A REMOTE PLACE
9th Sunday after Pentecost – A LSB #’s 660, 869, 662
Text – Matthew 14:15-16
As evening approached, the disciples came to Him & said, “This is a remote place, & it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages & buy themselves some food.” But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” (NIV)
A REMOTE PLACE
The event is Call Night – the most anticipated service of the entire four-year program of seminary. Families, friends, pastors, the Synod President & your fellow students are all there, anxiously waiting to hear your name called; waiting to see you step forward to the front of the chapel. There, the church, city & state where you will be serving as pastor are 1st revealed.
It is a night filled with powerful emotions. You’ve been waiting for that moment, through all the struggles & frustrations, ever since you decided to enter the ministry. As you’re standing in line, waiting for your name to be read, it seems as if four years of preparation went by in the blink of an eye.
So here I am, next in line. The guy in front of me hears his name & steps forward. The Director of Placement announces: Trinity Lutheran Church, Wahiawa Oahu, Hawaii. The surprise & excitement echoes through the seminary chapel.
Next, my name is read & as I step forward, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Rugby, & St. Paul Lutheran Church, Willow City, North Dakota are announced. The contrast could not have been more pronounced. Hawaii – North Dakota. I’ll be honest I had never expected to set foot in that state, & I’ve been to almost all of the others.
With the guy in front of me getting sent to Hawaii you can just imagine what I spent the rest of the evening hearing. Jokes about dog sleds & tractors; jokes about being stranded & frozen in blizzards; jokes about more people living in one block of NY City, than in the entire state of North Dakota. Yes, the Director of Placement tried to reassure me, & the District President talked with me to make sure I wasn’t jumping ship. They were in the minority. One of my friends walked up to me, stuck his finger in my face, & laughed for a full 10 seconds. Of course, he’s from Boston & people from that part of the country have a reputation for being somewhat obnoxious.
The most common theme I heard that evening could be summarized by the phrase, “North Dakota is a Remote Place.” PAUSE
In the Feeding of the 5000, the disciples had the same words for their teacher. This is a ‘remote’ place. The Greek word used there can refer to a place that is uncultivated, uninhabited, abandoned or even wilderness. There would’ve been no restaurants or shops anywhere nearby. And with 5000 men being there, it was very likely there were as many as 10-15,000 people total.
It’s easy to understand why the disciples were starting to feel a bit nervous as the huge crowd was forming, & it was getting towards evening. What would all of them eat? The disciples were simply trying to be practical by anticipating a problem & heading it off. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages & buy food for themselves.
I’m certain His disciples were caught off guard when Jesus replied, “They don’t need to go away. You give them something to eat.” They were in the middle of nowhere, with as many as 5000 men to feed, & only the 12 disciples to serve them – an impossible problem even if they had enough food. It’s not practical & it lacks common sense. Had Jesus been in the sun too long?
That might seem a bit exaggerated. After all, Jesus is God. Certainly He had not lost His mind. You know the ending to the story, so where’s the problem? “Jesus performs a miracle,” you say. And your answer IS correct. But that answer is where your dilemma begins. The words of Matthew weren’t written to the 12 disciples. They were written to you: “You give them something to eat!” How well have you done at helping the hungry people in our world? Is our mission budget really sacrificial giving? Have you helped feed any of the refugees of any crisis around the world? Are you personally helping to care for the homeless or those in prison right here in our own country? Or even our own community?
Now that Jesus’ words are applied to you, do those tasks seem more impractical? Are your seats becoming more uncomfortable as you try to think up excuses?
“Well, not me pastor. I’m just a poor nobody in a small town in Michigan. I have no influence or access to millions of dollars. Besides, I’m too busy, & I wouldn’t know where to start &, well, it would take a miracle to help all the needy people of the world. PAUSE
And you are right on that. It would take a miracle.
In the Gospel of John, the same Feeding of the 5000 is recorded, but John adds a detail to the story. He writes, “When Jesus looked up & saw a great crowd coming toward Him, He said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for Jesus already had in mind what He was going to do.” (John 6:5-6)
Philip flunked the test. He answered, “Eight months’ of wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” In a narrow sense Philip is correct, eight months wages would not buy enough to feed them all. But the fact remains that even if the disciples had 108 months of wages they could not feed the multitudes as Jesus did. Neither can us!
