SCRIPTURES – Jer. 23:1-6; Eph. 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-44
[Jesus and His disciples] went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When [Jesus] went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. (Mark 6)
I’m getting tired of hearing the news anymore. A young man, probably inspired by Isis, murders five military Servicemen in Chattanooga; murders, mostly gang-related, are on the rise in our cities; Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Services casually discusses over lunch the obtaining and selling of the body parts of aborted fetuses; — it’s all incredibly depressing and demoralizing. How bad can things get? Well, how would you have liked to have lived in Eilenberg, Germany, in 1637? Eilenberg was overrun four times by armies during the Thirty Years War, a war which devastated all of Germany. Being a walled city, many refugees fled there for protection. The city became overcrowded, and famine and the plague struck again and again. By 1637 Rev. Martin Rinkart was the only pastor left in the city (the others had fled or died), and in that year he buried over 4,000 people, sometimes as many as 50 a day—including his wife. And yet, in the midst of it all he wrote, as a dinner prayer for his children, the beautiful hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God” (#895). He taught them to thank God,
“Who, from our mother’s arms, has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.”
How could he write this, considering what he and so many others were enduring? Pastor Rinkart believed God to be a good and merciful God, whose mercy was found, and given, in His Son Jesus; and he confronted the evils of his world with that faith. In today’s Gospel we see the basis of this faith. Jesus had gone away from the crowds to a desolate place in order to find rest; and yet, when they ruined that rest by seeking Him out, He still received them, and from next to nothing He provided for them. And so, we see that:
CHRIST JESUS IS OUR HELP AND OUR SALVATION!
When surrounded by the horrors and sorrows of life, then, as well as by need, loneliness, sickness, grief, etc., seek Christ!
Our culture encourages avoidance. Focus on other things, such as more money; a nicer car; new games for your computer; or a getaway vacation!
Last Thursday my daughters and I were in Newport, RI, where we toured a fabulous mansion called the Marble House. It was built in the 1890’s for around $11 million, a 39th birthday gift by William Vanderbilt for his wife, Alva. It was beautiful, with such great workmanship! And yet, the Vanderbilt’s were unhappy, for Alva was selfish and domineering.
We long for more, but wealth guarantees nothing. The “more” that is the hallmark of our culture today is the distraction of noise. From the time you wake in the morning to the time you go to bed there is the noise of the TV and your earbuds; there is your cell phone with texts and pictures and messages, and your computer with its games. Let noise drown out any sorrows or fears! Nearly 400 years ago Blaise Pascal, the mathematical genius, observed: “men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things [as misfortune or sorrow]. We run heedlessly into the abyss after putting something in front of us to keep us from seeing the precipice.” How much more true is this of our day!
Well, no matter how much you have or how well you distract yourself, you cannot avoid the desolate places of life with their horrors and sorrows. Nor should you! God uses them to teach you. Confront them with the Lord God, your strength and your song and your salvation!
Jesus was in a desolate place with His disciples. Why? He had just heard of how Herod had beheaded John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and forerunner. John’s death wasn’t only the death of one close to Him; it was a vivid picture of what would also happen to Jesus. So, He withdrew from the crowds to be alone to pray and be strengthened by His heavenly Father.
He was not to have that quiet time, however. Crowds followed Him and besieged Him when His boat landed. And, what did Jesus do? Was He angry with them? Did He send them away? No! “He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus’s heart went out to the people, and He put their needs above His own.
This is our Savior. Christ’s heart goes out to us, so that He always desires to help us. The “desolate places,” the difficult times of life can actually be blessings because they remind us of our lowliness and need, and they push us to our Savior. We who today are so self-sufficient and self-absorbed need this! We need Jesus, who is with us in these places. Don’t turn away from the desolate place, the place where you the only thing you can do is pray and trust. For, Jesus is the great Savior of all who trust in Him. He is the true God, come among us.
We see this as Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks. The blessing of food before meals was standard Jewish practice. Such blessings would begin by confessing that food is a gift from God. But, notice: Jesus does more. He not only blesses the food; He miraculously provides it, and in great abundance. He assumes the place of God and shows that He is God, come in the flesh among us to save us.
You probably know that the early Christians used the fish as a symbol of their faith. They did so for two reasons. First, it identified them as believers in Jesus. The Greek word for fish ─ ICQUS ─ was an anagram. Its letters stood for:
Ihsous - Jesus
Cristos - Christ
Qeou - of God
Uios - Son
Swter - Savior
But even more than this, the fish came to symbolize Jesus. The early Church emphasized that in the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus was not just giving them food. He was showing Himself to be the source of all of the blessings they needed from God. He was giving the people Himself! And so, in receiving Christ they were receiving God and were secure. He was their Savior and would always take care of them.
But where could they receive Him? Where could they—and where can we—find Jesus? Again, consider the use of the fish symbol. It was seen constantly in early Christian art. It was rarely seen alone, however. Along with the fish would be a basket of bread and a glass of wine. The presence of bread makes sense, but why the wine? Well, the words of the Gospel accounts of the feeding of the 5,000 reminded the artists of the words spoken every week in church as the bread and wine were blessed and distributed. Here, in His healing Word and the provision of His Sacramental meal, our Lord gives us Himself! And we are well supplied.
Again this morning we are here to receive Jesus. Again, we are greatly blessed! And so, as Pastor Rinkart’s children sang in the face of trouble and hardship and sorrow, so we joyfully sing:
Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us
And keep us in His grace and guide us when perplexed
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Now Thank We All Our God
1 Now thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom His world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blest us on our way
With countless gifts of love and still is ours today.
2 Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us
And keep us in His grace and guide us when perplexed
And free us from all ills in this world and the next!
3 All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
The Son, and Him who reigns with them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God, Whom earth and heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.