“The economy of the Christian Church is impossible and absurd” Trinity 7 2023

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23. July 2023
Trinity 7
Mark 8:1-9

In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.”

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

The miracles of Jesus are incomprehensible to reason and experience. No one can take seven loaves and a few small fish and feed four thousand households. It’s impossible and absurd. That’s how the disciples respond in Matthew’s account: “Then His disciples said to Him, ‘Where could we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?’” Jesus doesn’t follow the rules of nature and the economy of earthly life. In this world, it’s always 1:1, this-for-that. You only get out what you put in. Matter cannot be created or destroyed.

As a congregation of Christ’s church and as your pastor, I think it would be the most blessed problem. Imagine if the Holy Spirit gathered thousands to hear the Word proclaimed here. What would we do? Would we whine and complain about how we don’t have the means to accommodate so many? We’d start crunching the numbers and despair that the church building would be too small, the parking lot, streets, and fields overwhelmed, and nowhere near enough volunteers. It’s not possible, you think. We could never do it. 

The economy of the Christian Church is impossible and absurd. But that’s only to reason and experience. And it’s the voice of unbelief speaking. Jesus’s kingdom is not governed by power and wealth. It doesn’t mimic our poor attempts at community-building and providential care. Fundamentally it can’t because Christ’s kingdom is ruled by the very Word that made and kept making all things out-of-nothing. Jesus is the Word of the Father that said, “Let there be!” Matter can be created or destroyed but only by God the Creator. 

In this Christian Church, the Holy Trinity constantly makes all things new. He is doing for you and me what cannot be done. It’s impossible and absurd for four thousand to follow after Jesus for three days into the wilderness. Why would they dare do such a thing? It’s impossible and absurd for them to believe that Jesus will care for them even in such a desolate place. How could they believe that? And even if Jesus accomplished that, it’s impossible and absurd that anyone feeds so many with so little. At that point, we’re far past the point of reason and experience. 

The economy of the Christian church does not mimic the kingdoms of this world. Your king Jesus demands nothing of you but gives you everything as a free gift of His goodness and mercy. The Gospel shows us that Christ is a gracious, merciful benefactor eager to help, accompany, and associate with everyone. For this reason, the people were also eager to accompany Him, follow Him, and observe and listen to Him, so the houses and streets were emptied. Wherever He turned—up the mountain, into the wilderness, over the sea—they followed. They were not bothered by the difficulty of the journey, the hike up the mountain, or even the perilousness of the sea. In the world, the great, mighty, and rich are eager to avoid the multitude of poor people so that they can have peace and quiet. But Christ does not do that. He would rather be robbed of His peace than the poor should be neglected concerning their salvation. 

To your family, friends, and neighbors, the time, effort, and wealth spent to preserve God’s Word and His gifts of forgiveness is an extraordinary waste. Your offerings’ subsidy for a Lutheran day school makes no sense. The care and upkeep of a historic sanctuary dedicated to one purpose—the reception of God’s Word and Sacraments. But why when we could meet in the gymnasium? And think about the hours you pray, confess, and sing daily. Think about all the ways you could use that time! I could go on. The amount of time, effort, and wealth we seemingly squander for this congregation is absurd to reason and experience.

But many think too small. Or rather, they think we’re too small to be worth God’s effort. We don’t dare God to give us more because we don’t believe He would give us what we need. And when He gives us little, we think God to be the miser, and it’s some judgment against us. If we were doing the right things, the multitudes would follow us into the proverbial wilderness two miles north of Random Lake. Neither is true. 

Don’t apply worldly kingdom rules to Christ’s kingdom. Jesus promises His Spirit will call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify you and the whole Christian Church on earth and keep you with Him. And in this Christian Church, He will daily and richly provide you with everything needed for faith and life. Daily bread is given to everyone without their prayers. But we are given to see that everything we have is a gift from His gracious and merciful hands. That’s why we can say thanks if He gives us much or little. Either way, we have His promises, and His Word cannot fail. To reason and experience such faith is impossible and absurd. 

We believe God will provide for us because we trust Him and cling to His Word. The Word stands firm: “Seek first the kingdom of God… and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). It is God’s ordering that we Christians first pray, attend to Divine Service, listen to preaching and teaching in the Word, praise and thank God, and after that, proceed to his work and home. We see how the four thousand households were so fervent and eager for God’s Word that they even stayed with the Lord Christ for three days in the wilderness.

And, of course, we should treat our neighbor as Christ treats us and not be ungrateful and ungracious to them. Our neighbors, be they a few dozen or four thousand, are gifts to us, too. Even creation doesn’t fail to do that! The field says, “Behold, O man, I gave you grain for your food.” The vineyard says, “I gave you wine for your drink.” The sheep, “I gave you wool for your clothing.” An unmerciful judgment will come upon those who do not show mercy (James 2:13). Do not abuse the good things you have received from God, nor shamefully squander them. Take them, use them, keep them with care, enjoy them with moderation, thank God for them, and use them to help your neighbor. It doesn’t have to make any economic sense; if it does, you’re probably thinking about them all wrong. 

Even though God gives all things richly and sufficiently, the world tends toward one of two extremes: either it keeps them so that no one can enjoy them or abuses and squanders them so that they are no good to anyone. Let’s be different as the Spirit has given us to be. Thank God for His benefits, be gracious and merciful toward your neighbor, and help, serve, and counsel him. And Jesus promises us that we will hear these comforting words when He comes again, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom that is prepared for you from the beginning of the world. For whatever you did to these My lowliest brethren, you did it to Me” (Matt 25:34, 40). And then enter into eternal life. Amen. 

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin