Posted by: Johnold Strey | August 1, 2009

Sermon on Mark 6:30-34

SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT IS NOT FAST FOOD!

Text: Mark 6:30-34

If you could select one word that describes the Bay area culture, I suppose “busy” would make the list of finalists.  We live in a culture and an area where time is money, “multitasking” is a way of life, and the faster you can get the job done, the better.  It’s a culture filled with pagers, cell phones, instant messaging, twittering … and weary, worn out people.

What happens what you’re having one of those busy days, or one of those filled-to-the-brim-with-activities weeks?  There’s no time for rest, let alone time to prepare a decent meal.  So you run to the local fast food joint, order a burger to go, and keep chugging forward as you try to get everything done.  But if that kind of nourishment becomes our regular modus operandi, you know what’s that’s going to mean for our bodies over time.  Bad news.  We’re not going to have the rest we need to stay refreshed, and we’re certainly not going to have the proper nourishment we need to keep moving forward.

It is all too easy to neglect good physical nourishment for our bodies, but it is frighteningly easier to neglect good spiritual nourishment for our souls.  For starters, there is a lot of spiritual “fast food” out there, and there are plenty of people who would be more than happy to serve you with that kind of spiritual diet.  The apostle Paul said it well in one of New Testament books that he wrote.  In a letter written to his young coworker, Timothy, Paul said, “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”   Last week, our Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) held its biannual convention.  Later this month, another Lutheran church denomination, one that is quite different from ours, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), will hold its national convention.  Among the ELCA’s convention agenda items will be entering into full communion with the United Methodist Church, even though the two churches do not share a common confession of faith with each other.  Another agenda item seeks to adopt a social statement which, from my quick reading of it, seem to say that they cannot determine what God’s Word has to say about human sexuality, especially as it pertains to homosexual relationships.  Doesn’t that sound like Paul’s warning, “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine”?  How frightening that a Christian denomination could so quickly dismiss the clear word of God that states God’s will for sexual relationships!  And yet we shrug our shoulders because we know that this is exactly what Scripture told us would happen. 

There is another potential danger to our souls with this so-called spiritual fast food.  Now I’m not talking about quality, but quantity.  With Sunday’s football game, Monday’s business meeting, Tuesday’s social gathering, Wednesday’s dinner, and so on, it is easy to find time for anything and everything except spiritual nourishment.  And that problem was not too far from reality for Jesus’ disciples in today’s Gospel.  How could that be?  The twelve apostles had just returned and reported to Jesus everything they had done, just as he had instructed them to do some 20 verses earlier in the same chapter of Mark’s Gospel.  The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported all they had done and taught.  “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’  So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.”

The Twelve were busy doing the Lord’s work.  Jesus himself had sent them out to the surrounding towns.  He told them what to proclaim, what to do if people received their message, what to do if their message was rejected, and he even gave them power to perform miracles that would back up their message.  Now they came back to report their activities.  They had been busy feeding others with the spiritual nourishment of the gospel – so busy, in fact, that they were lacking physical nourishment and maybe even their own spiritual nourishment.  Mark doesn’t mention that point specifically, but seldom was the occasion when Jesus was alone with his disciples that he did not teach them important truths about God’s kingdom of grace.  Yes, Jesus wanted his disciples to get some physical rest and nourishment, but if they were going to continue feeding other people’s souls with the gospel, they needed the gospel’s sustenance just as much as the people to whom they were bringing the gospel.

Every time I head back to my hometown, we inevitably drive through the downtown a couple of times.  In my hometown’s downtown, there is a church of another denomination that has a sign in the front yard that I’ve never liked.  The sign advertises one of their worship services which only lasts 45 minutes.  It’s bad enough that in some places pastors get the evil eye when they go over 60 minutes!  I wonder what will eventually happen in churches that give in and create the 45-minute service.  Will someone eventually complain that that’s too long and we need a 30-minute service?  We can think of a hundred other things to do that make it “necessary” to shorten up our time in God’s house.

