Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sermon for 22 July 2012, Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11B), St. Mary Magdelene

The Rev. Paul J Cain
Mark 6:30-44
Satisfied by the Creator Himself
Proper 11B, St. Mary Magdalene, 22 July 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

How many times have you heard the account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand? Today, I’d like to consider the text from Mark 6 from a fresh, yet ancient perspective.

TLSB: When a multitude of Jesus’ followers have far too little food for all to eat, Jesus multiplies five loaves and two fish so that all are satisfied. When problems threaten us and needs overwhelm our resources, what is our reaction? Do we turn first to the Lord? We should, as His Word makes clear, for He still treats His flock with compassion and more than provides for every need of body and soul.

30 jThe apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.
This means that the mission trip Jesus sent the apostles on has concluded. In addition, the rest Jesus invites them to as they mourn the death of John the Baptist includes both instruction and prayer (TLSB: cf 1:35; 7:17).

33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
TLSB: Jesus, the Good Shepherd, fulfills the needs of His flock. Here, He provides instruction as well as an unforgettable meal (vv 37–44). Christian worship services today typically have Jesus’ teaching and a miraculous meal as their most important elements. [Jesus’ table fellowship includes teaching, a meal, and His very presence.]
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, fulfills the needs of His flock. We mourn with those in Aurora, Colorado. Perhaps you find yourself watching or listening to the coverage—and then have to see, hear, or do anything else.
LSB 764: 1, 5: When aimless violence takes those we love, When random death strikes childhood’s promise down, When wrenching grief becomes our daily bread, We know, O God, You leave us not alone. Through long grief-darkened days help us, dear Lord, To trust Your grace for courage to endure, To rest our souls in Your supporting love, And find our hope within Your mercy sure.
In such times, Christ is your Sure Foundation, Savior, and Good Shepherd.

 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 
Seven month’s salary. That’s what the disciples were thinking. [It is close to eleven in the morning. Are you thinking about brunch or lunch already? I wouldn’t blame you if you were, but thinking about mere “daily bread is missing the point of Jesus in this text.]
Yet, that is nothing new. people have been missing the point of the feeding of the 5000 since the feeding of the 5000.
Consider the insight of Romanus Melodus:
(Citation noted below) When Christ heard these words of His disciples, He answered them in this way: “You are mistaken if you do not know That I am Creator of the universe; I provide for the world; I now know clearly what these people need; I see the desert and that the sun is setting; Indeed I arranged the setting on the sun; I understand the distress of the crowd which is here; I know what I have in mind to do for them. I myself shall cure their hunger, for I am The heavenly bread of immortality…
“Even though you consider carefully, can you as mere men secure nourishment, Or can you, though you are worried, feed the people? Or, then, if you cannot feed them, have you the power to keep silent? I, alone, as Creator take thought for all. I exist as good, God before the centuries. And I provide every kind of food for all people; But you, on beholding the multitude, are worried, And you do not consider the One who provides abundantly, As I am set before all, offering the heavenly bread of immortality.” Kontakion on the Multiplication of Loaves 13.12-17, On the Way to the Cross: 40 Days with the Church Fathers, p. 51.
Some old commentaries helped make this sermon a fresh preaching of this text. I don’t mean commentaries from the 1960’s. How about the 6th Century AD?
ACCS: Romanus Melodus (fl. c. 536-556) was born as a Jew in Emesa not far from Beirut where after his baptism he later became deacon of the Church of the Resurrection. He later moved to Constantinople and may have seen the destruction of the Hagia Sophia [Church of Holy Wisdom] and its rebuilding during the time he flourished there. As many as eighty [poetic] (metrical) sermons (kontakia, sg. Kontakion) (that utilize dialogical poetry) have come down to us under his name. These sermons were sung rather than preached during the liturgy, and frequently provide theological insights and Scriptural connections often unique to [him] Romanus. His Christology, closely associated with Justinian,) reflects the struggles against (the Monophysites) [those who denied that Jesus has two natures] (in) [of] his day (Apocrypha, 503).
Can you imagine a sung sermon? How about sermons that powerfully each the Word and address the challenges of our time and place? Lutheran Christian sermons have a lot in common with those of the time of the ancient Church Fathers.

And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied.
TLSB: Five loaves and two fish are obviously an insufficient meal even for only Jesus and the Twelve, let alone the multitude.
I’ll dispense with the historical-critical interpretation of this text and the next account quickly. Only someone who denied that Christ was God and denied the existence of miracles would say that Jesus walked on water only because He was ice fishing, and that Jesus did no miracle here but publically embarrassed everyone enough that they were “guilted” in to sharing their brown bag lunches. Such silliness has no place in a Bible-preaching Christian Church!
Yet, this sequence—taking the bread, speaking a blessing, breaking, and then giving—also occurs in the institution of the Lord’s Supper (14:22), which may be foreshadowed here. (See TLSB notes, Lk 24:30; Jn 6:51–58.)

