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Own Ye These Baskets (St. Mark 8.1-9)

Seventh Sunday after Trinity

“Own Ye These Baskets”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor

St. Mark 8.1-9

18 July 2021

 

+ In the Name of Jesus +

Dear Christians, today we hear that Jesus comes yet again to feed His holy Church with bread and fish for their hunger. With His blessing He feeds them living bread from heaven for their souls. He sanctifies them body and soul. Christ proves to be a gracious, merciful benefactor who is eager to help, accompany, and associate with everyone. All this He does purely out of Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness from anyone. We hear of the free gift of God – that out of His grace, His undeserved love for undeserving sinners, Jesus gives temporal and eternal life.

These thousands of people, the great crowd following Jesus out into the wilderness, are from the region of Tyre that went through Sidon into the region of the Decapolis, the ten Gentile cities to the west of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had just healed a deaf-mute man from there, opening the man’s ears, loosening his tongue, and the man responds by speaking the praises of Jesus plainly and zealously. “He has done all things well,” this Jesus, let’s follow Him! So in those days, for three days, a great crowd of Gentile pagans gathered to Jesus with such zeal that they brought along nothing or not enough to eat.

Now the twelve disciples have already seen Jesus feed five thousand Jews on the other side of the Sea with five loaves and two fish, and at that miracle, each of the twelve men collected a basket full of leftover fragments, one for each of the tribes of Israel. But now they are not so sure. Maybe they had already forgotten. Perhaps they doubted it could be done again. Maybe it was the Jewish-Gentile thing: Jesus wasn’t here on earth for these Gentiles, was He? Was He?

Jesus comes and says to the disciples, “I have compassion on this crowd with me now three days, and I will not send them away three days back home hungry, for they will not make it home.” The disciples respond with naked unbelief: “Where should we get bread here in the wilderness to satisfy these people?”  They needed the Baesler’s bakery, or “Square Doughnuts”, and then one of those tempting roadside fresh seafood stands I kept seeing while on my recent vacation to Hilton Head Island, in order to have some assurance that something could be done for this crowd. But there was no bread or fish or anything before their eyes. Jesus has compassion, He surely must intend to act. On the other hand, the disciples have resigned everyone to perishing from hunger.

Jesus asks how many loaves they have! Guilty as charged! There was some bread in their pocket! Seven loaves they had in reserve. And two fish again. Jesus, showing His care and kindness towards everyone in knowing their needs, commands the crowd to sit down and so shows them His power to act for them. He took the seven loaves, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before the crowd. They ate and were completely satisfied. The disciples this time collect seven baskets full.

St. Augustine preached the numerology behind seven loaves and baskets and the four thousand Gentiles in this way some sixteen hundred years ago: “The ‘seven loaves’ signify the seven-fold operation of the Holy Spirit; the ‘four thousand men,’ the Church established on the four Gospels; ‘the seven baskets of fragments,’ the perfection of the Church. For by this number [seven] very constantly is perfection figured. For whence is that which is said, ‘seven times in a day will I praise thee’? Does a man sin who does not praise the Lord so often? What then is ‘seven times will I praise,’ but [to say] ‘I will never cease from praise’? For he who says ‘seven times,’ signifies all [the] time. Whence in this world there are continual revolutions of seven days? What then is ‘seven times in a day will I praise Thee,’ but what is said in another place, ‘His praise shall always be in my mouth’?” Thus Augustine quoting from Psalms 119(.164) and 34(.1)

Seven is the number of perfection – all the time, everything, everyone. The crowd – Gentile and Jew alike – Jesus sent away satisfied. All of them. He used the earthly bread and fish to feed their temporal hunger. He did it out of His heavenly kindness and benediction for them. He made them holy in body and soul. They deserved nothing, earned nothing, the crowd, the twelve disciples. Jesus does all purely by grace. A free gift from God.

Do you think perhaps the people sang their praises even more zealously? Their faith in Christ received a great and perfect gift from out of nothing they had done. Their only prayer that St. Mark records is that Jesus knew they were hungry. The Holy Spirit clearly interceded for them when they knew not what to pray! How could not His praises be on their mouth seven times a day – how could it not always be in their mouth? They would surely join in our hymn:

We sought the Lord in our distress;

O God, in mercy, hear us.

