“When Jesus Blesses What We Have, It Is Enough!”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Isaiah 55:1-5
Romans 8:35-39
Matthew 14:13-21

This Sunday would be a great time for a local pastor to take his vacation. Sunday’s Gospel lesson begins with a comparable event, especially for pastors who vacation on a boat! According to Matthew, Jesus wanted some time away from it all, so “He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” When He and the disciples arrived, however, they found the place to be anything but solitary. The crowds had heard or otherwise figured out their destination, and had hustled around on foot in order to be waiting for Jesus and company when they arrived.

While on vacation, I have been called, on more than one occasion, by people in need. Honesty demands me to say that my initial reaction has not always been pleasant, but when the need is real and great, compassion eliminates selfishness. We are not told how the disciples reacted. We are told that Jesus saw the crowds and two things immediately happened — one was an emotion, the other an action: “He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” What we hear about the disciples came later in the day, apparently during a lull in the healing. They came to Jesus with a concern about the people: “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late.” Their point was that the people would be getting hungry and it was past suppertime. Maybe the disciples also had compassion.

If it was compassion, it was a different brand than that of Jesus. As a result of His, He acted. As a result of theirs, they wanted Jesus and the people to act: “Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus healed them — the disciples wanted them to go away. One author observes that this is a little too similar to the contemporary church, which often says, “Send them to their local mental health center. Let them can get ‘professional help.’ Send them to the Department of Human Services. Increase their Social Security payments, let the government provide the care … anywhere other than here, anybody other than us. Master, send them away.”

Jesus made no comment about their misdirected compassion. He simply said, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” In an article for Pulpit Resource, William Willimon wrote, “And perhaps it appears at this point that Jesus, Mr. Compassion, has compassion on just about everybody but His own disciples. His words, “You give them something to eat: may sound harsh, insensitive to the stress that His followers are under. Such great crowds, such meager resources, the late hour, the lonely place.” But the fact of the matter is that Jesus does not call us to serve in ways He will not equip us to serve!

The disciples were a little set back by His command, but they gave it a shot. The result seemed pretty inadequate: “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. Jesus, on the other hand, seemed almost pleased with their discovery. He said, “Bring them here to me.” At that point, Jesus took over and did His thing: “He directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.” Matthew recorded the end result of the disciples’ effort, after the Lord Jesus blessed it: “They all ate and were satisfied.”

Because Matthew wrote this story long after the resurrection, I believe that he intended to jog our memory banks with the way he wrote, “and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples.” Apparently, Willimon shares that opinion. He wrote, “If you hear — in Jesus’ taking the bread, blessing the bread, breaking the bread, and then giving the bread — an experience you have had before, you are right. Every time we come to the Lord’s Table, we repeat this fourfold action. The move from weary disciples, to recognition of human need, to sharp demand, and then to a gift of more than enough is repeated every time the church gathers to break bread.”

Myron Augsbruger wrote, “A little with God is more than much without Him.” Those words are right at the heart of the Gospel. What we bring to God on our own is woefully inadequate, even if there is much righteousness, much good works, much piety. But, as Paul points out so often, God’s grace is sufficient. The God who did not spare His own Son for us will surely fill and overfill whatever is lacking. His grace, mercy and love are more than enough for us. The disciples came with five loaves and two fish. Jesus blessed it and they left with 12 baskets of fragments. Their leftovers were way more than their “bring to’s!” We come with our own woefully inadequate righteousness and a great deal of unrighteousness besides, but in His grace, Christ blesses us and we leave with the righteousness of God’s Son — way more than enough!

There is a wonderful vision of the Gospel here, but there is also an unnerving message of the law. After noting the late hour and the lack of a McDonald’s in that lonely place, the reluctant disciples did not want to do anything. They wanted the crowd to pack their bags and go home.

Many forces work on us to make us like those disciples. Some of them had first been disciples of John the Baptizer. Just prior to their trip by boat, to get away from it all, they heard that Herod had murdered John. They were filled with grief and naturally wanted some time to recover. They were also exhausted from the ongoing ministry. While they may have been moved by the energy Jesus had somehow mustered because of His great compassion for the crowds, they felt that was enough. They were also concerned for themselves. If they gave what little they had to this monstrous crowd, they would not get anything to eat. Then there was the seeming futility of it all. Not only would they have nothing, but thousands of others would also remain hungry and stuck in the lonely darkness.

