(St. John Lutheran Church, N. Tonawanda, NY)
Isaiah 55:2b-3a—"Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live."
St. Matthew 14:19-20a—Then [Jesus] commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled.
IN NOMINE JESU
In January 1991 the Buffalo Bills were about to take the field to compete in the first Super Bowl in team history. This game would become the closest-scoring game in Super Bowl history. The game is the grandest and final game of the season and is seen by a worldwide television audience. At stake was the league championship. In a game of such a magnitude there is, no doubt, a heightened level of nervous anticipation, for the goal of the game is to win, and many of the Bills' players had never competed in the big game until then. They needed their coach to assure them that he had confidence in them. In the moments prior to the team's taking the field, the Bills coach, Marv Levy, asked his charges the question that has become part of western New York legend: "Where else would you rather be than right here, right now?" The Bills were inspired by Coach Levy and went on to compete in one of the best games ever in the history of the Super Bowl. There was nowhere else they would rather have been than right there, right then. They looked to their leader to feed them with the inspiration they needed.
In the Holy Gospel appointed for today, the crowds looked to Jesus to heal their sick. More accurately, according the St. Matthew's Gospel in the Greek, Jesus healed the weak among them. They did not look to Him for much else than to be a miracle worker. Little did they know that they would behold another miracle, and, alas, they did not recognize it as such, as the Lord fed thousands of people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus told His disciples to have the crowds be seated along the mountainside. So the twelve ushers seated the people. Jesus then conducted a liturgy; He presided over the distribution of the meal He was about to serve. In Jewish liturgical fashion, He took the bread and fish in His hands, looked up to heaven, and spoke a blessing over them, perhaps this Jewish liturgical prayer: "Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth." Then He broke the bread and gave the loaves and fish to the disciples who, as the deacons in this liturgy, distributed the bread and fish to the people. There were one Celebrant and twelve deacons. In this liturgy, after feeding the people on the Word of God, Jesus fed them with food for their bodies. Jesus did not place rations of the food, telling the people they could only have a certain amount. Matthew tells us "they all ate and were satisfied" (v. 20a), "as much as they wanted," as John writes (Jn. 6:11b). Jesus gave them the good stuff and plenty of it. Jesus loves to give to us and fill us with His gifts, too. From five loaves and two fish, Jesus fed 5000 men, as well as women and children. Jesus fed so many people that such a crowd could have filled Dunn Tire Park or even HSBC Arena. There is no shortage of the good stuff Jesus has to offer; He keeps giving and giving and never runs out of His gifts. Where else would they have rather been than right there, right then? The Lord gave them more than they had wanted or even asked for. They wanted healing of their infirmities; he gave them that…and more! He fed them. They all ate. They all were satisfied. They sought the Lord and were fed abundantly. As a Lutheran pastor once said, "Our Lord drew out faith from a sense of need in the disciples, and also raised the faith and expectation of the multitude by His command, 'Make the people sit down.' See the five thousand sitting, waiting! To wait upon Christ is the secret of sanctification. 'Blessed are all those who wait for Him' (Is. 30:18). They shall never go away empty from sermon, prayer, or Sacrament" (Lindemann).
We are here today to be fed. Unlike the crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd, we have a Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, who feeds us today on His Word and on His body and blood, where He has promised to give us the gift of the forgiveness of sins. Here He gives us all that we need and more. Where else would we rather be than right here, right now? Our Lord speaks to us today through the prophet Isaiah, saying, "Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" (Is. 55:1). We will never go away empty from sermon, prayer, or Sacrament…unless we want to go away empty, unless we want to starve our souls and risk spending eternity in hell. You see, we are no better than the crowds in the Holy Gospel appointed for today were. Like them, we may well go to great lengths to follow the Lord, as long as the end result is to our liking, as long as we get what we want from Him, as opposed to what we need from Him. The Lord seeks to give us all that we need for our bodies and souls—and more—but we are seldom, if ever, content with what He desires to give us. He is concerned about our needs; we are obsessed over our wants, and when it comes to our wants, we are never satisfied. The ways of the world have held sway over us, just as they did over the crowds. All they could see was their wanting their weak loved ones healed of their infirmities. They cared little about being taught about the kingdom of God or of being fed. They wanted more. They wanted something other than what the Lord wanted to give them. They did not want eternal life; they wanted to see another miracle. We want something other than what the Lord wants to give us. We continue to seek Him where He has not promised to be found. We look for Him where He has not offered His gifts to us; yet we expect to get what we want from Him there, and we are sent away empty, empty of the gifts of His grace but full of the sinful pride that condemns us. We act as sheep who do NOT want a shepherd. We act as if we would rather not be right here, right now—or any other time, for that matter.
