The Seventh Sunday after Trinity, 2017
For The Epistle – Romans 6:19-23
The Gospel – Mark 8:1-9
Article 25 – Of The Sacraments
Article 27 – Of Baptism
Article 28 –Of the Lord’s Supper
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
The Gospel lesson this morning is the story of the feeding of the 4000. Not to be confused with the feeding of the 5000.
These have been understood to be two different events and it is easily proved by looking at a number of things in the passage.
The number of people reported by Mark, who also speaks in another place of a feeding of 5000 being the best evidence.
Also the number of baskets taken up or filled up at the end
of the eating.
In the feeding of the 4000, seven baskets were filled at the end. In the feeding of the 5000, twelve baskets were filled at the end according to Matthew for example.
But what can be seen from this passage is what Jesus is doing beyond the obvious miracle of multiplying small amounts of food into large amounts is that He is teaching the Disciples something.
He is teaching them about a ministry that they would soon be taking on when He was gone from them.
Much of this can be seen analogous if we are careful. Jesus says that the people have been following him for three days now. They are hungry. They have nothing to eat.
If I send them away now they will faint on the way. Some of them have come from far away.
Even the Disciples ask, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”
So there is a bit of imagery here.
The followers of Jesus…you and I are also living in a desolate place called the world. We are not at home. We are desert wanderers.
We have come to believe in Christ. We follow Him. We learn from Him.
We worship Him. Some of us have been saved from very great sins….some have come from a place very far from Him…and yet have drawn near.
So we too need food for this earthly journey. We too must be fed as we walk along this path of following Christ…awaiting our salvation…awaiting for His coming again.
So in order that we don't faint along the way, Christ has instituted sacraments to feed us.
He multiplied bread and fish that day.
He showed the Disciples that they were the beginning of a long line of men who would take on a similar role of distributing….this time…the bread of life…the Body and Blood of Christ to a large mass of hungry wandering sinners who are looking for refreshment.
The Disciples that day were shown not just how Christ feeds people directly as He did with the 4000, but He shows them that they would be ministers of the Gospel….the food of everlasting life…the bread for hungry souls.
Their job would be to minister to the people of God by preaching to them the Word of God….hence they would be feeding them spiritually with His Word.
And they would be ministers of a new covenant, feeding the people with the Body and Blood of Christ.
Christ saying of Himself in John, “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
So the Disciples were to be the dispensers of the Sacraments of Christ to the Church. This has been handed down to His Ministers to this day.
So, to the Articles for today. There is a lot here to take three Articles and put them into one sermon. ..but we will try.
Taking them out of order we see one concerning Baptism. This is said here to be not only a sign of profession and a mark of being a Christian so others may know we are one….But further, it is also a sign of regeneration. Baptism shows we are regenerate…born anew.
If received rightly, and that would include the use of water…and the use of the correct formula…. “In the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
Baptism it says also grafts us into the Church so that all of us who are baptized correctly are spiritually related in this family called the Church through that ordinance.
These are all visibly signed or shown outwardly for all to see, understand and believe that this is true.
Moreover, the Article says that Children should not be hindered but should also be brought into the Church this way, as it is agreeable with the institution of Christ.
Article 29 of the other Sacrament instituted by Christ, being the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion, also has similar elements to it.
It has an outward sign to see….bread and wine. This Article also says that it is not only a sign…as baptism is not only a sign showing something, but it has an active working aspect to it as well.
Not only do we demonstrate the love that we have toward one another as Christians, but it is a Sacrament of our Redemption.
John 6 again. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.
Conversely, we can safely believe that whoever does not eat this bread will not live forever.
This Sacrament of Holy Communion must be eaten in faith. There is no benefit to eating it if there is no faith.
By eating it in faith, we are partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Our Prayer of Thanksgiving right after we partake of Holy Communion is so full of wonderful theology.
We most heartedly thank God after we have eaten and drunk that He grants, gives, permits us who have duly received those holy mysteries.
It assures us of God’s favor toward us…in that He has taken the time to give this meal to us.
It assures us that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of Christ. There is that intimate integral relationship with Christ in partaking of this sacrament.
This is not just a memorial, though it does have that element to it. It is much more. It is active in us as we receive it in faith.
The Sacraments are also heirs through hope of His everlasting Kingdom. Our hope is eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Partaking of this sacrament reminds us that we are very members already of that Kingdom and these mystical things we eat and drink testify to us that God is faithful and that through eating and drinking, we are destined for that end.
There is a brief note in the Article regarding “Transubstantiation.” This is a big word that means that there was a belief that began to circulate long ago that the bread and wine, after the priest prays the prayer of consecration, the bread and wine are changed and are no longer bread and wine.
