The Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Historic Lectionary – Mark 8:1-9 – July 30, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
It is precisely the compassion of our Lord that draws and calls the Gentiles out from their homes, that takes them on a three days journey to a desolate place, and then reminds their stomachs that they are hungry, and that they will faint of starvation if they try to go home.
Behold the compassion of our God.
That of course, is not a joke. It’s the truth.
Our Lord’s compassion is powerful, it is not a mere feeling, but a purposeful action, and it does what it sets to do, it is a compassion that drives men to the point of death, that they might be received into true and everlasting life.
The season of Holy Trinity in the church, can sometimes feel a bit disjointed. Our readings do focus upon similar themes, namely the life of the Church, the life that she lives from Christ Himself, but from Sunday to Sunday we don’t always experience that same air-tight connectedness of themes that are found in the other seasons of the Church year.
Yet today, we find one of those rare connections between Sundays, as we remember the compassion of Christ preaching the Law to us last week, and His same compassion that comes preaching to hungry bellies and fainting bodies this week.
To put it simply, the compassion of Christ works so as to isolate us, to call us away from our distractions, and to set us aside by ourselves so that we would truly see things as they are.
Last week, that isolation and revelation, was found as a spiritual isolation in the preaching of the Law.
Jesus for us exhausted and exposed all of the vain attempts at righteousness that we try to hide behind.
The outward goodness of the Pharisees is condemned, as is the inward good feelings of the heart.
Through spiritual isolation and the blunt-force preaching of the Law, we see things for what they are, not simply what we want them to be.
Today, that isolation, that compassion of our God, comes to his people physically.
It draws men, women and children, along with their bellies out from their homes, it calls them in such way and with such a Word, that they forget even to take along provisions and food, finally exposing their emptiness in a desolate place; three days apart from any food or help.
Most of us probably have a hard time relating to the kind of hunger that comes after missing three days worth of food. Speaking just from personal experience, I know that I begin to panic from hunger, as embarrassing as it may be, not after missing lunch, but in being 30 minutes late to lunch.
And yet, even in our fullness, the food that we enjoy without a second thought, the truth is that our bellies and our lives are actually just empty as the 4000 gathered in the desert. In their hunger, they were made aware of their emptiness. In our fullness, we are often too distracted to notice.
But sometimes we see it, sometimes the curtain is pulled back just enough, and we are kept from distracting ourselves just long enough, to see the despair of the 4000 in the wilderness also in our own hearts.
Consider the absurdity that is so common among us, that you can open the door to the fridge, scan the shelves that are filled to the brim, and yet conclude, “there is nothing to eat.”
You can flip on the TV, with hundreds, sometimes even thousands of channels at your fingertips and yet declare, “there is nothing to watch.”
You can ‘have it made’, so to speak, you can find yourself finally at that place in which all your childhood dreams are fulfilled: a well-paying job, a loving family, a comfy home, a slew of enjoyable hobbies…and yet, in the midst of all of that; a distinct emptiness, a restlessness, a hunger for something else, something better, something more.
Our Lord’s compassion seeks us out, it comes running after us, it works to pull the curtain back on our fallen flesh and reveal this hunger and need for exactly what it is.
The problem, is that we quickly get distracted. We close the door to the fridge and think nothing of this hunger that somehow can’t be satisfied by bread alone. We turn off the TV, and forget the feeling of not being fulfilled in what enjoy. We silence the emptiness of our hearts, and convince ourselves that everything will be better if we just do this, or get that, or find something else.
By nature alone, we are more than unwilling to see the curtain pulled back.
But our Lord’s compassion comes seeking us still.
Indeed, He has called and gathered you this very day. He has pulled you from your beds, whether you knew what you were doing or not, whether you got in the car out of duty, or guilt, or joy, His Holy Spirit, His Word compassion has come to do what it promises to do, to gather you to Himself, to feed you with His Word.
And like the 4000, you perhaps at some point, whether by now, or soon to come, have felt those pangs of hunger.
The very words of Jesus that lifted the Gentiles from out of their ordinary lives and caused them to forget all other things, now after three days, three days fed by this Holy Word, captured by this pure and true preaching, now seems to turn on them.
Now more than every they realize their frailty, their inability, their weakness.
In contrast to their hunger and grumbling stomachs, is Jesus. Jesus still preaching, Jesus still obedient, still at peace, still content to live not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Against Jesus is their weakness, their distraction, and the inability to stay in the peace of that Word for one more moment.
So also to you, the compassion of our Lord comes to pull you out and pull the curtains back.
He has called you by His Word, He fills you with Good Things, He speaks and pronounces and His peace, and yet in the midst of that, are found the grumblings of our own hearts, here is found the embarrassing truth that we cannot hold on for much longer, that we begin to worry about the day ahead, we lose focus during the readings, we doze off during the sermon, we forget why we even come to the altar in the first place.
Called out of our homes and to the feet of Jesus Himself, we realize that even here, even in this place, even for this short amount of time, we grow tired, restless and hungry. Our guilt and distraction shows forth like a beacon in the dark of night. Our Lord sees it, He is not blind, and He has compassion.
See what our Lord does, behold the compassion of our God.
He does not brow beat the 4000 with words of shame or even encouragement, He does not tell them to get over their hunger, or forget their weakness.
Rather, His compassion speaks to that emptiness, it fills it up, it comes to finish the work, to do what we cannot do, even in the hearing of His Holy Word, even in the resting found in His Holy Peace.
The Lord provides, He always does. He feeds and fills them up, He gives what they cannot give to themselves.
And that same compassion is given to you as well. He sees our distraction and hunger, our inability to rest even in the good things that He gives. But He does not come to scold you, to shame you, or to suggest that you could run to the top of the mountain if only you tried hard enough, if only you actually wanted to be here enough, if only you could keep your mind and ears focused for a bit longer than an hour.
This is not the Christian faith. The Lord provides, even here, even now, even in your hearing of His word, and in the rest of His Divine Liturgy. He knows your weakness and He comes to fill it up, with Himself, with Bread come down from Heaven.
Bread is the food of work, it is the product of toil, the sustenance coming from sweat-filled faces and broken backs. It is not the fruit of rest and ease, plucked from the tree and placed without preparation into the mouth.
It must always be worked for.
It must be planted into the earth, toiled and worked over, harvested with effort and those same sweat-filled faces. It must be mashed into flour, mixed with water, and baked in the heat of the sun over the coals of the fire.
Bread is not easy. It is the food of work.
That our Lord is and names Himself the Bread of Life, does not mean just that He comes to fill up our empty stomachs and send us on our way, but that He gives us His own work, He fills up all things, not just a meal for the day, but the work of eternity itself.
There is nothing left to do, He has filled it up, and here at the table of His compassion He gives it in full, holding nothing back.
It is given to you, not as an exhortation to try harder, not as a speech about staying focused in the liturgy, but as rest and peace itself, as the fulfillment of what you cannot give to yourselves.
Bread is the food of work, but to you it is given as life and peace. It does not need to be planted and toiled over, that is already done, it does not need to mashed with suffering and baked over the heat of works, that has already been lifted up and placed upon a tree.
To you, this bread comes strangely, but most assuredly as fruit of peace and rest.
Soon and in a very short while, this bread, this fruit of life, will be down from the tree for you and given into your mouths without work, without preparation, but in fullness and in rest.
Come soon and be emptied of yourselves, come and rest in the work that is already finished, the food prepared in abundance, the cup that is overflowing. Come, taste, and see that the Lord is Good, and His mercy endureth forever.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.