And My Mouth Will Declare Your Praise

Text: Mark 7:31-37

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O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” The Church has sung these words of King David for nearly three millennia. They come from Psalm 51, the great psalm of confession. These words spring from a terrible time in David’s life where he had fallen very wide of God’s commandments. After he saw Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop, he began lusting after her and scheming ways to get her into his bed. It resulted ultimately in the death of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, whom David had put at the frontline hoping that he would be killed in battle. The prophet Nathan made known to David his sin, and the king was brought to repentance.

The words that he sang echo true for all humanity: we were brought forth in sin and conceived in iniquity. That is, today, we also confess that by nature our ears are closed to God’s Word and our mouths are used for anything other than speaking His pure and saving doctrine. But, as in our text Jesus opened the ears and loosened the tongue of a man born deaf and unable to speak rightly, so He speaks to us His divine, “Ephphatha.” Through His saving Word, Christ opens our deaf ears and loosens our mute tongues to sing His praises and proclaim the forgiveness of sins that is found in Him.

I.

We pick up this week in the seventh chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel. The last time we were in Mark was a little over a month ago, when we looked at the Feeding of the Four Thousand. We spoke then about our Lord’s great compassion for all people. The people assembled at the feeding were not Jews, but Gentiles. We learned from that text that our gracious Lord has compassion on all people, including us, and He provides for all our needs of body and soul. That text, Mark 8:1-9, is what directly follows our Gospel today. These readings together, along with the whole of Mark 7, teach an important part of Jesus’ message: Jesus became incarnate for sins of all people. So, we find in Mark 7 Jesus journeying through Gentile territory.

St. Mark writes, “He returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him.” We learned last month that Tyre and Sidon were Gentile cities along the cost of the Mediterranean. And, actually, some translators don’t really know what to do here, because Sidon is a bit north of Tyre. The verse ends with Jesus in the Decapolis, the ten cities, southeast of the Sea of Galilee. So, in the days when most travel was done by foot, it’s odd that Jesus would go in that sequence; some say that there is an error in the Greek text. Not so. St. Mark is simply demonstrating for us the point Jesus has already made: He has come to die for the sins of all people, so He’s going to tell all people – and that involves going all over the place.

II.

As He was preaching and teaching, some brought to Him a man who was born deaf. As a result, though able to speak, he would’ve been prevented from speaking plainly. (Remember that idea for later.) There’s no indication from the text that these people knew exactly who Jesus was, which is kind of a theme in Mark, but they knew that Jesus had great power – power to heal. So they begged Jesus to lay His hand on their friend.

Taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.” Sometimes in the Gospels when Jesus performed a miracle, it wasn’t received in an entirely right way. After the feeding of the five thousand, they tried to make Jesus king by force since He filled their stomachs. Perhaps perceiving that the crowd might again misinterpret the miracles He was about to perform, Jesus took the man aside in private. As the man was at that time unable to hear, Jesus took the time to demonstrate what He was going to do – He was going to open the man’s ears and loosen his tongue. Jesus may also have been preparing us to understand how God works: through the external, spoken Word, and through the Sacraments – which are the Word combined with physical actions for the forgiveness of sins.

Looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released and he spoke plainly.” After taking the man aside, Jesus conversed with God the Father, and groaned. That is what St. Mark says. Sighing is what you do when you’re angry; groaning is what you do when you hurt. It pains Jesus to see the havoc that Satan has wreaked by the Fall into Sin. Because of sin, men are born with terrible ailments, contract ruinous diseases, and die. Jesus came to put an end to these things, and actually the healing today itself foreshadows the time where there will be no more affliction, disease, or death. When St. Mark says that man had a speech impediment, he’s using a specific word that is found only one other place in the Bible. God says in Isaiah 35, “‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God…will come and save you!’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” Jesus spoke and the man was healed. This is what today’s healing means – in Christ, the salvation of God has come to man.

III.  

