Seventh Sunday after Trinity
University Lutheran Chapel, Boulder, CO
In the Name of the Father, and of the X Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ has compassion on the multitude. He cares for them. He will not send them away to starve to death on their way home. Even though in this instance they are largely Greeks and compromised Israelites, he still turns a fatherly heart to them and feeds the 4,000 in a supernatural way. The Lord provides.
Although the feeding of the 4,000 was a miracle from our perspective, from God’s perspective it was simply a continuation of God’s fatherly preservation of the world. The Lord both creates and preserves the world. “I believe that God made me and all creatures and still takes care of me.” He is not a generic deity who got creation going, like winding up a clock, but who then left creation to carry on by its own momentum. No. His Word created. His Word still creates and sustains. Every sunrise, harvest, spring, birth, and dorm-room pizza comes by the living and active Word of God.
As children, we are largely unaware of fatherly care. As adults now, you perhaps begin to realize how much your parents cared for you all these years. As children, we just expected the peanut-butter sandwiches to show up. But now you appreciate that there was time and cost to all those meals. At the same time, however, it isn’t until God makes us fathers and mothers that we truly understand the extreme sacrifice and effort required to make a family run. You really don’t know until you’ve done it. As children, we are mostly unaware.
The same holds true for us to a greater degree as the children of God. We are largely unaware of our Lord’s fatherly care for us day after day. We overlook even the simplest of things. For example, we can look at Israel crossing the Red Sea and see God’s fatherly hand at work. We marvel, rightly, and sing of how he preserved them and saved them on dry ground.
But here’s the thing: your whole life is lived in the miracle of the Red Sea. On the third day of creation God said: “Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.” That creating Word of God is still in force. It echoes through creation. Everyday God holds back the floodwaters from drowning the earth. And yet we are unaware that we are living on dry ground only by the fatherly care of God just as much as the Israelites were kept alive in the midst of the Red Sea. Therefore that Word in Genesis 1 is not merely information, it sustains creation and comforts us in our daily fears.
You see, the Word of God that creates the universe is the same Word that sustains it. Hebrews 1:3: “[Jesus] keeps upholding all things by His powerful Word.” What comfort! Is it really any wonder, then, that the Devil should attack the creating Word of God in Genesis so vehemently? Or put differently, What does it matter if we confess with Genesis the six days of creation, the historicity of Adam and Eve, the fall, the flood, etc.? What is at stake?
It’s not just about being right when it comes to the age of the earth or evolution or whatever. Those things do matter. But they matter for a reason. If the truthfulness of God’s Word, including Genesis, is denied, we lose the trustworthiness of Christ and His written Word. Jesus himself consistently quotes the opening chapters of Genesis as the true word of God. He uses Genesis to establish the facts of reality, including marriage, the inherent dignity of men and women, the coming of sin and the deceptive, lying character of the Devil. If these are fables then at worst Jesus is lying to us or at best Jesus is playing a game with us where he presents these things to us as sort of true but not really. But to turn Christ into a teller of half-truths is to undermine the Gospel itself, that rock-solid confidence which knows that whatever he speaks is true. That when he speaks to us “I forgive you all your sins,” these words are true as reality itself is true; that Christ in reality is the one born of women come to crush the ancient serpent’s head.
By casting doubt on the word of God (“Did God really say?”) the Devil is up to his ancient trick. He wants to rob you of the comfort you have in God’s fatherly care for his creation. The Devil wants you to fear, but not to fear God. The Devil does not want people to be comforted by knowing that God is the one who keeps the floodwaters back, whose word causes the sun to rise, the earth to sprout, and science—good science—to work the way it does.
