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Comforting Words


It is my understanding that when someone is wandering in a desert, that their eyes have a way of playing tricks on them. But it’s really no trick at all. A mirage is a natural occurrence when the surface is hot and the air is cool. When light enters through the cool air into the hot air just above the burning sands, the rays bend creating an image that looks as though the surface might be wet. So for a wanderer in the desert wilderness, it certainly makes sense why someone might run after a mirage hoping to cool their parched tongue with a drink of water. But alas, a mirage is only an optical illusion. There is no water to be had.

To put our hope in an illusion can only lead to one result: death. Like a wanderer in the desert wilderness, anyone who tries to quench their thirst with sand from a mirage will only die as a result.

Isaiah writes comforting words for God’s people who find themselves wandering in a desert wilderness of sin and death. His words are words of comfort for us as well so that we may all be directed away from the mirages which only lead to death and toward the only One who can truly quench our thirst and give us eternal life.

Listen once again to our text: Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water (Isaiah 35:4-7a).

For Judah, the outlook was bleak at best. Enemies surrounded them. It would not be long and the nation of Babylon would enter in and drive them into exile. Like their forefathers who wandered the wilderness with Moses, they too would soon be wandering in a land away from home. It would not be long and they would be desperately hoping for these words of Isaiah to come into fruition.

And even though his words would come to fruition, even though Babylon would be overcome by the nation of Persia, and even though King Cyrus would allow God’s people to return home and build the temple once again, Isaiah had the people of Judah looking ahead much further than that.

There was a far greater promise that was yet to be fulfilled in their homeland that they were to fix their eyes upon. This would be no mirage off in the distance. This was the fulfillment of a promise that had been passed down from generation to generation ever since the fall in the Garden of Eden. The comforting words of Genesis, chapter three tell us that the offspring of Eve would come and He would crush the head of the serpent. The evil one would be destroyed. He would be destroyed, and all reason for fear would be removed.

You see, it’s one thing when comforting words are spoken. It is a whole ‘nother thing when those words are actually backed up with the action of a person. And in this case, that man would be Jesus. He would be the One to come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He would come and save his people.

But He would come and save them from far greater enemies than Babylon or Persia or anyone else. He would come and save His people from sin, death, and the devil. In fact, that’s exactly what the angel told Joseph as Jesus entered this world: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 18:20-21). 

That’s exactly what He did on the cross of Calvary. And all along the way leading up to the cross, He fulfilled the prophecies and promises that had been told about Him. In fact, our Gospel reading is evidence of that. There was a man who had a speech impediment and was completely deaf. But Jesus put His fingers in the man’s ears, spit, touched his tongue and the man’s ears were opened and his tongue was released. Just like Isaiah had prophesied, the mute man was no doubt singing for joy.

How comforting is it to know that we have a God who backs up everything He says and everything that was prophesied and promised about Him. As it says, in the book of Titus, God never lies. What He says is no illusion. It is no mirage off in the distance which only disappoints. No, our God is faithful to His Word from beginning to end.

That’s what makes it hard to fathom that as we navigate the Scriptures and see God’s people in action, more often than not they are steeped in rebellion. More often than not they are going away from God rather than following Him. It is as if they are fixated on a mirage off in the distance hoping that it provides something greater than what God can provide. It’s so baffling. Why drink the sand, if there is ample to drink from the One who truly is Living Water?

Then again, how many times do we do the same thing? How many times do we allow our eyes to get fixated on the false promises of this world? “Get rich, and you will be happy.” “Buy this, and you will finally be satisfied.” Do this, and you will finally please everybody.” But every one is a false hope. Every one is a mirage that is only like drinking sand in a desert which leads to death.

Yet, we still get caught up in it, don’t we? We work more and more hoping for a better life, but for what? A few extra bucks? I am reminded about a line that my home pastor used in a sermon once. He said: “No one ever laid on their death bed and said, ‘I wish I would have worked more.’”

And no doubt no one ever bought anything and was ever satisfied. Not in our consumer culture where even when you buy it, there is already a new model that’s being released. We are a society that teaches that enough is never enough. I have even thought of moving to Africa just to get away from it all. But then, as soon as I got off the airplane in Kenya, what is before my very eyes: a large billboard for the latest smartphone. So much for getting away from it all!

And when it comes to pleasing people, there is simply nothing you can do to please everybody. To try and be all things to all people, no matter how hard you try never works. Because invariably, there will always be someone that you have let down. And besides, we are called upon to please God rather than men (Galatians 1:10), which means in this post-Christian culture we are going to upset a whole host of people if we are to remain faithful.

Needless to say, we all get caught up in chasing after the mirages of this world. So, where do we turn? Where are we to go in this wilderness filled with blazing sand? The book of Hebrews rightly tells us to, Fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

Fix our eyes on Jesus. That’s what the Old Testament was intended for as it pointed to the coming of the Christ-child. That’s what the New Testament is intended for as it reveals His death and resurrection for us and points us forward to His return.

As we mark Rally Sunday today, I can’t emphasize enough as pastor that we need to be in the Word, Old and New Testament alike. If we are to look anywhere else for comfort, we will only come up with a mouth full of sand which leads to death. But, here in the Word of God is where Jesus is for us. He is the Word that became flesh and dwells among us (John 1:14). Which means that prioritizing of the Divine Worship Service, Bible Class, and Sunday School are essential. Rightly ordering our weeks and our lives around the Word of God who became flesh by entering this desert wilderness for us is the only way we will truly ever be satisfied.

As Jesus said in the beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

Satisfaction doesn’t come in money, stuff, or the works we do. Satisfaction comes in the shed blood of Jesus Christ that He poured out for us upon the cross of Calvary.

And it is with that very blood along with His body that our thirst is quenched. Nothing is more satisfying than receiving the Son of God into our body as we hear from the lips of the pastor those words of Jesus declaring that our sins are forgiven. Every last mirage chasing sin is gone…forever.

Those comforting words of forgiveness, life, and salvation are a constant echo of God’s Word of promise ever since the day the drenching waters baptism were poured over our heads. On that day we were promised that our Savior would never leave or forsake us. And through it all, come what may, He has been ever faithful to His promise. Just as He will be faithful to His promise to come and save us (Isaiah 35:4) for all eternity, just as He was prophesied in our text for today. It is such a comfort to know that we have a God who never goes back on His Word. Thanks be to God! Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Stand Firm with the Whole Armor of God


A belt securely fastened around the waist. A breastplate to ward off vital enemy blows. Shoes studded with nails for holding the line. Shields covered in water-soaked leather to douse the enemy’s flaming arrows. Helmets of bronze to send a message of intimidation. And a sword to slay any attacker in close combat.