Jesus groaned and said to the man born deaf and unable to speak correctly, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.” Since ancient times the Church has seen in our text today a fitting opportunity to talk about our Lord’s work in Holy Baptism. In fact, the Baptismal liturgy of the ancient Church included a moment where the pastor would touch the child (or adult’s) ears and mouth and say, “Ephphatha.” In Baptism, through the application of our Lord’s Word in and with the water, our sins are washed away. We are given the gifts of faith and eternal life. King David prays in Psalm 51 for a clean heart and a right spirit. Those are received through the preaching of Christ’s Word and in Baptism where the Word is applied to us in a tangible way.

Thanks be to God for this great Sacrament, for we stand in dire need of it. We may not have been born deaf and unable to speak, but our ears and mouths are anything but innocent. By nature, our ears are closed to the Word of God. Instead of hearing God’s Word preached and taught, we devote our ears to hearing gossip and other sinful things. Instead of using our tongues to proclaim the glory and mercy of Christ, to preach His pure and saving doctrine, we use them to deceive others and glorify ourselves at their expense. In the text, it says the man’s tongue was released. Literally, it reads, “the bond of his tongue was loosed.” Similarly, our tongues are held captive by Satan until our Lord frees us.

In our text, the Lord travels quite a bit – from Tyre and Sidon to the Sea of Galilee – so that all people may hear His Gospel. Today, Jesus continues to travel the world through the preaching of His Word. He continues to send pastors, missionaries, teachers, and us, to share the forgiveness of sins found only in Him. Jesus speaks to us, even today, “Be opened.” Through His Word, in Baptism especially and in preaching, Christ opens our deaf ears and loosens tongues to sing His praise. Our ears, He opens to hear His Word rightly – to hear that all Scripture is about Him, about His grace and mercy. Our tongues, He loosens from Satan’s bonds to speak His Word rightly – tongues which were formerly used for deceit and murder, are now used to proclaim Christ, and Him crucified for the sins of the world.

Thanks be to God that He has caused His Word to be preached among us and has washed us through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. As with King David whose ears and lips were mired in sin, through these things God has given us a new and right spirit – the Holy Spirit. He has forgiven us our sins. He has spoken His Ephphatha to us. He has taken our ears and opened them to understand His Word and caused our tongues to speak it plainly. Let us pray: O Lord, let my lips be opened by your divine and saving Word, and my mouth be led to declare your praise all the day.

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Text: Luke 18:9-14

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Two men enter, and two men leave. Two men go up to the temple to pray, and both go down again. Two men go in, but only one returns justified. One man was a Pharisee and the other, a tax collector. Yet, the one who went down justified was not the one people would’ve expected. Our text today from St. Luke’s Gospel often gets combined with another occasion where Jesus talks about Pharisees and prayer. In Matthew 6, Jesus says, “when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” Jesus uses the word “hypocrites” there, but it’s clear that He’s talking about the Pharisees, who habitually put on shows of piety for others to see.

Passages about the Pharisees often get combined, and most of the time when they come up, the sermon becomes an opportunity to encourage humility and tolerance. For, every knows how judgmental those evil Pharisees were; and, of course, we are better than they are. Or, if you like – take out Pharisee and put in whatever other people you want. Although we could preach a sermon on humility from this text, I’m not convinced that’s the main point. St. Luke gives us why Jesus preached this parable in verse 9, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.”

This parable is a little more sophisticated than it appears at first. It actually cuts right to the core of the Christian faith and the thing that separates the true faith from all the other falsehoods out there. The core of the Christian faith and what separates us from all other religions is how we are justified, how we are made righteous – how we are saved. Two men go into the temple to pray, one leaves justified. One man offers an eloquent prayer, which is to be commended, but his prayer revealed where his confidence ultimately lied: in himself. So, he left without his sins forgiven. The other, as we will see, returned to his home forgiven. Jesus demonstrates in our text that the ones who are truly justified – who are made righteous and whose sins are forgiven – are those who trust not in themselves, but only in God’s abundant mercy.

I.

