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Prost!

July 22, 2018
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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Prost!
Mark 6:30-44

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

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, specifically where Mark records, And taking the five loaves and the two fish, [Jesus] looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

There are many here who are of German ancestry, but even those who don’t have German blood in their veins have likely heard an infamous toast often sung auf Deutsche. It’s very popular at gatherings like Oktoberfest, and it goes like this: Ein Prosit! Ein Prosit! Der Gemütlichkeit! Ein Prosit! Ein Prosit! Der Gemütlichkeit! Roughly translated, it means, “A toast! A toast! To cheer and good times!” I say “roughly translated” because one word in there, in particular, does not translate well into English: Gemütlichkeit. This is a word that has many deep and rich connotations that cannot be adequately summed up in a single word in English. Yes, it has connotations of jocularity, but it also has overtones of friendliness, warmth, belonging, hospitality, and leaving your troubles behind you at the door, as you come to feast on rich foods and drink good drinks with your family, friends, and community. This is Gemütlichkeit, and I think it’s a word that should become part of the vernacular here in the States, especially in the Church!

You may find that odd, given the usual context in which the word is used, but it seems obvious to me that this spirit of Gemütlichkeit fits well into our Lutheran theology and practice, and I’d argue that the concept is biblical. You do see it in Scripture, and I’d argue that you see it here, in our Gospel text. We’re looking at one of the best known miracles of Jesus: the infamous feeding of the 5000, with little more than a snack: five loaves of bread, and two fish. Truly, it is an astonishing miracle, but like most miracles our Lord performed, the action in and of itself isn’t really meant to be the focus. Instead, there is a deeper, fuller, and richer meaning behind it, a more profound and real reality. Let’s look at the text and try, in our broken and sinful human nature, to find it.

So, after returning from doing the work He had sent them to do, the disciples withdraw with Jesus at His command to a desolate place – you can read that as a desert place. Jesus wants His disciples to rest, away from the crowds, after the work that they had done – casting out demons, healing the sick, and proclaiming that people should repent of their sins. So they withdraw across the lake. Though they try to escape the crowds, the crowds follow them. Indeed, they run on ahead of them, to beat them to where Jesus and the disciples would land. Once Jesus sees them, sees their longing, Mark tells us that He has “compassion” on them – that’s probably the best English translation but it doesn’t really do the word justice; in the original Greek, the word denotes more of a “gut-wrenching anguish” on behalf of another person. Jesus sees these people in their lostness, their shepherdless-ness, and the seat of His affections, His inmost being, is moved to the point that, instead of taking the time to rest, He teaches these sheep without a shepherd. You start to see the spirit of Gemütlichkeit showing itself.

Now, Jesus is still presumably teaching, when the disciples approach Him, concerned about the late hour, and ask Him to send the people away so that they can go somewhere (not in this isolated area) and get some food. Instead, Jesus commands them to provide these shepherdless sheep with sustenance. Obviously caught off-guard, and intimidated by the physically and financially daunting task that’s been set before them, they ask, in essence, how they are to accomplish this monumental assignment. Jesus asks what supplies are on hand; the disciples check it out, and report back: all that they have is five loaves of bread … and two fish – as if that was supposed to help the situation. Nevertheless, Jesus takes what they give Him. He blesses and gives thanks for it, and somehow, in a miraculous and inexplicable way, provides enough of that same food to completely satisfy the hunger of each and every person present, with a copious amount of leftovers – 12 full baskets, in fact. Logically, it doesn’t make any sense. The first law of thermodynamics dictates that matter cannot be created nor destroyed, but here we see this Jewish rabbi in the desolate countryside of 1st Century Judea, doing precisely that. This is an incredible event, but what is happening behind the scenes? Incredible as this miracle is, once again, it’s pointing beyond itself to a greater, more incredible reality.

Some have thought that this miracle is indistinguishable from the institution of the Lord’s Supper – after all, some of the verbiage is quite similar ... Jesus taking loaves of bread, giving thanks, and giving it to His people. Well, not quite. This miracle certainly isn’t the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and the effect of partaking of that miraculous bread isn’t the same as when the disciples (or us, for that matter) receive Jesus’s true body in, under, and with the bread, but I will say that the two are nevertheless related; they are both pointing forward to the new creation, to the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end.

That is the summation of Jesus’s mission – to renew and restore all things, to make all things new, and to gather all His flock to Himself, but here we get a glimpse, a foretaste, of that new creation, of that feast, of that holy Gemütlichkeit. What we see here, and what really sets the eschatological tone for this miracle, is how Jesus is fulfilling what Isaiah had written: On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples, a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. According to Isaiah, YHWH Himself was going to host this incredible feast, presenting it before His people … and here in Mark, we see YHWH incarnate, hosting a sumptuous, satisfying feast, providing for His people in a way that echoes what He had done centuries before with manna in the wilderness. All this imagery of feasting and being in community with one another and with God, all point to the eschaton, the new creation when Christ returns and ushers us into the ultimate feast, to be with Him and one another for all eternity!

As those ancient Judeans had a foretaste of this feast while they ate bread in the presence of Jesus, YHWH incarnate, so do we have a foretaste of this feast whenever Christ Himself provides us with His true Body and Blood in, under, and with bread and wine. However, we know that whatever feasting, hospitality, belonging – whatever Gemütlichkeit we are able to have here in this broken world is incomplete, unfinished, so we wait. We wait – eagerly – for the return of our Shepherd-King, when we will finally see what true Gemütlichkeit looks like: belonging in and to Christ and one another, partaking of that marriage feast which our Good Shepherd will spread before us, and singing His praises forever and ever in the new creation. Prost!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.