It was a picture that was fixed in Paul’s mind as he sat in the prison cell being guarded by Roman soldiers. It is a picture for us to keep in mind as we are called upon to stand firm with the whole armor of God.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm (Ephesians 6:10-13).

Fellow soldiers, my brothers and sisters in Christ, we are in a real spiritual battle. This reality more often than not gets downplayed, but do not be fooled. As Martin Luther once said: “Whenever God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel right next door.” Yes, Satan is near us battling for our very souls. Scripture tells us that your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1st Peter 5:8-9).

Satan is seeking to devour us eternally. He’s not prowling around seeking to devour non-Christians. He already has them. No, he is on the attack against  Christians. And he wastes no time in getting down to business either.

From the very moment that we are baptized in the name of the Triune God, the devil gets down and dirty. He hits us with an onslaught of temptations to try and drive us away from our Savior. He wants us isolated and alone. He delights in our misery. He simply can’t stand the thought of anyone being a Christian.

This onslaught of temptations was the same way it went for Jesus right after he was baptized. Remember when the Spirit cast him out into the wilderness. For forty days with nothing to eat, he was tempted by the devil. For forty days, Satan and the Son of God went toe to toe. For forty days the devil threw everything he had at Jesus.

Unlike Jesus though, we are simply no match for the devil. It is as we just sang: “The old satanic foe, has sworn to work us woe. With craft and dreadful might, he arms himself to fight. On earth he has no equal.” By our strength alone, we are helpless and hopeless against the evil one.

Martin Luther put it this way in the Large Catechism portion of the sixth petition of “Lead us not into temptation”: “We Christians must be armed and expect every day to be under continuous attack. Then we will not go about securely and heedlessly as if the devil were far from us, but will at all times expect his blows and fend them off. Even if at present I am chaste, patient, kind, and firm in faith, the devil is likely at this very hour to send such an arrow into my heart that I can scarcely endure, for he is an enemy who never lets up or becomes weary; when one attack ceases, new ones always arise” (Book of Concord, p. 455).

So let us not be naïve. We are under attack. Every day Satan is out to bring us down. From grudges and gluttony, to pride and pornography, to laziness and lying. With every temptation to sin, his goal is to separate us from the Savior. And unfortunately, every day he is successful in his endeavor. Every day, he gets us to fall into his traps that he lays out for us to fall into. Sometimes…a lot of times…it is quite embarrassing how easily he gets us to fall into those traps. Which just goes to show how weak we truly are. Our flesh is too weak. We simply can’t stand against the schemes of the devil. He’s just too powerful for us…

…But…He is not too powerful for our Lord. It is as the hymn we just sang continues: “No strength of ours can match his might. We would be lost, rejected. But now a champion comes to fight, whom God Himself elected. You ask who this may be? The Lord of hosts is He, Christ Jesus, mighty Lord, God’s only Son, adored. He holds the field victorious.”

That’s right, victory is certain because Jesus Christ has already won the war. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. Though Satan threw everything he had at Him, Jesus stood firm, fastened to the cross of Calvary. And with three last words, He thrust the sword of the Spirit right through the enemy. It is finished. And it was. And it is. And it forever will be. Sin, death, and the devil are done for.

Though Satan may prowl around seeking to devour us, he does so as a defeated enemy. Two thousand years ago, He met His match in the Son of God and he has been reeling ever since, simply trying to grab hold of any last followers before his time is up. And it won’t be long and his time will be up. It won’t be long and those trumpets will sound. It won’t be long and our Victor will descend from the clouds. And what a day that will be!

Until then, our Savior does not leave us empty handed. Until then, He does not leave us without help or hope. In baptism, we were clothed with Christ. In baptism, were covered in the blood He shed in victory. In baptism, the Son of God Himself passed His battle-tested armor on to us so that we may be able to stand firm against the devil and all his works and all his ways.

Remember when Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Three separate times we hear of Satan going in for a full frontal assault at Jesus. And every time Jesus counter-attacks with the same weapon: Again and again, He says…It is written…It is written…It is written. The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12a).

Talk about a weapon to ward off the wicked foe. A weapon He used from the cross to defeat the devil once and for all. A weapon that we are equipped with as a part of the whole armor of God.

From the belt to the breastplate, from the shoes to the shield, to the helmet, and the sword. He does not leave us vulnerable to fall to the foe. We are strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might (Ephesians 6:10).

Let us never forget though that it is by His strength and His might that we are able to stand against the devil. As Luther writes in the Large Catechism: “If you attempt to help yourself by your own thoughts and resources, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil a wider opening. For he has a serpent’s head; if it finds an opening into which it can slither, the whole body will irresistibly follow. But prayer can resist him and drive him back (Book of Concord, p. 455).

Therefore, it’s no wonder that Paul instructs the whole army of God to be praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18-20).

Fellow soldiers, let us be fervent in prayer as we face the attacks of the evil one. Let us not be arrogant in thinking we can stand firm on our own. To do so would only guarantee our defeat. But there is One who is interceding on our behalf who sits on His throne in heaven. Though He became weak by becoming one of us to save us, He now stands secure in victory in the strength of His might. His name is Jesus, our King, and our Lord. Fellow soldiers, let us call upon His name, and He will be faithful to deliver us.

At a time of transition like this in our congregation it is essential that we remain fervent in prayer. The devil is going to try and take advantage of this opportunity to stick his slithery head in here and drive division between us. Knowing that, let us call upon the name of the Lord seeking His protection and wisdom as we navigate this process ahead. Therefore, I ask you as Paul asked the Ephesians, to pray for me as well as my family. Pray that God may use me to boldly declare the Gospel to you. And all the while, I will pray for you also that God may protect you and be at work in your lives to accomplish His will here in this place. And we can be confident that with His strength and His might we will be able to stand firm with the whole armor of God.

“Though hordes of devils fill the land, all threatening to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot overpower us. Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage. His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail! One little word subdues him.”

