Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity
Text: Mark 8:1–9; Genesis 2:7–17
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
Today we have placed before us pictures of two very different places. First we have heard of the vibrant Garden of Eden—a place prepared by God for man’s dwelling place. When the earth was young and new, God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. What care God shows to man. All the other animals were created en masse. Let the waters swarm with living things. And so also the sky is filled with birds and all flying animals, and the earth brings forth living creatures. All creatures were made by the word of God as He spoke. But man is made not only with the Word, but is formed by God and receives God’s Spirit and becomes a living creature. One man, alone, from whom all mankind would come; and for this one man God plants a garden.
And what a rich garden it is. Every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food was there. God provides a place not only of sustenance, but also a place of beauty. There is food that grows on the trees and Adam is to work in the Garden, but what a pleasant labor it is. It is paradise. Through the rich land of Eden there flows a river. That river waters a land not only of rich vegetation, but also divides into four rivers that water a vast region of the world. God sees fit to inform Moses as he writes this account sometime later that even in paradise when all that was needed for man was provided in the garden, God still provided gold, bdellium and onyx.
What a beautiful land, what abundance, what peace and tranquility for Adam to worship God and raise His family. His family was also God’s family. Paradise is not simply the home of the first man, it is the first home of the Church. Imagine that, a congregation with no strife, no contention, no need to worry about a budget or maintaining a building. Everything that was needed was provided by God through the garden which He watered and caused to grow.
A beautiful picture indeed, but there is one problem. It’s not yours. How quickly your garden goes from too much water to not enough water. The precious metal and beautiful stones of Havilah are not likely to be found in your backyard either. Maybe you hold the mineral rights to some land and receive royalties for oil or natural gas, but labor required to reach those is not easy. And personal and congregational finances can also waver between enough and not enough. No, our picture is more similar to that of our Gospel reading. Jesus had been teaching in what the disciples describe as a desolate place.
It’s desolate in more ways than one. Not only are there no stores, no trees producing an abundance of food, but Jesus has led his disciples out of Galilee. They are in the land of the Gentiles. They are on the wrong side of the Jordan. In fact, one of the last times Jesus was in this vicinity He was greeted by a man possessed by a legion of demons. And when Jesus healed the man, all his neighbors were so terrified that they asked Jesus to get back in the boat and leave them.
Not only is this place desolate of food, but it is desolate of hope. The people here have not been waiting for a Messiah. They are not being reminded in their synagogues of the Son of David who would come and set things right. Their fathers are not reminding them of the promised seed of Eve who would crush the serpent’s head or the seed of Abraham who would be a blessing to all nations.
Look around you and this is the world you will see today. It is no secret that humanity is in a mess. Look at the last century or so and the examples of this world’s brokenness are nearly endless. Consider the way people in this country have been treated because of their race. You could make the argument that our nation has gotten a lot better and things are on the right track and we just need to keep pushing for more improvement. But then consider how the Burmese have treated their Karen people of Myanmar who are being targeted in ethnic cleansing. The Middle East is filled with violence between nations, ethnic, and religious groups.
There are still governments that rule by terror and force. For every example of one country that is improving, there is another example of a nation falling apart to violence and chaos. And even within our country where by many metrics we have improved in the last several decades, we seem to be more polarized and divided and less charitable than ever before.
We can add to this the suffering caused by natural disasters. The flooding of the spring and early summer here in Oklahoma is still fresh in our memories, but names like Katrina and Sandy remind us that this is nothing new. We have also felt the ground shake a number of times in Oklahoma. For a while we were even considered the earthquake capital of the world based on the frequency of earthquakes here, but we have seen footage of far more damaging earthquakes in other parts of the world.
But the most disturbing thing in my mind regarding the desolate place in which we find humanity today is that the primary place people look for an answer is in humanity itself. If we can just cut back on carbon emission, the world can be rebalanced and saved. If we can embrace a global economy and stop judging people based on where they or their ancestors were born, then we can have a prosperous and peaceful world and end suffering.
The problem with this thinking is that it expects we can make ourselves different than our parents. That we are somehow more enlightened than those who have gone before us. It looks for good in humanity as though we can increase our own goodness.
It is good to teach responsibility. It is good to be loving and compassionate. But it does no good to pretend that humanity can be fixed by a collective act of will power.
How can one feed these people with bread in this desolate place? The disciples recognized when they were beat. The disciples knew that providing for the needs of everyone in the crowd in a desolate place was not within their power. That is what the world has forgotten. You do not have the power to recreate paradise. You may have the nicest lawn in town and the most productive garden in the neighborhood, but you do it by the sweat of your brow and not as a light and easy work as Adam once did. And most of us don’t even bother trying to recreate Eden in our yards. But we do try to do it elsewhere. Young couples spend months planning their perfect wedding, confident that following the reception the perfect marriage and perfect family will follow: a house that never needs repair, or at least only needs repairs that are quick and affordable; children who are beautiful, bright, and obedient.
We do it in politics, get the right party or the right guy in office and everything will be great. We even do it in church. Call the right pastor and by the end of the year every lapsed member will be in church every Sunday, visitors will flock to hear eloquent sermons with just the right amount of wit. There will never be a disagreement in a voters meeting again!
There is no paradise on earth. There is not a place where man through light and pleasant toil can provide a place of abundance and peace for mankind. Why then does God bother telling us that in the beginning everything was perfect? Why not just let us believe that life always was and always will be hard? Does God want us to feel guilty or depressed because of what we have lost? No. Read the scriptures and you will see that paradise is a thread that runs through the entire tapestry of Scripture. Abraham is shown the Promised Land as a place of abundance that will be given to his descendants. Egypt is a place of plenty during a region wide famine as Joseph stores up food during seven years of plenty to be distributed during seven years of want. The spies are sent ahead of the children of Israel to scout the Promised Land and carry back a bunch of grapes that must be carried on a pole between two of them.
The green pastures of the 23rd Psalm, the restoration prophesied by Isaiah, and finally the Tree of Life seen again by John in revelation. Paradise is not only the place from which man comes, it is the place to which God is bringing us even now. Jesus is the one who stands in a desolate place and with seven loaves and a few fish satisfies four thousand.
There is no paradise that you can achieve on earth. Paradise is always given. Paradise was given to Adam in the beginning and it is given through Christ to Adam’s offspring still today. We wait for the restoration of all things, but even now we stand in a desolate place and are satisfied, because Christ went to a hill with three bare trees and turned one into the Tree of Life. No fruit from your garden will ever be as sweet as the fruit of that tree. No work of yours can ever produce such fruit. But Christ feeds His church in abundance. What we learn today is that if Jesus can feed four thousand people with seven loaves and a few fish and have seven baskets of left overs (more at the end than when He started), then surely even as we stand on this desolate earth with its wars and rumors of wars, storms, trials and afflictions, Jesus is more than able to satisfy us with His body and blood, and still He is not done providing for us.
It is right and good to be responsible stewards of creation. It is right and good to be compassionate and loving toward others. But we look to Christ alone to fix humanity. We look to Christ alone to bring us back to paradise. Washed in the waters of baptism, we have been planted by a better stream than that flowing out of Eden. We have been planted in Christ. He has prepared paradise for us. We wait for Him to bring us there.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria