Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Liberating Message to the Church Builders and Soul Counters in the Church of Jesus Christ

A SUCCESSFUL CHURCH

And He directed the crowd to sit down on the ground; and He took the seven loaves, and having given thanks He broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd and they had a few small fish; and having blessed them, He commanded that these also should be set before them. 8 And they ate, and were satisfied; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people, and He sent them on their way. Mark 8:7-9

WHEN anyone talks religion always pay attention to the verbs. Ask yourself: who is the doer of the action? Is it man or is it Christ? Jesus isn’t the only actor in today’s gospel lesson but He is the central One, and the One we should watch closely if we hope to grow in grace.

Watch the verbs! If the church is to preach the Gospel of Christ, and not "another gospel,”
(Galatians 1:6) then Jesus must be the subject of every sentence and doer of every verb. When He is, we can be sure our hungry souls will be filled with good things even in the most barren land. But when He isn’t be just as sure that we will die of starvation in the desert of sin.

In today’s gospel lesson Jesus is everything, as it should be, but in a recent article which the Ohio District recommended to all its pastors we find something different. The article written by the Alban Institute said, “If you're a layperson in a congregation that's experiencing decline, whether the congregation thrives is ultimately up to you…” It continues, “A congregation that is truly being churched brings people into a loving…relationship with God.” And again, “…a congregation's greatest asset…is the people who make up the congregation.”

Beloved, if the church’s success is up to us -- if we are it’s greatest asset -- then we’re doomed. We might just as well go home now with a muffin and the Sunday PD {Plain Dealer} and celebrate the ‘day of rest’ the way the world does, but if Christ’s activity among us in the Word and Sacraments is our greatest asset, then let us dwell in the House of the Lord forever. Today’s gospel lesson is a masterpiece which teaches us that Jesus is exactly that, and always will be the Divine Doer in the Church.


The first thing Jesus does is “have compassion” on the crowds. It wasn’t the disciples who first noticed the problem, but Jesus -- no surprise there. It was compassion that brought Him into our world in the first place; a world that apart from Him, tries in vain to satisfy its hunger with bread and circuses. This is what made Jesus so attractive. He filled men’s heads with holy thoughts. He made the forgiveness of sins and the glory of heaven a Present Reality, one so captivating that His hearers forgot they that were even hungry, but Jesus didn’t. He knows what we need to sustain our bodies and souls, and provides it all so that we will never faint under the burdens of life.

It’s Jesus also who poses the supply problem to His disciples. We learn from the other gospels that He already knew what He was going to do, but He asked the question only to test them. The Lord knows what He’s going to do for us as well, whatever it is that troubles us today. He’s testing us. Not to vex us, or to prove anything to Himself. He already knows we can do nothing without Him, but He does it to teach us to rely only on Him for all that we need, and to put His love to the test as our opening hymn says
(TLH #29), only to see that it will never fail.  Further it’s Jesus who makes the inquiry, “How many loaves do you have?” But what is seven loaves among so many people? Nothing at all. Nothing that is until placed in the hands of Jesus. This is how it is with the Holy Communion we have with Him this day. Bread and wine alone are nothing, but when the word and blessing of Jesus are added the finite becomes infinite, the secular sacred, and it sustains countless souls (TLH #305 v.5)
with the remission of sins, and eternal life.

Jesus acts again. He directs the crowds to sit down. It’s not a small detail. Even in this church in the desert there were rubrics. Things were done decently and in order (
1 Corinthians 14:40). If only all churches would learn this. There was no swaying, dancing, rocking or rolling; only reverent anticipation for what Jesus was about to give them. It’s the same today. We don’t just sit in church because it’s too wearisome to stand, but we sit to remember that we are being served by the Suffering Servant Himself, who died and rose again in order to nourish us with the food of immortality.

Jesus acts again.  He receives the requested loaves and then returns them many times over. The same happens in Holy Communion. We offer the bread and wine to the Lord which He first gave us, and He returns it as the soul-nourishing body and blood of Christ, feeding us till we want no more
(TLH #54).

Jesus acts again.  When He received the bread He gave thanks to God, but it wasn’t an ordinary act of devotion that the Lord prayed that day. Jesus understood the incalculable value, scope and power of what God was about to do. As John the Baptist announced the coming Christ, so this communing of the 4,000 announced Jesus as He would give Himself on Holy Thursday, and to His church for all of history thereafter, and we are the recipients of that gift today.

Jesus acts again. He breaks the loaves symbolizing that His body would be broken by suffering and death, so that all might be forgiven of their sins and restored to peace and unity with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus acts again. He distributes the bounty by the hands of His disciples, and He still works this way today. He still ordains Watchmen and installs them on the Walls of Jerusalem (Isaiah 62) in order that they might distribute the soul-nourishing Gospel to His people, and those who follow in the Apostolic Office must do the same. They must always be careful to set God’s gifts before God’s people, and never their own agenda, or one in keeping with the latest ecclesiastical fad. To transgress in the matter is the greatest possible crime for a pastor.

Jesus still cares for His people today. He provides all that we need for our bodies and souls, our hearts and our minds. And we as His people receive our daily bread with thanksgiving, and so are satisfied.

By definition, economics is the study of making the most efficient use of scarce resources, but with God there is no scarcity. Seven loaves feed 4,000 people and yield a remainder of seven baskets. Limitations are due to sin, but Jesus is holy, so with Him as our Lord there is no limit; no limit to the blessings He will continue to give us or to the ongoing forgiveness and grace He will provide us. Neither will His mercy ever come to an end.

Finally, as the disciples gathered up the remaining food, may His Word remain with us as we leave this place so that we don’t faint as we go back to the vocations God gave us to fulfill. May His Word be on our minds, His body and blood coursing through our veins, His benediction in our ears, and a hymn of praise on our lips. Amen.


Rev. Dean Kavouras

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