But spiritual nourishment doesn’t come to us like fast food.  There is a larger problem than busy schedules.  When time in God’s Word and at God’s house becomes more and more sparse, our real problem is not a time problem.  Our real problem is a First Commandment problem.  Our real problem is that the old sinful Adam and Eve are still shackled to us, leading us to move our Lord further and further down the list of priorities.  In fact, our sinful nature causes more than just spiritual scheduling conflicts.  Our sinful nature is the same part of us that causes plenty of other outward sin – dishonoring others with gossiping mouths, disgracing our minds with lustful thoughts, and denigrating our Lord with pumped-up personal pride.  But there you have the spiritual fast food diet – placing God further and further out of our busy lives and hoping that a passing thought here and a little God talk there will keep our faith fully fueled.

On our own, our souls would starve from lack of nourishment and die from sin’s venomous bite.  We need a divine solution, a heavenly answer, and in our Savior’s Word we find out that our God has in fact provided that answer.

Whether or not the crowd knew it, when they followed Jesus they had come to the right place.  My guess is that most of the crowd didn’t fully realize what they had found in Jesus.  In future Sundays, as we follow the events after this account, we will see that many people who were excited about Jesus at this point didn’t stay that way for long.  But for now they had come to the man who could offer true spiritual nourishment.  “Many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.”

Chances are the crowd that formed around Jesus and the disciples came together because these people had heard their message and seen their miracles.  But Jesus saw it a different way.  His heart went out to them.  He saw their need for true, spiritual nourishment.  Listen to the final verse again: “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”  What an indictment against the religious leaders of Jesus’ day!  There were plenty of rabbis, teachers, Pharisees and chief priests to give spiritual nourishment to these people, and yet Jesus sees the crowds as spiritually starved, shepherdess sheep.

Someone has observed that Christians don’t always grasp the fact that non-Christians are lost souls heading for hell and needing to be rescued.  So often we forget that the lost are, in fact, lost.  We see the unchurched people of our community as prospects, people who could raise our numbers, fill our pews, and do more stuff around the church.  We often see the unchurched as an asset to be gained for ourselves rather than for Christ.

But Jesus doesn’t see it that way.  Jesus sees the lost as those who need a rescue.  Jesus looks at the searching teenager or college student, but he doesn’t view them as a pest or a problem.  He sees them as lost, someone he traded places with in God’s courtroom, someone needing rescue.  Jesus looks at the practicing homosexual, and though he loathes the sin, he doesn’t view him as a disgusting deviant.  He sees them as lost, someone whose sin he took away at the cross, someone needing rescue.  Jesus looks at the hurting and lonely neighbor of yours, but he doesn’t view them as a quirky annoyance.  He sees them as lost, someone for whom he defeated death and the devil, someone needing rescue.

And Jesus sees us in that light, too.  In spite of our self-determined, “No thanks, I can handle it myself” spiritual malnourishment, Jesus’ heart overflows with compassion for you and me.  Jesus’ holy heart and hands and head and feet bled with love that flowed for you and me.  Jesus was so moved by compassion for us in our lost state that he gave up and took back his life so that you and I would not be lost forever.  His compassion led him to shed his blood, cover our guilt, wash away our sin, give us spiritual life, and to promise us eternal life.  That’s why proper spiritual nourishment, directly from our Lord Jesus, is so vital.  He leads you to the green pastures of his gospel Word.  He leads you to the quiet, comforting waters through which he adopted you at the font.  He prepares the banquet table of his own body and blood before you in his Supper.  He sets a spiritual feast before us like none other, a feast that we won’t rush, but a feast that we’ll relish; a feast that cures us from sin’s ailment, and keeps us from Satan’s arrows.  This is no spiritual fast food.  This is the forgiveness of sins, the promise of heaven, and the strengthening of your faith that comes only through the gospel of our Lord.

The Gospel for today is one of those Bible readings whose relevance can be easily seen. In our instant, digital, always-on-the-go environment, Jesus invites you to slow down from the hustle and bustle of life, and redirect your heart and mind to something of much greater value.  So stop for a moment, sit at your Lord’s table, feed on his Word and Sacraments, and rest assured that he’s invited you to another feast where the food is heavenly and the joy never ends!  Amen.

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