In the name of Jesus, let us pray. I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Word of God is For You

nullWhen I was growing up, I rode the school bus to school. One of the privileges of riding the school bus was that the bus driver selected a couple of the older kids to be bus monitors. A bus monitor’s responsibility was to assist the bus driver in reminding people to remain seated, keep their feet out of the aisle, and things like that. It just so happened one year that I was selected for this position. I was excited to be given such a position of power. But that was just it. I abused the position I was in, failing to see that I was supposed to be helping the bus driver, not making it harder on them. I acted as if I was in control of the bus, instead of recognizing that I was also a passenger. The standards I held others to, I did not think applied to me. And if people were out of line, I threatened to tell on them. It was not long, and I found myself fired from the position of bus monitor, and for good reason.

          As we enter into another school year, perhaps teachers can somewhat relate to this situation. In each class, there are no doubt a fair share of tattletales who think that in some regard they hold the power in the room. What’s more, those individuals have a way of viewing that the standards that they hold others to do not apply as much to them. In essence, they are very good at pointing out the faults of others. However, they fail when it comes to seeing their own faults.

          Such is the case with the Pharisees and the scribes in our text for today. They are given the opportunity to stand in the presence of Jesus and have a conversation with him. And what do they decide to hone in on for their discussion? The disciples’ hands. The disciples were eating with dirty hands, defiled hands. The text reveals that Pharisees and Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders.

          Now there is certainly nothing wrong with clean hands. No doubt, as the school year begins anew, all teachers will be reminding their students to wash their hands for snack and lunch and after using the bathroom. And for good reason as we don’t want to assist in the spread of germs.

          But that wasn’t the issue here. The issue for the Pharisees and scribes was not the spread of germs. It was the tradition of the elders. You see, in order to keep from breaking the laws of God, the Pharisees had established countless other laws to serve as a fence, if you will, around the laws of God so that no one even came close to breaking God’s laws. The problem with that, was that the traditions of the elders were held in higher regard than the laws of God.

          The exchange between the Pharisees, scribes, and Jesus makes that abundantly clear. And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?

          Let’s stop for just a second, and take note that these are the tattletales in action. They are filled with a false-sense of power, and they are quick to point out the faults of others. Unfortunately, this false sense of power which they abuse against others blinds them from the reality of their own sinfulness. This is what Jesus helps to point out.

          And he [Jesus] said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:6-8).

          On the outside, the Pharisees and scribes gave every indication that they were pious, holy men. They seemed to say all the right things and do all the right things. The problem was that what they said and did was more in alignment with the words of men than of God.

          And Jesus wasn’t done pointing this out. And he [Jesus] said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mark 7:9-13).

          You see, the people were being inconvenienced by having to care for their parents and the financial burden that went with it. So to “fix” the problem, a law was made allowing someone to declare “Corban” and they were off the hook. No longer did they have to care for their parents. Instead they could offer Corban, a financial gift that they could dedicate to God. The money they would have used for caring for their parents was now God’s. However, the crazy thing about this money dedicated to God, was that it didn’t have to go to the church. It could be spent however the child of the parents deemed appropriate.

          Jesus saw this as a heinous crime against the fourth commandment which tells us we are to ‘fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.’ So much for all of that.

          The question that is present in all of this is…When does our word or the words of another usurp the Word of God? Let me ask that again…When does our word or the words of another usurp the Word of God?

          We might be quick to answer…Never! Never do our words or the words of another usurp the Word of God. But as we examine the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes, can we be so quick to answer that way? Or like the Pharisees and scribes, are we also quick to point out the faults of others while we ourselves only pay lip service to God? As it said in Isaiah: Do we honor God with our lips, but our hearts are far from him?

          We can use the fourth commandment as an example to see how we are doing, since that is the one Jesus used with the Pharisees and Sadducees.

          In reading the new catechism, there is plenty of helpful information in the question and answer section to help us think about what it means to honor our father and mother…what it means to not despise or anger our parents…what it means to honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.

          For example, the Catechism asks: “How can I show that I honor and cherish my parents as gifts of God and as His representatives here on earth? Certainly, the Pharisees and the scribes with their law of Corban missed the mark on this one. But how about us?”

          Well the Catechism goes on to ask: “How do we fear and love God in keeping with the Fourth Commandment?”

“We fear and love God by not despising our parents, guardians, or other authorities. Despising means looking down upon them or making fun of them; disobeying or rebelling against their God-given authority.”

“We fear and love God by receiving and recognizing parents and authorities as His representatives. We do this by honoring them; serving and coming to the aid of our parents; obeying our parents, pastors, teachers, employers, and government authorities; loving and cherishing our parents and other authorities on account of their God-given vocations.”

Now should you be asking, “What if my parents or other authorities poorly carry out their vocations from God? In faith and obedience to God’s Word, we still respect them as those who have been given the privilege of representing God to us. But should they demand something of us against God’s Word, then we obey God, as Scripture says, ‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29).

And that’s really the point with this text. God’s Word usurps everyone else’s word, including our own. We may not always like what it says. The Pharisees and scribes certainly didn’t with respect to the fourth commandment. No doubt we feel the same way from time to time. But that doesn’t give us credence to alter God’s Word for our own convenience, nor does it somehow give us the right to point out when others fail to obey God’s commands, while failing to recognize the times we fall short. God’s Word is for us, and that includes all of it. He gave it all to us for our good.

It is good for us to hear the Law to be shown our sins so that we see our need for a Savior. Without the Law, we would never see our sin or repent and turn from our sins and follow Him. We would only wander away from Him as the Pharisees and scribes had done. Like them, we may be inclined to think that we have a pretty good handle on our lives, that somehow we are good people. But by whose standard?

The truth is “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The truth is, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1st Corinthians 6:19-20).

Because each of us had fallen short of the glory of God, Jesus was sent to pay that price. That price was not with gold or silver, but rather with His holy and precious blood. You see, when Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, he could have gone about things differently. He could have tattled on all those that gathered round and pointed out all their faults. He could have pointed out all the inconsistencies in their testimony which would have only proven his innocence. But like a lamb led to the slaughter, he was silent. He was silent and instead of pointing out their faults, He took them all upon His shoulders. He did the same for us. Upon His shoulders He bore our sins on the cross as the weight of the world was pressing down upon Him. And from His very lips, He served us by speaking the words that are the sweetest to have been spoken in all history. “It is finished.” Those words were spoken for you. For you and for me.

