Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the seventh Sunday after Trinity 7/26/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity7 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the seventh Sunday after Trinity, click here.
The disciples had seven loaves. That was plenty for them, but nothing for 4,000 people plus women and children. In the miracle recorded in Mark 8, unlike the feeding of the 5000, there was no one ready to give up his bread and fish for the cause. The Lord simply took the disciples’ bread, broke it, and made them give it, as charity, to the Gentile ruffians who were too foolish to bring their own provisions.
The disciples don’t know what will happen. When Jesus had fed the 5000, He implied that there were places to buy bread nearby, but here, in Mark 8, they are in a desolate place, too far to return without food lest they faint on the way.
There, the people had sat down on the soft, green grass. Here, they sit on the ground, in the dirt. Maybe there will be an abundance of food, and maybe there will be a fast. After all, Jesus had fasted for 40 days in the desert, and the student is not above his master.
To their credit, the disciples simply do what Jesus says. They take the risk. People don’t like the pastor to talk about stewardship. It hits too close to home. It is easier to talk about bad people in Washington or history or overseas than it is to think about what our daily life in Christ is supposed to look like, how we are supposed to love our neighbor. The fact that we don’t like it certainly means we ought to face it. So here are a few simple and practical realities.
God calls us to first fruits, sacrificial giving. That means that we should give off the top. We should set a percentage of our income as a deliberate gift for the work of the Church and then give that first. We don’t pay for all the stuff we need, and think we need, and then give from what is left over. That is the first fruits idea, and I know that it’s hard. Because we think we need the house at a certain temperature, or a brand of clothing. But that is point of “sacrificial.”
Next, and most people will wince at this, the starting percentage really is 10%. The ceremonial law was never arbitrary. When God established the ceremonial law, which included weekly worship and a 10% tithe, He was establishing what was good for us. This is the way we were designed to live.
When we veer from that, for whatever reason, even for good reasons, we run whatever risks lie outside doing things God’s way. The percentage in the Old Testament is not vague. It is 10%. That is not binding on the Church of the New Testament in its details, but it is a model for us.
Of course nobody goes to hell for not giving a certain amount, but that is no reason for a Christian to take it lightly. I wouldn’t pretend as though you’ve given plenty, either. And that is our temptation. We think we’ve done enough, we’ve given enough, and so we’re impressed with ourselves.
But no one here has given plenty – because no one has given all. No one has died for his own sins. There is no more deadly attitude to faith than the self-righteous idea that we’ve done our part and God ought to be pleased with us. God save us from such presumption!
Teaching on stewardship is always a call to repentance. If it calls us to a pat on the back, we’re not Christians. The law is meant to expose and accuse for the sake of showing us Christ and His fulfillment. So if first fruits, sacrificial giving has caused some squirming, that’s actually quite good. Because you’re not good enough. You haven’t given enough. I haven’t given enough.
Jesus took the disciples’ seven loaves and blessed them. It was nothing among so many, but, of course, it was plenty. Jesus makes something from nothing.
Mark doesn’t say that all the disciples gave Jesus all the bread they had. It is quite possible that some of them held something back. But even if they did, that didn’t stop Jesus from blessing them. Jesus makes something out of nothing.
He, who fed His people in the desert with Manna every morning, doesn’t need their bread. They need to give it. And what they give, however little it might be, however grudgingly they do so, He blesses it. He not only blesses those whom He feeds with it, but He blesses them, the givers – not just in that they wind up with a basketful for each loaf – but that they learned to trust and rejoice in Him.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. The Lord gives abundantly or asks us to fast. We do not know what will happen. Blessed be the Name of the Lord. He does all things well and works all things together for good.
The disciples don’t give their bread to Jesus because it is a good investment. They give it because He is good and they love Him and they trust Him.
But now for the surprise: This isn’t all about stewardship. For the most part, we aren’t the disciples giving up their bread for others. We are the fools who wandered three days out into the desert without provisions, who are fed by God through the charity of others. We eat without the sweat of our brow. We are handed great and marvelous gifts. For free. By grace. Even though we don’t appreciate them, don’t use them wisely, neglect and waste them.
Look around this very place. Our congregation could not build this building today. We simply couldn’t. It would take 25 million dollars to buy the land, design the space, and craft this place. We couldn’t do it. But, then, we don’t have to do it. We’ve simply walked into it. Only a small handful of people alive today even had a hand in it. But we inherited it. For free. By grace. Even though we don’t fully appreciate it and are inclined to take it for granted and neglect it.
Consider also the glory of our pure doctrine as presented in the Book of Concord. There is no way that the doctors of the Church today could produce the Formula of Concord or the Small Catechism. We simply couldn’t do it. We are too soft and too weak. I don’t say this in false humility or to insult our leaders. It is simply the truth that God has handed us this treasure on a golden platter. We do not deserve it. We do not fully appreciate it and we tend to take it for granted and to neglect it.
There is no area of our lives where we aren’t standing upon the shoulders of our fathers. We didn’t invent or earn this country. In secular terms, we just lucked out. We were born in the right place. We don’t deserve it. But, of course, we know that we didn’t “luck out,” we were blessed by God in His grace. He gives us gifts we don’t deserve. That is the essence of being a Christian.
We are the fools who walked three days into the desert without provisions. And God, in His great mercy, has had and continues to have compassion on us. He is faithful to us. He loves us. He showers us with His gifts, with more than we can eat, with more that we could ever need, out of perfect love.
He accepts us, the empty-handed who bring nothing to the party, as His own dear children. His compassion does not come from our stewardship or our witnessing or any of our good works. His compassion comes from His love and that never fails even when we fail. Thanks be to God.
It is good to be a fool or a doorkeeper in the Kingdom of God. It is good to be dependent upon Him. So if you hold something back, or don’t give anything at all, or don’t come to receive the Sacrament but a few times a year, if you carelessly run through life without any plan and take all your blessings for granted, it still will not change God’s attitude toward you.
Yes, it is dangerous; and we should not presume. You can destroy your faith. You can reject God and His mercy, and go to Hell if that is what you really want. But it changes nothing of what God has done for you in Christ.
So do not despair. However poor a steward you have been, set your mind to amend your life. For Our Lord had compassion on fools in the wilderness. He is merciful to the unmerciful. He is generous to the stingy and lazy. He is faithful to the unfaithful. He doesn’t just love terrible, notorious sinners like Zaccheaus and the thief on the right. He also loves small, quiet sinners, those who are afraid or unwilling to give much of their income, who don’t want to get up on Sunday mornings, or who neglect their daily prayers and Bible reading.
Here is another truism of the Kingdom: it is better, by far, to be a sinner who doesn’t give anything, who spends all his money on himself, who comes to church only on Christmas and Easter, than to come every week and give ten percent and think you’ve done enough. You haven’t done enough and you can’t do enough. It is better to be a fool who wandered into the desert than to be Judas. Blessed are those who know they haven’t done enough and can’t do enough. Blessed are the stingy and uncompassionate, who don’t love their neighbors as themselves, but who flee to Jesus in faith to be fed by Him. He has compassion on them.
Blessed are you. You are free to be poor stewards, lousy church-goers, and fools who take God for granted. It is remarkably dangerous, but you are free. If you would reckon yourselves to be fools like those in the desert this morning, then Jesus bids you to sit down at His feet and be fed by Him for free.
The Sacrament of the Altar is the miraculous feeding of the Church. Jesus receives and eats with sinners. Sinners eat and feast without money, without cost. Come now. Receive the multiplication of grace in the Holy Sacrament hidden under bread that is only fit for those who have nothing to give. He has prepared it for you.