Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 31, 2005
The Gospel: Matthew 14:13-21
Sermon: "God is Compassionate and Faithful"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
God is Compassionate and Faithful
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost - July 31, 2005
This morning we are preparing to send a group of youth, college students, and adults on a weeklong mission trip. The Gospel lesson is perfect for this event. It is perfect for particular reasons. First, we can be assured that God will take care of us on this journey. Second, we can have faith that we have been given everything we need to carry out this ministry. What is more important is that if we take these lessons to heart, we will see something even more spectacular. We will see that these two statements are true for us every day of our lives.
But before we get into these statements, let's be sure we know what has occurred in the Gospel lesson. The lesson begins with Jesus withdrawing by boat to a deserted place. It is important for us to know why Jesus was withdrawing himself from the towns. He had just heard the news that John the Baptist was killed by Herod. John was Jesus' relative. He was also the person who baptized Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. The news had to be incredibly painful. I believe we can imagine that Jesus wanted some time to pray, to reflect, and yes, possibly to mourn.
However, Jesus did not get that time. The crowds followed him and found him. These people were witnesses to Jesus' teaching and healing. They were also people who had heard about Jesus and now heard he was coming near. So, people flocked to him for healing and teaching. Now, Jesus could have turned them away. He could have stood up and said. I'm just too tired. Or I need time to mourn. He could have said, “Leave me alone for a little while.” Instead, Jesus sees the crowd. He has compassion on them, and he begins to minister to their needs. Even though Jesus wanted some personal time, he ministered to the people of God.
As a result of Jesus' compassion, the people stay late. It is too late for them to leave and go get food. The disciples recognize the people's need for food and rest. Jesus challenges the disciples to supply the food. The disciples answer that they do not have enough food to do what Jesus asks. All they have is five loaves and two fish. So, they do understand Jesus' command. They believe they lack the resources so they won't even try. In reply, Jesus teaches them about God's abundant wishes for our lives. Jesus takes the bread and fish, offers it to God, blesses it, and breaks it. We know that all of the people were fed enough. In fact, food was left over.
From this lesson we can see that God will take care of us. God will supply our needs. In the Gospel, Jesus has just heard the news that his cousin has been killed. He wants to leave and yet, when he arrives on the other side the people are there. Instead of turning them away he ministers to them. He meets their need. What do his actions tell us about the compassion of God? God is always present to be with us. God is always present to comfort us. As the group prepares to leave today, they can take comfort in knowing that God has supplied everything they need for this ministry. All we have to do is step out in faith and follow Jesus. Our needs are supplied. That doesn't mean we won't run into some problems. Life is full of problems. We can take comfort in knowing that while we deal with the problem our needs are being met.
This knowledge of God's abundant compassion leads us to the second statement. We have been given everything we need to carry out this ministry. The disciples were given a task. The means of carrying out the task were provided. They had five loaves and two fish. Now, I know we are sitting here saying, "Wait a minute. If Jesus wasn't there the disciples could not have fed the people with such meager resources." You are right, but look at the ituation. Jesus was there. Do we think Jesus would give them a task to deliberately have them fail? I say no. If we look at scripture God has always provided the resources to carry out the task at hand. Moses was given a staff to go to pharaoh. He was also given God's protection. In the wilderness God provided the food and water for the Israelites to eat and drink on their journey to the promised land. Daniel was protected in the lion's den from harm. The stories are endless. In fact, I bet each of us knows of a time in our lives when our needs were met by some force outside our personal resources.
If we take a look at our lives, we can see that these statements about God's compassion and faithfulness are true for all of us. They are not true just for this trip. They are true for each one of us in our daily lives. God is always faithful and supplies our needs. God always gives us the ability to carry out the ministry to which we are called.
There is one danger here for us. We tend to get the needs and wants confused. Needs are those things we require to live our lives with God. Wants are those things we desire that may or may not have anything to do with God. God supplies needs and gifts for our ministry. God does .not necessarily supply wants. If we got everything we ever desired from God then God wouldn't be God at all. God would be reduced to some form of spiritual Santa Claus. I doubt if we would ever be satisfied. So what do we do if we don't ask for our wants? We ask God to supply our needs. We pray for gifts to carry out our ministry. We pray for the assistance of the community of God to help us. For within the community of God the gifts we don't have personally are present. We work together to accomplish the task before us.
So today, we can take two things with us. First, we can take great comfort in knowing that we have a compassionate God. God is always willing to come to our aid and supply our needs. Secondly, we can be confident that God is with us when we respond to the call to ministry. God is present and the task will be accomplished through our willingness and God's faithfulness.
As a symbol of our understanding and our call to faithfulness I'd like to close with St. Theresa's Prayer.
"Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he moves
Compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good
Yours are the hands
With which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands
Yours are the feet
Yours are the eyes
You are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which He moves
Compassion on this world
Christ has no body now, on earth but yours."