Hence the transubstantiation. Trans is like, across, beyond or through. Substance is the suffix. So the bread’s substance…wheat, flour, water…whatever makes up the bread is not there anymore. It may look and taste like bread but it isn’t.
This is not what the early Church understood. Early Church Fathers like Chrysostom said things like, “For as [in the eucharist] before the bread is consecrated, we call it bread, but when the grace of God by the Spirit has consecrated it, it is no longer called bread, but is esteemed worthy to be called the Lord’s body, although the nature of bread still remains in it; and we do not say there be two bodies, but one body of the Son; so here, the divine nature being joined with the [human] body, they both together make up but one Son, one person.”
The Article says that it cannot be proved by Holy Writ, or it cannot be proved by Scripture. But further, it says,
The Bread and Wine do become the Body and Blood of Christ, as Christ says, This is my Body….this is my Blood. It just remains bread and wine at the same time.
A comparison is made to the two natures of Jesus. He is both God and man. When He took on Human flesh, it remained fully human…but somehow the spiritual was also present so we call Him the God-Man.
The Bread and Wine are the Body and Blood…and they are eaten by faith. There is a real spiritual presence of Christ in this Sacrament.
The bread and wine are receive naturally, but the Body and Blood of Christ are received spiritually.
Lastly here, they are to be consumed.
On the heels of this last point about the nature of the Sacrament, the English Divines were careful to keep in mind what the Sacrament of Holy Communion was, and to avoid any superstitions that would come along if one were to accept transubstantiation.
We read in the early Church from Fathers like Justin Martyr that the sacraments were reserved for the absent and the sick.
But they were at that time not having the arguments that the Church was in the 16th century.
At the end of both Articles 25 and 28 there is language to the effect that sacraments such as the Lord’s Supper in particular were not to be reserved, carried about, lifted up or worshipped as well as gazed upon….. are in response to the more recent medieval issues rather than ancient practices.
As noted, Justin Martyr saw a place for reserving the sacrament, but much of this has to do with what superstitious practices came out of believing the doctrine of Transubstantiation.
If this were more than a sacrament but the physical body and blood of Christ before them, then veneration of it is the logical next step…then taking reserved sacraments out and parading them around not only the church but the parish or the local city for the people to see would come next.
There would be no need to go to mass if you were able to venerate the sacrament as it went past.
All of this adds up to an improper use of what Christ intended. On the night in which he was betrayed He took the bread…took the cup…blessed them and gave them to the Disciples and said, “Take, eat…Drink this…all of you…Do this in remembrance of me.”
The simplicity of the receiving of the Eucharist became less simple and more prone to misuse and abuse.
The article is not condemning the practices outright. But it does point out that these practices do not have Biblical warrant either.
Finally there is a comparison in the Sacrament Article between those ordained by Christ, i.e. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper …and those commonly called Sacraments…Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction are not counted as Sacraments of the Gospel.
The Gospel is a message of salvation. Holy Communion and Baptism are indispensible ordinances….given and commanded by Christ to be done.
The others are not necessary for salvation. Not all are obviously called to Holy Orders, only men….and not all men.
Not all are called to the estate of Matrimony. Some are called to a single life.
Unction or anointing with oil was commanded by James in chapter 5. This was an anointing to be healed from sickness. The last anointing is a last asking of God for healing…since He can do so at any time…even at the point of death.
Some believe it grew as a substitute for deathbed baptism where some believed that a person who sinned after baptism could lose his salvation. If there is no time to sin, it is safe to baptize then. (so some believed)
Extreme unction or anointing after a late baptism seems to have possibly slipped in to cover that short time between baptism and death.
So they remain sacraments of the Church.
They are just categorized sometimes as greater and lesser sacraments. Or major and minor sacraments.
But the emphasis really remains on those required of all Christians and those, though confirmation is required because it is seen as linked to baptism…a completion of baptism.
The rest are not tied to the salvation of all men.
Baptism and Confirmation or anointing or confirming with oil at the time of baptism were once done as one rite.
The separation came about for a few reasons such as the desire for younger people to have time to come to a better knowledge of the faith.
So we are called by these articles to pay close attention to what Scripture teaches us.
We are called to the simplicity of the Gospel for salvation and a right use of Christ’s Sacraments.
Baptism as a sign and instrument which grants entrance into the Covenant with God and the beginning of the Christian pilgrimage on earth.
And Holy Communion as food for the journey.
Signified in the Feeding of the 4000 and carried out by the Ministers of the Church through the centuries.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.