Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
It’s Sunday morning. Apparently you don’t have to work this morning. The kids don’t have school right now. As residents of the United States of America you have the freedom to be doing pretty much whatever you want right now. You could be sleeping in, golfing, cleaning your garage, swimming, surfing the web, working on the Sunday crossword puzzle—any of a billion things in which we find contentment, enjoyment, order, or some other kind of satisfaction. For some reason you have chosen to spend part of your Sunday morning here. But weren’t you just here last week? Didn’t you hear the Word of Holy Absolution, spoken from the pastor as from Christ Himself? Didn’t you force yourself to stay awake for a sermon then? And what about the Lord’s Supper? Most of you just did all this seven days ago. What brings you back here so soon?
Put simply, we have come here because we are in need. Now, don’t get me wrong: it’s entirely possible that you like coming here. But it’s not your pastor that brings you to this place on this or any Sunday morning. You are here because God in His goodness has gracious gifts to give you, and you recognize that you need what only He can give you. I can’t speak for the state of your soul, but I know that I need what God has for me more often than once a month. Sometimes even once a week doesn’t seem to cut it.
Our Gospel for this morning tells us that Jesus had been preaching to a gathering counted as four thousand men, and they had been attentive to the Word for three days. Jesus seemed to be done with His lesson, though in truth He had one more lesson for the disciples. Jesus stated the dilemma Himself: “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.” Jesus Himself had experienced the pain of hunger during His time of temptation in the wilderness, so He spoke with authority on the matter. And in this case, these people faced the danger of physical hunger because they had so eagerly fed on the Word of God which Jesus delivered to them. He felt responsible for them, and He had compassion on them
The disciples, as always, seem to forget what Jesus has already taught them. “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?” they ask Him.The odd thing is, this is not the first time the disciples have been in these circumstances. Jesus has at this point already fed a gathering of five thousand men in a miraculous way. And these men would surely be aware of how God had fed the entire of nation of Israel in the wilderness for forty years! Surely one meal for four thousand people wouldn’t be beyond the means of the promised Messiah. They still didn’t understand the nature of the Man they followed; but this time they didn’t tell Jesus what to do. They waited for a word from Him, at least trusting that He could do what they could not.
In a certain sense, as much as you appreciate what God delivers to you in Christ when you gather here, you feel a certain obligation to show up here on Sunday morning. And that is not necessarily wrong. Father Luther tells us in his explanation of the Third Commandment, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” You give honor to God and His Word when you come here to receive the Word, whether it’s the spoken Word of forgiveness, the Word preached to you, or the Word fed to you in the Holy Supper. But if it is only obligation which brings you to this place on a given day, if you’re not here because you hunger and thirst for God’s gifts of forgiveness and life, then you too are living in ignorance concerning Jesus. Jesus forces no one to believe, and you’re free to walk out that door and never to look back.
But for those willing to live according to the good and gracious will of God, Jesus does not—and, indeed, cannot—disappoint. He told the people to sit down, and He took the loaves and the fish which the disciples brought to Him and gave thanks to the Father for providing for His people. When He gave the food to the disciples to be distributed, the people ate their fill, and seven baskets worth of food remained when the meal was finished. You’ve heard your pastor say this before, but he will say it again: Jesus is the living fulfillment of the Magnificat which His mother Mary sang:
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.
When Jesus sent them away, none of them were hungry. He had fed both their bodies and their souls, giving them everything they needed for this life and for the next.
He does the same for you today. When you pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” Jesus is gracious to give you “all that we need to support this body and life”—and even as He delivers to you the physical necessities you need day by day, Jesus gives you all that you need to refresh and sustain your spirit, as well. There is nothing lacking in the daily bread you receive today. The forgiveness of sins which you receive in the Word of Holy Absolution is complete forgiveness for all your sins of thought, word, and deed, whether it’s something you have done that you ought not do, or something you have not done that you ought to do. Jesus died to take your sins upon Himself and rose again to give you new life in His name. The salvation you receive in the Lord’s Supper is complete salvation for all eternity. And while you receive these gifts with thanksgiving often, they are not made complete by receiving them more often; these gifts are complete every time you receive them.
The people came out and listened to Jesus, and He fed them in both body and soul. He does the same for you when you gather here to hear His Word and receive His body and blood. Whether it’s a baptismal blessing or His own body and blood, Jesus will never send a beggar away empty. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.