It takes great faith to fight such great forces. It takes great faith to believe that our feeble efforts can accomplish anything worthwhile. But our faith is not in some wimpy and inadequate God. A little faith in a great, great God is blessed with wonders and miracles that continue to amaze us. When Jesus blesses what we have, it is enough.

God has richly blessed and increased what has been brought to the mission of His church. Here at LCMS World Mission, we stand in awe at what God has done and keeps doing. During the last decade, LCMS World Mission opened work in more countries than were opened in the entire first century of our work. The Gospel is preached in 29 different languages in LCMS congregations — and that is in North America alone! In 1991, members of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod donated about $12.6 million to God’s mission. By last year, Jesus had blessed that into more than $26 million and volunteer missionaries gave another $5 million worth of work free!

When Jesus blesses what we have, it is enough! At the same time, God keeps opening doors. As we look around, we find people speaking 250 languages here in North America. Many are international students who may be right next door. We also find that 3.5 billion people in the world have little or no opportunity to hear the Gospel. What do we say? Are there too many? Should Jesus send them away? Or are we ready to see what resources we have to feed them with the Bread of Life and the sincere milk of the Word? Bring what you have and see what Jesus does with it.

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Giving Is an Act of Worship

A little boy was fidgeting in church one Sunday morning during the pastor’s sermon.  Finally, he leaned over to his mother and asked, “Mom, if we give the money now, do you think he’ll let us go?”  If this boy expresses our idea of stewardship, we are missing the true meaning, purpose, and joy that are associated with giving.  Our giving should express our thankfulness for Who God is and what He does for us.  Through our giving, we worship and honor our heavenly Father.  We give not because God needs our gifts, but because we have a need to give.  God in His sovereignty chooses to bless us as we give (Acts 20:35).

Prayer:  Good and gracious heavenly Father, we thank You for all of Your wonderful gifts especially the most indescribable gift, the gift of Your Son.  Help us to show our gratitude by granting us loving and giving hearts.  May all that we do give You honor and glory.  In Christ’s name we pray.  Amen

Blessings on your stewardship journey!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 9 A (Proper 13)

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Isaiah 55:1-5
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers for the day.

Christ Jesus, the Living Bread from Heaven, Feeds the Children of God

By the Gospel of “the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Rom. 9:5), we are “the children of God” (Rom. 9:8), “not because of works but because of him who calls” (Rom. 9:11). Therefore, “listen diligently” and “hear, that your soul may live.” By His sacrificial death in His flesh and blood, He has made “an everlasting covenant” for us. Since He now calls us to Himself, we come to Him “and eat what is good, and delight … in rich food” (Is. 55:2–3). He has come with divine compassion to save us from sin and death and to feed us with Himself. As our Lord Jesus once took bread, “said a blessing,” broke the loaves “and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds” (Matt. 14:18–19), He also now takes bread, blesses it by His Word to be His very body, and distributes it to His Church by the hand of His called and ordained servants. Just as “they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces,” there is more than enough for His whole Church to eat and to be satisfied (Matt. 14:20).

These are the hymns we will sing:

O Day of Rest and Gladness (LSB 906)
In Thee Is Gladness (LSB 818)
At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing (LSB 633)
Praise and Thanksgiving (LSB 789)
Great Is Thy Faithfulness (LSB 809)

PLEASE NOTE: The liturgy for August and September will be Divine Service, Setting Four.

“You See…”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

I Kings 3:5-12
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-52

A former teacher and great preacher had an interesting way of bringing emphasis or attention to a point he had just made or was about to make. He would raise his index finger and say, “You see….” He didn’t really want us to see anything. He wanted us to listen, to hear, know, comprehend or feel what he knew to be important.

When you go on a trip, a mystery is about to unfold. It doesn’t matter if you are going to visit friends or family, see the sights, go fishing, play golf or preach at a mission festival. You don’t know what all will happen until it happens. Sometimes, no matter how much we do know about something, we don’t really know it until we see it. That’s also true of knowledge.

A philosophy professor once said that the illustration of a light going on when someone gets an idea is more than just a word picture. He told a story about one of the brightest students he ever had. The student seemed to remember everything he ever read or heard. At the same time, when the student spoke about what he learned, his answers were right, but they were “right out of the book,” or “right out of the professor’s mouth.” “He was a great parrot,” said the professor, “but I wondered if he really was a great thinker.”

