22 July 2018

Jesus the Good Shepherd Feeds His Flock

What is it that you’re looking for?  Why are you here this morning, and why do you go about doing what you do throughout the week, at work or on vacation?  What is it that you need?

The fact is that you don’t know what you really need unless you are taught.   A child doesn’t just automatically know what is good and necessary, as opposed to what is dangerous and unhealthy.  An infant has an instinct for his mother’s milk, but toddlers are famous for putting all sorts of non foods into their mouths.  Moms and Dads teach their children what is good and appropriate to eat, and how much to eat, and when to eat.  Otherwise a child doesn’t know.  And you don’t know your genuine needs, either, unless your Father in heaven teaches you by His Word and Holy Spirit.

You do know, instinctively, that you need something, because you hunger and thirst.  Your belly lets you know that you need to eat.  And as you have been taught, whether by your parents or by trial and error, you know what to eat, not only to fill the empty space, but to nourish your body.

You hunger and thirst for the food and drink that your body needs in order to keep going.  And you hunger for other things, as well, some of them beneficial, even necessary to this body and life, and others not so much.  You hunger for shelter and protection, for safety and peace, and for clothing, so that you will not be found naked or ashamed.  And you hunger for affection and appreciation.  You long to be admired, and for people to like you and look up to you.  You are hungry for love.

Indeed, God has created you to live in a relationship of love with Him and with your neighbors.  There is built into you a desire, a hunger and thirst, and a need, for love.  To be loved, and to love in return.  So you do know this hunger, too, not only for food and drink, and shelter and clothing, but also for companionship, for colleagues, comrades, and cohorts, for family and friends.

But what does it take for you to be satisfied?  What do you need, not just for survival, but in order to live in peace, and for your heart and mind to rest from all your anxious worries?  Your hungers appear to be insatiable, and satisfaction seems elusive, impossibly out of your reach, no matter how much money you have, and no matter how much you glut yourself on occasions when you can.  If one day ends with a certain sense of contentment, the next day begins with renewed hungers.

You keep searching and striving for something that will truly satisfy your hungers, but you can’t find it or feed yourself sufficiently.  Not only your belly, but your heart and soul keep on growling.

It goes back to the fact that God the Lord has created you for life with Himself, to live in love with Him, and so also to live in loving communion with the neighbors He has placed alongside you in the world.  Your life in the world and all of your relationships depend on your relationship with Him.  So you will never be satisfied until you feed on Him and rest in Him, in both body and soul.

Sounds easy in theory, but of course it’s not.  It’s impossibly hard for you.  Not that He’s playing hard to get; and not as though He were unwilling or unable to feed you and to give you rest.  It is because of your own sin, which is, at its heart, idolatry and unbelief.  You fear, love, and trust all the wrong gods, beginning with yourself, and you refuse to believe the Word and promises of the one true God, the Holy Trinity, though He is the Creator of all things, the Author and Giver of life.

Your sin is an insatiable hunger for that which is not God, and for that which God has not given.  It cannot ever be satisfied, because it craves and consumes what is perishing and does not last.  And the more you consume in your covetous passions and the lusts of your flesh, the more you are consumed by your own hungers, until you are finally eaten up by your addiction to death.

You make false gods and idols out of the good gifts that your Father in heaven well provides you, which you do need for this body and life on earth, but you treat them as your highest good and as self-sufficient.  You worship your food and drink, your house and home, your family and friends, your work, and your entertainment, with the worship that rightly belongs to the Lord alone.  Not only that, but you worship what God has not given, and even that which He has forbidden to you.

And as often as you go hungering and thirsting for whatever is not God — and all the more so, all the faster, as you covet and consume what is not yours and is not good for you — the further you turn away from the only One who can truly satisfy your every need and give you peace and rest.

It is already quite late in the day, and you are in serious trouble if you do not eat something that will fill you up and satisfy you.  Not the addictions that give you, at best, only brief, momentary pleasure, and then leave you craving for more, but the Food that endures unto eternal life.  Yet, you are in a desolate place, and you cannot feed yourself.  You cannot find or afford what you need.

But now your Lord Jesus has come ashore, and He has come to find you.  He sees you, just as you are, and He knows you better than you know yourself.  He knows your hungers and your hurts.  He knows the emptiness inside of you.  He knows what you need, and He has come to feed you.

He has not come to chastise you.  He has come with mercy and compassion for you, in order to be your Shepherd, to guard and keep and take care of you.  He enters in and graciously opens His generous hand to provide for all that you need in both body and soul.  That is why He is here.

He does care about your body and life here in this world, and He does provide for those needs.  He feeds and clothes you here, He shelters and protects you.  He has given you a father and mother to teach you and take care of you.  And He gives you a world of neighbors, who, whether they like it or know it or not, are compelled to serve you, so that you don’t get broken and die in the street.

As surely as He adorns the lilies, and as surely as He feeds the sparrows, the young ravens, and the lions, so much more does He clothe and feed you.  You are more precious to Him than flowers, birds, and animals.  He will not do less for you than He does for them.  Indeed, He does far more.

