Unless Jesus does something miraculous, the four thousand will die. Jesus doesn’t say that exactly, but you can connect the dots without much work. What Jesus says is that they will pass out from exhaustion. But before that He said that they have been following Him into the wilderness, listening to His teaching for three days. If you have a three-day journey just to get home, you have to go without any food or water and no rest stops or McDonalds’ or grocery stores, and you pass out along the way, what do you think will happen to you? These people are going to die unless Jesus does something. The same is true of you. Without the miraculous intervention of Jesus Christ, feeding you both in body and soul, you would die in this journey to your eternal home.
If you read the first page of today’s Bulletin, you saw an explanation about the Readings for the next few weeks. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s worth your time to read later today. The next several weeks in this long Trinity season will take a look at the topic of sanctification, that is, our Christian life and how we live the faith, especially how we’re doing with that phrase from the Post-Communion Collect, living in faith toward God and fervent love toward one another.
If there’s one emotion we as Christians know well, it’s despair. We can relate to Simon Peter in today’s Gospel. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” I worked my tail off and everything still failed. I gave my kids the finest Lutheran education, devotions every night, youth group events every time they were offered, and they still rejected the Faith when they got to college, and not just rejected it, but now they’re hostile about it! I saved and pinched pennies my entire working life and the recession in 2008 did in my retirement, and now a decade later when I’m ready to retire, I don’t know if the market has rebounded enough for me to be able to retire. I took vitamins, exercised, shunned red meat and fast food and I still have cancer. I read every assigned reading, thoroughly researched for every paper, and studied till all hours for every exam and still managed to end the school year with straight B’s. I gave my marriage all I had and we still got divorced. I increased my personal devotional life—prayer and the reading of Scripture and coming to church—and I still lust after one who is not my spouse, am given to fits of rage, am filled with hate. We all know well what it’s like to recite this litany of despair. We look around us, we look inside of us, and we see that there is nothing good, nothing but reasons to despair. We want to take Jesus at His Word—try again and see if the results are different. But everything comes up wrong, against us, and often, worse than it was before. But in these times when despair threatens to gain the upper hand, we have no choice but to cling to the Lord and His gracious promises. We have the example of Simon Peter. He doesn’t want to listen to the Lord, but he does, and finds out that the Lord always keeps His promises. And that is the same thing we find here in the Divine Service. Our environments, our emotions, our feelings, our reason all deceive us, so we must hear, over and over again, the Word of the Lord repeating the promises He has made from the beginning.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the nativity of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, the last of the prophets, and the one foretold in Isaiah, “the voice crying in the wilderness”. So what exactly did John come to do? He did not simply come to tell Israel and the world Christ was coming. They knew a messiah was coming, the Old Testament is clear the Lord will send into our world, a savior, one to deliver us from our sin and to save His people. John, however, came to call all people, those who knew the messiah was coming and those who did not, to repent, for all have sinned and have fallen into the darkness of their sin. John was the beginning of the actual “time of salvation” if you will, where God’s direct plan to redeem His people would be put into action.
Who has ever felt worthless, insignificant? Depression eats away at our hearts and minds. So many people, Christians included, feel as if they don’t matter at all to anyone in this world, or even to God Himself. In a world filled with people who seem more popular, more special, more valuable, it’s easy to feel like one sheep among a hundred, one coin among ten.
"Come, for everything is now ready!” That is the Church’s cry of 2,000 years. Salvation is accomplished! Eternal peace is yours! Come to Christ, all who are heavy-laden by this sinful, dying world with its poisoned air and dark despair. Come, for everything is now ready! Come, find rest for your souls and restoration for your bodies.
Why does the Rich Man in today’s Gospel go to hell? Why is Lazarus borne by the angels to Abraham’s bosom? Is it because of the life they lived? Is it because, in the end, God makes everything fair? The Rich Man had good things, so now it’s time for him to experience the bad? Lazarus starved, was unable to help himself in any way, and now lives in the lavishness of heaven that far exceeds what the Rich Man had? No. None of that is right, though we’d like it to be.
The Church Year has two divisions. The first half, which we just finished, follows the life of Christ—from His birth, through His life, and to His death, resurrection, ascension, and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. The second half of the Church Year focuses on the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Church, how He causes us to grow in the faith and in Christian living, but always keeping us grounded in the work Christ has done to win our salvation. But as a hinge between these two semesters stands today, the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. Today we are taught about the God who acted in the life of Christ, and we learn about the God who works in us in our life today.
The holy spirit is the Spirit of confession. As Christ Our Lord said, the Holy Spirit “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” He confesses Christ to us, and by the faith He creates in us, we are able to confess Christ to others. That’s the whole point of this Feast of Pentecost. At Christ’s Ascension He gave His Church the solemn task of making disciples, that is, Baptizing and teaching, administering the Lord’s Supper, and forgiving the sins of all who repent. So just ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, He poured out the Holy Spirit on His chosen disciples. And the Holy Spirit caused the apostles to confess in amazing ways. At St. Luke recorded in Acts, the apostles preached in languages which they had not learned. They preached that Jesus Christ died to take away the sin of the world. They preached that He rose victorious from the grave, the Father accepting His atoning sacrifice. They preached that Christ was giving His forgiveness and eternal life through Baptism, the washing of rebirth. And because of their Holy Spirit-given confession of the faith about 3,000 people were saved that day.
"I will not leave you as orphans,” says Our Lord. What an odd-seeming thing for the Church to place on our lips on this “in between” Sunday, three days after Jesus has ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and still seven more days before He pours out His Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost, the Spirit who points us back to Jesus in both joy and sorrow. That’s why our Introit began with that phrase of longing: “Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud. … Hide not Your face from me.” We know that, even though we know the whole story, we know how the disciples felt in this intervening week. They knew the promise, but it had yet to become visible. We live that every day! We know we are citizens of heaven, but we still live on earth. We know that palpable tension of “now, but not yet.” So we know conflicting emotions that come from Jesus’ words, “I will not leave you as orphans.” The disciples believed it, but they were torn because they also knew what they saw, what seemed to be the truth. Today Our Lord reminds us that, despite appearances, He is with us always to forgive us, to guide us, and to give us His eternal joy which no one can take from us.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.