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The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost, 2012
Sermon: “Help for the Desolate: Faith, Fellowship, Service”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Text: Mark 6:30-44.
Have you ever been in a desolate place? If you have, you may resonate with what I have to say this morning. If you haven’t been in a desolate place, God bless you, but I’m afraid your turn will come.
Desolate places can be places of affliction and also places of blessing.
Remember when Jesus went into the wilderness fasting for 40-days and was tempted by the devil? Do you think he came back rested, relaxed, and refreshed? I’m not so sure.
Actually, Jesus may have been physically, emotionally, and mentally more weak and more exhausted after his 40-days of fasting and testing than he was when he started.
But you know what? His spirit and and his faith were strengthened so that he came back proclaiming the gospel and reign of God; calling people to repent and believe.(Mk 1:14-15.)
In today’s Gospel, the disciples have just returned from their mission trip and it says that Jesus “…said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” (v. 31.)
He invited his friends, tired and worn out from their time of ministry, to come away by themselves to a remote place for rest and refreshment. They needed some time away to replenish their inner resources so that they could re-engage in the ministry of helping others.
This is one reason I try to go on my yearly Rio Grande canoe trip when it works out. I find that getting away from my work, my friends, and even my family; going to one of the last remaining wilderness areas in North America; and doing the physical work of canoeing and camping for 6 days helps me reset and recharge to re-engage in my vocation of helping others as a follower of Jesus.
We hear in the rest of the Gospel that the plans for Apostolic R&R were foiled by the needy crowd. People found out the location of the campsite where Jesus was taking his worn out disciples, and when they got there, a crowd of at least 5,000 was waiting.
Now, if that had happened to me, my gut instinct would be to turn, run the other way, and find some other desolate place away from the crowds so I could rest in peace. I have a feeling at least some of the 12 disciples would join me.
But that is not what the Lord did. The Gospel says, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” (v. 34.)
I want you to pay attention to who had the compassion here–Jesus. Who did the teaching? Jesus. Who did the feeding of the 5,000? Jesus.
The disciples were there. They helped. But it was Jesus who had compassion; Jesus who taught; and Jesus who fed the people.
Folks the Church needs faithful pastors. The world is full of unfaithful, self-serving shepherds. As we see in the OT lesson, God reserves severe judgments for unfaithful shepherds.
But pastors and shepherds can only be faithful when they are leading people to the Good Shepherd for the help they need. Faithful pastors pray for their people and for the world. Faithful pastors attend to God’s story with Israel and the Church in Sacred Scripture, and speak words of Law and Gospel for God to others. Faithful pastors are stewards of the holy mysteries—the Word and Sacraments—they are called to tend to the life and health of the Gospel in the faith community.
But guess what? Your pastor did not die for your sins. Your pastor did not rise again from the dead. Your pastor did not ascend to the right hand of God to make unbroken intercession for you. Your pastor is not coming back one day to rescue you from a world where people take guns to movie theaters and choose to commit evil acts of murder and mayhem.
See, as Lutherans we understand from the Scriptures that the pastor is just the one Christian selected by all the other Christians to do publicly—on behalf of the group—what everyone else is already doing privately: Speaking God’s Word, announcing God’s forgiveness, sharing the love of Christ with other people—believers and unbelievers alike.
One of the great blessings of the pastoral office is that we have a real guy who is called to speak God’s Word of law and gospel to us whether we like it or not. He is called to pray, read the Scriptures, and pay attention to what God is doing in our lives—most of the time behind the scenes.
But only Jesus, not your pastor is your Lord and Savior.
I am going to be very open and personal with you for a moment. I am called to be your pastor, and I am in a desolate season of life where I am worn very thin. It is taking a lot of my time and energy to work through the grief in my own life and in the life of my family. A lot of times I do not have extra energy to be compassionate, teach, and feed you as well as I would like. I try, but I am aware of my limitations.
I share this fact publicly because I want you to know that: 1) Only Jesus the Christ is your Lord and Savior and only your own faith in him can save you. 2) One of my deepest desires is to be a faithful pastor. I had this passage from Jeremiah 23 read at my ordination because it has been a driving force in my call to pastoral ministry since I was a teenager. 3) God has raised up 5 men as elders in this congregation to help me show compassion, to teach, and to feed you with God’s Word.
The Elders and I are working together intentionally to faithfully shepherd the flock at WOL. If something is bothering you about how things are being handled here, please talk to your elder about it. We can’t know how to help you if we don’t know what you need. If you are hurting or overwhelmed by life, or just need someone to listen, call on your elder. We can’t know how to respond to your hurts if we don’t know what they are.
Gossip and criticism are most destructive of Christian Community.
A couple of things that have been a big help to me personally in my journey through the desolate place are a man who prays with me every week, and another, more experienced pastor I go and talk with once-a-month. I have to ask for help. You do to.
I would be failing in my calling as your pastor if I did not equip each of you to stand before God by your own faith. A mother who ties her 4-year-old’s shoes is being a loving mother, but a mother who ties her 12-year-old’s shoes is not.
In other words, each of you have to take responsibility for your own spiritual well-being. Your own faith in Jesus—calling on him for help in every situation. Your own participation in the fellowship of the Church where your faith will be strengthened. And also, your own service to other people both in the Fellowship and outside of it. You must share God’s love with other people however you can if you want to keep your faith.
So I ask three things of you this morning. 1) How’s your own faith? Are you asking Jesus to give you strength and help you every morning? Are you thanking him for his help every evening? Or are you waiting for the pastor or the Church to fix your problems or make them go away?
2) How’s your participation in the fellowship? Are you making regular use of the Means of Grace? Are you investing in relationships with God’s people?
And 3) How are you doing in service to others? Are you sharing the great love you have been given with those around you who need it?
These are practices I have been building into my own life over the past year or so, and I find I cannot live without them.
When you are in a desolate place, who is going to have compassion on you? Jesus. Who is going to teach you and feed you with the eternal food of God’s Word & the Sacrament? Jesus. Your faith is in him and it is “by God’s power[—not man’s—that you] are being guarded through [that] faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5.) Amen.