Laetare, the 4th Sunday in Lent + John 6:1-15 + March 26, 2017

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn # 369 All mankind fell in Adam’s fall
Hymn # 311 Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Savior
Hymn #  54 Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her: All you who love her
Rejoice for joy with her : All you who mourn for her. (Isaiah 66:10)

I was glad when they said to me: “Let us go into the house of the Lord.”
Our feet have been standing: Within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.”
For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will now say: “Peace be within you.” (Psalm 122:1, 2, 6, and 8)
Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her: All you who love her.
Rejoice for joy with her, : All you who mourn for her. (Isaiah 66:10)

Collect for Laetare, the 4th Sunday in LentGrant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of Thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 
Isaiah 49:8-13
Galatians 4:21-31
John 6:1-15 
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         When you experience lack of any kind, the Lord is doing to you what He did to Philip in today’s Gospel lesson. When you lack the finances you need to make ends meet, when your health fails, when the fridge is nearly empty and grocery day is days away, or when you look around this house of the Lord and see more empty pews than full ones, the Lord is pulling back His gracious hand, not entirely, but for a moment, to test you. Whatever lack it is you experience, at that moment your Lord is pressing you with the same question with which He pressed Philp. “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” “What are we going to do about the empty cupboard, the unbalanced checkbook, the physical malady, or the empty pews? Too often we look at the lack in our lives and we respond as Philip did. Philip does what everyone does in such a situation. He runs to human experience. He looks out on the multitude, five thousand strong, in the middle of nowhere, and his experience tells him it is financially and logistically impossible. With eyes bigger than his fists Philip looks out over the crowd and answers Jesus, “To hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” A denarius was a typical day’s wage. Two hundred days’ wages wouldn’t be enough to purchase enough bread so that everyone in this crowd could have even a light afternoon snack, let alone fill up their stomachs to satisfaction. Human experience and human reason say it is impossible.

2)         Then another disciple, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, chimes in. His answer isn’t much better. “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many people?” Andrew’s answer is really no better than Philip’s. Whereas Philip could only see their lack of bread and their lack of money to buy enough bread, Andrew looks at the very little they have, five barley loaves and two small fish, and laments that what they do have isn’t anywhere near enough. Philip despairs what they don’t have. Andrew despairs of what they do have. When you experience lack of any kind, human experience and human reason won’t get you any comfort because reason only sees the lack. Jesus tests Philip with this impossible situation first to show him that when it comes to human reason and experience, you can’t get there from here. In impossible situations, the striving of man and the counsels of the human heart are just as a lacking as bread was in this situation. If Philip and Andrew, and the rest of the disciples, had of been left to their own devices in this impossible situation, if Jesus had not graciously intervened, they would have been swallowed up by despair. Their sprits would have eventually sunk. You know this is how it would have gone because you have felt this at times yourself. When you experience serious lack, when you are confronted with impossible situations, when human experience and reason fail you, the next step is for human reason to conclude that there is no way out.

3)         That’s when temptation comes knocking at the heart’s door. In your impossible situations, in those times when your lack confronts you, the devil is right there beside it. He wants you to take Jesus’ test and decide that instead it’s a temptation to doubt God’s gracious care. The devil seizes such divinely-ordained tests and presents you with the idea that they are God’s wrath and punishment for your sins. But when Satan speaks He can only speaks lies. Lying is His native tongue, after all. His lie is that God will not protect you from every evil, that God will not provide you with your daily bread, and that God will not give you everything you need for this body and life. So often the devil strikes us with that petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and then asks, “Did God really say He would give you daily bread?” He asked Eve the same thing. “Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?” (Genesis 3:1). He lies and says God is holding out on you and has not given you enough. He presents Jesus with that very temptation in the wilderness, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Matthew 4:3), because God your Father isn’t giving you your daily bread, Jesus, whom God calls ‘Son’.” For Eve, for Jesus, for each of us, the temptation is the same: Find a way to provide for yourself, apart from God’s promise, because God cannot be trusted or taken at His Word. The devil leads you first into doubt, then disbelief, then sinful self-reliance which is the fruit of not believing God’s promise to give you your daily bread.

