Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sermon -- 4th Sunday in Lent (March 30, 2014)

EXODUS 16:11-17
THE LORD SUSTAINS HIS PEOPLE IN THE WILDERNESS.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The nation of Israel was in the wilderness.  They were free from Egypt and free from slavery.  Their enemies were dead, and they were never going to see them again.  What’s more, they had received the words and promises of God from Mt. Sinai.  The Lord’s presence was with them, even being visible to them.  They had the Lord’s appointed prophet to lead them and to preach to them, and they had the Lord’s anointed priest to make sacrifices of atonement for them.  It sounded like everything was going their way.
     But the Israelites were in the wilderness.  There were no markets.  There were no crops to harvest.  There was no planting season, because you don’t plant in the wilderness.  There may have been some tufts of grass for the sheep and the cattle to find some grazing, but there was nothing to feed a nation of some two million people.  And so the people began to grumble. 
     Did I mention that they were in the wilderness?  Yes, it was good to be free, but it was also good to eat and to remain alive.  Now, the Lord had not led the Israelites into the wilderness to kill them off.  He who redeemed them from their enemies would also sustain them on their way to the Promised Land.  So the Lord promised them food.  Enough food to feed their young and old.  Enough food to feed their wives and children.  Enough food to supply their flocks and herds. 
     Did I mention that they were in the wilderness?  Two million of them.  In the wilderness.  And the Lord told Moses that he would feed them all.  The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel.  Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread.  Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’” (Exodus 16:11-12)  
     The Lord would reveal his goodness yet again.  He revealed himself as their Redeemer when he led them out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.  He would reveal himself as their Redeemer again when he sustained them with bread from heaven.  And not just once, but daily.  Daily bread for forty years!  Every day, the Lord brought forth manna on the desert floor.  Every day, Israel gathered up the flakes of manna for their food.  Every day, the Israelites ate as much as they wanted.  The Lord who had redeemed them from their enemies also sustained them in the wilderness.
     When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?”  For they did not know what it was.  And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. (Exodus 16:15)  The Israelites could not explain it.  They did not even know what it was.  But it was bread that came from God and to which God had attached a command: Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat.” (Exodus 16:16)  It was by this bread that the Lord sustained his people.
     Jesus came some 14 centuries after this and mimicked this miracle.  The multitudes were in the grassy wilderness and in need of food.  Jesus took the loaves and fishes, barely enough for a family, and multiplied them so that the people all had their fill.  The people saw the sign that he had done. (John 6:14)  They marveled at Jesus’ work. 
     The sign that they saw pointed them to this: Jesus is God.  Jesus had repeated what God had done once before, and what only God could do.  The Lord provided for the multitudes in the wilderness.  The Lord sustained his people when they needed food.  But the people did not recognize where the sign was pointing them.  Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:15)  They did not declare that Jesus is God.  They did not fall down and worship.  They wanted more food.  They wanted to feed their bellies.  They wanted to be fat and happy.  So, they craved what would only satisfy for a moment and did not care that he would give them what endures for eternity.
     Dear Christians, do not think that you are better than any of them.  Think about what consumes your attention.  Think about what you crave.  Do you crave one more mobile device?  Do you long for a larger paycheck or one more stat for your resume?  Is your ambition to have the latest wardrobe, the shinier car, or the fastest computer?  By themselves, these things are not evil.  After all, the Israelites in the wilderness did need food to survive.  They were not evil for wanting to eat.  But like them, you and I find ourselves craving the created things rather than the Creator.  The Lord sent bread to sustain them on their way to the Promised Land, but the bread did not bring them to the Promised Land. 
     Repent, for if you crave what perishes, then you will perish with it.  Why, then, do you crave the momentary things?  Because they give momentary pleasure.  You want life to be easier and happier, as if that delivers you from evil.  But it does not.  All people live in a sinful world.  All experience the hardship and sorrows.  All long to be free from the evils that hurt them.  All people want everything fixed and every day perfect.  So we try to fix our lives with medicine, therapy, e-gadgets and I-gizmos, water parks, movies, and other pleasures—both good and bad.  But these do not fix anything.  The world is still broken.  The problems are not fixed.  The burdens are still heavy.  These do not deliver anyone from evil, much less to a Promised Land.
     Even in a broken world, in a wilderness, the Lord is with you.  Jesus has revealed himself as your Redeemer.  Jesus has delivered you from your enemies of sin, death, and the devil.  He has taken away your sins by taking them upon himself.  He has taken away the curse of death by dying your death for you.  He has put an end to the devil’s tyranny by slaying the devil for you.  Jesus overcame them all by his death and resurrection.  His death was the payment for sin.  His resurrection has put an end to the power of the grave.  And after rising from the dead, Jesus descended into hell to tell the devil to his face, on his own home turf, that he is defeated, that his kingdom has collapsed, and that Jesus reigns forever and ever.  You were baptized into that kingdom.  Your enemies were swept away in those baptismal waters.  Now you are free.  You are victors.  You are saved.
     The Israelites survived because the Lord sustained them in the wilderness.  Likewise, the 5,000 were fed because the Lord sustained them in the wilderness.  And so it is with you.  Though you have passed through your baptismal waters and are saved, you are not in your Promised Land yet.  You may wander for decades in this corrupt world, waiting for the day when the Lord will bring you into Paradise.  But you are not alone.  He who has redeemed you is also pleased to sustain you in the wilderness.
     Jesus gives you the bread from heaven to comfort you, to encourage you, and to strengthen you.  To this bread he has attached his word, “Take and eat; this is my body given for you.”  To this feast, he attaches a blessing; it is for the forgiveness of sins.  For you, he continues to pour out his mercy and assure you of your place in a kingdom that endures forever.  While you are in the Lord’s kingdom already, you have not received it in all its fruition.  You are still in the wilderness.  The Promised Land waits.  But your Lord is with you every step of the way.  The Lord sustains you in the wilderness with bread from heaven so that you will not grow weary, get desperate, or despair.  Here, your Savior takes away your sins.  Here, your Savior keeps you in his care.  Your Promised Land awaits where Jesus will have all things fixed.  Until that day, he tends to your needs and sustains your faith.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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