Jesus teaches us to rely on Him, to cast our every care on Him, because He cares for us. The miraculous feeding of the 4,000 was the second time the disciples saw Jesus feed a crowd. As the end of Mark 8 shows, Jesus is questioning the disciples about their lack of faith. They saw Him feed 9,000 men, plus women and children with only a few loaves of bread and a few small fish. But the disciples still did not believe, they did not think that God had all things in His control and that He would cause everything to work out for their good.
The First Article of the Creed and the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer complement one another, teaching us that God works all things out for our good because He is the one who gives us everything necessary for this body and life. Belief in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth is what is necessary to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Without faith, there is no prayer. If you don’t believe in God or that He is almighty, then why bother praying? The act of prayer is a proof of faith. Even if you only pray because someone makes you or you think you should because of some legalistic obligation, there is still an underlying faith, perhaps a small or weak one, but faith nonetheless. It clings to even the slightest expectation that God will hear your prayer and have the ability to grant it, even if the motivation to pray isn’t from the best of desires.
Many things drive us to prayer—pain and suffering, weakness and distress, and even despair. Most of our prayers revolve around First Article gifts—the things of this world and our daily lives. These are good prayers, and things our heavenly Father wants us to pray to Him about. He cares about those things because He cares about us. When you pray for food, health, employment, a good house, or the like, you are confessing that you believe God has made you and all creatures and that He has given you your body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses, and still takes care of them. Prayer confesses to God that you seek your daily bread from Him, which includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of this body and life—things like food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods a devout spouse, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. You believe that He daily and richly provides you with all you need to support this body and life.
But it’s more than the material things that you rely on from day to day. Prayer confesses that God defends you against all danger and guards and protects you from all evil. This is where prayer appears the most because nothing prompts prayer like dangerous or difficult circumstances. This is where the theology of the cross is shown clearly in our lives. No matter what bad things happen in our life, we know that God is in control. It’s what we just sang in the hymn: “We sought the Lord in our distress; O God, in mercy, hear us. Our Savior saw our helplessness and came in peace to cheer us.” Each of us has a story of a time that something awful should have happened to us. Because of your own sin or the sin of someone else or a combination of the two, something evil should have befallen you. But it didn’t. And that’s something to marvel about, something to praise God for. And what this has shown you is that you’re not as alone as you might think. You’re not as isolated as the devil, the world, and your sinful nature would lead you to believe. Quite the contrary—you are God’s child! He never leaves or abandons you. He has promised to be with you in all circumstances. Like you pray for in Luther’s Morning and Evening prayers, God’s holy angels attended to you and kept you from all harm and danger.
But that isn’t the only divine aid you receive. Your fellow Christians are here for you, too. The person sitting next to you has gone through difficult circumstances of their own. They can relate to you in a way you may not realize unless you talk to them. By sharing your story, you are opening yourself up to the love and concern of a Christian brother or sister. You might think your story is too embarrassing or it’s too hard to let people into your world, but that’s exactly what the devil wants you to think. He wants you to think no one cares about you, that everyone around you is looking for an excuse to look down at you, to make fun of you, to have something against you. The devil wants you to think that, to get you to isolate yourself because then he can attack all the more. He feeds off your loneliness. He divides you from God and neighbors and then attacks, convincing you that you don’t need anyone else, that you can do everything by yourself and bear all your own burden without the consolation of the brethren, your like-minded Christian family. He gets you to see the Third Article gift of the Christian Church as something you don’t need, and if he succeeds, you’re not only cut off from your fellow Christians, but from the place where Christ feeds you and forgives you, because you think you don’t need this place, this family, this gathering around Christ Himself.
This may sound like self-help hokum, a ‘turn to your neighbor, share a story, cry, and hug’ moment, but it’s not. Remember that even Luther taught in the Small Catechism that God’s First Article gifts are not limited to food and clothing. He includes with all the things necessary for this body and life: “Good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” Christian conversation and consolation are blessed things the Lord has given to us to help us endure to the end, another weapon to use against the flaming arrows of the evil one. Just like Jesus could turn a few loaves of bread and small fish into food for 9,000+ people, so can He use a few minutes of listening to go a long way for a Christian friend in need, or for your own good when someone else is your listening ear. Sharing Christian hope begins here in the church as the Word is read and preached, and radiates out to the narthex, to Founders Hall, to the parking lot, to the ride home, to your home, to all the places you go. Christian faith is not something confined to Sunday morning or this building. When we comfort one another with the consolation of Jesus Christ and the hope of the Gospel, it brings light and life to someone who finds themselves in a desolate place. Just like Jesus had compassion on the 4,000 who found themselves in a desolate place, so does He have compassion on everyone whom He has created. And that compassion led Him to the cross where He died in our place and then to the giving of the Holy Spirit to gather us into communities centered on Jesus and His death and resurrection that give us hope beyond what seems like an aimless mote, a deathward drift from futile birth.
There is a common thread running through last week’s Gospel and today’s. Last week we heard about our inability to keep God’s Law and our total unworthiness to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Today we heard about our inability to do something as simple as feed ourselves without divine intervention. Jesus makes it clear that only He can rescue us from the dire situations of temporal and eternal death. All hope must be placed in Jesus Christ who came to fulfill the Law for us and remove its curse from us. He brings to the point of despair, of knowing that there is nowhere to turn but to God alone, so we understand completely that of our own we have no strength and can only rely on Him for help in this life and salvation in the life to come. He works through crosses, through these trials we endure, to strengthen our faith, to teach us that our help is not of ourselves, but is in the Name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Today our source of hope and encouragement is another miraculous feeding. We are fed with bread blessed by Jesus, and given to us along with His very Body, the one broken for us on the cross. We are given wine to drink that is the Blood of Christ, shed for our forgiveness. The miracle is that in this bread and wine Christ is truly present and gives us good things. Through it He strengthens our faith toward Him and our love for one another. He gives us every good thing that we need to encourage us on our journey towards heaven. He feeds us to prove that we can cast our every burden on Him because He cares for us. To God all praise and glory.