One day, the professor and student were sitting in an informal setting and the teacher made a comment about the particular philosophy they had been studying in class. The student replied, “I know.” The teacher went on, and again the young man said, “I know.” After about an hour of comments, followed by the same response, the teacher said something to which the student replied, “I see…” The professor said, “Aha, now we’re getting someplace!” From that time on, the student began to think for himself, to try to put together the pieces of knowledge rather than just remember them in isolation from each other. He also began to apply them to himself and to life. The professor added, “I saw him transformed from a bright philosophy student into a brilliant philosopher.”

There are many illustrations of how people often cannot see the forest for the trees. One story involved the fellow who sold his gold mine in Texas because he kept running into a black ugly sludge in every shaft he dug. He put one over on some city slicker from the east who bought the property: “Yessir, I guess that Rockefeller guy don’t know that there ain’t no gold in this part of Texas!” That story, as far as I know, is just a fabricated fable.

A true story, or so I’m told, concerns the fellow who had to give a dollar per marble to some kids in the Caribbean. He saw them playing one day and offered to buy their marbles. The kids didn’t have any others, so they weren’t anxious to end their game, but they were more than happy to take his money when the price was right. Fortunately, the man had a conscience, and a week or so later, he found them and paid them the going wholesale rate for the pearls.

Another pearl merchant is the subject of one of Jesus’ parables in this Sunday’s Gospel Lesson. He saw, with his trained eye, what others did not see — a pearl of great value. He sold everything he had in order to purchase it, knowing it was worth every bit of that and more. Similarly, in another story, a man found a treasure hidden in a field. He saw what others had not seen, so he sold all he had in order to buy that field with its hidden treasure.

Feddersen’s Fables says that a farmer in the old west purchased a farm from the widow of “Old Mike.” One day, while plowing, he hit something that twisted the plow. He soon learned that it wasn’t the first time that had happened. “Yep,” said the blacksmith, “I’ll just bet you were working the field down to the creek.” “Why, yes, I was,” said the farmer, “but how did you know?” “Well, I did all of Old Mike’s work for about the last twenty years. More than once he came in here with a twisted plow, cursing about some big ol’ hunk of iron in that field.” The farmer decided to find the thing and dig it up, rather than risk hitting it again in years to come. It turned out to be a strong box filled with gold. Old Mike had been a wealthy man but never knew it. Like a lot of people in this world, he cursed his problem, instead of digging around in it to find its treasure.

Commenting on these two parables, Martin Luther wrote: “The hidden treasure is the Gospel, which bestows on us all the riches of free grace, without any merit of our own. Hence also the joy when it is found, and which consists in a good and happy conscience that cannot be obtained by works. This Gospel is likewise the pearl of great price.” If this is so, and who am I to question the great sainted doctor, why was the treasure hidden?

The answer to that question seems to be that it wasn’t really hidden as much as people just didn’t see it. The pearl was there for anyone to see and to buy. The treasure was found with no apparent effort. The two finders recognized what others had already overlooked. It should come as no surprise to us that Jesus’ parables are very accurate! The Gospel is an invaluable treasure hidden right out in the open. For a couple of weeks I have emphasized our need for listening to the Word. With other parables, Jesus said that we should open our ears. This week He says open your eyes. All the while, I suppose, the real problem is stopped-up hearts which no cardiovascular surgeon in the world can bypass.

I have said it before, and I am not the least embarrassed to say it again; sometimes we approach the parables with too much sophistication. We ask a bunch of questions about the peripheral details and fail to see the point of the story. Here are a few of the ones I remember over the years concerning these two tales: What if someone had planted that treasure as a joke, and then dug it up before the poor fool bought the property? Maybe the guy that owned the field did it as a “sting” to get top dollar or better for his property? If the pearl merchant sold everything in order to be able to buy the pearl, wouldn’t he just have to turn around and sell it again at the same going rate in order to have food and a place to live?

You see (lovely phrase, isn’t it), “Gospel” isn’t one more word to put into our dictionaries. Its meaning is not one more idea to add to our minds or our encyclopedias. It is not one more item to be placed on the religious buffet table. The pearl merchant wasn’t adding a dandy to his collection. The Good News of God in Christ is not an additional piece of religious information or another spiritual philosophy to be added to or, worse yet, compared to the others we’ve picked up over the years. It is a drop-everything-at-all-cost, proposition. I’m afraid that we sometimes dabble in the peripherals because they are peripheral. They offer us no challenge, ask for no commitment, and cost us nothing.

