Run in the right direction
- Order of Service: Morning Praise, p45
- Lessons: Jeremiah 23:1-6, Ephesians 2:13-22, Mark 6:30-34
- Hymns: 545, 288, 596
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
Today’s Gospel doesn’t seem like enough for a sermon text. It seems introductory, because it is. These verses from Mark preface one of the most famous of Jesus’ miracles, the only one, apart from the resurrection, included in all four Gospels, the feeding of the five thousand. Actually, though, we could consider what happened before the feeding more important than the feeding itself. What happened before the feeding explains why the apostles came back and gathered around Christ. It explains why large crowds ran – on foot! – to find Christ. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things (Mark 6:33-34, NIV84).
Jesus feeding the 5,000 was important. It demonstrated His love, care, and concern for the bodies of those who came out to hear Him. It proved His divinity as He did something only God could do. It reminds us that when God speaks, whatever He says happens, whether it’s multiplying bread and fish, creating the universe, or making water a life-saving Baptism and bread and wine His own forgiveness bearing body and blood. But what He did before all that made all the difference in the lives of these people: He taught them.
Here we find the crux of the issue, because many, even outside the Christian Church, see Jesus as a great teacher. The Golden Rule, Love your neighbor as yourself, finds its place in many of the religious and philosophical thought systems of the world. Some grab onto Jesus as a teacher of revolution, lifting up the masses to overthrow aristocratic or capitalist oppressors. Others go in the opposite direction and use Jesus to justify any number of oppressions. Of course, especially in twenty-first century America, a vast majority of people see Jesus as the great teacher of love and acceptance and tolerance, as in, “Just love everybody, don’t judge anything or anyone.”
So, understanding the words, He began teaching them many things, becomes very important. What did Jesus teach? Shortly after the feeding of the 5,000, Peter speaks for the disciples and the rest of Holy Scripture and tells us what Jesus taught, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68, NIV84)! In other words, when Jesus saw this crowd, this shepherdless crowd, He didn’t say, “Hey, you guys on all your different paths, you’re all heading to the same place, man, to me! Just keep doing what you’re doing!” He didn’t start railing against the 1% and telling them to occupy everything under the sun. He didn’t speak to the 1% and teach them about the divine right of kings. He didn’t say, “I’m okay and you’re okay.” No, He spoke to them about eternal life.
Sadly, many of those who ran to Christ this day, ended up leaving after hearing Him speak about eternal life. Over the next few weeks we’ll hear the sermon that followed immediately after Jesus fed the 5,000. There Jesus rebuked those who followed Him only to fill their stomachs. He called Himself the bread of life that came down from heaven. He said that the work God requires is to believe in Him. He said to eat of Him, to believe in Him, means to live forever in heaven. He says unless you eat His flesh and drink His blood, you will have no life in you. Then, at the last day, He will raise up all who believe in Him. And John says that many of those who ran to Christ today turned back and no longer followed him (John 6:66, NIV84). Why? Because Jesus didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. They wanted to hear about more miracles. They wanted Jesus to affirm that they were good enough, smart enough, and dog-gone-it, God liked them for who they were. They wanted to hear about eternal life earned, not eternal life given.
It’s no different today. Today people want to hear about how all religions are really the same. People want to treat Jesus and the Bible like a wax nose that they can pinch, push, and pull in any direction they want. People want to focus on how much God loves everybody no matter what they do. In other words, people want to hear about eternal life earned, not eternal life given. Because eternal life given implies that there’s something wrong with me. And nobody wants to hear that there’s something wrong with me.
But there is something wrong, something terribly wrong, with you. It causes people like you to go nuts and shoot up innocent people in a movie theatre. It causes people like you to look the other way when terrible sins happen, like the child abuse at Penn State, because you’re too concerned about your job, about your reputation, about your finances. It causes people like you to cast a wandering eye on someone who’s not your spouse. It causes people like you to hate your neighbors, to hold grudges, to say wicked things. It causes people like you to hit your children. It causes people like you to do all those things that you know are unclean because they make you feel guilty. And part of you just wants to hear, “You’re okay, we’re all okay, we’re all going to be okay,” and just gloss over all that. But that won’t change anything.
So that’s not what Jesus taught. Jesus taught about sin, your sin, which He condemned over and over and over again. And then He taught about eternal life, not eternal life earned, but eternal life given. That’s what He taught them on this mountainside. That’s what He teaches us. He teaches us about all the uncleanness that comes out of our hearts, and says, “I have something for that. I have forgiveness. I have eternal life.” We hunger and thirst, and there’s Jesus, not just passing out loaves and fish, but passing out His body and His blood for our forgiveness. We come feeling ever so dirty from our long journey in search of God, and here’s Jesus, not just bending down to wash our feet, but washing our bodies and souls with the waters of Baptism and saying, “You’re clean. You belong to me now.” We come aimless, because we’ve heard so many contradictory messages, we’ve been let down by charlatan after charlatan, and cause after cause, and cult after cult, and this Chief Shepherd gathers us together into His flock and says, “I know the way. I am the way. Listen to my voice. Follow my voice and you will live.”
And so we run. We run to hear Christ, to listen to Christ, to receive what Christ has to give. And we run only to those places where Christ is found. That’s how you know if some apostle or faith or philosophy is teaching something worthwhile. You’ll know it, because you’ll see Christ there. This is why God didn’t just leave us with the Word, or didn’t just give us the rituals of Baptism or Holy Communion. Hermann Sasse, a twentieth century Lutheran, writes: Without this Sacrament, the Gospel might be understood as one of the many religious messages in the world. Without the proclamation of the Gospel this Sacrament might be understood as one of the many religious rites in the world. But the Gospel is more than a religious message, and the Sacrament more than a religious ceremony (This is my body, p1). The Gospel heard and read, the Gospel feasted upon in meal, the Gospel bathed in in Baptism proclaims Christ, is Christ. As St. Paul says, Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26, NIV84). And St. Peter writes, Baptism…now saves you also…by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21, NIV84). And Peter says, Lord, you have the words of eternal life!
What Jesus did the Spirit gives us. Simply because He looks at us and sees that we are sheep without a shepherd. And so He has compassion on us. Jesus looks with mercy upon us and teaches us many things. Jesus doesn’t give Tony Robbins-style pep talks. He doesn’t say something that any guru or rabbi or imam could say. He speaks the words of eternal life. He proclaims Himself as the sacrifice paying the price for our sins, the good shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. He proclaims Himself as the resurrection and the life, the shepherd who takes up His life again. Not eternal life earned, but eternal life given by God, received by faith in Christ. May God grant that we always run only to Christ and His teaching in the Word of God, and may He preserve among us teachers of this teaching, now and until He comes again. Amen.