The Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
July 18-19, 2009
Text: Mark 6:30-44
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Venerable Bede, one of the ancient church fathers, in writing on this text, bemoaned the fact the people of his day did not have such enthusiasm for the Word of God. We could make much the same lament today, a millennium and a half later. Our world is literally starving to death, and most in our world do not even know that they are hungry. We might say, where is the hunger. In America, even the poor are rich, by the standards of the world. And for those small number that need help, we have food shelves, numerous government programs and other charities. Anyone who can work the system will surely be provided with food. And there are even social workers who will help people work the system and access such assistance. So there is no hunger here, surely. Perhaps in Darfour or North Korea or some such place, but even there it is rarely a lack of food, but a lack of individual liberty that leads to starvation. But of course our text is speaking of a different kind of food, a different kind of starvation. Moses teaches us in Deuteronomy 8:3 that “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” The food that truly feeds us, that gives us true life that does not end is the Word of God.
In our text the people followed Jesus and His disciples out into the wilderness. Christ doesn’t send them away, even though it says that they were tired and hungry. Christ has compassion on them because they were without a shepherd. What does that mean? It means no one was feeding them. The rabbis weren’t doing their jobs. They weren’t giving the people the pure fountain of God’s Word. They were starving for the Word of life. One might wonder at the later growth of Christianity. But here the foundation was laid. Christ preached to them and taught them. He fed them His words. This is what Christ means when He speaks of Shepherds and Himself as the Good Shepherd. It means someone who feeds the sheep with the Word of God.
Now some might say Pastor, you’re missing the real point of action here. The real action was the miracle. No. Miracles only serve to authenticate the Word. Christ feeds bodies as a symbol of how He has fed souls. The real action in this text is the preaching of the Word. For faith comes through hearing the Word of Christ.
The Lutheran Confessions affirm this understanding. Dr. Luther in the Smallcald Articles, one of our confessional documents, writes: “In issues relating the spoken, outward Word, we must firmly hold that God grants His Spirit or grace to no one except through or with the preceding outward Word.” (SA Part III Art. VIII p.3) By outward Word here, Dr. Luther means Holy Scripture - the Bible. In defense of this, Dr. Luther cites Galatians 3:2. “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” And also verse 5: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” Dr. Luther reinforces this a few paragraphs later. “Therefore, we must constantly maintain this point: God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. Whatever is praised as from the Spirit - without the Word and Sacraments - is of the devil himself.” (SA Part III Art. VIII p. 10) In our day many people starve to death because they don’t want the Christ that comes to us through the dusty old pages of the Bible. They want something more exciting. They want something that gives them the warm fuzzies, or a burning in the bosom. Well, for the warm fuzzies I would suggest a fleece blanket and for the burning in a bosom a meal at a Mexican restaurant might do the trick. The problem is that the Christ Who comes to us through His Word is the real Christ, the only Christ. These other Christ’s are false Christs. That warm fuzzy feeling goes away. I remember about twenty years back being on a respirator for a day or so. You feel a lot of thing, but the warm fuzzies is not one of them. I won’t tell you what the burning sensation was, but it wasn’t the Holy Spirit. At times like that, all the garbage of the world burns away. All that’s left is the Word. That is the only thing that has the power to endure. In fact it is the only thing that we have on this earth that will last forever. As Christ Himself says: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matt. 24:35)
Another point that must be made here is that it is the external Word. Christ comes into us from outside ourselves. All that is within us is sin and evil. Modern Americans have a poor understanding of mankind. All these socialist utopian models that are proposed assume that man is basically good if we only structure society in the right way to bring out his goodness. But this never works. It doesn’t work because men are born with a corrupt and sinful nature. The founders of our nation understood this. The idea of a government with checks and balances assumes that men will attempt to use power for evil purposes. So you structure things in ways to limit their power. This also affects our understanding the work of God’s Word. We cannot look inward. All we find there is sin, corruption, and death. We must look outward toward something that can come into us and make us clean. That very thing is the Word of God.
Back in the early 1970's when our synod was in battles over the authority of Scripture, the liberals would say well you have the Bible but we have Christ. To this we must respond by asking; What Christ do you have? There is no Christ apart from Scripture. Christ is the living Word of God. The incarnate Word can never be separated from the enscripturated Word. They are one and the same.
Christ is our true Shepherd who feeds us His Word, and ultimately Himself. For He is the Word. And so for us today, we must have pastors - that is undershepherds - who would offer to you Christ in Word and Sacrament as your feast. For it is only by the Word of God that we have life. Christ understood this and that is why He preached to the people, even to the point of exhaustion. The Word is life, for faith comes by hearing the Word of God.