Our text begins, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.’” In Luke 18, things are starting the ratchet up a little bit. If your remember last week, our text was Luke 19, which was just after Triumphal Entry. Jesus is teaching in this chapter in view of His upcoming passion. The things that He talks about have His suffering and death as their central point. Soon after our text comes Jesus’ third prediction of His death, which will accomplish all that was written in the prophets; He will win salvation for the world by His death and resurrection. His suffering is what makes peace between God and the world and is the reason for our justification.

In order to teach this, Jesus uses a parable. He sets up a contrast that would be startlingly real to the audience. In one corner, a Pharisee, and in the other, a tax collector. It’s important to remember that, contrary to how we perceive Pharisees now, they weren’t the bad guys. Well, they were for their evil doctrine; but think of the Pharisees as the people in church that everyone likes. They are the most religious, most giving, most well-liked people in the congregation. They were whom everyone looked up to. The tax collector, on the other hand, was the bad guy. Yeah, they were Jews. But they were greedy swindlers, who worked for the Roman occupiers. They paid a great sum of money be tax collectors, only so they could extort more money out of their fellow man. And yeah, they probably went to church, but they maybe weren’t the most well-liked.

II.

Both men go up to the temple to pray. “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’” The Pharisee goes up to the temple for the time of corporate worship with all the other people, but he situates himself so that he is set apart from the others. To some extent, this was the Pharisees’ M.O.; to them you were either pure or not. Salvation for them was measured by how pure you were. Included among those who were not pure, were some who were fellow churchgoers. So, he separated himself from the crowd, because if he got too close, then he would also be impure, and then also so he could be seen by the others.

He offered this prayer: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers…” Now, in some ways, the prayer itself is not so bad. It is good to thank God that He has preserved us from falling into great shame and vice. If it weren’t for the Holy Spirit, we would be much worse off. It’s okay to recognize that. But that’s not what the Pharisee did. Remember why Jesus is telling this parable. The Pharisee was saying that he was better than all other men. All the others are unrighteous robbers and adulterers, but not him. He concluded that, because he does not do any of those things, he must be righteous. Then he justified himself by saying, in addition, he also fasted not once but twice a week and tithed not just what he earned, but also what he bought.

Jesus spoke this parable against those who were confident that they were righteous in and of themselves. They were the ones who counted their works, and based their hope of salvation on them. The Pharisee wasn’t really thanking God, but he was advertising and celebrating himself. He didn’t need to ask God for forgiveness, because he knew how good he was. His posture and prayer revealed what was inside his heart: neither repentance over sin nor faith in Christ, only his own goodness. Therefore, Jesus said, the Pharisee was not the one who went down from the temple justified. The Pharisee thanked God that he was not like the others, the unrighteous. But now he is the “other,” the one whose sins were not forgiven. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

III.  

The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” As the Pharisee stood in front of the congregation congratulating himself, the tax collector stood at a distance. All men are liars, cheaters, adulterers, and thieves – in other words, poor miserable sinners – a fact the tax collector freely acknowledged. Convicted by God’s Word and ashamed of his sin, the man would not even look up to heaven. Instead, he beat his chest. This act of contrition was common in times of great sorrow, but even then usually only among women. For a man to do it…

He offered up a simple prayer, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Hidden in those words is a profound theological statement that we miss in English.The word for mercy in Greek is ἔλεος , which is where we get Kyrie Eleison from. That isn’t the word the tax collector uses. He uses the word ἱλάσθητί, which relates to another word, ἱλαστήριον. The ἱλαστήριον is the part on the ark of the covenant that would be covered by blood of a sacrifice. Once a year, one priest would go furthest into the temple, into the holy of holies. There he would present a sacrifice and sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat of God. That blood would cover the sins of the people.

When the tax collector came to the temple and offered that simple prayer, what he was asking was that the blood that was shed for the forgiveness of sins would be for his sins also. His sins were great and many, there was no righteousness in him. But God is righteous and merciful and provides His own payment for sin. The author to the Hebrews writes, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins…[therefore, Christ] by a single offering [he] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” When the tax collector begged that God would have mercy on him, he asked that God would make atonement for his sins and wash them away with blood. And, so has God done through the blood of Christ.

Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” Those who are truly justified, made righteous, are those who trust not in themselves, but wholly in God’s abundant mercy. The Pharisee prided himself in his goodness. Though it is good to tithe and do other good works, it is wrong to place your confidence in them and measure your salvation against them. Or, insert good intentions, good morals, church attendance, or whatever else you want into that sentence. The Pharisee is anyone who places his hope of salvation and confidence anywhere other than God’s mercy. The tax collector went away justified, forgiven his sins, because he trusted not in himself but in God’s great compassion. Does that mean the tax collector got a free pass to continue on sinning? No, for being forgiven our sins leads us to show that same compassion to others. But, that is the point. We are not saved by who we are, by our works, or by anything else we do. We are saved because God has had mercy on us. He has made atonement for our sins not by the blood of bulls and goats, but by the blood of the only-begotten Son of God.

 

The Dishonest Manager and the Merciful Master

Text: Luke 16:1-9 (10-13)

I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Jesus says one of the most vexing sentences in all the Gospels in our text today. It seems to follow the parable of the Dishonest Manager as Jesus’ interpretation of the story. Make friends, Jesus says, by means of unrighteous wealth (you may have heard that phrase by another title, mammon), so that when it fails, you may be received into eternal dwellings. What is Jesus telling us to do, and why does the master in the story commend the dishonest manager? To use the familiar Lutheran question: Was ist Das?

When I was a student at our seminary in Fort Wayne, students took three homiletics classes. In these classes they learned what a sermon is, how to write one, and got some practice in delivering them. The first class covered sermon theory, the third class covered wedding and funeral sermons. It’s the second class that covered parables. In my experience, we were offered the choice of any parable to preach on. If you chose the parable we have today, and preached it well, you would get an automatic A in the course. No one picked it.

There are two ways that we’re going to look at the text today. First, we are going to look at it doxologically. That means that we’re going to look at it in a way that gives all glory and praise to God. We’ll do that by focusing not on the manager in the parable, but the master. Second, we’ll receive the parable as a teaching on the proper use of mammon, wealth. For, Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and money.” In the parable of the Dishonest Manager, Christ teaches us the proper use of wealth and about our merciful Master who forgives.

I.

Let us start with the text. Luke 16 begins, “[Jesus] also said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’” On a surface level, the first chunk of the parable needs no explanation. The story is about a wealthy landowner who has hired another man to be the manager of his property. The system was such that the landowner rented his land to tenant farmers. The farmers would pay their rent as a set portion of their crop, usually either in oil or wheat. The manager was in charge of collecting that rent. After a time, charges were brought to the master that his steward was squandering the landowner’s property.

One of the keys of interpreting a parable is to look for things that don’t match up to reality. Our text today is part of an ongoing section in Luke filled with parables, all of which we’ve actually looked at over the last couple months. The one that comes right before our text today is one you all probably know, the parable of the Prodigal Son. We’ll use that as an example. What is it in that parable that doesn’t match up to reality? Well, it’s not the younger son wasting his inheritance. We’ve all heard stories like that in our lives; and, who of us hasn’t wasted our possessions on immoral living? Or, how about the older son, the one who holds himself high and looks down on his brother who has fallen into sin, the one that we would describe as “self-righteous,”? No, both of those are quite common in reality. What doesn’t match is the father. The wealthy father sees his younger son from afar, he hikes up his robe and runs to greet his son. He embraces him, clothes him, and kills the fatted calf – for his son was dead and now is alive.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is perhaps better called the parable of the Merciful Father, because it’s not about the son but the father. From it we learn about our merciful God who forgives our sins by the blood of the Lamb. Same thing with the parable of the Dishonest Manager. It could probably be called the parable of the Merciful Master. That is the thing in this parable that doesn’t match up to reality. We would expect that, when the master hears his steward is cheating him, he would immediately throw him in jail. That would be his right. But instead, the master has mercy. And, not just on the manager. Remember what the manager did when he figured he was gonna get fired – he went and lowered the debts of all the master’s debtors. In response to that, the master honored the lowered debts. Again, that doesn’t line up with reality. If you fire your bookkeeper, and he in the meantime fudges the ledger, you wouldn’t be expected to honor those changes.

I said a few minutes ago that the first way we are going to look at this text is doxologically. That is, we’re going to look at it in a way that gives all glory and praise to God. We do that focusing not on the manager, but on the master. But first, the manager: what were his goals? Comfort and self-preservation at all costs. That involved squandering his master’s possessions, and lying to cover it up. I wish we could say that is what doesn’t match up with reality in the parable but, sadly, it does. Even among us Christians. The word for what the manager does is the same for what the prodigal son does in that parable: He takes what is his master’s and he wastes it on sinful living.

And so do we. We are each placed in various vocations by God, and given various resources to glorify Him and contribute to the work of His kingdom. We confess in the Small Catechism that God gives us everything that we need to support this body and life; everything we have and own belongs to God and is given for the support of our lives and for service to our neighbor. But instead, we put own spin on it. We dedicate our time, our money, and our talents, to our own comfort. And then we lie about it.

II.

The dishonest manager squanders his master’s possessions. He takes what isn’t his and uses it in service of his belly, then he lies to cover it up. When the master finds out that his manager, for perhaps a long time, has been cheating, he doesn’t immediately take to punishment. That would have been his legal right: to punish, to throw in jail, to take back everything, perhaps even to kill. Instead, he has mercy. And, so does our God. In His infinite wisdom, God knows every sin we have ever committed. Every single little indiscretion, and every lie we’ve told to cover it up and comfort ourselves, He knows. He knows every time we’ve used our money and possessions in service to iniquity, and when we’ve made idols out of them. He knows these things, and He forgives.

The central point of our parable today is not the manager, but the master. We are all dishonest managers of what God has given us, and yet our master has had mercy on us. He sent His only-begotten Son into our flesh to bear our sin and be our savior. He has taken our iniquity into Himself, and has died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. He gives this forgiveness to us freely, not because we are perfect managers, but because He is a merciful Lord.

Now, that leaves us with the last verse of the text, the verse that I read at the beginning of the sermon. I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” What’s that all about? The master commended the dishonest manager for being so clever, and then Jesus clobbers us with this verse of interpretation. The simplest way to understand it is this: Jesus uses the word, “mammon.” Mammon is a Hebrew word that means wealth and possessions that are above and beyond what you need to directly support your life. The world says that anything you can make over what you need to eat and have a home, that you can use for play. But, here Jesus says that proper use of everything that doesn’t go directly to the support of the body is for God’s glory and for service to our neighbor.

Everything. That’s why Jesus couches this in the parable of the Dishonest Manager, or rather, the Merciful Master. We are the dishonest manager. We misuse the things that God gives us and we lie to cover it up. But, God has had mercy on us and given His only Son to die for us. Through His Word and Sacrament, God daily conforms us to the image of His Son and leads us to use our time and possessions in ways that are pleasing to Him.

Our text today is hard passage. We can’t claim to have plumbed the depths of its meaning today; it’s good that it’ll come up again this time next year. However, when viewed in the context of the surrounding passages, particularly the Prodigal Son, we can see that it isn’t primarily about the manager who squanders and lies, but the Master who is merciful. Such is our God, who forgives us poor wretched managers.

Compassionate Lightning

Text: Mark 8:1-9

“Lightning never strikes the same place twice,” or so the saying goes. It’s a silly idiom that we use (an idiom is a phrase that makes sense in one language, but not another) to comfort someone who’s fallen on rough times. What we mean by, “lightning never strikes the same place twice,” is that, whatever bad thing that happened to you – it’s probably not going to happen again. It was a one-time bad occurrence that shouldn’t defray your hopes for the future. Unfortunately, science has shown us that lightning can, and often does, strike the same place twice. For example, lightning strikes the Empire State Building an average of 23 times a year; the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center even more than that. Plus, many of us can probably attest from our own lives that bad things do often repeat themselves.

