“Masks of God” (Matthew 14:13-21)

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
August 2, 2020

“Masks of God” (Matthew 14:13-21)

The other day I went to the grocery store, and of course when I went in, I put on a mask. The other shoppers were wearing masks, the store’s workers were wearing masks, the cashiers–everybody was wearing a mask. Well, I had just paid for my groceries and was finishing loading my cart, when I heard the cashier greet the lady behind me. It was obvious he knew who she was, but at first she did not know who he was. She said, “Oh, I didn’t recognize you behind your mask.” And I thought to myself, “Thank you! You have just given me the introduction for my sermon this Sunday!”

“Oh, I didn’t recognize you behind your mask.” You know, I think that’s often what we ought to be saying to God: “I didn’t recognize you behind your mask.” Because that’s how God operates to provide for us and care for us, and we don’t recognize that he is the one blessing us. Behind a mask, so to speak. In other words, God blesses us through other people he puts in our lives. God uses those people to be the channels of his blessings toward us, but he ultimately is the source of those blessings.

Take, for example, the groceries I bought at that grocery store. How did those groceries get into my cart? They didn’t just drop down out of heaven and land in front of me. No, there was a whole string of people leading up to me getting my hands on those goods. The farmer who planted and harvested the crops or raised the chickens. The truck driver who delivered the goods to the plant for processing, and another truck driver who drove the goods to the store. The stocker and the pricer at the store. And then that cashier with the mask on who checked me out and put the food in the bags. All of these people were masks of God, each doing their job, with the result that I was able to put food on my table. The source of blessing was God, and God delivered the blessing to me by operating behind those masks.

We see an example of this sort of thing in the Holy Gospel for today. It’s the familiar story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Of course, it is Jesus who feeds them. Or is it? Think about it. Who actually puts the bread and the fish in the hands of the people? It’s the disciples. It’s not Jesus directly. He does the miracle of multiplying the loaves and the fish, certainly. But look what it says: “Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied.” Jesus is the source of the blessing, but he implements the delivery system through his disciples. They were the masks of God, God doing the blessing by delivering it through them.

Masks of God: That’s how God operates to get his blessings to our doorstop and into our hands. Luther was the one who came up with this term, “masks of God,” to describe how God provides for us. In his commentary on one of the Psalms, Luther writes: “God could easily give you grain and fruit without your plowing and planting. But he does not want to do so. . . . What else is all our work to God–whether in the fields, in the garden, in the city, in the house, in war, or in government–but [that] by which he wants to give his gifts in the fields, at home, and everywhere else? These are the masks of God, behind which he wants to remain concealed and do all things.” Again, Luther says: “No doubt God could create children without man and woman, but he does not intend to do so. Rather he joins man and woman to make it look as if man and woman do the procreating. Yet he, hidden under this mask, is the one who does it.”

Do you get the concept? God is the one blessing us, and he does it through people. And it’s good for us to recognize this and to give thanks to God as the source and giver of the gifts. God is working behind his masks.

Now what if I were to say: “No, no, it’s just me! I am the one providing all the good things in my life! I earned it! I did the work! It’s my smarts and ingenuity and hard work that got me all the stuff I have. Yay me!” Well, if I were to do that, I would be quite foolish and arrogant. For how did I get the ability to get the job, to get the income, to pay for the groceries and all the rest? It was God who created me with the brain and the talents to make something of my life. It was God who gave me parents and grandparents to raise me and take care of me through my childhood. They were God’s masks, the channels of his blessing. It was God who gave me teachers and professors to shape my mind and develop my skills and abilities. It was God who led his people to give me a call to teach and preach and serve as a pastor. And on and on it goes. It’s like what my confirmation verse says, Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” And so I acknowledge the Lord as the source of my blessings, and I recognize the people through whom he has blessed me as his masks.

Now if God is using other people in order to bless you, guess what? Maybe he is using you to be a blessing to others. You are called to be a mask of God, a channel of his blessings, in your various vocations: husband, wife, father, mother, citizen, neighbor, employer, employee, and so on. Whatever your calling in life, God will use you to be his mask. Be alert for those opportunities. As a husband, how can I be a blessing to my wife? As a parent, how can I be a blessing to my children? As a church member, how can I be a blessing to my congregation and my fellow church members? Are there ways, even without being asked, that I can take the initiative and act in service to others, to be a channel of God’s blessing to them? That is the most beautiful mask you can wear!

Masks of God. And God channels his blessings to us in both body and soul. In the Feeding of the Five Thousand, Jesus was providing for the physical needs of the people. He saw their need, and he had compassion on them, it says. Jesus then demonstrated his authority as the very Son of God, his divine authority over creation, by miraculously multiplying the loaves and the fish. And he directed his disciples then to deliver the goods to the people.

Now Jesus does a similar thing in providing for our spiritual needs. Jesus himself is the source of our provision. He is the one who came down from heaven for us men and for our salvation. Out of his great compassion, he himself won our salvation, something we could not do for ourselves, since we are sinners. But Jesus walked the way of righteousness for our sake. He was sent on a mission, to win salvation for all people, and he was determined to accomplish it. He set his face to go to Jerusalem, where he suffered and died as the Servant of the Lord, bearing our transgressions in his body. By his wounds we are healed. His glory was hidden behind suffering, but by his death he has destroyed death. His resurrection shows the end result, the outcome for us who trust in him. It is our resurrection and everlasting life. Because he lives, we shall live also.

Those are the gifts Christ won for us on the cross. But now, how does Jesus deliver his gifts to us? Again, it is through people, acting as the masks of God. For me, my pious grandparents made sure I got a Christian education and was raised in the church. I had good pastors and teachers along the way who taught me the Word of God.

How about for you? And how about now? The pastor that God gives you actually is a mask of God. God is blessing you through him, in spite of that man’s many flaws and shortcomings. The power is in God’s Word. The pastor is merely the delivery man. But he is God’s delivery man, assigned to get the goods to you. So, recognize God behind the mask.

When the pastor spoke your name and poured water on your head and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” it was God who was baptizing you. Oh, he used the pastor’s hands and voice to do it, but it was God who baptized you. Today, when I said, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins,” Jesus was here absolving you. As it says in the Catechism, “We receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.” Hallelujah! Praise God!

When I stand here in the pulpit, preaching God’s Word to you, again it is Jesus who is speaking to you. “He who hears you, hears me,” Jesus tells his ministers. And in a few moments, when your pastor speaks the consecration and you are given the body and blood of Christ for your forgiveness, it is Jesus himself handing out the goods, even if he’s doing it from behind a mask.

“Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied.” God is the one who is providing and caring for you, both physically and spiritually, and he does that through his masks, through the imperfect people he puts in your life to be his channel of blessing to you. And you in turn are then called to be that mask of God for others, to bless them as you have opportunity. That’s how God rolls. Recognize it.

“Oh, I didn’t recognize you behind your mask,” said the lady at the grocery store to the clerk at the register. Hopefully today now, you and I will better recognize God behind his masks, the people he uses to provide for us and bless us, in both body and soul.

Published in: on August 1, 2020 at 9:56 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Love this, look forward to Sunday. Sharon Penrod

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: