The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 13A (8/3/2008)

Fed by God

Lessons:      Isaiah 55:1-5      Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21      Romans 9:1-5      St. Matthew 14:13-21      Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm           Genesis 32:22-31           Psalm 17:1-7, 15

Prayer of the Day:     Glorious God, your generosity waters the world with goodness, and you cover creation with abundance. Awaken in us a hunger for the food that satisfies both body and spirit, and with this food fill all the starving world, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

14.13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." 16 Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." 17 They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." 18 And he said, "Bring them here to me." 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

St. Matthew 14:13-21, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

"Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there."

An ominous way for a Gospel lesson to begin, isn't it? What did Jesus hear? Why did it impact him to such a degree that he withdrew to a lonely place where he hoped to be alone? It was, of course, the devastating news that his relative, partner in ministry and respected friend, John the Baptizer, had been murdered by King Herod. And so he went, as St. Matthew tells us, to "a deserted place by himself." A deserted place where he could find solace and healing. A deserted place where he could be alone in prayer with God. A deserted place where he could find spiritual, physical and emotional renewal, in order to continue the ministry God had entrusted to him.

That renewal would have to wait, of course. The crowds (5,000 families?) followed him, and his time alone wouldn't come until after he had spent a day healing, teaching and feeding them. Yet it is interesting to note that even Jesus found it important to take time to be alone with God - to be renewed in body, mind and spirit. In fact, the Gospel writers portray him as doing so quite regularly, and often immediately before making important decisions or taking important actions.

Jesus models for us what God expects of us. We too find ourselves in need of renewal on a regular basis. The responsibilities given to us as parents, as students, as friends, as employees, as citizens... are significant. The ministries entrusted to us by God can, at times, be quite demanding. Much is expected of us, and God wants to be part of the strength that makes it possible for us to do well. So, since the early days of God's covenant people, we have been commanded to find Sabbath time. Time to be alone with God. Time to immerse ourselves in word and prayer. Time to be renewed as only God can renew us.

As you read this devotional, my family and I are on our way home from a one-week stay at Holden Village, a Lutheran Retreat center in the Cascade Mountains of central Washington State. This is a long trip, in some ways. And whenever we're gone, we miss being part of the rhythm of this congregation's life together. Yet it is important for us to find time to escape the daily demands of work and home - a time to be together as a family in a more relaxed setting. Holden Village is a terrific place for just that to happen. Each day includes Bible study, worship, fellowship, exercise, reading, eating healthy food and relaxing together. I am grateful to be serving a congregation that supports these kinds of renewing experiences. And I am grateful for places like this retreat center that make it possible.

I expect that, as usual, we'll come home (unlike many "vacations" we have taken) refreshed and renewed, and reminded of how important it is to take time away to be near God. I hope you found time like that this past summer too. And I hope you are wrestling (as we are) with how that can be a more regular part of your life's pattern. God expects it of us. And we need it if we are to be all that God asks us to be.

I look forward to hearing of the ways you have made this part of your life, and exploring how we can learn from one another. A good Sabbath to you all!

David J. Risendal

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. What must it have been like for Jesus to receive word that John, his relative and colleague, had been murdered?
  2. Why did he seek to spend time alone in a deserted place?
  3. What does it say about Jesus that he put his own need for renewal aside for long enough to minister to the crowds that followed him?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. When have I felt a particular need (physical, emotional, or spiritual) for renewal?
  2. What are the resources I made use of to fill that need?
  3. How can I establish regular times to be alone with God, in order to remain strong for the ministry God has entrusted to me?