered three days out into the desert without provisions, who are fed by God through the charity of others. We eat without the sweat of our brow. We are handed great and marvelous gifts. For free. By grace. Even though we don’t appreciate them, don’t use them wisely, neglect and waste them.
Look around, brothers. Our congregation could not build this building today. We couldn’t. It would take 50 million dollars to reproduce this, to find the craftsman, and such. We couldn’t do it. But we’ve walked into it. No one here had a hand in it. We inherited it. For free. By grace. Even though we don’t fully appreciate it and are inclined to take it for granted and neglect it.
Consider also the glory of our pure doctrine as presented in the Book of Concord. There is no way that Matt Harrison or Larry Rast or I, or whoever it is that you think of as the current theological leaders of our synod, could produce the Formula of Concord or the Small Catechism. We couldn’t do it. We are too soft and too dumb. I don’t say this in false humility or to insult Harrison and Rast. It is simply the truth. God has handed us this treasure on a golden platter. We do not deserve it. We do not fully appreciate it and we tend to take it for granted and to neglect it.
There is no area of our lives where we aren’t standing upon the shoulders of our fathers. We didn’t invent or earn this country. In secular terms, we just lucked out. We were born in the right place. We don’t deserve it. But, of course, we know that we didn’t “luck out,” we were blessed. God is gracious. He gives us gifts we don’t deserve. That is the essense of being a Christian.
We are the idiots who walked three days into the desert without provisions. And God, in His great mercy, has had and continues to have compassion on us. He is faithful to us. He loves us. He showers us with His gifts, with more than we can eat, with more that we could ever need, out of perfect love. He accepts us, the idiots who bring nothing to the party, as His own dear children. His compassion does not come from our stewardship or our witnessing or any of our good works. His compassion comes from His love and that never fails even when we do.
It is good to be an idiot in the Kingdom of God. It is good to be dependent upon Him. So if you hold something back, or don’t give anything at all, or don’t come to receive the Sacrament but a few times a year, if you stupidly run through life without any plan and take all your blessings for granted, it still will not change God’s attitude toward you. Yes, it is dangerous. We should not presume. You can destroy your faith. But even if you reject Him and insist on your own way and go to Hell, He has still paid your ransom and He still loves you.
So do not despair, however poor a steward you have been, set your mind to amend your life. For Our Lord had compassion on idiots. He is merciful to the unmerciful. He is generous to the stingy and lazy. He is faithful to the unfaithful. He doesn’t just love terrible, notorious sinners like Zaccheaus and the thief on the right. He also loves small, quiet sinners, those who are afraid or unwilling to give much of their income, who don’t want to get up on Sunday mornings, or who neglect their daily prayers and Bible reading.
Here is another truism of the Kingdom: it is better, by far, to be a sinner who doesn’t give anything, who spends all his money on himself, who comes to church only on Christmas and Easter, than to come every week and give ten percent and think you’ve done enough. You haven’t done enough and you can’t do enough. Repent. It is better to be an idiot who wandered into the desert than Judas. Blessed are those who know they haven’t done enough and can’t do enough. Blessed are those who sit down with nothing, who don’t give, who don’t love their neighbors, and are fed by Jesus. He has compassion on them.
Blessed are you. You are free to be poor stewards, lousy church-goers, idiots who take God for granted. It is dangerous, but you are free. God will not return evil for evil. He beckons the idiots to sit down, to eat from free.
The Sacrament of the Altar is the miraculous feeding of the Church. Jesus receives and eats with sinners. Sinners, idiots, eat and feast without money, without cost. Come, sinners. Receive the multiplication of grace in the Holy Sacrament hidden under bread that is only fit for those who have nothing to give. He has prepared it for you.