Sermon Proper 11 2018
July 22, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson which was previously read.
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture.” When the Lord gave that word to Jeremiah to speak, the conditions in Israel were bad. The people were rebellious. The kings didn’t help this much. There was no desire on the part of either to follow the worship ordained by the Lord. There was no desire to maintain that Israel was the chosen people of the Lord. Rather, there was vast idolatry. There was vast unrepentance. There was vast rebellion against the revelation of God given to Moses in the Torah, in the Law. And what did the priests do about it? They told everybody it was all going to be just fine. They told them that God loved them for who they were. They told them that God wanted them to find Him through sexual experiences. Ok, so they didn’t use those words, but you can see in the prophets that there were those who certainly made no effort to call people to repentance. You can see through the large number of “high places” that people were not worshipping the Lord alone—the people chosen by God and given this land by Him—they weren’t worshipping Him, but were having other gods. And you can see by the widespread inclusion of things as Asherah poles, that they were glad to find sexuality a part of ritual fertility worship, something explicitly contrary to true worship.
It was in this context then, that the Lord made it clear: these priests were failing, and they were not shepherding His people as they were called. So what do we see then? We see this promise: I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” It’s in that context that we see the promise fulfilled in our Gospel Lesson; the promise of Jesus. And what do we see about Him?
Well, specifically, we see in our lesson, Jesus feeding the five thousand. But within that what we see is that Jesus fulfills the promise to be the Good Shepherd. We see that Jesus is the compassionate shepherd who satisfies His sheep. Jesus is the Compassionate Shepherd who satisfies His sheep.
As I make that statement I’d like to unpack it. First, Jesus’ compassion. In the Gospel lesson, there is a mob of people who gather around Jesus to hear His teaching. Mark tells us, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd.” But then what? Then Jesus “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.”
So, like I said, first we see Jesus’ compassion. I’ve mentioned this word before, but when we hear that Jesus had compassion on the people, what this means is that He felt it in His guts. His guts ached for these people. Why? Because they were like sheep without a shepherd. These people had been led by those who were not faithful shepherds. Sure maybe the shepherds of Jesus’ day were not as blatantly sinful as the priests at the time of Jeremiah. Maybe they appeared to be upright and righteous. In fact, they even appeared to show dedication to the Lord and the Lord alone, but when Jesus sees the people as sheep without a shepherd, what does it tell us? These leaders at His time still fell far short. They still were misleading the people. In particular from Jesus’ interaction with the leaders of His day, what do we see? We see Him calling them whitewashed tombs. They were in it for the glory and the praise of men. They were teaching the people right morality, but their hearts were not turned toward the glory of God. They were not pointing people to the Lord, but to a self-righteous interpretation of the Law. So what did Jesus do? He shepherded them. And how? Look at what it says: they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.”
So how did He shepherd them? He taught them. He taught them that the Law wasn’t about their own righteousness, but the righteousness manifest in this Shepherd standing before them. It was about the righteousness that God Himself would provide for them. He taught them that they were to crucify their own lives, die to themselves, and rise again to life in the One who is the Resurrection and the Life.
And as I say this, I think we can draw such a great parallel today. As we look around at the state of the Church today, what do we see? Do we see that people are being taught to die to themselves? Do we see shepherds who are encouraging their flocks toward repentance, toward self-denial, toward picking up their cross and dying to themselves? I was listening to a book called The Benedict Option this week, and while my jury is still out on the book, the author, Rod Dreher, made a great point in his assessment of the modern day church. He said that there has been a dramatic paradigmatic shift in the church beginning in the late 19th century and blossoming to this day. He said historically the church taught a message of self-denial. Now the church is broadly teaching a message of self-fulfillment. In others words, the church in our day and place is telling people that the role of the church is to help them to fulfill their greatest desires, to find their true selves, their true happiness. We can hear this even in churches teaching people that God wants them to get that promotion, that pay increase, that material blessing. Or we can hear it in churches telling people that God loves them for who they are.
