I wonder what kind of preacher he will be?

Getting used to a new preacher is difficult.  I had the same one for 18 years at one point.  Many of the ones that came after him I was not very kind to.  So to start, since this is our first time together, I wanted to start by giving you some of my thoughts on what we are here listening to.

Here at St. John we use what is called a Lectionary to give us our readings.  A Lectionary is simply a series of readings from Scripture that the church has agreed are helpful for us to hear read and preached upon.  Why they are helpful to be heard and preached upon most likely has various answers based upon who you ask.  In my mind one helpful answer is this; the Lectionary readings give us different snap-shots of a very big story that is to shape our faith and life and thought.  I have come to this answer by asking several other questions about what we do and hear here like, “Why should we read the Scriptures in church, if at all?  Why come to church?  What reasons are there for still coming?  And, are those reasons ones that arise from the story of Scripture or the society we live in?”  By answering these questions, and struggling with the answers, I think I now have a good handle on how I am to preach.  Because I think that you and I are not too different.  I think that there might be some of you here and perhaps many people out around you, who are looking for good answers to those questions.   I hope then that my thinking might help you as we attempt to be faithful to this story we are brought into as children of God.

Today our lectionary has given us a snapshot of Jesus’ ministry to Israel.  The Evangelist Matthew has just given us a report of John the Baptizers imprisonment and death at the hands of Herod Agrippa.  Herod hears of what Jesus is doing and thinks Jesus is John the Baptist, which is strangely interesting.  What is even more interesting is Jesus’ reaction to all that John’s disciples go and tell Him.  Jesus leaves.  He goes away, by himself it says, to a desolate place.  Why Jesus would leave from that place is still a bit mysterious to me, but I think it is this reason.

Jesus time had not yet come.  He heard what happened to John.  I think I can say that it was not yet the time for Jesus to have his run in with the Rulers of Earthly Kingdoms.  This is snap-shot before our Gospel reading is one to remember though.  It is good to remember it because the death of John reveals to us just how far the Rulers of the earth will go to shut up the kingdom of heaven as it breaks in upon them.  All John said to Herod was that it was unlawful for him to do what he was doing.  What would be the kings reaction when heard Jesus message?  Jesus’ time was coming, but it was not yet, so he departs to a desolate place.  But He is not alone for long.

Thousands of people find Jesus.  The come out from all the villages and towns nearby.  Apparently they bring with them their sick folks.  Seeing this crowd, Jesus comes ashore.  And has compassion upon them.  And, after he is done healing something else happens.

Feeding five thousand people is not that big of a deal. Yes, it was 5,000 men beside women and children.  Yes, the place was desolate.  But, compared to some of the other events in the story of Israel, 5,000 people being fed is a little underwhelming.

Consider this; hundreds of thousands of people walking through a sea bed and into a wilderness.  These people live and survive in the wilderness for 40 years.  How did they live and survive?  The Lord of Israel provided them daily with bread, quail, and water.  Even water from a ROCK!  They were sustained for one generation by God, day in and day out.  As far as food miracles go I find this amazing.  However I highly doubt God the Father or Jesus were too worried with our impressions.  The Miracle is so that we might see the one doing the miracle for who He is.

The Lord God of Israel sustained his people in the wilderness and in Matthew we see this man Jesus Christ doing the same.  Jesus comes up from Egypt to the Promised Land to save his people.  He preaches to and teaches the Israelites with the authority of His Father; something the Israelites declare their Scribes do not do.  He heals the sick.  He restores sight to the blind and makes the lame walk.  And now, as His Father did many years ago for His people, Jesus feeds Israel out of his compassion and love for them.  Here we see that this Jesus Christ and the God and Lord of Israel are doing the same work.  The God of Israel is working in and through Jesus Christ to gather the people of Israel and call them to faithfulness.  This miracle is not about food, it is about the revelation that the Son of the God of Israel has come down to Rule and Reign over Israel in the Kingdom of Heaven.  And what is more than that, his reign and rule extends to a nation that did not know him as Isaiah tells us.

I do not know this congregation very well.  But, scanning through the names, I am fairly certain there is no one here of Israelite descent.  How is it then that we Gentiles now have a share in the Kingdom of Heaven brought to Earth by Jesus for Israel?  None of us has a right to this treasure.  None of us can claim to have Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob as our fathers according to the flesh.  How is it that the Kingdom of Heaven is extended to us then?  I will tell you how.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed by one of his own disciples.  He was handed over to the chief priests and scribes of Israel.  His own people cried out for his death.   Israel again rejected the invitation of their God to be His people.  Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried.  But, on the third day he was raised by His Father.  His resurrection reveals that He IS the Son of God.  That He IS the one sent from His Father to Reign and Rule over Israel and all creation.  What does He do then?  He shows himself to His disciples and then deputizes them to do and speak as He had been.  They are now to go out into all the world and make disciples.  Jesus opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all who believe, and He can do that because He is the Lord.  So His disciples go and report all they have witnessed.  They go out and retell the story of how the God of Israel sent His Son Jesus Christ to Earth to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.  They are sure that the Kingdom is indeed here because Jesus was raised from the dead and is returning.  They went out calling people to repentance and faith in Him and His Kingdom.

Here you sit.  This same Jesus Christ has gathered you here today.  He has gathered you here by His Holy Spirit to remind you yet again that you are His people. God has chosen You!  You ask why?  I will answer God knows why.  As God said through the prophet Hosea, “Those who were not my people, I will call my people.”  And again as God spoke to Moses, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”   I am here to tell you, you are those of whom God is speaking.  Your Baptism has ushered you in and the Holy Sacrament of the Altar is a continued reminder of your election into the Kingdom out of the entire world.  But, there is so much around us in that world that attacks our confidence in Jesus Christ.

There are so many other stories which surround us daily.  They desire our allegiance.  We are surrounded by what seems to be an endless array of choices by which we might identify ourselves and have an existence.  We are so very prone as weak sinners to rebel against this Kingdom of God.  Look what the Israelites did to Jesus!  What will you do?  Will you rebel against God and cast his story away from you?  Will you claim another truth, which is indeed a lie, as the thing that shapes your thinking and action?

I am here to remind you dear people of God that the Lord has come to earth and has revealed the Truth.  It is a light to lighten even us Gentiles.  He has chosen You.  Not because you are children of Abraham according to the flesh.  But, it was the Lord’s pleasure to choose you and make you his own like he chose so many before you.  I am here to call you to faithfulness to The Lord Jesus Christ who revealed himself to be the Son of God when he fed 5, 000 people in that grassy place.  He has called you, and gathered you here yet again, and He desires your faithfulness in all things.  He has given me to you to tell you again; He is your Lord.  He is your King.  Amen.