The divine compassion of your dear Lord Jesus Christ is not simply an emotion of pity.  He does not simply look at you and bemoan the mess that you’re in.  His compassion is an act of divine love, an active care and concern for you that springs from the very heart of Him, yes, from the very entrails of His being.  He moves from heaven to help you.  He suffers here with you and for you.

He comes to find you where you are, and He brings you home rejoicing, because He loves you.  He calls you to Himself, He gathers you to His bosom, and He takes your sins upon Himself.  All of your hurts, and all of your weaknesses, and all of the hurt that you have caused, all of the ways that you have used your strength wrongly — your iniquities and your sorrows, your pride and your despair — He takes it all into His own flesh.  He knows your hunger, your thirst, and your pain.

He knows all of these things, because He has made your sin and its deadly consequences His own.  He has borne the full burden and curse of the Law, and He has suffered the punishment of your sin, even the death of His Cross.  In His own Body, He has set things right and made all things new.

The great Good Shepherd of the sheep has made Himself the Passover Lamb, the Sheep who was led to the slaughter, not against His will, but voluntarily in love.  He laid down His own body and life, as the Sacrifice of Propitiation for the sins of the whole world, and He has risen from the dead for your justification, that you might have life with God in Him, in His crucified and risen Body.

Not only that, but having removed your burdens from you, He now feeds you with Himself, with His own flesh and blood.  For the Lamb is not only sacrificed, but He is eaten.  And His Blood is not only shed, but it now also covers you, within and without.  It not only marks your door but fills your body and soul with the very Life and Spirit of the Living God.  For the Lord feeds you with Himself, with His flesh and blood for your body and soul.  He is the One who satisfies you truly.  The God-sized hole in you, the emptiness that is there until you rest in God, He fills with Himself.

He does it, first of all, by the preaching and teaching of His Word, by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  Everything begins with that, centers in that, and flows from that preaching of Christ, which bears and bestows His forgiveness, life, and salvation.

It is by the apostolic ministry of the Gospel, by the preaching of the Word of Christ, that He gives nothing less than Himself to you, and breathes His Life-giving Holy Spirit into your body and soul, and brings you in peace to His God and Father in heaven, as a beloved and well-pleasing child.

And with that preaching and ministry, He then does even more, as you have heard this morning from St. Mark, and as all four of the holy Evangelists record.  He takes the bread, He blesses and gives thanks, He breaks it and distributes it by the hand of His servants.  So also now for you.

He feeds you with this living Bread from heaven, which is His own holy Body, that you might be truly filled and satisfied, and that you might find your peace and rest in Him, here and now by faith in His Word, and hereafter in the Resurrection of your body to life everlasting in body and soul.

That is the Food with which I feed you in His Name and stead, in remembrance of Him.  Not that I could ever do so of myself, of course, no more than the Apostles could feed those huge crowds of people by any power or sufficiency of their own.  But for the sake of the Gospel, the Lord Jesus says to me, as He said to them: “You give them something to eat.”  So that is what I do, by and with His Word.  I preach and teach, and I forgive your sins, and I feed you with this Food of Jesus.

Here, then, is your Good Shepherd.  Here in His Church are the green pastures of His Word.  Here are the peaceful, quiet waters of forgiveness and life, flowing from your Baptism throughout all your days on earth.  And here is the banqueting Table with His overflowing Chalice of salvation.  Here you are fed and filled with all that you need, so that you lack no good thing in Christ Jesus.

What, then, shall you say or do?  How many loaves do you have in your lunch box or your larder?  Is it not enough to do whatever the Lord has given you to do?

It is certain that you would never be able to make ends meet on your own.  You could not do or accomplish what God has given you to do by your own wisdom, reason, or strength.  You could not love and serve your husband or wife.  You could not feed, clothe, shelter, and protect your children.  You could not provide for your family, nor support the Church and Ministry of Christ.

But do not be dismayed, do not grow weary, and do not lose heart.  The Lord Jesus, your Good Shepherd, is still moved with compassion for you.  And He still acts in love to help you.  Better than that, He acts in love to save you, to forgive your sins, to give you His life in place of death, to sustain you by His own strength, and to make up everything that is lacking.  And along with all of that, for whatever it is that He has called you to do in His Name, He provides what is needed.

“How many loaves do you have?”  Go and see.  Whether it be five of fifty, 500 or 5000, entrust whatever you have to Him, and see what He will do with it.  He knows what He has given to you.  So He would also teach you to be thankful for His gifts, and to rely on Him for all that you need.

Do the work to which He has called you in the confidence of His grace, mercy, and peace.  Do not worry or be anxious that you will come up short if you are doing what He has commanded you.  Let each day be sufficient of itself for your concern, and let that be governed by His Word.  Let it be to you as He has spoken.  Not only in your working, but also in your resting.

Come here, then, to the place that Jesus has provided, and rest yourself in the Liturgy of His Word and Sacrament.  Remain on board this boat with Jesus and His disciples, and He will bring you safely to the other side.  Eat, drink, and be satisfied.  For the Lord, your Good Shepherd, here feeds you with Himself.  He is your Meat and Drink indeed.  Whoever eats this Bread shall never die, and whoever drinks from this Cup, the New Testament in His Blood, shall never thirst again.  But as you are fed by the Lord your God, so shall you live in and with Him forever and ever.

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

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