 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. [1]
TLSB: The Lord’s superabundant provision was such that, despite the overwhelming number of people, no one went away hungry. Women and children were fed but not included in the number.
That point is the subject of most of the questions I have fielded on the feeding on the Five Thousand, not the miracle itself, nor what Jesus meant by “You give them something to eat.”
Why weren’t the women and children counted? The answer to that question teaches us a lot about how Christianity changed the world.
Today we also thank the Lord for St. Mary Magdalene on the anniversary of her heavenly birthday. Consider her interaction with Jesus on the day Jesus was Resurrected, Mark 16:9-11:
Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.
There are two issues with Mary Magdalene being the messenger to Jewish men of that time.
Issue One is their unbelief. Luther writes, “Faith is a divine work which God demands of us; but at the same time He Himself must implant it in us, for we cannot believe by ourselves” (AE 23:23).
Not only did they not yet have faith in Christ being raised from the dead, their culture had conditioned them in Issue Two: women at that time and place were not considered reliable witnesses.
That is one reason why the women and children were not counted at the time. This miracle of Jesus is actually mis-named. It is actually the Feeding of the Five Thousand Plus, perhaps even the Feeding of the Ten Thousand. This miracle is more miraculous than we were first told.
As I mentioned before, the fact that we DO count our women and children today teaches us a lot about How Christianity Changed the World. Alvin Schmidt, an LCMS member and retired professor, wrote a book with that very title. Consider:
“What would be the status of women in the Western world today had Jesus Christ never entered the human arena? One way to answer this question is to look at the status of women in most present-day Islamic countries. Here women are still denied many rights that are available to men, and when they appear in public, they must be veiled” (97).
Another way to illustrate this is to summarize the role of and status of women in Western society (summarized from 120-1). There are no segregated quarters for a wife in her own home; she shares with her husband. Women (Mary and Martha) hosted Jesus in their home. Christian marriage neither allows for mistresses nor multiple wives. The veil was discontinued in the West (except for the ceremonial bridal veil) in the ninth century. Husbands and wives are to first submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). A father is not permitted to sell his daughter to her husband. Male and female babies are valued equally. Infanticide was outlawed and condemned. Child bride marriages are not permitted in countries with Christian influence. Hindus used to burn a husband’s widow alive with him at his funeral. This practice was banned under British Christian influence in 1829. Binding of young girls’ feet in China was ended in 1912 after it had been condemned by Christian missionaries. Female genital mutilation has been unequivocally condemned and outlawed in countries with Christian influence. Growing Muslim populations in the West are clamoring for this gruesome, cruel, and unnecessary procedure.
Why weren’t the women and children counted? Women at that time and place were not considered reliable witnesses. That, and much else has changed because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christianity has indeed changed the world for the better. Is this the main point of the text? No. It is significant enough to address though.

42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
Jesus is the one who satisfied them. He is the only one who can satisfy the real needs you have with abundant grace, mercy, and the gift of Himself.

Let me tell you about another ancient Christian commentator on this passage, one born in the Fourth Century, AD. Prudentius (c. 348-c.410) was a Latin poet and hymn-writer who devoted his later life to Christian writing. He wrote (didactic) [teaching] poems on the theology of the incarnation [of Christ], against the heretic Marcion [, famous for denying the Old Testament,] and against the resurgence of paganism.
His Hymn on the Trinity features a section on Mark 6:43, “The Feast of the Creator.”
The banquet ended, plates still overflow, And with the crumbs twelve baskets then they fill. The stuffed boy strives with undigested fare, The waiter groans beneath his heavy load. Who can a great feast spread from stores so few? Who but the maker of our frame and all That nurtures it, who shaped the world from nought? Almighty God without the aid of seed Fashioned the earth, not as the sculptor works To life the block of bronze from metal fused. All that now is was nought: that nothingness Was into being brought and bidden grow. Small was the first creation, but it grew Till it became the mighty universe. Therefore, when I behold that meager fare Thus multiplied within the hands of Christ, Can I doubt that the elemental forms First made by him from nothing, by degrees Have grown to that perfection we now see? Lest fragments should be trodden on or lost, When men had fed, or should become the spoil Of wolves or foxes or petty mice, Twelve men were charged to heap in baskets full The gifts of Christ to keep and spread afar (ACCS Mark, 87)

Modified TLSB: We thank the Lord for providing so abundantly and for graciously sustaining our bodies and souls. May He continue to teach us to turn to Him first in every want and need.[2] He alone truly satisfies. Amen.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mk 6:30–44). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[2] Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible (1668). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.