Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sermon on Mark 6:30-44, for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, "They shall be Satisfied"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The setting for today’s reading is just after the disciples returned from their mission to preach the Gospel to the surrounding villages. They were tired and worn from the journey, and Jesus calls them to a desolate place to rest for awhile. Jesus knows that we all need a little time of rejuvenation, and that we need to take care of our bodies, as well as our souls. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Can you imagine what it would be like if crowds of people rushed to church every morning? That they were desperately hungry to be fed by the Word of God? And not only did they hurry, but they beat everyone else there? To be first in line? We have a hard time imagining it. Sometimes just to show up seems an effort. But it does happen. Just because we aren’t always so eager doesn’t mean that people elsewhere aren’t. In Madagascar, for example, the people always gathered extra early for worship, sometimes sitting up to an hour or more praying and singing hymns before worship. And the worship service went on two to three hours after! Just to be gathered among fellow Christians was such a joy for them! Perhaps when you have so little in the way of earthly goods, you begin to treasure people and your faith a lot more. Perhaps we have too many other possessions that replace our hunger for fellowship, etc. We can be entertained or distracted with a host of other amusements, that can leave us inwardly focused, and make other things seem uninteresting or irrelevant.

We can’t know whether the motives of the people that ran ahead of Jesus and the disciples were all good. We know that sometimes they came with people that needed to be healed. Because of the distance and speed with which they traveled ahead of Jesus this particular time, perhaps that wasn’t the reason. A few days after Jesus performed this miracle of feeding the 5,000 and the people were still looking for Him, He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal”(John 6:26-27). While Jesus pointed out the impure motives of those who sought Him, He welcomed the opportunity to speak of the spiritual food that He brings to people.

There was something driving those people to Jesus, and whether it was completely physical or partly spiritual, it made them eager to find Him. But whatever drove them, they knew that Jesus could satisfy it. Psalm 63 describes this kind of soul thirst and hunger for God:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Ps. 63:1-8)

How can a soul get so thirsty? How can someone crave God so badly that they feel their flesh fainting, and to declare to God that His steadfast love is better than life!!! The Psalmist says that he’ll be satisfied in God, and that His soul will cling to God joyfully. How’s this possible? It doesn’t seem like anyone today has such a desperate longing for God.

The Psalmist says it’s like he’s in a dry and weary land with no water. The reason that the multitudes needed Jesus and His disciples to help feed them was because they were in a desolate place. Far from an easy source of food. Life is often a desolate place that creates such hunger! As the world grows faster and busier and more crowded, it seems that people feel more and more alone and disconnected. Even with all the opportunities for “social networking” we have through email, Facebook, twitter, and all sorts of other electronic communication, we can find there is a missing depth in our relationships. It becomes just one more part of our life that’s been electronically compartmentalized. The more entertainment we have the more we feel bored; with hundreds of TV stations to choose from we still can’t find anything to watch. And the more we watch, the less impressed we are, and so everything has to “outdo” the previous edition—more dramatic, more shocking, more explosions, more crude humor, whatever. But for all the things we surround ourselves with and fill our minds with, how come we can still feel so empty inside?

Life can be a desolate place. We may feel that no one else understands the problems or struggles we’re going through. We may feel squashed under a load of responsibilities we don’t feel that we can live up to. We may have deep questions inside us, but cannot seem to express them clearly. Yet sometimes entertainment and pleasure are used as the “buzz” to cover up that empty feeling inside. It’s easier to just be entertained than to think and face these questions and difficulties in life. And the possibilities for distraction are endless. But what if we’re so caught up in distractions, that we don’t even know we’re starving to death spiritually? What if all those distractions are masking the real spiritual emptiness that’s rampant in our world?

Instead of a pursuit of material things and pleasure, could it be that seemingly ordinary things like seeking God’s steadfast love in His sanctuary, His place of worship, might actually fill that longing in a way that entertainment can’t? That taking the time and effort required to build relationships might be more rewarding then tying ourselves to a TV or computer screen? It’s sin in this world that makes life a desolate place. Our soul thirsts and hungers, because there is a great spiritual void in us waiting to be filled. Every person has a “God-shaped hole” in their heart. I think the way that we often try to fill that hole by the pleasures and entertainments of life is like stuffing ourselves with cotton candy…its puffed up and looks like it could fill you, and tastes sweet and leaves you feeling “sugary” inside. But just a little bit of water and it disintegrates down to nothing, and you’re still empty.

This will be the same result if we attempt to “create our own spirituality” to fill the longing. When we’re left to measure our own needs, we’ll end up doing what Jesus said, and laboring for the food that perishes, thinking that we know how to satisfy those longings. But if we take our cue from Jesus and God’s Word, we find out that Jesus is the food that endures to eternal life. And unless we’re filling ourselves with Him, we’ll always find ourselves in some way dissatisfied. We ought to be ready and watchful for this longing in people. Maybe it’s not always expressed so clearly. Just like the crowds, the appetite and cravings were sometimes mixed. Sometimes they were there to hear God’s Word, sometimes they wanted to be healed, or to be fed. But Jesus told the disciples to feed them anyway. His heart was full of compassion, because the people were like sheep without a shepherd. And so He became their shepherd and taught them. By feeding them and caring for their physical concerns, He was also able to teach them and so care for their spiritual concerns.