Just recently there were more doomsday predictions about climate change or whatever bringing about the end of the habitable world. This practice of fear-mongering is commonplace now. Fear has always been a great source of political power for manipulating people for noble or ignoble ends. We hear it in many overt and covert forms: If you eat or don’t eat certain foods the world will end. If you don’t recycle, the planet will die. If you don’t get on board with this political agenda or bike to work the planet is doomed. In so many words we told that it’s up to us to “save the planet,” as if creation had no Lord; as if we were the saviors (how flattering!) and not Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Don’t misunderstand. We should care for creation and by no means abuse it. To abuse God’s creation is to despise the Creator Himself. God does not give us his gifts so that we may despise them. God made Adam and Eve to be gardeners, after all. But the issue here is a theological, spiritual problem. Without the comfort of God’s Word, we can have nothing but fear on the one hand or apathy on the other.
The crassest thing I’ve heard recently was a call for people to have fewer or no children because doing so would reduce their “carbon footprint.” Many people rebuked the bad math in this article. Still, such thinking prevails. Most people consider it poor judgment to have more than one or two kids—as if we were gods to decide such things. I would like to know which children on the planet they think should not exist. Is it mine? Your future children, perhaps? This sort of fear-mongering and scaring people into thinking that the world is going to end from overpopulation is horse hockey. When you hear people despising children, it is not the voice of your Good Shepard Jesus that you are hearing but the lying voice of the Devil, the father of lies. Even many ancient pagans, who may not have understood particle physics, at least had the commonsense to know that the more children there are the more church, state, economy, innovation, etc. will flourish. Where people intentionally avoid children, they live empty, selfish lives and die alone. Congregations close and nations go bankrupt.
Now, I could rebuke this overpopulation nonsense by pointing to the work of scientists and mathematicians who can do honest math instead of just scaring people into funding their research projects. I could point out the fact that many show, convincingly, that we are headed for a population implosion, with varying numbers for what that might look like.
But since this is a sermon not a lecture, and I am a preacher not a mathematician, I will appeal to a higher authority. Because all of this population fear is silenced by one Word from God: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” And again it says: “Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. 4 As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. 5 Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.”
God and his church are not ashamed of children. This Word not only teaches us to view children as blessings to be sought, not burdens to be avoided or choices to be made, but it also comforts us by teaching that God specifically created the world to sustain a fruitful, vigorous human population. Look again at today’s Gospel: Our Lord Jesus had compassion on the multitude and fed them. Is not this same Jesus King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Is this not what he does every day in feeding the multitude of the earth? Does he not even feed the birds of the air? Should we not live lives of joyful trust in the fatherly preservation of God rather than lives of fear under the tyranny of the Devil? “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).
Beloved of God, lay aside your fears. Fear God alone. Trust in the Lord. Hear the Word of God, and rejoice! Listen to me, you Christians: You have no reason to live in panic or fear. You know this Jesus and his compassion for you and all people. You have the living and sustaining promises of God. He keeps upholding all things by his powerful word. The truth is, yes, the world will come to end. But it will happen when God says it will happen—no sooner, no later. As Paul confessed before the Greek philosophers (that is, scientists) in Athens (Acts 17:31): “For he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
The day is fixed. It is as sure as the resurrection of Christ. Until then, you have no need to live in fear but in the comfort of God’s Word. In his fatherly compassion he will keep the oceans from covering the face of the earth. Life will go on. Genesis 8:22: “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” The Lord will provide.
By all means care for creation and cherish it. Recognize also that it is broken by our sin. But do not, for the sake of dubious, politically charged “science” cast away the comfort that God’s Word has for you in Genesis and all the passages that speak of God’s fatherly creation and preservation of the world. These passages do not answer all the questions you might ask of them. Rather, the chief emphasis is on comfort, that you would clearly see God’s care for you and all men before we even existed. Before Adam and Eve were even created or could be concerned for themselves, God so arranged the world for them to be a paradise and perfect home. He cared for them when they could not care for themselves.
As in creation, so also in salvation: before we could do anything or believe in our Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him, while we were still sinners, He accomplished all things, came into his creation, took up human flesh, died our death, and rose on the third day. Everything was done for you, without your help, so that it would be by grace and not works; so that you may have the all-surpassing comfort of this Gospel: that the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Do not be afraid. The Lord will provide.
Come soon, Lord Jesus.