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Big Peace - Little Packages

Exodus 16:2-21; John 6:1-15

Pastor Jason Zirbel

4th Sunday in Lent
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

View Associated File

Sun, Mar 31, 2019 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

I guess it’s just human nature, but we tend to overlook and ignore the small and simple things in favor of the great big and showy things.  Maybe this is why we have so many sayings that warn us against such foolishness.  “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” “Big things come in little packages,” right?  Even Holy Scripture is filled with many such reminders.  James tells us that mighty sea-going ships are steered by a small little rudder.  Great forest fires are caused by a tiny little spark of flame.  The tongue of one man can bring about all kinds of destruction.  Your Lord Himself speaks of tiny seeds producing one-hundred fold.  He speaks of a tiny mustard seed becoming the greatest plant in the garden.  He warns that a little tiny amount of yeast can leaven the whole lump of dough.  A diseased eye or hand can cause a whole body to perish in hell.  Even today we hear of God’s abundant providence in the little simple things such as manna and quail, a few loaves of bread and a couple of small fish.  Look at all that He did with such small and insignificant things.  His people were fed and satisfied in abundance… with leftovers.

But that brings up a good point.  It’s easy for us to look back with the 20/20 clarity of hindsight, far removed from these situations, and see the hand of God at work in the small and simple things.  We scoff at the Israelites’ ignorance.  God gives them bread from heaven (just like He promised He would), and they take one look at it, and the first words out of their mouths are: “Ma-Nah?  What is this?” They don’t see what they’re expecting to see; what they want to see.  They don’t see what we so clearly see.  The apostles, when confronted with our Lord’s request/desire to feed over five thousand men (plus women and children), their immediate response is: “We only have five barley loaves and two fish.  What are they for so many?” They don’t see what we so clearly see.

But what about us?  I know that everyone here understands and believes what our Lord says about His means of grace.  We’ll get to that.  Before we can talk about God’s means of grace, though, we need to start at the source of this over-flowing abundance of grace and peace.  We need to start here at the cross of Christ, for it is from this cross—from His cruciform wounds—that God’s grace and peace flows forth.  From these wounds; the wounds of one single man—the second Adam—all mankind is forgiven of all sin for all time.  With one simple word—tetelestai; it is finished—our Lord proclaims total and eternal forgiveness.  And it is from these wounds of Christ that His blood and water flow.  It is from these wounds that His life-saving, life-giving blood and water flows into our lives.  Our Lord baptizes us in His rich flood of unconditional forgiveness.  He nourishes us with His bread of life; His body and blood, not because we deserve it, but because we need it.  It is through the simple spoken/written Word that we hear in our own ears His Word of victory; His Word of forgiveness and peace.  “It is finished.  You are forgiven.” We believe…but how often do we doubt or reject?

Just examine your life (and be honest).  How often have you not felt forgiven; at least, not entirely forgiven?  “There has to be more to this, right?  What am I missing?  What do I need to do?” How often have you struggled and suffered and despaired, in spite of what you already know and believe?  “I pray.  Why aren’t things improving?  What do I need to do to make things right?” How often have you felt tremendous guilt for the sins you’ve committed; the sins you cannot change?  “Does God really forgive that sin?  I can’t forgive myself, so how can I expect God to forgive me?” How often have you cried out to God to have mercy on you?  How often have you looked to the heavens for some sort of God-given comfort and assurance…and looked right past the very gifts that He so richly holds out to you for comfort, assurance, and a peace that surpasses all understanding? 

But that’s just it: We do sometimes look past these things.  We do sometimes look past the outstretched hand of God giving us these gifts, simply because they aren’t what we expect; they aren’t what we’re looking for; they aren’t what we desire or think we need.  They don’t give us that warm-and-fuzzy feeling we’re searching for.  So…we seek out our desires.  We let our bellies and our hearts lead us and call the shots.  We self-medicate…and the emptiness in our souls persists, and we just can’t figure out why.  We allow the waters of our Baptism to dry up as we search high and low for just a fix/hit; a dab to the tongue; a dab the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are all too eager to offer us as they promise us even more just around the next bend; just a few more paces away from God and His means of grace.  We bypass the over-flowing Spring of Life for shots of stagnant rot-gut that will never quench our thirst.  The hunger pangs that can only be satisfied by the Bread of Life persist, in spite of our endless foraging; in spite of our endless trips to the buffets offered up to us by the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh; the big and flashy and eye-pleasing buffets we tend to prefer.  And we lament: “We have no bread, and we hate the bread we have!”

“What is this?” This is the Divine Service.  This is where our Lord calls our famished souls in from the barren wilderness we call “life” in order to Sabbath/rest so that He can serve us and nourish us with His Bread of Life; His medicine of immortality.  This is where our Lord comes to us in the midst of this harsh wilderness in order to satisfy us with the only true gifts of Life and peace.  This is Holy Baptism; the rich washing of regeneration, in which your Lord lavishly pours out His life-giving water upon our parched and dead souls, enlivening us with His gift of Life; clothing us with His all-availing white robe of righteousness.  This is our Lord’s holy feast.  No, it doesn’t look like much.  A little wafer.  A little sip of wine.  Not even enough to qualify as an hors d’oeuvre let alone a meal.  But that’s exactly what it is—a feast; a foretaste of the heavenly feast to come.  “This is My body.  This is My blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin.”

And all of this Divine grace and mercy is over-flowing in abundance.  Our Lord richly provides more than enough for all the nations and peoples of this fallen and sinful world.  His twelve baskets overflow and will never be emptied.  We have His promise.  These means of grace give us exactly what our Lord says: An overflowing peace that far surpasses all understanding. 

You need to think about that.  Whatever grief you may be bearing; whatever sorrow; whatever you may be struggling with, you will find satisfaction here (and only here).  No, your problems and griefs and sorrows will not magically disappear.  You will not return from the communion rail problem-free, without a care or worry in the world.  But…you will have Christ’s peace, because that’s what He gives to you.  You will have the God-given assurance that no matter what crosses you bear, “I am with you always.  You are forgiven—totally and completely.” And this promise of mercy and grace isn’t just restricted to the communion rail.  It overflows into every moment of every day.  No matter what may befall you in this shadowy wilderness valley, you are baptized.  You have the water of eternal life; an always welling-up spring of water that will never run dry.  You belong to Christ, and nothing and no one can ever take that away from you. 

I can’t make you want any of this, but I can tell you all about it.  I can do no different than Moses did.  All I can do is simply point you to the gifts of God—this rich feast of God—and tell you what your Lord has already said about these things.  “What is this?  This is God’s gifts to you.  This is God with you.” I direct you to the outstretched hand of God, and pray that you hunger and thirst for His righteousness; righteousness that was freely poured out upon you from the wounds of Him who died for you.  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” May you be blessed with this all-surpassing peace of Christ, for the kingdom of heaven—the reign and rule of the crucified and victorious Christ Himself—is yours.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the Words of eternal life.” May this be your feast, your satisfaction, your confession, your hope, your joy, and your peace, now and into all eternity.

AMEN



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