Those words show that even though our hearts are far from God, His heart was beating in rhythm with the Father. His heart was beating for you and for me as He shed His blood in love for us. In doing so, He was doing exactly what His Father had directed Him to do. He was loving and honoring His Father by accomplishing His will and now we are the ones who benefit from such a great act of love. Forgiveness and salvation our now ours.

There is simply never an instance where God’s Words are usurped, by yours, mine, or anyone else’s. From the Law to the Gospel, we need it all. God’s Word declares that we are sinners, sinners in need of a Savior. And God’s Word declares that the punishment that should have been ours has been finished off once and for all by the One who honored His Father on our behalf. Thanks be to God! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Eat to Live; Live to Eat - Pastor Gless


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

A couple of years ago, I was headed to a conference in St. Louis at the seminary. While there, I decided that I would try and connect with a family friend who was attending the seminary. I called him up and asked him if we could meet to catch up, and he agreed. We agreed to meet up for a meal together, but then it dawned upon me that we never decided where we would eat. Now this is a big deal for me. I love food! But even more, when eating with someone else, I want to know that they will love the food as well. So I sent him a lengthy text offering some suggestions, and I will never forget his reply. He texted back, “Adam, I get the impression that you are one who lives to eat. I eat to live, so wherever you decide will be just fine.”

Contrary to my mode of operation for life of living to eat, Jesus instructs those who are listening to him in our text for today that they need to ‘eat to live’. [Jesus said:] I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat? So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:51-54).

People of God, if you want to live eternally, then you need Jesus. It’s as simple as that. Eat, drink, inwardly digest Jesus as if your life depended upon it. Because it does. Jesus is to be our appetizer, main course, dessert, and even that evening snack we sneak in. We are to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things as the first commandment instructs. There is simply no other way to eternal life. As it says later in the book of John, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).

This very truth is what we mark today with the Lord’s blessing in the giving of Bibles and Catechisms to our incoming third and fifth graders. Today, we mark the passing on of the faith from one generation to the next. Today we provide our children with the food for their souls.

This milestone also serves as a great reminder for all of us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest God’s Word. All too often in the busyness of life, we lose sight of that priority. And don’t get me wrong, I get it! Life is crazy! Life is busy! There are days where devotions and prayer do get lost in the shuffle. There are days when a quick bedtime prayer is all that happens. But the key is to not let this exception become the rule.

Consider it this way. What if you skipped a meal? I bet you would be hungry, but you would survive and get over it. But what if you made that a common practice? The eventual result would be that you would starve to death. So it is with our faith life. Jesus doesn’t want us to starve to death, so He rightly orders us to eat His flesh and drink His blood. He tells us that if you want to live, and live eternally, you gotta eat.

The people that were listening to Jesus in our text didn’t like hearing that. It wasn’t as much because of the cannibalistic way that He was speaking. Though that was no doubt disturbing to them. Rather, it had more to do with what He meant by what He was saying. They knew where he was from and who his family was and what his family did. But in no way were they willing to accept that this guy here before them was the promised Messiah. He didn’t fit their mold. They wanted somebody else. So they left. In other words, they left to dine elsewhere.

It is estimated that there are over 650,000 different restaurant companies in the United States alone. This means that when we dine out, there are a lot of options. We love options. Which also happens to be the reason that so many of us like buffets.

Buffets provide numerous food options for us to dine on in one sitting. My parents took full advantage of buffets when we would travel as a family. My parents were no dummies with a couple of growing boys. They would take us to eat in the late morning with the whole idea was that if we ate well then, we wouldn’t need much more than a snack to make it to supper as we would travel. My brother and I didn’t really care. We just loved the vast amount of options that we could select from in which to eat. Sometimes I went for waffles, other times I went for eggs. Sometimes I went for waffles and eggs and whole lot of bacon. It was great! Gotta love those options when ya eat!

Here’s the thing though, those who were listening to Jesus that walked away had gotten it stuck in their mind that there were more options when it came to eternal life. They could walk away, and in their minds, they would be just fine. But that just isn’t true.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, when it comes to eternal life, there are not a whole lot of options. In fact, there is just one. Imagine that! Going to a restaurant, and there being only one thing on the menu. Well that is the way it is when it comes to the gift of eternal life. If you are going to eat in order to live, then the only course to dine upon is Jesus.

Unfortunately, in our day and age, more and more are walking away looking for other options. How many of us remember a day when there were no businesses open on Sundays, or no activities scheduled on Sundays? There was a respect, a reverence for the Lord’s Day that no longer seems to exist. Now there are options. How many of us remember a day when it was expected that the whole family got up on Sunday morning and went to worship, no ifs, ands, or buts about it? But now there are options. The question is, are the other options good for us? Do they carry with them the promise of eternal life?

Going back to the buffet illustration, have you ever been there trying to decide on whether you will have the salad or another piece of fried chicken, the fruit or more dessert? I am sure we all have. I am sure we have all weighed the options, and if you are like me, on countless occasions, you have taken the option that is not as healthy for you.

The same is true when we take the option of anything other than being in the presence of Jesus in the Divine Service on Sundays. We are choosing the option on the buffet of life that is the slippery slope to joining those that walked away from Jesus. And I know, we may argue that it is only one Sunday. But, just like we indulge in a dessert or two, it doesn’t take long before unhealthy dining becomes a habit.

Just like unhealthy dining is bad for us, Jesus doesn’t want us to dine in an unhealthy way spiritually either. He doesn’t want any of us to walk away from Him as if life was a buffet of options. He knows that all the other options out there lead to death, so He wants us to come here and be with Him. And not just be with Him, but feast upon Him.

I am reminded of my first time in Kenya when we went to the village of Duca Moja, literally 100 miles beyond the middle of nowhere. The morning after we arrived, we woke up and walked to the building they had built to use as a church. It was a tin shed, large enough to hold 50-60, give or take a few. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, people started showing up. People walking from all over came to this tin shed in the middle of nowhere. They came to hear Pastor May teach on God’s Word, which he did for nearly two hours. They filled the place, and then some. People were overflowing outside the building as well. I sat there and marveled. Here, these people didn’t have a dime to their name by my standards for shelter and food, yet here they were in droves to be fed by the Bread of Life, the Word of God. As I think back, it is as Jesus said on the sermon on the mount in the beatitudes: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).

