Sermon for Trinity 7
Jeremiah 31:25-27 + Romans 6:19-23 + Mark 8:1-9
Everything’s going to be all right. It doesn’t always seem that way, does it? But it will. Everything’s going to be all right, if you stay with Jesus. He won’t disappoint you.
We learn that simple lesson in today’s Gospel (and also in the Epistle!). Four thousand people left their homes and their businesses to go hear Jesus, and not just for “one whole hour.” They spent three days with Him just listening, learning. They hadn’t expected to stay quite that long, or they would have brought more food along with them. But there they were, out in the wilderness. Jesus hadn’t sent them away or anything, so they just stayed.
That makes sense, doesn’t it? What could be more important than sitting at the feet of God-in-the-flesh?
But now what? Did they stay with Jesus, only to starve to death because they did? Did they stay with Him, only to be abandoned by Him and left to fend for themselves out in the wilderness? Of course not. Everything would be all right. They were with Jesus.
And with Jesus there is compassion. I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. When Jesus calls you to repent and be baptized in His name for the forgiveness of sins, He doesn’t then wash His hands of you and move on to someone else. He isn’t done with you once you enter His Church, while He goes off to do “more important things.” He has compassion on His people. Always. He doesn’t need to be told what your needs are. He doesn’t wait until you pester Him long enough with your complaints. He loves to show mercy. That’s why the crowds followed Him out to the wilderness in the first place, because they had learned that Jesus was good and merciful and kind to all who come to Him. So they followed Him. They stayed with Him. And their faithful following was not overlooked.
Jesus’ disciples didn’t know how to help all those people, how to provide for them there in the wilderness. They certainly couldn’t solve the food problem. Seven loaves of bread and a few fish wouldn’t feed four thousand people. But Jesus took these little pieces of God’s good creation and miraculously multiplied them until everyone had received his daily bread, from the hand of Jesus, by the hand of His apostles. Compassion. Providence. Sustenance. Everything turned out all right for those multitudes who had left their homes to follow Jesus and then faithfully stayed with Him.
What might it look like today to follow Jesus and to stay with Him? First, it means recognizing that you have sinned against God and deserve His wrath and punishment. But the Gospel calls you to repent and believe in the merciful Lord Christ who died on the cross for your sins and rose again from the dead. By faith in Christ, you’re forgiven and justified. By faith and Holy Baptism, you have entered Christ’s kingdom.
Now, as baptized believers in Christ, faithfulness looks like setting aside time to hear His Word and receive His Sacraments every Sunday, and maybe in between. Because the people of Christ yearn to be where Christ offers Himself in Word and Sacrament. For some, that might mean driving long distances to gather with those who confess the faith rightly. For others, it may mean it’s too far to drive very often, so you do the best you can, watching or listening to the service, reading and studying the Scriptures on your own. In those cases, faithfulness and staying with Jesus means you don’t just settle by joining a church that’s the “closest thing available” to ours. In every case, our church and churches like ours will never be huge or rich or glorious in an earthly way, and we won’t have all the things that bigger, false-teaching churches have. It’s a bit like taking a trip out into the wilderness, actually. And that can be quite a sacrifice.
Following Christ and staying with Him means giving a generous percentage of your income as an offering, so that the ministry of the Word can continue in our midst and around the world.
Following Christ and staying with Him means standing against the world and its godlessness and vain human reason. It would be easier to go along to get along, when so many voices all around you are telling you how foolish you are to stay with Jesus, and to believe everything He says in Holy Scripture. But Christians are called to live differently, to shine as lights in a dark world, lights that reflect both God’s truth and God’s love, without ever compromising either.
Following Christ and staying with Him means a constant battle with your flesh, a battle you never really get to be done with here on this earth. Because you were once slaves to sin, and at that time, as St. Paul says to the Romans, you were free from righteousness. You went right along with the cravings and the desires of this depraved world. But no longer. Now you are slaves to righteousness. Now you have come to Christ. So stay with Christ and live each day walking in His footsteps, saying “no” to sin and “yes” to righteousness, sacrificing one earthly comfort after another, refusing one sinful pleasure after another, all to follow Christ and to stay with Him.
How will that go for you? How will it end up? Everything is going to be all right. Jesus will not disappoint you. Here you are, out in the wilderness, having left behind many of the comfortable things of this world. You’ve come to follow Jesus, to hear Him, and to stay with Him. Everything will be all right. Because the same Jesus who had compassion on the multitudes in our Gospel has compassion on you, at all times. He knows your needs. He knows what you’ve lost, what you’ve given up, what you continue to struggle with. And as He did in our Gospel, He’ll supply your need, according to His good will and purpose for you.
He supplies you with a constant source of forgiveness and strength in His preaching and in His Sacrament. He supplies you with the constant gift of His Holy Spirit. And as you live as slaves, not of sin, but of God, Paul says that you have your fruit to holiness.
What does that mean? Well, Paul points out that, when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? What was the result when you followed your sinful cravings and indulged your sinful flesh? As Christians looking back on the sins you’ve committed in the past, you see plenty of bad results, don’t you? When you were disobedient, when you mistreated your own body or the body of someone else, when you didn’t honor marriage or when you coveted something you didn’t have, looking back, you can see how that life resulted in ugliness, how it produced rotten fruit.
But when you serve God as willing slaves, who have been redeemed from slavery to sin and purchased for God, you may not have all the pleasures and the comforts that the unbelievers have. But there is good fruit, there is a good result in leading a godly life. For as much as the world mocks it, holiness is a good thing.
And the end of it, Paul says, is everlasting life. That’s what waiting at the end of your time in the wilderness. That’s what God has in store for you who have followed Jesus and stayed with Him. No matter how gloomy things might appear in this world, everything will be all right. Jesus will not disappoint you. As David says in the 23rd Psalm, You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever. Amen.