A Banquet in The Wilderness
IMMANUEL LUTHERAN CHURCH
10th Sunday of Pentecost
The Rev. James Kegal
August 6, 2017
GRACE TO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR FATHER AND THE LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. AMEN.
Do you ever get discouraged? I know I do. I have a hard time making decisions without second guessing. Two weeks ago we decided to buy a house in Omaha and signed the papers to put in an offer. Early the next morning I called the realtor and asked her to take back the offer. I was second-guessing the decision. I have received calls from congregations to be their pastor and turned them down because I was not sure it was the right thing.
I even had one to St. Martin’s Lutheran Church in Austin Texas, one of our largest congregations, in one of the fastest growing and most desirable cities in the nation and I turned it down. It may have been the right thing or it may not have but I just wasn’t sure. I prayed and reasoned and was not sure. It is fairly discouraging to be so uncertain of God’s will or the right thing to do.
Kimberly was our education director and her husband, Daniel, a religion professor at the University of Oregon. He received a job offer to Durham, England to be a professor at the university. It was one of the most prestigious positions in his field—and the bishop of Durham, his friend, N.T.Wright—he called him Tom—wanted him to come. We talked and prayed and wondered what God’s will was for them. What was God’s will? We agreed that perhaps God had not only one will and that God would bless any decision. They turned it down. And I must say that afterwards I thought he was quite discouraged.
I suppose the problem is really our lack of trust in God and God’s promises. We are not alone in our anxiety and indecisiveness and discouragement. I remember reading a story about Norman Vincent Peale, longtime pastor at Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan and author of many books on positive thinking and confident Christianity. He writes, “The bottom seemed to fall out of my life and ministry. I became very discouraged. My wife and I decided go to England and get away form it all. I kept telling Ruth how badly things were going, how little I amounted to and why did I get into this situation anyway. I filled her poor ears with such misery. Finally she sat me down on a bench and said, ‘Norman, I don’t know what to make of you. You’re my husband but also my pastor. I sit in the congregation and listen to you talk about faith, the power of the Holy Spirit and what Jesus Christ can do in a human life. Are these merely words for you or do you really mean it?’ ‘Of course I believe it,’ Peale said.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘you’re not acting like it. You hold it as kind of an intellectual belief but haven’t you really been converted?’ ‘Of course I was converted,’ he said.
‘Well, it has worn off,’ Ruth replied. ‘Now I’ll tell you what I am going to do. I am going to make you sit on this bench until you surrender your life, your future, your church, your everything to Jesus Christ’.” Peale wrote, “I did just that. I started crying and said to my wife, ‘Let’s go home and go back to work’.”
Or Billy Graham, “Once when I was going through a dark period, I prayed and prayed but the heavens seemed to be brass. I felt as though God had disappeared and that I was all alone with my trial and burden. It was a dark night for my soul. I wrote my mother about the experience and will never forget her reply. ‘Son, there are many times when God withdraws to test your faith. God wants you to trust Him in the darkness. Now, Son, reach up by faith in the fog and you will find His hand to be there’. In tears I knelt by my bed and experienced an overwhelming sense of God’s presence.”
It has often been said that the preacher preaches to himself or herself. I need to be reminded that God is with me in the transitions of life; that God will not leave or forsake me. Jesus reminds us, “Do not be anxious, do not worry, about your life what you will eat or what you will drink or about your body what you will wear. Is life not more than food and the body more than clothing. Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns but your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these…do not worry…Do not worry.”
Jesus says to us, “Come to me all you who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Peter gives good advice, “Cast all your anxieties on God for God cares about you.” God understands us and cares about us. God will provide.
Which finally brings us to our Gospel text for this morning. Jesus has crossed the Sea of Galilee to a deserted spot. John the Baptist has just been killed by King Herod. Jesus and the disciples want to get away—out of fear, perhaps or from grief and discouragement. Our text is best understood when we remember that just before in the Gospel of Matthew, King Herod has had a birthday feast in which Salome requested the head of John on a platter. The sumptuous banquet, the palace intrigue and schemes, the pride and arrogance resulted in murder. There is a banquet in our text set in the wilderness with five loaves and two fish. The people attending were not the great and powerful but the lowly; the “crowds” in Matthew are the simple people. Jesus has compassion on them, pity, the word in the Greek means “his heart went out to them.” They were like sheep without a shepherd. The word to describe them is used only once in the New Testament, here by Matthew, and can be translated “the wretched.” And these are they who receive healing for their infirmities and food that satisfies their hunger.
There are many interpretations of this miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. Some have seen the miracle as an allegory where the loaves and fish really represent something else. Some have seen the miracle more as magic—but Jesus takes common ordinary things, material things at hand—five loaves and two fish and uses those to and satisfy the hunger of the people. He does not use a magic wand. Some have interpreted this as a miracle of sharing—maybe these simple people really had food in their backpacks but weren’t sharing. We should not try to explain what happened but just say that there was enough food that all were satisfied. We can say that the disciples were of little faith, as we so often are, but Jesus was in charge. We can say that God does not scold us when we are weak—I would have felt like scolding those who came out and spent the day and didn’t pack a sandwich. We can say that the power of God comes to us through means—through the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper to give life and salvation and that the church, like the disciples, are those who bring the God’s gifts to the world even when we are weak and discouraged, doubting God’s power and forgetting God’s love.
ALL ATE AND WERE FILLED AND THEY TOOK UP WHAT WE LEFT OVER OF THE BROKEN PIECWES, TWELVE BASKETS FULL. There was enough and more than enough. Jesus taught and healed and fed. He cared about the life of the people no matter who they were or what they had done. “Jesus took the bread and the fish, looked up into heaven and blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples and the disciples gave them to the crowds.” This is a Eucharist: taking, blessing, breaking, giving—the Lord’s Supper. The loaves and fish fed the crowd and sustained them. The bread and wine are enough to sustain us on our journey as the manna in the wilderness had sustained the wandering Israelites on their way to the Promised Land. The Lord’s Supper is our daily bread for life and strength, forgiveness of sins, and promise of everlasting life. Jesus cared for the spiritual needs of the people and for their physical needs, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, having a heart full of compassion for the simple, the lowly, the despised and rejected. We are reminded that we can come to the Lord with our needs and cares. God loves us and cares for us. God will never leave us or forsake us. We can cast our anxieties on the Lord.
In closing, I would like to share some good advice for you and for me from St Francis de Sales. He writes, “Do not look forward to the changes and chances of this life in fear. Rather look forward to them with full hope that as they arise, God, whose you are, will deliver you out of them. God has kept you so far and as you hold fast to God’s dear hand, God will lead you safely through all things and when you cannot stand, God will bear you in His arms. Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow the same everlasting Father who care for you today, will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either God will shield you from suffering or God will give you the strength to bear it. Be at peace then.”
God cares for you and me. God has compassion and gives us each day our daily bread enough and more than enough. God sent Jesus to teach and heal, to feed richly and abundantly. God sent Jesus to suffer and die for us and rise again to be with us always. God cares and will provide. Amen.