Our eyes of faith have become clouded by the everyday matters that trouble us, and we also fail to see our Lord where He has promised to be. Financial woes are all around us. Gasoline prices here in western New York are still well over four dollars a gallon, 40 to 60 cents more expensive than anywhere else I was on my most recent trip for a worship conference, a trip which concluded on Friday. It is harder for us to go to all the places we want to go. We are taxed quite heavily as well. Prices go up, and our morale goes down. Issues of health affect us negatively, too. We try to stay healthy, but aging or other factors work against us. We focus on being well physically, but we lose sight of being well spiritually. We go see the physician, sometimes at great cost to us, who tells us, "Take two, and call me in the morning." Yet we are apprehensive about calling our Great Physician, at no cost to us except His own body and blood, who tells us, "Take, eat; take, drink; and call upon Me in the day of trouble." Like Martha, we are troubled about many things, and we lose sight of the one thing needful: to be fed by the Lord as He comes to us in His Means of Grace—His Word and Sacraments, as He is doing here today. So…where else would you rather be than right here, right now?
It is by the grace of God that we are here, for He has compassion on us, for we are all like sheep who have gone astray and are in need of a shepherd. For this reason our heavenly Father sent His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to be our Good Shepherd. Our Lord brings us His sheep together to this holy place, where He feeds us on His Word and on His body and blood, which He gave and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. He bids us come to Him to be fed by Him and on Him, as He invites us this day though the prophet Isaiah: "Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live." (Is. 55:2b-3a). The 17th-century hymn writer Johann Franck summed up these words of our Lord beautifully in the communion hymn we sang earlier today: "He who craves a precious treasure Neither cost nor pain will measure; But the priceless gifts of heaven God to us has freely given. Though the wealth of earth were proffered, None could buy the gifts here offered: Christ's true body, for you riven, And His blood, for you once given" (LSB 636:3). Again, our Lord says to us, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Mt. 11:28-30). Thank God that He has sent us His Holy Spirit to bring us here to His holy house and receive His holy gifts in Holy Scripture, Holy Absolution (an extension of Holy Baptism), and Holy Communion. These are the holy things of God, for He has set them apart for His holy people, which we are through the blood of His Son, Christ, our Lord.
This Lord Jesus Christ, who ascended the mountain to feed the 5000, is the same Lord who ascended Mt. Calvary to feed His people in the shedding of His blood, dying on the altar of the cross in our place, and is the same risen and ascended Lord who descends to earth this day to give you His gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation upon the holy mountain that is His Table. In a few moments, during the Distribution, we get to sing a timeless Latin hymn that is sung at Easter and when we receive the Lord's Supper. In it we will sing these words: "Praise we Him, whose love divine Gives His sacred blood for wine, Gives His body for the feast—Christ the victim, Christ the priest. Alleluia!" (LSB 633:2). During this election year, we have been bombarded with talk of change. It is here in this house where real change takes place—not merely during election years but every Lord's day, every Wednesday evening, and every time we are gathered together to receive His gifts and respond with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.
A famous native of western New York, Tim Russert, host of television's "Meet the Press," died this summer. In the days and weeks following his death, many newspaper columns and blog entries were written about him and his show, which changed how Sunday morning talk shows were conducted. Many times this sentence came up: Sunday mornings will never be the same. Something similar can be said of us here in the Lord's house: By virtue of what our Lord does to us, in us, and for us in the Divine Service, WE are never the same. We came in here sad and burdened by our sins. We leave here joyful and forgiven. Our Lord changes us. He changes us through Baptism from sinners into sinner-saints, redeemed by His blood. He will change us again, calling us to Himself, changing us from sinner-saints into saints, completing the Baptism that was begun in us at the font. As a 20th-century Lutheran pastor noted: The Liturgy lifts our hearts far above this sordid earth. We lift our hearts unto the Lord. Our Lord comes to us in the Word that He gave His body and shed His blood for our redemption. We eat His Body and drink His Blood together with the Bread and Wine. In spirit we stand under the open windows of our future home and join the choir on the angels and redeemed in singing: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" We have a foretaste of heaven and are refreshed. [Lindemann]
And, in this blessed Sacrament, as our Lord brings heaven down to earth, we also sing with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven as we laud and magnify His glorious Name, evermore praising Him and singing: "Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth adored; Heav'n and earth with full acclaim shout the glory of Your Name. Sing Hosanna in the highest, sing hosanna to the Lord; Truly blest is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!" (LSB 208). Having received the body and blood of the Lord, our prayer of thanksgiving will take on special significance for us: "We give thanks to You almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift…." For being refreshed and changed "we celebrate the Holy Communion with our Lord. He who supplied the bodily need of the five thousand in the wilderness offers us an abundance of food to sustain the new life God has given us" (Lindemann). So…where else would you rather be than right here, right now? As a Lutheran layman once confessed, "My thought is that I am most comfortable in Church on Sunday morning doing absolutely nothing but resting in the Lord" (JK Heap). God grant us His comfort, His peace, His nourishment, and His rest in Jesus' Name and for His sake.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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