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In a Deserted Place

8/3/2014 Eighth Sunday after Pentecost  The text for today’s sermon is Matthew 14:13-21.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

It was one of those weeks.  One of those weeks filled with mixed news.  Ahead was one of those weeks which would require some tough decisions.  So, things needed to be sorted out.

For me, that meant a drive.  In the wee hours of the morning, I arose.  I wanted to be on the road by 5 AM, heading to a favorite, secluded spot along a quiet stream, a place devoid of car and people; a place where the babbling of the brook, the song of birds, and the distant sounds of animals were the only interruption in the silence.  It was a deserted place that I sought, a place of comfort, a place where my mind could be cleared of the noise of everyday life, a place to think and to pray.

It is this type of spot, a secluded area in the wilderness, that Jesus often sought when he wanted to pray and think and prepare for what he was to do and what was going to be done to him.  So, after he had learned of the news of John the Baptist’s death, he withdrew from the crowds so that he could be alone.  He needed to be re-energized for his ministry much in the same way introverts need to get away from the crowds to re-energize body and soul.  But the crowds followed Jesus on foot.  In hope they followed him to a deserted place.

To us, a desert doesn’t look like a hopeful place, a place of many blessings.  But, that may be only because we are tempted to think that blessings always come in the form of abundance and comfort.  Yet, somewhere in the depth of solitude, quietness and even darkness, there is a spring of hope.  For more often than not, the deserted places are the very temple of God’s presence and the place where we meet God most intimately.

It was in the hope of being in the presence of God and being guided by the spirit that I went to my secluded spot by the Farmington River.  It was in hope of being in the presence of God and being healed by the touch of Jesus that the crowds followed Jesus.  In their need they left their towns and followed.  And when Jesus saw the crowds, he put aside his need for quiet and seclusion and in compassion ministered to them.

Now, compassion is not pity.  Compassion is a response to suffering.  It is the driving force behind Jesus’ ministry.  To be moved with compassion involves a deep physical and emotional feeling…an intimate connection with those in need and a disposition to do something to help them.  Compassion is an action word.  To pity others is to passively observe their plight, to feel for them, and then, helplessly, to stand with them.

It is in compassion and power that our Lord stopped what he is doing to reach out to heal the sick.  It is in compassion that he will respond to us when we earnestly seek him out.  For his compassion knows no limit.  As, “he was moved with compassion” for those who “were distressed and dejected like sheep without a shepherd” (Mat 9:36), Jesus is moved with compassion toward us in the darkest, deepest moments of our lives.  For, although we may find little abundance in ourselves or in the environment in these deserted spots, often it is in the apparent “wastelands” that we are surprised with hope – the hope that comes from a God who meets us there with compassion.

It was out of compassion that Jesus ministered to those who sought him.  It was out of compassion that Jesus did not turn them away when the hour grew late and hunger set in.  In compassion, Jesus instructed the disciples to share what meager food they had with a crowd of over 5000 people.  In compassion, Jesus would not send them away hungry.  For Jesus knew what it was like to be without food.  While he knew it wasn’t the ultimate thing in life, he knew that he, like the sisters and brothers he came to save, couldn’t get very far without it.  So, he took the 5 loaves and 2 fish that were given to him and he blessed them.  Then, he distributed them among the crowd and the crowd ate until they were full.  The leftovers were gathered and there was enough to fill 12 baskets.

How this happened is a miracle.  It is a miracle that began with compassion.  Whether the people who were there that day were moved by compassion by the very act of Jesus and shared with others the provisions they had squirreled away for themselves, or whether the food somehow multiplied by itself, we do not know. But, either way a miracle took place and all were fed through the blessing that seemed too small, too little, too insignificant, to make any difference.

Whatever you have, no matter how small it may seem, has potential when placed in the hands of our God who can grow it beyond humanly defined limits.  Millard Fuller, the founder and driving force of Habitat for Humanity, an international Christian ministry that builds homes with the poor on an interest-free basis, learned this lesson long ago.  One day as he met with a group of people who were interested in starting a project, but felt that they didn’t have enough money to begin, “he leaned over and looked at them with a seriousness that only money talk could muster.  After a moment’s silence, he said, ‘Let me tell you something very important.  Listen carefully.  The whole future of what you are about to do rests on what I am about to say.  It would be absolutely reckless and irresponsible and injudicious for you to start your Habitat affiliate without having at least $1 in the bank.  To start with anything less would be ludicrous.

The group laughed nervously.  Fuller grinned and said, ‘Habitat is founded on the economics of Jesus, which was manifested in the feeding of the multitudes.  Here it is.  You take what you have – one dollar – and you give thanks for it and then give it to the Lord to be blessed.  Then you step out in faith’.”

My friends, it all begins with compassion.  Inspired by our Lord who did not hesitate to put aside his agenda and minister to those in need, we can do miracles.  The world changes when we are inspired by the example of the Lord.  Hope fills deserted places when we share what we have, not out of pity, but in compassion.  Just think of what we could do if everyone who is a member of this church was moved by compassion to give less than the price of a lunch – a mere $5.00 – for the needs of the hungry in this world.  We would raise over $2,000.   If all the members of all the churches in the Greater Worcester area were moved likewise, we could easily stock the shelves in food pantries for a year and still have enough to support the efforts to feed the hungry in other areas as well.

It all begins with compassion.  It begins when we see that God has blessed us abundantly and has given us more than we need to sustain our lives.  God has blessed us abundantly with compassion and mercy.  God has blessed us abundantly even in our deepest and darkness moments.  God has blessed us abundantly so that we can be a blessing to others.

May we who have been so blessed by the God of hope who meets us in the deserted places of our lives have compassion for those who seeks God’s help.  May we share the blessings of hope and the gifts which have been entrusted to us so that the work of Christ will continue in this time and place through us.  And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.



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