Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Invocation. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1. The disciples have just returned from their first mission trip. Sent out by Jesus, they preached repentance to the people of Galilee. They cast out demons in the name of the Lord. They anointed the sick and healed them by the power and authority given them by Christ. Now they've come back. They're tired. They're hungry. All they want to do is tell Jesus what they've seen and done and heard. They want to eat. They want to rest. They want some time with Jesus. So Jesus has compassion on them. He invites them to himself and says,
[St. Mark 6.31]
Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.
2. But all those people. The crowds. They just won't go away. Even when they get in a boat and try to go somewhere secluded, the crowds beat them there. This multitude: these are the people the prophet Jeremiah speaks of in our Old Testament reading today. They live under leaders who do not fulfill their holy obligations. They live without protection, always in danger of destruction. They live lives spent aimlessly scattered, now in one place, now in another, with no safe place to call their own. They too, are hungry. They too, need rest. True, their experience is very different from what the apostles have just lived through. But their goal is the same: All they want to do is tell Jesus what they've seen and heard and done. Jesus sees their plight, that they're
[St. Mark 6.34]
like sheep not having a shepherd.
So he has compassion on them, too. He welcomes them and teaches them many things. Whether it's his closest companions or complete strangers, Jesus is filled with compassion for those who need it.
3. Such is not always the case with the apostles. Even though they've just experienced first hand the compassion of Christ, they're in no mood to entertain strangers.
[St. Mark 6.36]
Send them away, (they say,) that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.
4. The disciples have just returned from a preaching, healing, wonder working tour of the region. Now, they've watched and listened as Jesus welcomed and taught these people who sought him out. And their advice is to send them away. It's shocking.
5. At least it should be. But for some reason, no seems all that shocked. Even now. Even here. There were no gasps as these events were read from the gospel. No one shook their head in shame as we heard the apostles render their advice to Christ. No. we just listened and took it all in.
6. Partly I think, that's due to our familiarity with this event. But I don't think familiarity with this passage is the entire reason we're not shocked. Could it be that the apostles' action isn't all that shocking, because it's not all that unusual? Could it be that we, ourselves, are so familiar with dismissing others that even when we see it in the Bible it doesn't surprise us? Could it be that when we see the disciples try to shoo these folks away from Jesus, that we are reminded all to clearly of our own sinful lack of compassion for our brothers and sisters today? Yes, it certainly could be that.
7. So we're not shocked. Because we share with the apostles a desire to keep Jesus to ourselves. We're not shocked because we know what it's like to long for Christ's compassion in our life, while we struggle with a much weaker desire that he share his compassion with others, too. These two longings live side by side in our souls. Because we're hungry. We're tired. All we want to do is tell Jesus about our life: what we've seen. What we've done. What we've heard. So we struggle with the sinful desire to shoo others away, because we think we need Jesus more than they do.
8. Daily we struggle with the temptation to keep Jesus from others and to keep others from Jesus. I know, we would never tell someone to get away from Jesus. No, our sin is more subtle than that. We harbor thoughts about "certain people" who really shouldn't be at worship with us. We wonder (sometimes out loud) how "old you know who" can even make it through the doors of the chapel without bursting into flames. And we cloak our sin in pious sentiments about what's best for those people and what's best for the Church. But what we're really saying is the same thing the disciples did that day long ago. When we harbor these thoughts and say these things about others, we look Jesus in the eye. We point to other people who need him just like we do and we and say, "Send them away, Jesus. Just send them away."
9. Jesus' response to the apostles is a call to repentance. And more than that, it's a call to open our eyes of faith and see that Christ's compassion is big enough for everyone. Jesus says,
[St. Mark 6.37]
You give them something to eat.
The disciples are incredulous at first, but then Jesus puts his compassion into action. He takes the five loaves of bread and the two fish, gives thanks to God the Father for all he provides and then sends the apostles out to distribute the feast. How much is there? Enough to feed five thousand men, not counting their wives and children. How much is there? Enough to fill twelve baskets full of left-overs. How much is there? Enough to open our eyes and see that when people come to Christ in need of his compassion, he never sends anyone away. Not the apostles. Not the crowds. Not you or me or anyone who might seem to be competing with us for Jesus' gracious gifts. For all who come in faith to Christ find out that his compassion is limitless. We receive Christ's gifts and learn what David meant when he prayed in Psalm 145:
15 The eyes of all look expectantly to You, And You give them their food in due season. 16 You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing.
10. Even today, Christ displays his limitless compassion among us, his faithful followers. He looks upon us in our struggle with sin and sees that we, too, are like sheep not having a shepherd. So he calls us to himself. He invites us into the presence of his mercy. So we tell him all that we've seen and done and heard as we confess our sinful inclination to send others away from him, and from the depths of his compassion, Christ says, "You are forgiven." In his compassion, Christ teaches us many things, just as he did those people in that deserted place who longed to be with him. And as he fed them, he feeds us too. Not bread and fish, but bread and wine that is his true body and blood. This is the food we need most, for it is the food of his compassion. It is the food that brings rest to our weary souls. It is the food that feeds and nourishes our hungry hearts with the forgiveness of our sins, life that never ends, and salvation from everything that would destroy or scatter us from him. In forgiving us by the word of his teaching, and in the Eucharist, Christ himself bestows upon us his compassion in all its gracious fullness.
11. So hear the absolution today and find your rest in Christ as he forgives your sins. Eat and drink his precious body and blood be strengthened in your faith by this heavenly food for your soul. Feast with your eyes and your ears, with your body and your soul, and know that the compassion of the Lord has no limits. Know that in Christ, there is always more than enough compassion. And know that Christ is your Good Shepherd who will never send you away.
Invocation. In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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