Our Savior saw our helplessness

And came with peace to cheer us.
For this we thank and praise the Lord,

Who is by one and all adored: To God all praise and glory!

Do you have a reason to sing with them and with the holy angels the high praises of God? For what do you thank and praise the Lord? What if Baeslers closed down and all the rest of the grocery stores? Does God not show great kindness to us now? What if disaster befalls us? His hand is certainly not shortened. He gives more than enough grain for food, wine for drink, linen and wool for clothing, cattle and chicken and pigs for meat, straw, coal, natural gas for fire and electricity. He continues to maintain the seasons in their order year after year, seven day week after seven day week. “Every corner of this earth is filled with the good gifts of God, and men are wonderfully provided for. In this way He demonstrates His power to us.” (Paraphrasing and quoting from V. Herberger, The Christian Year of Grace, p .268)

“Seek first the Kingdom of God,” like the lowly Gentiles zealously following Jesus out into the wilderness three days, “and all these things [food, clothing, shelter, every need] will be added unto you.” Jesus’ promise stands firm and true. We should believe that God will provide for us our daily bread, if only we would trust in Him and cling to His Word concerning His Kingdom, and the hope of eternal life in Him to come. It is God’s ordering that a Christian first pray, attend to the sermon each week, and praise and thank God, and after that, proceed to his daily work and to the care of his family. (Ibid. p.269)

Are you hungry, then, for the Kingdom of God? “Own ye these baskets,” says St. Augustine. For those fragments were not lost, and they are you. You belong to the Church. Their collection was to your everlasting good and profit. He has sent apostles and prophets, preachers and teachers, Augustine and St. Paul, Isaiah and St. Peter, on down to the ten men who have been sent to this very pulpit for the last one hundred and sixty-three years, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God having come upon you in Jesus Christ. Preaching Christ crucified is collecting every holy fragment into the baskets. “Ye know the feast of God, ye have often heard it, that it is for the heart, not for the belly,” says Augustine. That feast is God’s free gift, bringing eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord to undeserving sinners who once were pagan Gentiles and subject to all sorts of wicked works of the flesh, liable to temporal and eternal death. But now in Jesus Christ they have been freed from the chains of death by the self-donation of the living bread from heaven, Jesus, who for us acted out of His great compassion to save us.

Do not listen then to this world or its prince. They tell you to seek first after your own temporal good, to scratch and claw desperately for daily bread by your own efforts, and to never mind persevering to fervently and eagerly hear God’s Word first. The wicked voices call you to follow first after the temptations and lusts of this world, and so not owning your place in the baskets of the Church. The devil says following Jesus and bearing the cross in this world only brings more emptiness, brings no answers to your daily struggles and heartaches.

But Jesus Christ has proven that argument wrong. The cross was the place to go for you and for all men, that He could feed you Himself, the living bread from heaven, that you might live forever, body and soul, caught up in His seven-fold baskets, the Church. For death had no hold over our Lord, He vanquished death by His innocent suffering and death in our place, and it is the grave of Jesus that remains hungry and left to starve forever.

Dear Christians, just as surely as He fed bread and fish miraculously to the 4000 that day, so here, Jesus Christ feeds you His Word and Sacrament for your every need of body and soul. Through this gift, He sanctifies you, body and soul. Today you learn once again that Christ is a gracious, merciful benefactor who is eager to help, accompany, and associate with everyone, Jew, Gentile, doubter, struggler, happy, sad, full of joy, the downcast, and those who feel trodden under the heavy foot of this cruel world in its twisted wilderness of sinful corruption. All Christ does, He does purely out of Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness from anyone. While we once deserved the wages of sin, which is to rot away in the belly of the grave eternally, that threat was destroyed, for God had compassion upon us all, and paid our ransom and the wages of our sin, saving us into His Church through the preaching of the Gospel, our Baptism, and our Communion with Him. Own your place in His baskets – for you have the free gift of God, eternal life in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

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