Maybe if we tweak the meaning a little bit, it’ll still work. Maybe “lightening doesn’t strike twice,” means that something really good won’t happen to you again. I’m kind of a cynical person, so I’m fond of that. If something really good happens to you – don’t count on it happening again any time soon. But, there, again, we can find some cracks. For example, Texas native Joan Ginther has won the lottery 4 times: $5.4 million in ‘93, $2 million in ‘06, $3 million in ‘08, and $10 million in 2010. And, if you will, there’s another exception to the rule in our Gospel text. In our text Jesus feeds a multitude of people a second time. In Mark 6 He fed the 5,000 and then our text He feeds a multitude of people again. Jesus had compassion on the people and fed them, lest they grow weak on the way home. Luckily for us, like lightning, Jesus strikes the same place more than once. Out of His compassion for us, our Lord provides for all our needs of body and soul.

  1.  

Our text this week follows hot on the heels of the events of Mark 7. After Jesus fed the 5,000 in chapter 6, He sent the Disciples on ahead of Him in a boat. They were making headway across the Sea of Galilee painfully until Jesus came up to them, walking on the water, and got into the boat with them. When the Lord of wind and wave stepped into the boat, all things became peaceful. They got to the other side and after a little bit some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem to pick a fight. Their contention was that Jesus’ Disciples were (and therefore He was) in violation of the Law for not washing before they ate. Jesus put them in their place by demonstrating that it isn’t what goes into the mouth that makes one unclean, but what comes out of the heart. St. Mark gives us a little aside in the text that Jesus was thereby declaring all foods clean; and, by extension, all people.

In Mark 7 we see Christ demonstrating His love for all people by breaking down the distinction between Jew and Gentile. Immediately after that conversation with the Pharisees, He went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon, a pagan area, and there healed a Gentile woman’s daughter. Then, He continued on through Gentile areas healing, teaching, preaching. St. Mark writes, “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered,” a crowd of Gentiles, “[having] nothing to eat, He called His disciples to Him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.’” As Jesus was traveling through the Gentile areas preaching and teaching the Gospel, He found the great crowd gathered around Him had nothing to eat. Fearing that they would faint along the way to their homes, for some had come from afar ways away, Jesus had compassion on them and desired to feed them.

His Hiscompassion was met with disbelief by the Disciples. They answered Him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Something is lost in the translation here. In English if you move a word around in a sentence, it can drastically change its entire meaning. In Greek, you can put words anywhere you want and the meaning will stay the same. However, you can express emphasis by putting words in certain places. In the Disciples’ response to Jesus’ desire, not only are they doubting Jesus’ ability to provide but, if He should manifest some miracle, it would be wasted on these people. I.e., Gentiles, not descendents of Abraham, us.

Not deterred, Jesus asked the Disciples how many loaves they had, 7. He had the crowds sit down, took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and fed the people. And then they must’ve’ve found some fish, because this meal had two courses. Jesus fed 4,000 people to the full with 7 loaves of bread and then topped them off with a second round of fish. Jesus is a most gracious host. St. Mark writes that the 4,000 people, “ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.” Those baskets were the typical Roman bread basket, each holding 50 loaves. In total there were about 350 loaves’ worth of bread left over. Our compassionate and gracious Lord provided for the Gentile crowd.

  1.  

We can learn a wonderful lesson from this text. Which is, that our Lord Jesus Christ is gracious and compassionate. By becoming flesh, He humbled Himself by becoming subject to the needs of our bodies and knows, personally, what we need. He know that, because we are in the body, we need things like shelter, clothing, friends, food and water. In our text Jesus provided one of the most basic and important needs: daily bread. In the Small Catechism we get to confess some things that might shed light on our lesson today. I invite you to open up to page 324 and find the Fourth Petition. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, right in the middle of it we ask our Heavenly Father for our daily bread. Luther writes what this petition means. He says,

God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

What is meant by daily bread?

Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

God provides daily bread for everyone, but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to recognize that everything that we have comes from Him, and know by it how He feels about us. God loves you and gives you all things because He desires you to be well-fed and kept. True, it seems that we often consider ourselves on the famine side rather than the feast side, but God has never failed to provide what we need to live. To teach us this, Christ said to those who sought Him after the feeding of the 5,000, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”

In this life God provides for all we need. He gives us food and drink, house and home, land, animals, and all that we have. Why? Because He loves us. Christ demonstrates His power, and desire, to do so by feeding the 4,000 in our text. These people were not of the chosen people of Israel, but those who were born outside the covenant, who held to Christ in faith. Such are we. On us Christ has had compassion. He gives us all we need to support this body and life because He is gracious. And, He has given His own body and blood into death for the forgiveness of sins, so that we may eat of it and live forever. In our text Jesus shows that He is able to provide for our bodies, and He does so because He loves us. Soon, He will also provide for our souls. God grant that we receive His supper for the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith, and in the confidence that our gracious and compassionate Lord provides for all our needs of body and soul.

The Fulfillment of What Was Spoken

Text: Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation. Technically it fell yesterday, July 2nd, but it’s within bounds to celebrate today. And, it’s fitting to do so, because it’s not a holiday we always get to talk about. In fact, our Gospel reading today doesn’t come up anywhere else in Lectionary. So, it’s possible that we might not remember it very well. Another reason why we don’t talk about the Visitation very much is because it does involve talking about Mary. I think the typical Lutheran response to hearing the name of Mary to shrivel back with a tendency to reject all things that smell Roman Catholic. But, historically, this has not always been the case for Lutherans. Our own Book of Concord says that Mary is worthy of the most plentiful honors. But, in no way is she to be made equal to Christ. We give thanks to God for His grace to her and see in her an example of the faith to follow.

That brings us to the Visitation. What is it all about? It’s not about Mary; It’s about Christ – hence the white paraments. The Visitation is about how God remembers and fulfills His promises. Throughout the Old Testament God promised to send a Savior who would die and rise for the forgiveness of sins. Now this promise is being fulfilled in Christ, before He was even born. Christ, in the womb – in His very conception by the Holy Spirit – is at work to fulfill His promises. The presence of God’s Savior caused John the Baptist to leap in his mother’s womb, Elizabeth to prophesy, and Mary to sing the Magnificat. In all these awesome images, there remains a central truth. The Visitation shows us that God makes good on His promises: to Elizabeth, to Mary, to all His people, and to us.

I.

You might’ve noticed that our hymns today pull us back into Christmas. The things we remember and celebrate today are part of that context; they’re connected to the incarnation and birth of our Savior. Our text comes from St. Luke’s Gospel. Both he and St. Matthew give us the infancy narrative of Jesus, but in Luke’s Gospel the Holy Spirit gives us a little more of a backstory. And really, that’s how St. Luke does things. He says in his introduction that he has set out to write, “an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” St. Luke wants to sit down and write an orderly account of things so that we can have a firm record and be confident in the hope that we have. So, the idea we’re operating with today is that Jesus doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Jesus has a context. The context of the Visitation is that Jesus comes as the fulfillment of God’s promises. Today we’ve got two big ones.

The first promise St. Luke covers is the birth of John the Baptist. We do get to talk about John on a few occasions, and his birth was promised as well. In fact, some 400 years earlier God promised through the prophet Malachi that He would send his messenger to serve in the office of Elijah and prepare the way of the Lord. At the time of our text there was an elderly couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth. Even in their advanced age they longed for a child, but Elizabeth was barren. Gabriel appeared to Zechariah while he was serving in the temple and told him that God had heard their prayers – Elizabeth will bear a son. The name of their son will be John. John, Gabriel said, will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb and will go before the Lord in the power of Elijah to prepare His way. By giving this promise to Zechariah and Elizabeth, God is fulfilling His promise from before. This is the first promise we need to remember going into the Visitation.

