Sunday, May 25, 2014

Can We Ever Be Satisfied?


This fifth Sunday after Easter is the traditional day on which the Church asks God's blessings on the land and the crops which are currently being planted. Most of the Sundays after Easter get their Latin names from the Introits but not this one. Rogate means "ask", and it comes from the traditional, not the current but the traditional Gospel lesson for this Sunday, the one indicated in the Lutheran Hymnal, from John 16:23-30 in which Jesus bids His disciples Ask, and you will receive that your joy may be full. Our joy would not be full if we were hungry. In fact, being hungry is such a distraction that it causes us to forget God's other blessings. So this morning, as we contemplate the gift of the produce of the land, we will meditate on another holy saying of our Lord, again on the subject of asking. This time we will examine the fourth petition, Give us this day our daily bread.

On the surface it seems as if this petition were only about food. But stop and think what it takes to get a loaf of bread from the field to the table. First, there must be land that is fertile enough that the seeds can grow. Then, there must be a farmer to do the work. He needs a banker to borrow the seed money. He needs field equipment, which is made in a factory. There has to be friendly weather during the growing season. When he harvests the grain, he needs a truck to get it to the grain elevator. A railroad services the grain elevator, and takes the wheat to a flour mill. The mill has to have land, tools, and workers to grind the grist. Then we have another teamster to take the flour to the baker, who has to have a going business. The baker bakes the bread, then employs yet another teamster to take it to the store. All along the way we are assuming that someone has been selling gasoline to all those people who were driving the various stages of production to its next stop. We have also been assuming that police were protecting the farm, the elevator, the mill, the baker, and all those drivers. We have also been assuming that they had electric power and running water to perform their operations, that they had insurance if anything happened along the way, that the roads were kept in good repair, that somewhere a government issued money that each operator at each step could exchange for his own daily bread, and that the buildings in which they operated were properly maintained. All that to put one loaf of bread on the table. And if it takes that to get a loaf of bread from Holmes County, imagine what it takes to get an orange from California! Martin Luther once said that the nobility were missing the boat by putting all sorts of predators on their coats of arms. They would be more respected if they emblazoned their logos with a loaf of bread, and more acurate. We pray this morning that God would keep this society, so tightly interwoven and interdependent, together and functioning, and that He would keep us healthy in mind and body so that we could earn the right to eat our daily bread.

O.K. Pastor, I know we need all those things, but isn't God giving all that right now to millions of people who didn't ask for it? He certainly is. Prayers are not magic. They never were and never will be. We do not pray for our daily bread because we think God will cut us off if we don't. Just as parents will feed their children whether they are good or bad, so God will feed us whether we like it or not. Why, then, do we bother praying for it? For three important reasons. First, we acknowledge the gift - a sort of thank you note. Secondly, we hallow God's name, praising Him for His kindness. And thirdly, we seek the Holy Spirit to direct our stewardship of this society, this land, buildings, raw materials, tools, and works. God is the Owner. That's fine. Let Him be the Capitalist. We are the management, responsible to Him for the profitability of all His blessings.

When the Lord first set up His people in the holy land He commanded them to let the land rest every seven years. Jesus ended that, as He ended the whole Law, by fulfilling it. He became the Sabbath for us. We are free from the commandments, but we have no mandate to be materialistic, to be moved by greed to gobble up whatever we can get our hands on. A half century ago rebellious man thought he could use technology to service his greed forever. Today we are paying the price for that greed, as technology has fallen into disfavor, and good people are not studying their science. But how can we be otherwise? Isn't greed an essential part of human nature? It is if you take as the standard what is left after the Fall. Ever since then the devil has involved himself in all of our affairs, worming his way into every step of bread production, from the farm house to the White House, interfering with God's wonderful bounty. He sees to it that no human decision on any level of society - from what to plant to whether or not we will have a war - is ever free from sin. Jesus told us not to lay up for ourselves treasures on earth, but the devil won't let us undertake anything without a little something in it for ourselves. If we ask God for daily bread, but after we say Amen we go out and sell our merchandise a little too high, or plant more than is good for the environment, or advertise something we don't really deliver, the devil laughs for he has made us all hypocrites.

How can we be otherwise? There is only one true answer, and that is regeneration. God took pity on us, and gave His only Son to be one of us, to be tempted as we are, to fulfill God's will where we failed. God broke the devil's power by the death of Jesus on the cross. God held the devil down as Jesus rose again from the grave. Jesus disarmed the principalities and powers who administer Satan's syndicate. How can we be otherwise? Through Jesus of Nazareth, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In the last book of the Bible, St. John saw a vision of the end of time. He heard the heavenly choir singing The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever. How can we be otherwise? By belonging to the kingdom of Christ instead of the kingdom of the devil. Those are the only alternatives. We need to repent. If you have never been baptized, you need to be baptized. If you are baptized, you need to be sorry for your sins and confess them so they can be forgiven. And you must trust what God has said about His Son that He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Then as Peter told the Jews on that first Pentecost, you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. He will give you a new heart, conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Unless you have the Holy Spirit you cannot be otherwise. But by His power, you can be like Jesus.

In the Gospels Jesus promised us that all things are ours. If we turn them over to the devil, nothing but harm will follow. But the Holy Spirit sets us free from the will to abuse, free from the greed to control and conquer, free from the illusions of progress based on technology, but also free from the despair that seeks to be primitive or to hide in ignorance. We receive our daily bread as Christians, happy to be managers while God is the Owner, eager to use it all wisely in His service. AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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