The Fourth Sunday in Lent
The Epistle. Galatians 4:21-31
The Gospel. St. John 6:1-14
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
We are over half way to Easter. Today is the 4th Sunday in Lent and we have 3 weeks left. Passion Sunday and the week following, Palm Sunday and the week following and of course this week as well.
And today though the color is predominantly Violet still, we do have hints of Rose too.
In both Advent and in Lent there is a half-way point in which the Church gives us a day of rest or relaxation. A day to pull back from the more rigorous things we do or don't do during Lent.
This is so, because Lent is not a season where we are singularly focused. Though our sins are the primary focus of the season, we find 4 weeks into it, the bringing to us the refreshment of grace.
It ends with the great truth of the Resurrection and the gift of eternal life Christ has secured for us in that Resurrection at Easter.
But there is a trajectory to see here. We go from the lighter, lesser penitential season through the “gesima” Sundays.
We move from there to one last time of joy and feasting on Shrove Tuesday. Then the next day on Ash Wednesday Lent begins and we immerse ourselves in contemplating the sin condition.
But today brings us a glimmer of rest from Lent in that we have two lessons which bring to us not a reminder of sin so much, but a better reminder…that of God’s grace and goodness toward us.
Today we get a Dominica Refectionis, a Sunday of sacred refreshment.
Paul’s Epistle first.
Each time this lesson comes around we have to do quite a bit of work to grasp just what it means, never mind how it applies to us today…and why it is a Lenten lesson.
What Paul’s writing does for us is remind us of the grace of adoption. Through our sins, we know of our alienation from God. Our separation from God. We know the displeasure sin brings to both God and us.
And this is the primary focus in Lent.
So on this 4th Sunday when relief is offered, it comes in this manner.
Abraham had two sons. Isaac and Ishmael. Recall one of them was born to Abraham’s wife Sara and one was born to Abraham’s slave Hagar.
Both of them of course are born “in the flesh.” But with Isaac, (let’s call him the legitimate son) was born through a special promise that God told Abraham long ago before he had any children.
With Ismael, there is no promise attached.
Abraham would not wait on the LORD but took matters into his own hands. God said he would have children with his wife but Abraham did not know how this would be possible.
Sara seemed too old so Abraham decided that this must be done a different way.
He has a son with his slave woman.
But this is not what God had in mind for Abraham and his offspring.
But Isaac was in fact born in a miraculous way. He was born to Sara long after she was able to bear children. This signifies God’s special promise was going forth and it was going to be through the power and promise of God, not through Abraham's devising.
Abraham’s son Isaac is born through the promise God made. And God not only brings Isaac into existence, but He promises Abraham that he would be a father to many nations.
That they would be like the stars of heaven and the sand on the seashore. Meaning there would be a lot of them.
At that time of God’s making this promise, Abraham believed and it was counted to him as righteousness.
So Paul is telling his readers and us that we are or become children of Abraham also through believing the promises of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
It’s interesting that God made this promise to Abraham and the Jews who were confronting Jesus tried this very thing on Him.
This is why we get exchanges between Jesus and the Jews such as this, “[The Jews] answered [Jesus], “Abraham is our father.” So here is the appeal to Abraham. They think because they are Jewish and born through Abraham’s line they are right with God.
Not only that, they think they are holy on account of this as well. They think they are a holy race. They think they are the heritage of God.
But all of this is mere confidence in the flesh. Not confidence in the spiritual aspect of it.
But Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, (that is believing by faith in the promise God made to Abraham. That is living the Law of love toward others. None of this were they doing)
So Jesus says, “ but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.  You are doing the works your father did.”
They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”
 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.  Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.  You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires.
He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.
When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.  Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?  Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:39-47, ESV)
Or, you are not of Abraham.
Jesus is pointing out that since they do not receive Him, they are not truly sons of Abraham. To be a son of Abraham was not something done in the flesh or though lineage. It was and is to this day through faith.
It is through membership in the Church through baptism and the Holy Ghost.
We are children of promise. We are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman.
So this is why this is for us today. Despite our sins, we are still justified before God on account of Christ. We take hold of Him by faith. We are children of Abraham and therefore children of that same promise made to Abraham.
This should be good news to us and should lift us from any feeling of despair in light of the sins we contemplate in Lent.
With the knowledge and burden of sin there must be the knowledge of our right standing with God in Christ and a lightening of that burden.
In the Gospel we once again are treated to the account of Jesus multiplying bread and fish to feed a great multitude.
And from this we can infer a number of refreshing images here as well.
Jesus sees the crowd worn out and tired and hungry. An image of the sinful drag that weakens and wearies us as well.
Jesus has compassion on them, as He does with us in forgiving us our sins.
He turns to one of His Disciples whom He would later commission to do this work on a greater scale. He asks how do you think all of these people might find relief?
His answer falls short because his view falls short. He is thinking of buying more food.
Jesus has in mind a better solution. He will indeed feed them, but He will do so in such a manner as to let them know that He has more than just material food for them.
From His miracle they were to infer that He also had spiritual food for them as well.
They would be able to come unto Him when weary and heavy laden and be refreshed.
In the weariness of the world we need refreshment. Christ even anticipates our needs and wants. They are not crying out for food. He notices and addresses the situation.
He comes with the offer of relief even before we know we need it. And though we might be weary in life, He never grows weary or tired of us calling on Him or coming unto Him.
We can come unto Him anytime and all of the time. By this miracle He confirms that He is the bread of life.
And of course we are reminded of this each time we come up to this rail and kneel down and receive Christ.
His body continues to feed us spiritually. The bread feeds us physically.
This bread should be a constant reminder of what it both signifies, promises and conveys.
Whenever we eat of this bread and drink of this cup we receive spiritual refreshment. We should also call to mind our adoption by His grace and our familial position as children of Abraham.
All of this is held out to us to take a hold of. All of this should be especially meaningful to us in this Lenten season.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.