Are the Word and Sacrament just one of the many things you can “do” on Sunday morning? “This Sunday, let’s do lunch, next week we’ll do the car wash, next week we’ll do the garden, then we’ll do the windows, then we’ll do church, then we’ll do…” Too many people treat the church like a museum. On occasion, they go and visit, look around at the ancient artifacts, listen to the ancient stories, and then they leave and forget all about it. There are some things we can’t forget about. A fellow in Alaska got tired of walking from the field where he landed his airplane to his house, which was nestled in the hills beside a lake. He had the plane outfitted with pontoons, so that he could land right on the water. One day, he and his wife were busy talking and he absent- mindedly started to land in the field. His wife screamed, “What are you doing?” The warning came just in time, and he throttled back up into the air. With hands still shaking, he set the plane down on the water and said, “I can’t imagine where my head was.” Apparently, it was still there, because with that he opened the door and stepped right into the water.

The Good News is that God knows what we need — whether we do or not — and He does something about it. The big deal in America today seems to be “finding yourself.” Did you hear about the guy who spent 40 years trying to find himself? His suicide note read: “I finally found myself, and didn’t like what I found.” He didn’t find the treasure, and it was right there in front of his eyes. The Good News tells us that God knows us and doesn’t like what He knows, but He loves us so much that He is willing to die to help us.

The message of God’s love in Christ cannot be separated from the cross. It is at a great price that God’s grace comes to us. God forgives, renews and refreshes us in the power of the Spirit, so that everything in life is different. You can’t fit Christ into your old values and ideas. You can do like the Pharisees and try to kill Him off to keep Him out of your misery, but you can’t let Him just part way in. He won’t fit; something will have to go. In the long run, if your eyes are open and you see, everything else will go. Nothing will be the same, and you’ll never want it to be.

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 8 A (Proper 12)

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Deuteronomy 7:6-9
Romans 8:28-39
Matthew 13:44-52

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers for this Sunday.

The Son of God Has Redeemed Us for Himself with His Holy and Precious Blood

The Lord our God has chosen us to be “his treasured possession,” not because of any strength in us, but solely “because the Lord loves” us (Deut. 7:6–8). He is faithful, and He “keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (Deut. 7:9). He has searched for us and found us in love, and He has bestowed on us “great value” by the great price that He has paid on the cross (Matt. 13:45–46). In His joy, He has redeemed us by His cross and gathered us into His Kingdom by the Gospel. Now we are “hidden in a field,” covered by the cross and subject to the persecution of the world (Matt. 13:44), not for destruction, but “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Since we “are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28), and because Christ Jesus died, rose again and lives to intercede for us “at the right hand of God” (Rom. 8:34), there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).

These are the hymns we will sing this Sunday:

I Will Walk in Danger All the Way (LSB 716)
From God Can Nothing Move Me (LSB 713)
When Peace, Like a River (LSB 763)
The Will of God Is Always Blest (LSB 758)
Jerusalem the Golden (LSB 672)

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Love One Another

“I am writing you a new command,” the Apostle John told his readers (1 John 2:8).  That command is to love others as we have been loved.  “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another,” he repeated in 1 John 4:11.  God didn’t just say He loved us.  “This is how we know what love us: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).  What are you willing to sacrifice in order to bring the message of God’s saving grace to others?

 

Prayer:  Dear Heavenly Father, You loved me so much that You sent Your Son to earth to became a man and ultimately suffer and die on the Cross for my sins.  Help me to show my gratitude for Who You are and what You did for me by living a life that gives You praise and glory.  Help me to have a loving and giving heart.  Thank You for enabling me to love others.  In Your precious name I pray.  Amen.

 

Blessings on your stewardship journey!

“Are You Still Listening?”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Isaiah 44:6-8
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Have you ever suddenly realized, after reading the confession of sins from an order of service, that you hadn’t prayed or confessed at all? Looking at the backs of other worshipers, as most people do during a typical service, or looking only at the altar, as most pastors do at that time, we cannot see faces or look into eyes.

On occasion, when I have turned back toward the congregation to speak words of grace and forgiveness, I have seen tears in some person’s eyes. I sensed that a burden had been brought to the right place, and I silently prayed that through the absolution it would be permanently left behind.

Most of the time, however, the great majority of the faces in a congregation appear just as they do any other time — there are no clear signs of remorse, often no emotion whatsoever. Now, how am I to know who genuinely repented, and who did not? Who spoke from the heart, and who just read the words? Who has done neither, and simply stood there waiting for the chance to sit down again? The answer is that I cannot tell. No, the answer is that it is not my job to even attempt to tell. It is my job to pronounce absolution to them all!

In last week’s Edit-O-Earl, I suggested that the four types of soil in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower are not as representative of four types of people as they are of four ways each of us listens, or fails to listen, to the Word. Our attention ranges from zero to a total attentiveness and openness that allows the Spirit to touch us from the tips of our minds to the outer limits of our souls.

Here again, unless someone is absent or asleep, how am I to judge during a sermon if people are genuinely listening or daydreaming? I remember one time when, just as I was reaching the punch line of an amusing anecdote, my eyes settled on a man who was fast asleep. When the rest of the congregation laughed, he quickly sat up and chuckled as well. I was the most amused person in the building, but I couldn’t tell the rest why that was true — well, at least, I didn’t tell them. Getting back to my question, how am I to tell when people are listening and wanting to listen, or just killing time until they can get home and do what they really want to do? Once again, it is not my job to judge. It is my job to preach the Word. It is the congregation’s job to hear it and put it into practice.

I confess that sometimes I want to make judgments of this kind. Not long ago a man said to me, “I think I only made it to church three times all last year.” When I asked the reason for this, he quickly replied, “Well, I work every other Sunday now…” I wanted to say, “Three out of 26 is still not very good!” I barely kept those words in. He was not a member of my church, and it was not my place to judge. You see — there it is again! Even if he was a member of my church, it is not my place to judge.

No sooner had Jesus finished His explanation of last week’s parable, than He began another for this week’s Gospel lesson. This one has been called The Parable of the Tares or The Parable of the Tares and Wheat. Either way, it is probably a misnomer, because the weeds were more likely darnel than tares. Darnel is an annual grass that mysteriously shows up in grain fields. In their early stages, the shoots are very similar to young wheat plants. I have read that mature darnel seeds are black, easily distinguished from wheat, and that they are poisonous. In Jesus’ day, darnel was allowed to grow in wheat fields until it was mature. Then workers, often women and children, would pull it up and throw it away before the harvesters came through.

According to Jesus’ story, a landowner sowed good seed in his fields, but under cover of darkness (when most evil deeds are done) an enemy came and sowed weeds in the midst of the wheat. Workers asked the owner, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field?” He replied, “An enemy did this.” The servants asked if they should go and pull up the weeds, but the owner said not to because they would pull up wheat along with the weeds: “Let both grow together until the harvest.” At the harvest, the weeds would be removed first and then the wheat would be gathered. According to Matthew, Jesus told two more stories, comparing the kingdom to a mustard seed and to yeast, then He stopped teaching the crowds and entered a house. There, the disciples asked about the “parable of the weeds in the field.”

Jesus said that the sower is the Son of Man, the enemy is the evil one, the wheat plants are the children of the kingdom, and the weeds are the children of the evil one. At the end of the age, angels will “weed out everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” These will be chucked into the fiery furnace, accompanied by weeping and gnashing of teeth, whereas the “righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Then Jesus added that little one liner again: “He who has ears, let him hear.”

If you remember the little lesson in literary forms from last week, this explanation makes the story an allegory. Is it also a parable? Is one single idea driven home? I think I can give that idea to you in three words: Don’t judge others. What you think is a weed may turn out to be the best producing wheat plant in the field, and what you think is good wheat may turn out to be filled with dark and dirty things. Don’t judge God either, imagining that the evil in the world is His fault: “Sir, didn’t you plant good seed?” (What’s wrong with you?)

I mentioned last week that illustrations, parables, allegories, similes and metaphors simply say that one thing is “sort of like” another. For instance, you are not dirt and you are not a plant. If you find yourself to be like the little plant on the road, on shallow soil, or being choked by the thorny uglies, it is time to pick up your bud and move it! In this story, people are not born as weeds or wheat. Little babies are born looking all soft and innocent, but already under the spell of sin. Left alone, they will grow up godless. Our mission is to bring the Gospel to them and them to God.

God loves us too much to leave us alone. He came to us in Jesus, and He keeps coming to us. He did not let hatred, evil and death prevent His grace from us then, and He will not let them keep Him away now. Instead of passing judgment on others, we need to look at them “cross-eyed.” We need to see them as people just like ourselves — godless and weedy to the root, but people for whom Christ died on the cross anyway.

Through the power of the Spirit in the Word and Sacrament, God can change even the thorniest ugly into a blossom of faith that is a beautiful blessing to everyone near. In God’s field we have two responsibilities: to grow in grace by using our own ears to hear His Word, and to share His Word, grace and love with others. Note that neither of these includes passing judgment on anyone else.