Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Pentecost 9 [Proper 12]

"Jesus said . . 'Follow Me . . feed them'."

Matthew 14:13-21

August 6, 2017

Whenever you feel like you've been working too hard, you want some down time. Jesus has been constantly surrounded by large crowds of people. Not only has He been teaching them but He has healed every manner of disease and affliction. Because He is also true man, He is tired. According to His custom, He chooses to retire to the wilderness to get away from everyone and everything pray.

When He finds the opportunity to slip away, He has the disciples use one of their fishing boats to cross the lake. Unfortunately, the crowds see Him sailing off and head overland to meet Him on the other side. Once again, He teaches them and heals their afflictions. It is now late in the afternoon.

Notice how our Lord addresses both issues. Matthew 14:13-21. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate 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 on them and healed their sick.

No matter how tired He was, Jesus took time to meet the needs of those who came to Him. It had to be draining as He dealt with every sort of human ailment and need. Yet, because His very nature is to show compassion, there was no way that He could ignore their pleas for mercy and release from the bondage of illness.

His disciples witnessed all this. His compassion was changing their attitude. Since they have come to a better understanding of His mission, Jesus challenges them. It's your turn to show compassion.

Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves." But Jesus said, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They said to him, "We have only five loaves here and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. 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. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Our Lord's compassion now focuses on them. They are far from home. Most have left in such a hurry they had not brought food for the journey. It's a long way home without rest stops along the way. The disciples have been learning to view people and their needs through the eyes of Jesus. They recognize the problem and come to the Lord. "Hey, you better dismiss them so they can go find something to eat." Jesus turns the tables on the disciples and simply tells them, "you give them something to eat."

Now, put yourself in the shoes of these guys. What would you do? Would you have done anything differently? I'm guessing their first reaction was something like, "you've got to be kidding." Of course, they probably didn't say that out loud. We're told that they must have put their heads together to discuss the situation.

Andrew finds a boy who brought his lunch consisting of five small loaves and two little fish. It's not enough to feed Jesus and the 12 let alone the crowd. You can almost hear them thinking what's this little bit? It's a drop in the bucket compared to the great need. Nevertheless, they bring what they have found to Jesus.

Our Lord takes what is available and turns it into more than enough to feed everyone. Jesus does with this lunch far more than the disciples could ever imagine. After everyone is fed, the disciples are told to gather what is left-over lest it go to waste. They fill 12 baskets---one for each of them. They still end up with more than they started with.

Yes, you've heard this story many times. What can you take from this feeding of the crowds? The first thing we can learn is the difference between compassion and sympathy. Sympathy is passive. It feels bad for the person in need but those feelings don't go anywhere.

Compassion is active. Our Lord's compassion led Him to act. In His compassion, He healed the sick, restored sight to the blind and cleansed the lepers. His compassion caused him to exorcise demons, comfort the distressed and raise the dead. Now, that compassion will challenge the disciples to do likewise.

There is another lesson for us. We learn that we are not to be cocky or smug in our faith. When the disciples got too full of themselves, the Lord humbled them. He gave them a challenge they couldn't begin to fulfill.

Their response was passive. Send them home. Jesus wants to actually do something for the people. When His compassion saw the crowds hungry and far from home, Jesus told the disciples, "You feed them." They asked, "How are we going to feed all these people?" It was then that the Lord showed them how compassion works.

In His mercy, the Lord has also called us to follow Him. This means that our lives are demanded and surrendered to Him. When we are tempted to become cocky and smug in our faith, He humbles us with His challenges to compassion. When we are called to follow, He may take us to places we don't want to go. When we are about to give up in despair, His grace catches up with us. Then, He challenges us, like the disciples, with projects that seem so daunting that we deem them impossible. It is only when we turn to Him with our partial solutions and half empty hands that He uses what we have brought to more than fulfill the challenge.

When we find ourselves in our personal wilderness of darkness, fear and anxiety, He promises to be there for us. When the challenges of life leave us with the feelings of weakness and inadequacy, He is there to help and strengthen us. He teaches us how to trust Him in all things. We have just sung, "I am Trusting." Read the words again. Use them in your prayers this week. Ask yourself, "how has the Lord supplied all my needs?" Then, you will see how the Lord is truly acting in your life.

The Lord looks to us as His means of compassion. He takes our small gifts and multiplies them many times over to fill the needs of others. He never gives us challenges that He will not be there to help us fulfill. Just as He was with the disciples in the wilderness, so He comes to us in our wilderness to assure us of His presence, protection and strength to meet our challenges.

By His grace any cockiness on our part will give way to Christ-like compassion as we rise to the challenges of life with the simple prayer, "I am trusting Thee Lord Jesus, trusting only Thee" now and forever. Amen.


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