Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat. But he answered them, “you give them something to eat.” … And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
I find it funny. For years I’ve read this story and saw the disciples as actually being concerned about the welfare of the people. “Lord, it is getting late, and there is nothing around here to eat. Tell these people it is time to go home so they can eat.” It strikes me though that the disciples aren’t concerned about the people at all. They are coming up with rather lame excuses to get rid of the people. They want Jesus to themselves.
I mean this is the whole reason they leave to the other side of the lake, or at least down the shore line. Winds must not have been very good, because the people seem to beat Jesus and the disciples there. Jesus and the disciples were wanting to take a little retreat. Go have a bit of rest and relaxation. Some time to themselves. The Disciples had just returned from their first missionary trip. They hadn’t seen Jesus in a while, and they wanted to catch up, share their experiences, and learn from their beloved rabbi. The people though, wouldn’t let them alone. They didn’t have time to eat! And Jesus does the only sane thing to do. “Guys, let’s pack it up and go. There will be plenty of sick people to heal when we get back. Plenty of time to teach.”
We could learn from this that Jesus approves of vacations and retreats. But I don’t need to lecture you guy’s on that. You have always been pretty good at giving me the time I need and even more for that sort of thing. I do appreciate it. Pastors like disciples need decompression time. The temptation though is to want to finish before you go, and that never happens.
But you see it is this desire, this need for decompression time that is behind the “concern” the disciples have for the people. They just wanted rid of these people, so hungry for the word of God that they crashed the retreat. They are probably even a little annoyed with Jesus. Here he invited them out to the country side with him, for a little rest. They were hoping for a few campfire chats, a little one on one with their friend. I mean Jesus was more than a rabbi to them, he was their friend. They had heard him, and would hear him speek to large crowds, and undoubtedly loved the insights he would throw to the people. But they wanted more. They wanted to learn so they could have those insights themselves. And now Jesus is obliging these retreat crashers. Will they ever leave?
It seems the disciples were not listening to anything Jesus had to say. They don’t record his speech here. Just that he was teaching them many things. The disciples were disappointed at the development. But Jesus understood the hunger these people had for the word of God. He had felt hunger like that once before when he went 40 days in the wilderness with no food, fasting. The disciples had never hungered like that before, though perhaps they are beginning to now. So Jesus fed, and in feeding taught. He taught not only the people, but the disciples. He taught them a bit more about who he was, and who we are, who they were. That people ought not to be turned away from Jesus. He isn’t ours to horde. I think we can identify with the disciples a bit. We can understand them. But they are in the wrong. They aren’t concerned that these people won’t be able to eat, and be starved to death. The villages can’t be that far away.
No one asked these people to come, they are free to leave whenever they like. They could have made their own way back. And Jesus knows this. The disciples though seem to have forgotten who their rabbi is. They don’t want to feed the people they start making excuse for why they can’t. “We don’t have enough food, or money to buy food for all these people.” This to the man they have seen heal paralytics, cast out demons, and heal lepers, they ought to have known a little better. But Jesus just asks them how much food do we have? And proceeds to feed the people with two fish and five loaves of bread.
Here Jesus, the Righteous branch of David, who reigns wisely, sets his people down in green grass to eat like the shepherds of Beshan and Gilead. He shows the disciples how to be true shepherds to his sheep, the sheep who hear his voice and listen to him. He is patient with the people, and feeds them. To the devil he once answered after 40 days of not eating, that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) Here he reminds his disciples that man must eat, and that as his disciples it is not good to expect that man should live on the word of God alone either.
Jesus here feeds the people on both bread and the word of God. Why? Because he created us both body and soul, he redeemed us body and soul, so he cares for us, both body and soul. It is not that the soul is better than the body, or the body better than the soul. They are both worthy of our attention. As we rightly recognize when we not only pray for people, but help them. This is why First Lutheran Tooele, has decided to make monthly donations to the food bank, and the pregancy resource center. Because just as Jesus cares for us body and soul, we want to show that he also cares for others body and soul. We show them the love of Christ, when we care not just for their souls, but for their bodies also. And perhaps it isn’t much. Maybe we only offer up five loaves of bread, and two fish. But perhaps that is all that is needed. Jesus can feed many with little. Our congregation is perhaps small in number, but is it big in faith, and rich with opportunity. It is a temptation to look out and see so much that needs to be done, and despair. How can it be done? How can we make any difference at all? I get there at times. I wonder how it is going to be done. Tough economy and the roof needs to be fixed, just after we spent 40 thousand on a parking lot, that we are still paying off. And yet I am dumbfounded by this small congregation. We keep on going. I think it has to be nothing short of a miracle that we have survived over 50 years in this community with all the ups and downs. And it hasn’t been easy. But small congregations, big on faith in Jesus can do wonderful things.
Sometimes, I sit in my office and wonder about that. I tend to be a bit on the ambitious side. I suppose that is what makes me wonder. Most pastors with an ambitious side want to move to a larger congregation, where they think they can do better and bigger things. But you don’t need larger congregations. And though I might like more people here on a Sunday morning. Like seeing this congregation grow. I don’t really care to serve a larger congregation. I like it here. Just want you to know that. I love this congregation. You guys have made it so that I can’t wait to come into work in the morning. That is a huge thing. I can’t wait to see you on Sunday morning. Or visit with you during the week. I find it an honor to be able to serve you with God’s word. And I don’t care if we are small. I know what God can do with small. He can feed five thousand with five loaves of bread, and two fish. He can do anything he wants with us.
He has done it before. I think of Wilhelm Löhe in the 19th century. He was a small town pastor. Out of seminary, he was sent to Neuendettelsau, as small village in Franconia. Spent his whole career in that small town. And from there sent missionaries all over the world, Africa, India, Australia, and America. He also revived the deaconess movement in Lutheranism. God used him and his small congregation in a big way. Today there is still a confessional Lutheran Church in the world in large part thanks to him. Today there are confessional Lutheran pastors preaching the gospel and caring for people body and soul as true shepherds, forgiving the people their sins in the name of Jesus, and operating orphanages, food banks, hospitals and clinics all over the world. In large part he is even responsible for the formation of the Missouri Synod. And God did all this through a small congregation in Neuendettlesau. That is just one example.
But I see First Lutheran Tooele having that same potential. I see that in you as Sunday in and Sunday out you come to be fed on the word of God. You come to hear the Gospel, and feast on the forgiveness of sins offered you in the Lord’s Supper. Not sure that I see myself being able to do as much as Wilhelm Löhe. But I know that God will use me how he wants. And I know he wants me here. He wants me to be your shepherd. And as your shepherd he wants me to feed you on the word of God, to lead you to the green grass of Beshan and Gilead, that you may be a beacon of light in the shadow of the Oquirrh mountains for another fifty years despite all odds. Caring not only for the people of this congregation, but the people of our community in body and soul. Just as Jesus himself forgives our sins, forgives you your sins, and gives us our daily bread.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.