Like those people in Duca Mojo, here on this day as we eat, drink, and inwardly digest Jesus, we will be satisfied. It is a guarantee. You see, nothing else or no one else can tantalize our taste buds like Jesus can. Nothing else can please our palette like He can. Nothing else can satisfy our stomach’s grumbling like He can. Though there may be so many more options out there on Sundays, nothing else can provide satisfaction like Jesus can.

It’s no wonder that Peter answered Jesus the way that He did when Jesus asked if he and the other disciples wanted to leave as well, to go and dine elsewhere, if you will. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God (John 6:68-69).

Jesus is the living bread that came down from heaven. He is the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us to save us so that we may have eternal life. He came here to live the perfect life we couldn’t live and die the death that should have been ours all for the sake of providing satisfaction. He served Himself by drinking the cup of God’s wrath to deliver satisfaction for our sins. Crucified, dead, and buried, He delivered the satisfaction we so desperately needed so that we would not die eternally…so that we would have eternal life.

And that is what He promises to us here on this day as we hear His Word and feast upon His Holy Supper. Here at His table is where Jesus Himself comes to us. His flesh is true food, and His blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on Him will live forever.

When we follow Jesus’ command to eat his flesh and drink his blood, when we eat to live, His life is given to us. His body, His blood, the work He did on the cross, the life and salvation He won, the resurrection, all of it is now ours. We are now given new life, and with that new life we are transformed. Our desire is changed. The more we eat His Word and His Sacrament in order to live, the more we will desire to live to eat. As the Psalm said last Sunday, Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34:8a).

It is good to rightly order our daily lives around the Bread of Life. It is good to prioritize being in the Word of God and praying daily. It is good to rightly order our weeks by beginning them with being served by our Savior in the Divine Worship Service. It is good, because there is simply nothing that compares to being fed and nourished by our Savior who promises eternal life.

People of God, if you want to live eternally, then you need Jesus. It’s as simple as that. Eat, drink, inwardly digest Jesus as if your life depended upon it. Because it does. Eat to live; live to eat. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Sunday's Coming!


“Sunday’s Coming!”

It was Friday. My nerves were up because my time was down. There was so much to be done and so many people to get to know. It was Friday and our belongings were in storage and our house in Wisconsin still not sold. Becca and our then one and only child (1½ year-old Bella) were sitting at her parents’ house in Waconia wondering what life in Mayer was going to be like.

It was Friday. I was thinking, “What were these Zion people going to be like?” My mind was racing. I still had a sermon to finish! It was Friday and I knew Sunday’s coming.

That was 13 years ago. This past week it was again Friday when I again sat in my office thinking about you the beloved people of Zion. I considered the many years, the many joys and even the sorrows that we’ve shared together during my time—all the baptisms, the weddings, the confirmations, the potlucks, the graduations, along with the funerals, heartaches and sorrows. 

It was Friday and I knew my last Sunday was coming. I read again these words of Jesus: 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” After reading these words I then prayed, as I have often done, that on Sunday (today) you would once again hear and believe the Good News of the Gospel; that by the shed blood of Jesus Christ you are forgiven and made a dear and precious child of God who will be raised up on the Last Day.

Yes, it was Friday and the Words of Jesus were prompting a flood of memories. Again from the Gospel: 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” These words reminded me of the many Sundays we’ve shared the Lord’s Supper together. Sunday after Sunday, year after year, I put into your hands the Bread of Life, the very body of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It was Friday and I considered the many hands I have looked upon while administering the Lord’s Supper. It will be hard not to see those hands; the tender hands soft with gentleness and care, the strong hands thick with years of hard labor, the little hands and the big hands. Yes, I know your hands; the stained hands, the broken hands, even the angry hands, along with the frail hands, gnarled hands, ailing hands and even the trembling hands. I will miss those hands.

It was Friday and the hands of Jesus were being stretched out. It was Friday and the mockers and the scoffers were out in full force. It was Friday. The soldiers spit in His face and they struck him on the head over and over again (Matthew 27:30).

It was Friday and the whip brutally scourged his body (Matthew 27:26) and darkness covered the land (Matthew 27:45). It was Friday and Jesus was dead on the cross.  But that was Friday, and Sunday’s coming! 

It was Friday. The cynics who had been watching the trial unfold were looking at the world and saying, “As things have always been so shall they be. You can’t change anything in this world. You can’t change anything.” But those cynics didn’t know that it was only Friday and Sunday’s coming! 

It was Friday. And on Friday, the forces that oppressed the poor and marginalized the meek were in control. But that was Friday and Sunday’s coming!

It was Friday. Women were weeping and the disciples were running in every direction, like sheep without a shepherd. It was Friday and the tomb was sealed. But that was Friday and Sunday’s coming! 

            Scripture declares what happened on Sunday: 1But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (Luke 24).

The whole message of the Bible had been built up to this day (Sunday). Because the world was filled with sin, that meant there had to be a Friday. But God’s unending message has always been Sunday’s coming!

When Adam and Eve gave into Satan’s temptation and brought the ugly and agonizing reality of sin into the world, God immediately declared Friday would be necessary. But not to worry, because He also said Sunday’s coming. In Genesis 3:15 he says to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and hers.  He will crush your head and you will strike his heal.” 

So it was on Friday, that with each swing of the mallet and with each pain filled breath, Jesus certainly felt more than just a striking at His heal. When that Friday ended it looked as though the Devil had won and that the Son of God was defeated, sealed in a borrowed tomb. But that was Friday and Sunday’s coming!   

Time and again the Old Testament speaks about this day. Prophecy after prophecy tells of this day coming. In 2 Samuel 7:12-14 God says to King David, “I will raise up one from your offspring and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for my name and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father and he will be my son.”

But on Friday the Son of God was yelling, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). But that was Friday and Sunday’s coming

On Friday Mary was crying her eyes out. Hopes were crushed. Friends were disowned.  People were disgraced, buried by hurt and confusion. But that was Friday and Sunday’s coming!

Isaiah 25 tells about this Sunday: 7[God] will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples; 8he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces.” Time and again the message of the Old Testament it SUNDAY’S COMING!

On Friday, Herod thought he’d had his laughs and Pilate thought he had washed his hands of some trouble. On Friday the Pharisees were strutting around, laughing, and slapping each other on the back. They all thought they were in charge, but they didn’t know that it was only Friday and Sunday’s coming!

Sunday has come! Today Jesus comes directly to you as the Bread of Life, putting into your hands and into your mouths the very bread that comes down from heaven in the Lord’s Supper. Through all the filth and sin of our lives this is a meal that makes us and say, “Thank God Sunday’s coming!”

Many of you have have heard me use this phrase before. I simply borrowed it from Christian speaker Tony Campolo, who borrowed it from someone else. Sunday’s coming is a phrase that reminds us we are a Sunday people; that Sunday is not only coming, but is here!

Today is Sunday after all. Why do you think we worship on Sundays? It’s a reminder of the greatest event that has ever happened in the history of the world. Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Sunday. So Sunday declares the devil is defeated, death has been destroyed, and you have the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting welling up within you.   

Sunday reminds us that Jesus Christ is Lord. Sunday reminds us that Jesus died, rose, ascended, and is coming again to take away your pain and tears, and fill you with everlasting joy.

However, life does not always feel so joyful. Sometimes life feels more like it’s a Friday than a Sunday. Your pastor is leaving. You’ve got unpaid bills. Or your health is bad and you’re in a world of hurt. Life is broken. You’re full of sorrow. Your sins are many. You’ve got questions about God. Maybe you’re just overwhelmed by life.

In fact, maybe like Jesus it’s Friday and you are crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Perhaps you feel lost in the depths of Friday’s darkness. 

On Friday Jesus was over whelmed by the work that was before him. He was beat down by the debt of sin He was paying. His flesh was ripping, His blood was dripping, and His strength was slipping. He was burdened to the point of death. But that was FRIDAY and SUNDAY’S COMING.

Friday’s darkness was overcome by Sunday’s light. Friday’s despair was overpowered by Sunday’s resurrection. He who said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” not only said it, but he proved it! He who said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever, brings you this very bread today!

When life seems like you can’t take it any more—when it doesn’t make sense, when the hurt is too much, when the days seem pointless, and your life feels worthless—remember that SUNDAY’S COMING! On this day you are fed the bread of life so that every day you can live your life in the strength of Christ.  

Sunday reminds you that Jesus died and rose specifically because He loves you! He loves you with an unconditional and irreversible love. He brings forgiveness for your faults, healing to your hurts, wholeness to your broken lives, and meaning to your existence.

Sunday declares the tomb is empty and death is defeated. In fact, if you’ve ever lost a loved one and lived in the darkness and pain of Friday, or maybe your own mortality sees the darkness of Friday creeping in, let me remind you that Sunday’s coming! 

The Living Bread from heaven comes to you this very day and feeds you with His life even as you life in the midst of this broken and dying world. When life deals you the worst it can give, we believe the power of Christ that exploded on this world on a Sunday some 2,000 years ago is still here today. We know that Sunday’s coming!    

This is Gospel truth. This is what Sunday is all about. God so loved the world that He sent His Son to die for you and that meant Friday had to happen. But guess what, Sunday’s coming! And today Sunday is here! That’s the Good News. 

No matter the pastor that serves you, (and you are being left in good and capable hands), they are called to do so in the name and stead of Jesus Christ. They are called to do so in the confidence that Sunday’s coming.  

Beloved members of Zion, I thank God for each of you, for your faith, and for the great privilege to serve and love you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. You may see me from time to time throughout the district, or even back here at Zion once and awhile, but as I say goodbye for now, I do so knowing that Sunday’s coming! I leave knowing that today you are given the Bread of Life and that next Sunday, you will have it again.

Sunday’s coming! It’s the Good News that this world so desperately needs to hear. People are longing for some hope. They are looking for some light. Jesus Christ gives it!

When you are overwhelmed, you can know Sunday’s coming. When someone feels they can never know love again, tell them Sunday’s coming. When they’ve lost their belief in the goodness of God, tell them that Sunday’s coming. When you hunger and thirst for righteousness, Sunday’s coming! When you are burdened by sin, Sunday’s coming! When you are staring at the grave of a loved one, the empty tomb of Jesus says, Sunday’s coming!

We are not ashamed of Gospel of Jesus Christ, because to all of those who are on the brink of despair, you and I can stand and yell at the top of our lungs, “IT’S FRIDAY, BUT SUNDAY’S COMING!”  In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Don't Be Afraid - Pastor Woodford July 29, 2018


48…And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Walking on water is overrated. It’s really not that big of a deal. Some simply don’t see what the fuss is all about. At least that’s what the group of insects called water striders is saying. These six legged arthropods have been walking on water for years. Equipped with special hydrophobic legs (legs with tiny hairs), they can walk indefinitely across the surface of the water without even getting wet.

But they are not the only ones protesting. The basilisk lizards have made their claim to fame by not only walking on water, but by running on water. These little lizards can run at a velocity of 4.8 feet per second for approximately 15 feet before sinking on all fours and swimming. When these little guys get going they are a sight to see.

However, there is yet one more group of protesters. Believe it or not there is a group of Minnesotans who claim they have a seasonal ability to walk on water. They call themselves Ice-Fishermen... With just six inches of solid ice they can walk for miles and miles on any lake, river or ocean.     

Joking aside, the fact is that when Jesus walked on the water it was and is a big deal. For the manner in which He walks on the water is like no other creature. He walks on the water not simply as any other creature, but as the very creator of all there is.

Sure, scientists can give wonderful natural explanations of how water striders use the surface tension and their hydrophobic legs to skim across the water or how basilisk lizards are equipped with little flaps between their toes to help support them, creating a larger surface and a pocket of air that allows them to skim across the water. They simply offer an explanation of how these creatures can logically and naturally do what they do.

However, for a human being to walk upon the water as Jesus did was a profound event. It was not logical and it was not natural, at least not to the disciples. Mark records they were so frightened by this event that they all cry out in terror. It’s not natural for an ordinary human being to walk on the water.

However, Jesus was not just an ordinary human being. The only way someone can walk on water like this was if He was the very one who created the water. Sure scientists can take two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen and form water, but only God can create those elements out of nothing, form them into a liquid and place it upon the earth simply by speaking it into being:  “God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so.”(Gen. 1:9)  

Jesus walking on the water was a big deal. It showed who He was and the power that He possessed. The disciples were fighting against the wind and the waves all night. It was so bad that the sail was down and they were using oars to try and row across the lake. However Jesus simply walks across the surface of the water, defying the sea bottom, ignoring the wind, and laughing at the waves. And when He reached the boat verse 51 says, “the wind ceased.”