The second promise is the one God made to Mary. When Elizabeth had been pregnant with John for sixth months, Gabriel was again sent by God – this time to Mary. Mary lived in Nazareth and was betrothed to Joseph. Gabriel appeared to her to tell her that she will conceive and bear a son, Jesus. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High…and of His kingdom there will be no end.” When Mary asked how this will be, since she was a virgin, Gabriel said that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and the power of God will overshadow her, so that the child she is to bear will be the Son of God. As a sign to her that this will happen, Gabriel told Mary that her relative Elizabeth has also conceived, in her old age. For, nothing is impossible with God. Having heard the Word of God, Mary responded in faith. “Let it be to me according to your word.” This is how the Lutheran Confessions speak about Mary – that, as she responded to God’s Word in faith, so we should pray that we do the same.

II.

Now we get to the Visitation itself, Mary meeting Elizabeth and John meeting Jesus. Remember, the Visitation is about God fulfilling His promises: to Elizabeth, to Mary, to His people, and to us. St. Luke writes, “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” So, as soon as Mary heard that Elizabeth was pregnant, she got up and went to Judah to see. If you had heard that the Lord had done some awesome thing, you’d probably go see, too. When she arrived in the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth she greeted them. This greeting was probably the typical Hebrew greeting, which would involve invoking the Lord’s blessing on the house and those who dwell in it.

Upon hearing Mary’s greeting, John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb. Though he had not yet been born, he heard the Lord’s Word spoken by Mary and leaped for joy at the presence of the incarnate Christ. This is one reason that we believe children are able to have faith. The Greek word means infant, but it also includes the unborn. At this point, Mary had just conceived, but even then, Christ was at work fulfilling His promises. Recognizing this fact, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed, literally “chanted,” “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” And, she’s right. Mary is blessed to carry for nine months the holy Son of God and redeemer of the world. But, the word here for blessed is in the passive voice. Mary is not blessed because she is actively holy, but because God is holy and has been gracious to her, forgiving her sins, and blessing her to bear Jesus. In a similar way, we are also blessed when we “bear” Jesus and carry in Him in us as we receive His body and blood in the Sacrament.

Remember, the Visitation is not about Mary. It’s not about Elizabeth or John the Baptist; it’s about Jesus. It’s about how God is fulfilling His Word by becoming incarnate to fulfill the Law and die on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. And that work is happening here, even before Christ has left the womb. But that brings us to the question of the proper place of Mary. As the Lutheran Confessions say, we honor Mary and give thanks to God that He choose her to bear the Christ, but then we leave it there. Mary is in heaven, as are all the saints, but we neither pray to them nor invoke them. Instead, we commend them into God’s care, giving thanks for their steadfast faith and work, and pray that God would stir us on to follow their example.

III.

But, like we’ve said a few times: we’re celebrating the Visitation today as an event in Christ’s life and moment where we see God fulfilling His promises. He promised in Malachi to send a messenger before the Lord, and that is fulfilled in His promise to Elizabeth. He promised in Genesis that He would send a Messiah to crush the devil, to David that a descendent of his would sit on the throne forever, in Isaiah that a virgin will conceive and bear the Son of God, and now that promise has been fulfilled. That’s why Elizabeth exclaims that, in Mary’s womb, her Lord has come to visit her. It’s why John the Baptist leaps in the womb and why Mary is led by the Holy Spirit to sing words that have been repeated by the Church for the last two millennia. These words tells us what today means for us.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

And his mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

he has brought down the mighty from their thrones

and exalted those of humble estate;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

as he spoke to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
In the Visitation, we celebrate God’s faithfulness to His promise. We magnify the Lord and rejoice in Him, for He has looked on us in our low estate. We have all sinned and deserve to lie in dust and ashes. Yet, the Lord has had mercy and remembered His promise to our fathers. He promised to show mercy to those who fear him, to scatter the proud and bring down the mighty, but fill the hungry with good things and help His servant, Israel. And so He has.

The feast we celebrate today isn’t about Mary; it’s not about John the Baptist or Elizabeth, but about Jesus. In the Visitation we see that God keeps His promises. He remembers His people and has mercy on them. He raises those of low estate, and sets our feet upon the rock of salvation in Christ. To Him be all glory. Amen.