Christ’s Work, Yet Our Hands
Second in a Series of Three Sermons – “Yet”
Mark 6:30 – 44
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our texts in this three part sermon series speak of paradox, as Pastor Muther would say, “two things that don’t come together, are in fact opposed to each other.” As Jesus would say, “Blessed are those who mourn” and “Many who are first shall be last, and many who are last shall be first.” Last Sunday, King Herod was perplexed by John the Baptist, yet he listened to him gladly. Next Sunday, we will see that the disciples were terrified by Jesus walking on water, even as they were rescued by Him. Today we see that Jesus fed the multitude in miraculous fashion, yet it was the disciples’ hands that distributed the food. Christ’s Work, Yet Our Hands.
In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul offers no fewer than seven paradoxical truths in less than 50 words. He writes, “we are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live, as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
In last Sunday’s sermon, we met up with Herod, who was at the same time perplexed and delighted with the teachings of John the Baptist. Even though Herod knew that John was a righteous and holy man, he saw to it that John was arrested and bound and put in prison. Even though he wanted to protect and release John from prison, he ended up issuing the command for John to be beheaded. In the verses immediately preceding our text for today, Herod had permitted John’s disciples to take the body without a head and bury it. The time was about a year before Jesus’ own death. Jesus died at the Passover, and John the Baptist’s bloody death pointed forward to that of Jesus.
While John’s body was without a head, this morning, I invite you to think of what it would be like to have a head without a body. In pre marriage counseling, I often ask couples if the husband is going to be the head of the wife, and most often they say no. Next, I ask “if the husband is the head, what does that make the wife?” The men usually stay quiet at this point. A few of the ladies will answer “foot” and at least one answered, “rear end.” At which time I gently remind the ladies that if the husband is the head, the wife would be the body. Unless you want to have two heads and no body. Or a head without a body. Which brings us to the metaphor I want you to think about today, which is that Christ is the Head and the Church is the body. And to our sermon theme today, Christ’s Work, Yet Our Hands. Two lessons I invite you to learn today, both stated in terms of paradox.
First, Christ does all the work, yet we get the (marching orders). At the heart of Christianity is that we ae saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ, but faith never comes alone. Salvation is a free gift that can in no possible way be earned or deserved, and yet we are challenged in Scripture to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus did everything necessary to save our sorry souls, and yet it is necessary that we spend our days feeding the hungry and giving a drink to the thirst and visiting those sick and in prison. When Jesus cried out on the cross that “It is finished,” He said what He meant and He meant what He said. And yet the Church’s New Testament work was just beginning. Christ suffered all that we should have suffered, yet He looks us in the eyes and says, “get ready to suffer and to be rejected and to be persecuted on my behalf.” He died the death that we deserved to die, yet turns and declares, “if any would be my disciples, get ready to deny yourselves and for your crosses to be heavy.” Christ has defeated in complete fashion every one of our enemies, yet there is a battle for every one of us to fight in every one of our days on our way to realizing the final victory.
Christ does all the work, yet we get the marching orders. One way of summarizing our marching orders is that our assignment is to gather those who wish to be (scattered). In today’s Old Testament lesson, God was railing against the shepherds of Jeremiah’s day for destroying and scattering the sheep of His pasture. It was and is and ever shall be in the very nature of sheep to stray from green pastures into what they mistakenly think are yet greener ones. And in Jeremiah’s day, the religious leaders were famous for compounding the problem by teaching falsely. They preached neither Law nor Gospel. They fed their own fat faces and neglected the needs of their flocks.
Their flocks were as sheep without a shepherd, a reality which broke God’s heart in Jeremiah’s day, broke the heart of Jesus in His day, and should break our hearts in every one of our days. Listen carefully, the fact that people reject their shepherd doesn’t make them any less dependent, or less of a sheep. It simply makes them like sheep without a shepherd. One pastor said it this way, “to think that we are the masters of our own destiny and that we are safe within the cocoons we have woven around ourselves makes us in fact prey to every philosophy, every ism, every purpose and cause that dries the hearts and minds away from our God.”
A second way of summarizing our marching orders, as the body of Christ, is to feed people who may or may not realize their (hunger). Back on our little North Dakota farm, one of my winter duties was to carry pails of oats into the feed lots where the calves were growing into yearlings and then be sent off to market. Always they were hungry. Never was it easy to walk through them and into the bunk where we would dump their food for the day. Often it took a kick to their head to get them to make room for the very hands that would feed them.
So also with spiritual hunger. Always we need what Christ would give us, but it often takes the proverbial two by four smashing into our head to get us to realize what is the one thing needful. To those who are not aware of spiritual need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament, Luther gave this advice. 1)Put your hand in your bosom and see if you have flesh and blood. 2) Look around to see whether he is still in the world. 3) Remember the devil will be around you lying and murdering day and night and will let you have no peace within and without.
Mission #1 each day is to be lie down in green pastures, and mission #2 is to invite others to lie down as well. Mission#1 is to be led by the still waters, and Mission #2 is to be constantly inviting others to come to those waters. Mission #1 is to get something to eat, and Mission #2 is to give others something to eat. Which brings us to our Lord’s response when the disciples were urging him to stop preaching and send the people away to get their own food. Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.”
2. We ask the wrong questions, yet Christ gives us the (perfect answers.) If you want to have some real fun with God’s Word some day, just go through the Gospels and write down every question Jesus was asked and how He responded. Rarely did He give a straight answer. Occasionally He gave no answer at all. Often He would answer questions with what seemed like a totally unrelated question. Always He would answer in perfect fashion. Today we have three questions that may or may not be good questions and our Lord’s perfect answers.
Although Jesus wanted to get away with his disciples for a time of rest and debriefing from their recent mission trip, he saw the crowds coming after Him and went to Plan B – which according to Mark was to teach them many things. Matthew and Luke add that he healed the ones without strength, and Luke says that he spoke unto them of the kingdom of God. When the disciples thought he had preached long enough, they urged him to wrap it up and send them away. To which He answered, You give them something to (eat.) The kingdom of God is like a man this very day is wondering why there is so much hunger, so much poverty, and so much misery in this world. He is bothered to no end by the idea that a few have so much and most have so little. He does with His questions to His Lord, and Jesus answers, “You give them something to eat.” Christ’s Work, Yet Our Hands.
The second question Philip asked on behalf of the disciples was “Shall we pool our money and go out and buy some bread? In other words- You are asking us to do the impossible and why don’t you get real. To which Jesus answered, Go and see (how many loaves you have) The kingdom of God is like a woman who is wondering how she is going to get everything done / how long she can keep on taking care of her family and doing her job and dealing with all of the challenges in her life. To which Jesus answers, “go and see how many loaves you have.” Or to say it another way, “go off into your private place and count your blessings, and then come back to me with an answer.”
When the disciples come back to with the answer that they have found five bread cakes and two fish, they expect Jesus to admit the obvious. But He speaks the opposite of the obvious, Tell them to sit down (in groups) The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town that does many things well, but keeps on falling short. They work hard and they play hard and they laugh hard and they cry hard and at the end of each week, they come back together with the obvious – once again and in ever increasing fashion, they have messed up. They expect Jesus to agree with Him. He tells them to sit down in groups. He takes the little bit of bread and fish they have brought and He looks up to heaven and says a blessing. He breaks the loaves and gives it to their pastors to set before the people. They eat and they are satisfied. Christ’s Work, Yet Our Hands.
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