August 3, 2014 — Proper 13
Sermon Text: Matthew 14:13-21
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. AMEN! Our text for this morning’s (evening’s) sermon is taken from St. Matthew’s gospel account the 14th chapter.
Beloved in the Lord,
Departing to a Lonely Place
Word has reached Jesus’ ears. John is dead. The last of the Old Testament prophets has surrendered himself to the will of God and in so doing also his life. John was not only a prophet but also a disciple, an attendee at the banquet as well as a friend of the bridegroom. As is true of all God’s saints, his decrease has come to an end. Now, here in time, Jesus must increase. The whole of the Christian life is one of decrease and increase. We must decrease. Jesus must increase until He “is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11).
Hearing of John’s martyrdom Jesus departs to a lonely place. He seeks after seclusion, a place to rest and pray. He has need of a sabbatical if only for a few hours. Yet even in solitude the Shepherd’s heart is for His little flock. For it is out of the solitude of this lonely world that the sheep wander about looking for their Shepherd. They depart the comfort of their homes and the security it provides in order to be where Jesus is, in order to listen to Him, to be taught of the Kingdom of God and to be healed of the consequence of their sin.
The multitudes depart a world crowded with lonely souls. Such lives broken by sin abound both then and now. In many regards it is even worse now. Nearly every aspect of our culture and society is broken, corrupt, and perverted. We’ve allowed ourselves to become so infatuated with individualism, personal choice, and the unique gifts and talents that we bring to the world that we cannot take our eyes off of ourselves.
We too are surrounded by a crowd of lonely people.
We too are burdened with the consequence of our sins.
We’ve beheld our own image in this world’s kool aid and we’re smitten with ourselves. So we too must depart to a lonely place in order to leave the loneliness of the world behind. We too must lend our ears to the voice of our Good Shepherd so that He may lift up our weary heads and grant us the vision of His presence in our midst.
Send them Away? You feed them!
And so, we’ve come here – to church – for a sabbatical, if only for an hour or two. We come today like the multitudes did then.
We come with our anxieties.
We come with our fears.
We come with our hurts … and our pains … and our brokenness … and the brokenness of our families.
Some of us are barely keeping it together.
Some of us doubt.
Some of us firmly believe.
Some of us don’t know what to expect.
Some of us are just visiting – checking out this Jesus of Nazareth guy.
No matter what the reason for your presence, it is the reason for His presence that matters. Jesus is here because He has a heart for you.
Coming out of the world and into this place is risky. It’s costly. We’re not doing what the world thinks we should be doing.
We’re not doing what we want to be doing.
We’re not doing what seems right to a man.
We’re not being practical.
We’re not being reasonable. To many people what we’re doing right now in this place is just superstitious hokey pokey. Maybe that’s what some of you think too.
So why come? Because Jesus says, “follow me.”
So why stay? Because Jesus invites us nearer.
So why come back? Because Jesus provides for us what we cannot provide for ourselves.
So why then do the disciples tell Jesus to send the crowds away? Because the disciples struggle to walk by faith just like we do.
You see beloved, the disciples were all for helping people, especially the adults. The disciples were all for doing mercy ministry; healing diseases, casting out demons, attending to the physical needs of the crowds. But when faced with the consequences of the darkness the disciples suggested the practical. Send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” (Mat 14:15 ESV).
For many it’s just not practical to follow Jesus.
It’s just not practical to get up early and go to church.
It’s just not practical to spend time in prayer, or bible study or gathering with other Christians. We could be doing so much more; more work, more play, more fun. We could get more rest at home. We could earn more money working. We could spend more time with our children doing what they want to do.
Following Jesus means going where He goes. Listening to what He says. Receiving what He has to give away. None of that happens if we’re not where Jesus is. None of that happens for us if we’re sent away into the darkness to fend for ourselves.
“You give them something to eat.” Jesus responds. But the disciples have nothing to give. So long as the church looks to herself neither does she have anything to give. That’s the whole problem with fallen humanity. We’re always looking to ourselves. We’re always staring at our navels marveling at our own image, appealing to what we think we want or what we think we need, hoping to make us feel the way we think we should be feeling, living out very practical lives, and all the while living in loneliness.
“Bring them here to Me”
What Jesus expects of His disciples is that they realize what they do have. Sure they have five small loaves of barely bread. Sure they have two small fish. But more importantly they have Jesus in their midst! Jesus wants His disciples to follow Him, trust Him, and receive from Him what He has to give out.
“Consider, then beloved, how Jesus’ creative power penetrates everything. Our Lord took a little bread, and in the twinkling of an eye multiplied it. Work that would take us ten months to accomplish he did with his ten fingers in a moment. His hands were as earth beneath the bread and his voice was as thunder above it. The movement of his lips acted as dew, the breath of his mouth as sunlight, and in a brief moment he accomplished what normally takes much time. Thus the shortage was forgotten; many loaves came from few as in the first blessing: be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (Ephrem the Syrian)
What Jesus does with hands and voice are manifestations of His heart. Jesus does all of this; the healing, the exercising, the feeding and the nourishing all because Jesus is the sort of God who has compassion on His people. He does not call disciples to follow Him without the intention of providing for them. He does not call you away from your comfortable homes, your work place, your times of leisure in order to burden or bore you. No, beloved! He calls you to follow Him so that He can be your God and you can be His dear children. He calls you so that He can love you. Loving you He is able to provide for you, big things and little things, important things and some not so important things, but all things needful.
Food and drink are little things when we consider the big picture. Remember, Jesus not only calls us away from our worldly distractions but He calls us away from our sins and the consequences of our sins. He calls us nearer to Himself so that He can forgive you, bind up your wounds and redeem you for a life of joy and service in His kingdom.
This is no small matter. Jesus doesn’t just wave His arms in the air and magically make your sins go away.
Jesus doesn’t just send you off like a NY cabbie – forgettaboutit.
Jesus doesn’t ignore your sins.
Jesus doesn’t even pretend that your sins aren’t as bad as they really he. No! Jesus takes you seriously. He takes your hurts, your pains, your anxieties, your needs, feelings, and your sin seriously. Taking you seriously He takes your sins away. He takes them upon Himself. He suffers their consequences. He dies the death they deserve. He covers them with His blood and He washes your sins away with His passion, death, and resurrection. Everything Jesus does be it on the mount, along the coast, in the valley, or here in church He does in light of His cross because He loves you and delights in having compassion on you.
Commanding the Crowds (the gathered church),
Its for this reason that Jesus feeds the 5000. He gathers them together out of the lonely world and in a deserted place where He can be for them what they cannot be for each other. He seats them in groups, congregations, of 50 and 100 each. He takes the bread and the fish. He gives thanks and then gives to the disciples to distribute it. What he commanded the disciples to do in the first place is enabled only by His power and His grace.
So also today. The church has nothing of her own to give. She has only the gifts of Her bridegroom, the one who died and rose again. These gifts are given the church to give to the world that the world be drawn near to Christ and receive mercy, forgiveness, love and joy from Him and Him alone. These gifts come from Him to us through His Word and His sacraments; through preaching, absolution, the divine Word, baptism and the blessed Supper. These are the gifts of God for His people.
These are the gifts of God for you.
You don’t earn them.
You don’t make them better by your personal piety.
You don’t buy them with your offerings.
You don’t adorn them with your anthems. He gives His gifts by water, bread and wine through His Word. You receive His gifts by grace through faith alone.
Beloved the church errs greatly when she begins to think her bread and fish or whatever she can muster from the crowds is all that she has to give. The church goes wildly astray when she attempts to appease the people through practical and reasonable efforts of her own. And it is a terrible error on our part if we are found neglecting the Word of the Lord chasing after carrots dangling before our noses.
But great in the sight of her Lord is the church that gives the gifts of God, and so also the children of God when they receive these gifts from God for their good, put them into practice in their lives and return thanksgiving and praise unto Him for all things big and small! Yes beloved, great indeed is the joyous song in heaven when sinners repent and receive the mercy of the Lord. Great is the song of salvation in heaven and on earth when we gather for sabbatical, to rest and to pray and to receive from our Lord the fruits of His cross.
Feasting with Jesus
Beloved in the Lord, it is a lonely world we live in. Focusing on ourselves or what we bring with us increases our loneliness and leads further and further from Christ. Today, our Lord has lifted up our heads. He has called us by His grace and through His Spirit opened our ears to His voice. Receiving from Him through the ministry of His Church we find that we are not alone. For not only has Christ forgiven us our sins and blessed us with a holy feast, but He has also given us to one another. Those who have eyes for Jesus also now have eyes for their neighbor. We see them through Christ. We see their needs and like Christ are moved towards them with His gifts. We join with them, hand in hand, arm in arm; men, women and children together by the grace of God sharing the love of God in His house, in His kingdom, and in His world. Thus, when we do depart this place we never depart alone nor without purpose. For the one who has heeded the call to “follow me” will always have Christ. And the one who has Christ has also the whole church in heaven and on earth. To God alone be glory forever and ever, AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!