I wonder if Psalm 89:9 may have come to the disciples mind: “Lord, You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” Jesus had already calmed a storm, now he walks on water and again makes the wind to stop. The conclusion the disciples should be able to draw from this would have to be that Jesus was God himself. Who else could control the forces of nature and the elements of creation like that?

Yet, I think it’s hard for us to consider the awe of being in Jesus’ presence for this remarkable event. We’ve seen too many special effects on TV and too many computer generated movies to readily appreciate what it was like witness Him walking on the water. But make no mistake Jesus walking on water was a big deal. Jesus stilling the waves and stopping the wind was a big deal. Who else but God could do such things?   

What do you believe God can do today? When you hear these accounts of God’s power and might do you hear them as a nice story, but think they have no real relevance for you today?  Do they compel you to a deeper trust in God or do you simply dispel them as fanciful tales? 

Remember the disciples. They witnessed these profound events first hand but still had their own doubts. In verse 52 Mark tells us, 52They were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” 

Hard hearts. In other words, they were unbelieving hearts. Though they had just witnessed Jesus miraculously feed over 5,000 they refused to believe the divine miracle that it was. So what happens?  Hard hearts and unbelief, along with fear and panic.

But contrast this with the people who recognize Jesus after His boat lands. Verse 55 says the people 55ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was.” It is an interesting comparison. Those seemingly closest to Jesus were struggling with doubts and hard hearts, while those not as close openly believed. What’s that all about?

Or maybe the better question is which group are you in? Are you in the crowd of people running about telling others of Jesus? Or are you in the boat with the disciples?

I have to confess that many times I am in the boat with the disciples. I am close to God, yet at times I have many doubts and many questions. “If God is love why do bad things happen to good people?” I love Jesus, but sometimes my heart is hardened—scarred with hurt, overcome by anger, filled with selfishness.   

It is a curious occurrence. At times we are floating on mountain tops certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that the power of God is real and the presence of God is certain.

And then there are those times that we are drowning at sea, sinking in doubt and disbelief, anxious and afraid, and wondering “Does God really exist?” “Is all of this really true?” 

Do you ever question God?  Do you ever have doubts? Are you ever uncertain about the presence of God and His redeeming power? Hop in the boat with me and the disciples and let’s find out what happens:49but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

You see, the good news is whichever crowd you’re in Jesus has something to say to you. To those closest to Him and yet overwhelmed by the fear and doubts of life, Jesus says, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” When terror and doubt are present, Jesus speaks words of comfort. When the waves of fear and the winds of disbelief are blowing the voice of Jesus brings calm. “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And to those who are far off, Jesus has something to say, He has something to offer. His invitation whether you are near or far is, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:29). When you are weary and worn, frightened and fatigued, such divine rest is a welcome respite.

A few weeks ago in the middle of the night Klaci, my six-year-old daughter, came into our bedroom visible shaking and crying. “Daddy I had a bad dream. Can I lay by you?” As I let her crawl in next to me, she told me the dream was about something “really bad” that happened to her and to me and how it seemed so real and scary.

I reassured her that it was just a dream. Nonetheless, as any of us who have had bad dreams know, dreams can be disturbing. Bad dreams put doubts in our minds and pits in our stomachs. They make us question what is real.

As I lay there with my arm around her as she was still whimpering and shaking with fright, I spoke to her in a reassuring voice that she was O.K. Daddy was there. She was safe. And within a few minutes she was peacefully back asleep.         

When there is fear, a familiar voice brings comfort. When there is doubt, soothing words bring calm. Jesus said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” These are words you are invited to hear over and over again. They are words meant to help you exercise your faith, turn away from your fears, repent of your sins, and turn to Christ for comfort, rest, and redemption.  (I realize it’s not the exact same way as me comforting my daughter. But this is the nature of what it means to live by faith—you exercise your faith by trusting Christ and His Word as you bear up under all the heaviness and heartache this sin filled, fallen world throws at you.   

No matter how many bad dreams you have or no matter how many of your bad dreams become reality, the words of Jesus stand firm, they speak clearly, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”Whether in your personal life, in your work life, or your congregational life, Jesus Words are for you right here and right now.

They are not some pie in the sky lofty, warm fuzzy, happy feeling that will somehow float down on you and magically take away every bad thing in your life. Rather they are Words that bring eternal truth to your present situation. They are powerful Words that point you to Jesus, who Himself experienced fear and anxiety as His own death on the cross approached. And just as He saw through His own death to His resurrection in His moment of anxiety, His Words point you beyond the restricting moment of this life to the eternity of the life to come.    

Yes, the Words of Jesus Christ have the power to dispel your doubts, undo your unbelief and sanctify your soul. His Words call you to exercise your faith. They speak comfort into your life, and they put the devil at bay.

            Water striders, basilisk lizards and ice-fishermen, only do what comes natural to them. So it is with Jesus.

When the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh walk all over you, Jesus walks right up to you with His own body and blood, even on this very day, to give you life and salvation. When sin wants to sink you, the shed blood of Jesus forgives you!

When the raging waters of this world overwhelm you, Jesus takes control of that water having baptized you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and claims you as His very own. That means you are His and He is yours!

He stopped at nothing to make sure you hear His words of comfort. He walked on water, carried a cross, was rejected by the Heavenly Father, buried in a tomb, and then raised from the dead so that you can hear His words, believe His Words, and live by His Words. Jesus said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Amen.

The Shepherd's Compassionate Provision


nullIt was an exciting time for the disciples. They had been sent out by Jesus to proclaim that people should repent. While out doing so, they had cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. They had much that they wanted to share with Jesus. So, Jesus suggests that they get away from it all and rest awhile.

But have you ever tried to get away from it all for some R and R, rest and relaxation, and whatever it was that you were trying to get away from finds you anyway? In today’s day and age, this typically happens if the cell phone is not turned off. Emails from work still make their way into the inbox. Phone calls and text messages still buzz and beep. Getting away from it all has become quite difficult.