4)         But we’ve missed an important detail, something which the evangelist lets us know in between Philip’s answer and Andrew’s answer. St. John tips the reader off in verse six. “But this he said to test Philip, for He Himself knew what He would do.” The answer lies not in focusing upon what they don’t have, as Philip did. Neither does the answer lie in focusing upon the little they do have that isn’t enough. The answer lies not in what we will do, but in faith in what He has already planned to do. Isn’t it comforting that Jesus, when He asked this of Philip, already has an answer ready? Doesn’t it console your conscience to know that at the moment when the question is asked, “What are we going to do?” Jesus has the entire way of providing worked out without our knowledge or input? This is the test of Philip’s faith: to where will you go in time of need? To where will you flee for refuge in the time of lack? When you are presented with what looks to be an impossible situation, to where will you run? Experience? Reason? Self-reliance? When you lack the finances you need to make ends meet, when your health fails, when the fridge is nearly empty and grocery day is days away, or when you look around this house of the Lord and see more empty pews than full ones, to whom shall you go? To yourself or to the One who already knows precisely how He Himself will provide?

5)         Consider the prophet Ezekiel. In the thirty-seventh chapter of his prophecy, the Lord God brings the priest to a place overlooking a valley full of nothing but brittle, dried up bones. The Lord God says to Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Philip would have looked out on these bones and said, “Of course not! This is mass grave and these bones have been baking under the sun for far too long.” Andrew would have chimed in, “Well at least we have bones, but we cannot construct living people out of nothing but bones. We lack muscles, sinews, organs, not to mention rational souls.” To human reason, lack is lack and death is death. But the prophet Ezekiel knows by faith what the disciples are still learning in John 6. Jesus teaches them in Matthew 19:26 that “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” The prophet knows this so when the Lord tests him “Son of man, can these bones live?” The prophet answers humbly and in faith, “O Lord GOD, You know.” “If it is your holy will, these bones can live again forever, for all things are possible for you.” This is the nature of true faith in Christ: knowing that He is God the Son, from the same essence as God the Father, and therefore can do all things, so His Word is true “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

6)         The Lord exercised the faith of Ezekiel for his sake and for all who would read His prophecy. The Lord exercised the faith of Philip and Andrew for their benefit and to teach all who read John’s Gospel and take it to heart. When you see lack in your life the Lord God is asking you, “Can these bones live?” When you run out of whatever it is you need, or when it looks like you are on the verge of running out of whatever it is you need, when you are in that impossible situation, Christ asks you, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” He does not ask you this to lead you into temptation so that you learn to doubt His care and His provision, “for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” (James 1:13). He leads you into lack to test your faith, to exercise it, to give you an opportunity to believe as the prophet believed and say and the prophet said, “O Lord GOD, You know,” for He Himself knows already what He will do to provide for your lack so that you have plenty and are satisfied. Christ you Lord tells you in Matthew 6:32, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” So He invites you to pray “give us this day our daily bread” and to believe that He will answer your prayer.

7)         The Lord will provide refreshment for you and will replenish what you lack according to His own way and in His own time. Consider how Christ teaches us this in the rest of the Gospel reading. That small amount that Andrew presents to Jesus, Jesus uses to feed the multitude five thousand strong. How does Christ do it? Miraculously. Gloriously. In a way and manner which is impossible for human experience or reason to comprehend or replicate. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the LORD” (Isaiah 55:8). The entire crowd eats “as much as they wanted.” To drive that point home, Jesus tells the disciples to take baskets and collect the leftovers. Not because Jesus is planning on using them again, though He very well might, we’re not told. He tells them to gather the leftovers of five loaves of bread and two small fish to show Philip, Andrew, the other ten disciples, and you, that He knows how to provide for those who trust His Word, even if at times their faith is fragile and weak. Twelve baskets of leftovers are collected, one basket for each disciple. So He will provide for you when you lack the finances to make ends meet, when your health fails, when the fridge is nearly empty and grocery day is days away, when you look around this house of the Lord and see more empty pews than full ones, whatever is you lack, He will provide. He will replenish. He will grant refreshment. But He will do so in His own gracious time and in a His own merciful way according to what His wisdom decides is best for us. “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” Faith replies: “O Lord GOD, You know, and you will do it graciously and wisely for our benefit.” Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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