Christians, as we hear this being taught, what we see there is not what Jesus taught. We can sympathize with Him then as He looked at them and had compassion on them. He looked at them and felt sorry for them in His guts, and He taught them. And what did He teach them? In His compassion He taught them the truth. The truth that we still have to hear. The truth that we are lost and utterly dead sinners without our Lord coming to us and giving His Spirit to us to enliven us and grant us the holiness that we lack completely of ourselves. That is what the Compassionate Shepherd does.
And what did we say? Jesus is the Compassionate Shepherd who satisfies His sheep. We’ve explained how Jesus is compassionate, how He shepherds, but what do we see then about this satisfaction? Coming back to the lesson, look what our Lord tells us through the words of Mark. “And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.”
Now as we see this we have to make the obvious point that the people who are fed by Jesus are fed literal, physical food. We have to acknowledge that this points to the fact that Jesus made sure the bodily needs of these people were cared for. But we also have to acknowledge that the leftovers filling twelve baskets is more than a little convenient. While we would certainly believe that was what actually happened, we also see the Lord’s providence in this. Twelve is the number of the Church. Twelve apostles, twelve tribes. Five thousand satisfied, and twelve baskets left over. That’s enough for the Church. This satisfaction of Jesus is enough for you. But what is that satisfaction? Is it just food? Well, of course there’s the Lord’s Supper we can’t help but thinking of, but is Jesus feeding you fish and loaves? No. So this isn’t just about the filling of your belly. No it’s about real satisfaction.
And as I say this, there’s a fitting connection to the Prodigal Son—fitting because we’re meeting to discuss The Prodigal God this week. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the son is working feeding the pigs, and he’s hungry. It says that he looks at the food that he’s giving the swine and he wants to be satisfied himself. In fact he longs for it. In a sense we can see that the son’s literal hunger reflected the insatiability he found in the things of this world. Yes he had gone out, indulged in reckless living and sin, but what did this ultimately lead to? It led to emptiness. To hunger. It led to dissatisfaction. And Timothy Keller makes this point, where is the satisfaction found? In the beauty of the cross. The satisfaction is found in being drawn outside of our selfishness, outside of our self-indulgence. I know I’ve mentioned this self-indulgence and seeking of self-fulfillment, turning in toward ourselves or even seeking the divine within us, that we call this navel gazing. What we see in this Compassionate Shepherd is that navel gazing is dissatisfying. What is satisfying is His righteousness, His goodness. What is unsatisfying is our lives, but what is satisfying is picking up our cross and finding life in the blood He has shed for us on the cross. The perfect blood which pays for all of our sin, all of your sin. And which gives life to you in His resurrection. In this we see that Jesus is this Compassionate Shepherd who satisfies His sheep.
And to conclude, we see also how He sends His under-shepherds to do this work in His stead and by His command. Look at the apostles in this lesson. First they come back from their exploits in preaching, and we see that they “returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught”—and just like with Jesus note the teaching there. They were sent and taught just like we see this Compassionate Shepherd doing. And then we hear Jesus instructing them to take care of these sheep without a shepherd. He says, “You give them something to eat.” In other words, just as Jesus is the Compassionate Shepherd who satisfies His sheep, He still sends under-shepherds to bring that satisfying teaching, that satisfying word, to you. And Christians, this satisfaction doesn’t come from the things of this world. It doesn’t come from comfort, or money, and certainly from sinful and reckless living. In fact, this true satisfaction doesn’t come even in looking at our own faith. It comes from looking at the word, at the promises of that word, at what He has done through your pastor outside of you: baptizing you, absolving you, and feeding you. In fact, I referenced the Lord’s Supper before, and there we see the most satisfying meal of all, that body and blood and blood of Jesus. Look at the promise of the Word and see it, Christians. Jesus is the Compassionate Shepherd who satisfies His sheep. Thanks be to God. Amen.