Here’s the correct answer: “Lord, you command us to give them something to eat, but whether little is needed or much, we are unable to provide it.” We are poor miserable sinners. We can do nothing without our Lord’s provision, not even breathe. If He did not love us first, in but a moment, we would all cease to exist.
Yahweh only allows us to live in the hope that we might repent & turn back to Him,
like the thief on the cross, as he & Jesus were about to die. The correct answer is for you & me to daily recognize our sin, our helplessness, & turn to the God who created us – who loves us.
That God, who is the source of everything good, of every blessing, longs for you & me to repent of our rebellion & seek His forgiveness. He gives that freely, & promises that nothing will be able to separate us from His love. The OT lesson began:
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; & he who has no money, come, buy & eat!!” (Isaiah 55:1a ESV) If Philip had understood that, he would have known that Jesus could feed the 5000 with just 5 loaves of bread & two fish; never mind about money.
Likewise, we who are thirsting & hungering for relief from our sins, from our illnesses & from all the shattered hopes of our lives; we also can come to the Waters of Eternal Life.
What Philip did not comprehend is that even if they had enough money to feed the whole multitude, it would still have been nothing more than temporal life. Jesus feeds His sheep with food that provides heavenly life, for all of eternity. PAUSE
No, we are never able to keep any of God’s commands. Whether we at St. Matthew are commanded to, “Go ye therefore, & teach all nations,” or whether we are commanded to, “Love our neighbors as ourselves.” But the true God freely offers His forgiveness as He freely offered bread & fish to the 5000.
Is that forgiveness an excuse to say I live in a remote place, & cannot possibly help others? No, because God also says that faith can move mountains. The faith that moves mountains does not respond out of being commanded. It responds out of love for the forgiveness that Christ has generously given to each of us.
That is a faith which knows how helpless we are, yet trusts that Jesus will provide even what seems impossible. Sometime after He fed the 5000, followers asked Him, “What are the works that God wants us to do?” Jesus answered, “This is the work of God – that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:28-29) When you believe in Jesus He will use you to accomplish His will. He will use you to reach the world with the Good News of salvation that Christ has bought for us. Here’s a story of her doubts that Corrie Ten Boom repeated many times.
She was telling her father that she could never be a missionary because of all the hardships & sacrifices it required. “I don’t have the strength to do it.” Her father replied, “You know when I send you once a week to Amsterdam on the train to get the exact time to set our clocks in the shop, when do I give you the fare for the train?”
“Just before I am to get on the train,” she replied. “Yes,” he said, “& so it is with the tests of life that come to each of us. God may not give you the strength beforehand, but when the time of the test comes He will give you the fare for the journey.” Corrie Ten Boom believed in her father, & because he loved her he gave her the fare for the train.
Our Savior loves us so much more, & as we believe in Him, He too will give us the fare – everything that we need – for our journey here on earth. But sometimes He asks us to be patient & to trust Him for that fare.
It’s easy for you & me to ignore God’s will in our lives. We can come up with very logical & practical reasons for doing so. Letting those who need something fend for they are much less trouble for us. But that is not answering God’s call. He has already prepared in advance those good works for you to do.
By faith in His power to accomplish them, we can participate with our Heavenly Father in sharing His love with the world. It is only that love which has the power to change the world, to redeem it, to recreate it. The law, of he that does not work shall not eat, has no power to change anyone. It only condemns, just as we are condemned by our own failures to obey God’s command to give them something to eat. Being in a remote place & of little influence is no excuse. The Feeding of the 5000 shows that God is willing to work miracles even in places like this shrunken congregation. He’s already worked the miracle of faith in your heart, & He promises to continue working miracles during the rest of your life here on earth.
Like the disciples, & like Corrie Ten Boom, you may be surprised with what God can work through you, even here at St. Matthew Lutheran church.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.
With the Lord begin your task; Jesus will direct it. For His aid & counsel ask; Jesus will perfect it. Every morn with Jesus rise & when day is ended in His name then close your eyes; be to Him commended. With your Savior at your side, foes need not alarm you; in His promises confide, & no ill can harm you. All your trust & hope repose in the mighty Master, who in wisdom truly knows how to stem disaster. Amen. LSB 869:1, 3.
 Romans 8:37-39
Pastor Dean R. Poellet