This has really become the work and philosophy of LCMS World Relief and Human Care. They combine the care for the body with care for the soul, in all of their mercy projects. The other week at Bible study I shared this anecdote from Pastor Matt Harrison, the director, about some work they did in Kenya, building a new home for 12 children. A 12 year-old boy expressed his thanks by saying, “I want you to tell the Christians in America that I thank God in Jesus Christ that someone has regarded us as human beings.” What a powerful statement that captures the meaning of compassion, the same compassion that Jesus showed and taught to His disciples. Don’t just send them away! You give them something to eat! He regarded them as human beings, and that they had a claim on His mercy. Do we need anything more than our common humanity to prove that people in need have a claim on our mercy? And is this a reluctant service, or do we see it as joyful service to our neighbor in need?

This is an area I’d really like to see our congregation grow in. I’d really like to see us find a mercy project we can directly support here on island, not just with money, but with volunteer support. In whatever small way we can bless others, we’ll find ourselves blessed as well. Part of the lesson for Jesus’ disciples was to experience giving from their own need, and watching God fill up what was lacking. Their five loaves and two fish must have seemed pitifully small in the face of the crowd. Sometimes I think we might view our own efforts and resources the same way. We have so little money in comparison with the projects we hope to accomplish for our church and school. We have a big dream for serving more students and families.

How could Jesus command the disciples that “You give them something to eat?” when they only had five loaves and two fishes? How can Jesus say to us, “You teach these all these people of my love?” Doesn’t He know our limited resources? Doesn’t He know our weaknesses and limitations? He does. But He also knows that we forget our biggest and most powerful resource of all! God Himself has to be counted into the equation. The lesson for us in this miracle is that 5,000 men plus women and children were fed that day, from 5 loaves and two fish! Impossible, right? No! With God, all things are possible. If this kind of abundance comes from Jesus, then what more can we find in Him? For Jesus it is a small thing to multiply our want into plenty. And there is no cost to share His love.

When Jesus multiplies scarceness into plenty, it says that all who ate were satisfied. Jesus satisfies! The hunger and thirst of a soul wandering in a desolate life, can find full and total satisfaction in Him. That day He satisfied their bellies, because He was concerned about their physical needs. But today He has a much greater task. To satisfy the soul is not simply a matter of multiplying bread or physical necessities. To satisfy the soul is for Jesus to offer up Himself as the very Bread of Life for the life of the world. This took place when Jesus stretched His hands out to heaven when they were nailed on the tree of the cross. There He became the Bread of Life that is multiplied and fed to all believers across the world. Jesus on the cross gave His body for the life of the world. Giving up His life was the price to feed the world with the “bread that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” He’s the satisfaction of the soul. He quenches the thirsty soul and gives rich and satisfying food for the hungry soul.

Jesus is the one who fills those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. His constant presence in our lives is the satisfaction of our loneliness. He draws us into the fellowship of believers through His body and blood offered as the Bread of Life for the world. He multiplies our blessings and takes from the poverty of our gifts, and makes them abound for the spreading of the Gospel throughout the world and here on Maui. It’s through the cross that we discover what is in Jesus. It’s there that we find that the same one who can multiply the loaves and fishes is overflowing with an abundance of generosity in forgiving our sins, in pouring out life for us, and in giving us every spiritual blessing. While He’s able and does give us this day our daily bread, He gives us so much more than the bodily needs of this life. He provides for the eternal welfare of our soul, and a peace that flows back into our lives that satisfies our deepest longings and need. The hunger for the deeper life is satisfied with the Very One who’s Life itself. Jesus Christ. Come, eat and be satisfied! Taste and see that the Lord is good!
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

1. What produces a real spiritual hunger and thirst for Christ? Are we hungry for Him? Why or why not?

2. What serves as distractions from our spiritual needs? How do these things “satisfy”? Or do they?

3. How can life be a desolate place? In what ways do we have a “God-shaped hole” in our life? (see Eccles. 3:11; Acts 17:27; Psalm 42:2; Mark 6:34)

4. How does Jesus respond to those who come to Him with mixed motives? How did Jesus show compassion? How did Jesus call on His disciples to show compassion? Why should we care for both body and soul?

5. What specific way can we as a congregation show mercy to those in our community? Who has a claim on our mercy?

6. What are our “five loaves and two fish?” How can Jesus use them to the expansion of His kingdom? Don’t forget the “God-factor.”

7. How does Jesus’ life abound for us in more than just physical needs and “daily bread” in the earthly sense? How does Jesus satisfy? What does He give? (Psalm 63; Matt. 5:6).

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