So it was for Jesus and His disciples. The text says, For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (Mark 6:31b). They couldn’t even get a bite to eat in, the crowds were pressing them so hard. So they made for the boat to try and find another desolate place. But it didn’t matter, the text says, Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them (Mark 6:33).

Talk about determination on the part of the people. And talk about no chance at all for Jesus and His disciples to get some down time away from it all. It looked like that would have to wait for another time. Perhaps you can relate.

But here is where the text makes a shift away from trying to get away from it all. It says, When he [Jesus] went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things (Mark 6:34).

That is the emphasis of our sermon for today. The Shepherd’s Compassionate Provision. May we as hearers of God’s Word trust in the Shepherd’s compassionate provision for us.

Here we see Jesus make an about face, to use the military term. He had been trying to get away from the people so that he could hear the testimony of His disciples. But then, all of a sudden, he saw this crowd, this determined crowd that would stop at nothing to see Him. And the text says that he had compassion on them.

Compassion. In the Greek this word means that Jesus felt this compassion for the people down to His very soul, even to His very bowels. It is a compassion that runs so deep where mercy and sympathy is moved to action in order to relieve people from their distress. That kind of compassion.

Jesus had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Sheep, as you know get the reputation for not necessarily being the brightest of animals. Without a shepherd, they wander and get lost. They get disoriented, and they fall prey to predators as they meander about.

When Jesus looked at these determined people who had literally chased him around the lake, He had compassion on them. He saw them in their need, and like a good shepherd, He desired to tend to their needs. And that need was first to teach them.

It could so easily be lost in this Bible story that when Jesus had compassion on these sheep-like people, that the first thing He did was teach them. We tend to focus on the miracle that comes later, but Jesus places an emphasis first and foremost on filling them to the full with something far greater than mere bread and fish. He gives them the bread of life. The Word of God. The food for their souls.

As the people listen, the disciples start to realize they’ve got a problem. It’s late and there is no food in this desolate place to feed this large crowd. So, the disciples devise a plan of action to share with Jesus: Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat (Mark 6:36).

The disciples want to scatter the flock. They want to take the easy route. Because the easy route will mean that this will no longer be their problem, and they will finally get the time away from it all that they had been hoping for. Jesus, however, has a different plan in mind. But before carrying out that plan, He tests His disciples with a simple command: You give them something to eat.

You can almost see the jaws drop on the disciples faces. What! Are you kidding me? And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat? (Mark 6:37).

It is quite hard to fathom that disciples who had just gotten back from casting out demons and healing the sick would all of a sudden think that there would be a problem with something as simple as feeding these people. But this just goes to show that they didn’t fully realize who it was who stood before them.

So Jesus proceeds to show them once again. He tells them to gather up what they can find. Five loaves of bread and two fish are found. He says, “That’ll do.” Then the miraculous takes place. Five thousand men, plus women and children eat and are satisfied. So much so that twelve baskets full of leftovers were collected after everyone had eaten. Once again, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, provides for His people, His flock.

But how often are we like those disciples who stood there in disbelief, doubting the provision of the Lord? When problems or troubles arise in our life and we get overwhelmed, where do we first turn? Do we turn to the Lord or do we turn to ourselves and wander away from the Lord?

The second commandment directs us to call upon name of the Lord. The second commandment is: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”

Is this our mode of operation, our m.o., when troubles find us in life? When financial burdens arise, when a medical diagnosis strikes, when conflict at work or school comes up, when a congregation enters into a time of vacancy. Are we first turning to the compassionate shepherd for His provision, or are turning inward toward ourselves?

The disciples started by looking inward toward themselves and quickly realized their limitations. They didn’t have the ability to care these people and their needs. They needed help. And that’s exactly what Jesus provided. The people were hungry, and He fed them.

We also are in need of help and provision from our Shepherd. I think about that now probably more than ever as a congregation that is facing some very big changes here in the near future. We need help. We do. You see, the devil is going to try and take advantage of this opportunity before us in hopes of scattering the flock. He is going to try and cause conflict and devise division and destruction in the church. He will attack the pastors and their families, because He knows where best to attack to bring down the Church. And the temptation will be when such attacks happen, to turn inward. To try and figure it out on our own. To dig our heals in and say, “We can do this! We can overcome!” But we can’t. We can’t do it on our own. We need help.

And so, we call upon the name the Lord. We call upon His name and the same Shepherd who looked out at those people with eyes of compassion will also have compassion upon us. He feels it right down to the very depths His soul and bowels. It was such compassion that led him to a cross to suffer and die for us. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. And we are His sheep. He is here to help us with all that we need in body and in soul, just as He has been doing since the start of this congregation back in the nineteenth century. After all, it is His Church. And here in His Church, is where we find all the provision we need. Forgiveness is here. Life and salvation is here. All because our Shepherd is here.

So do not be anxious or afraid. Just like He provided for those people and they ate their fill and were satisfied, so it is with us. As the 23rd Psalm told us, The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (Psalm 23:1). We do not have to want when we have a shepherd leading us to green pastures and still waters to fulfill our needs. As He gathered those people in groups together, so He gathers us. He gathers us in His house to sit side by side to be fed with the Bread of Life, the Word of God. He gathers us at His table to nourish and strengthen us with His body and blood. Through His undershepherds, the pastors of Zion, He fills us to the full so that our cup runneth over with His compassionate provision.

But it is true that the temptation during this time of transition and vacancy will be to only look inward. To look to ourselves and only focus on our cares and concerns. LCMS President Matthew Harrison once wrote in a collection of essays: “Proclaiming Jesus and loving the neighbor has to do with who and what the church is as the body of Christ. Where proclamation of the Gospel and acts of love and mercy are missing, the church’s life is not what Christ intended it to be.”

In no way do we want to lose sight of who we are during this time of transition by only focusing on ourselves. We are the Church, called to be the Church to a growing community, to feed them with the life-saving gift of the Gospel, to share hope and teach Christ. Teaching, just as Jesus first taught those people in our text for today. First we are taught, and then we share what we are taught of Christ with others.

So it is that our mission statement will remain the same, along with our vision and strategy. And we will continue to call upon the name of our Good Shepherd to help us to carry out that mission, vision, and strategy here in this community and even to the ends of the earth. All along the way, we can trust that the Good Shepherd will be faithful to compassionately provide for all that we need in body and in soul. Thanks be to God! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.