Archive for the ‘Psalm 23’ Category

You Need The Good Shepherd

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org
Easter 4A, May 11, 2014

Click here for audio of this message

“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” [John 10:3b, 4]

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! But more than that He has risen for you!  Before His death, He assured His disciples then, as He assures us today, that He would not leave us alone as orphans; He promised us that He would come back to us!  And He has.  This morning, in our readings and in our message He speaks to you and you hear His voice.  You have been hearing His voice since your baptism, where He first called you by name.

This morning, like all other mornings He speaks to you and He invites you to follow Him out, but out of what, and out to where?  Well, our message this morning will answer that very question, but before we begin, let’s first agree on what He does not “yet” lead you out of.  He does not yet lead you out of this world.  You must follow your Good Shepherd within this life of sorrows and trouble.  There are many dangers here in this world, as all who have lived any sort of life will agree.  The question each of us must answer is, “Do I want to pass through this way of danger with or without the Good Shepherd?”

So, are you ready to follow where Jesus leads us in this message?  Good, let’s get started!

The first thing that Jesus leads us out of is our sins.  Every misery in your life and mine, can be traced back to sin, either our sins or someone else’s.  Sin is the very thing that leaves us alone; it separates us from the love of God and His real presence in our lives.  Isn’t this true in all relationships in our lives?  If we sin against spouse, friend, coworker or neighbor, aren’t we going to be deprived of those relationships if something isn’t done to repair them?  And so enters the need for an apology.  But an apology without real change in the one who has done the harm is simply a string of empty words; something substantive must take place to repair and restore that lost relationship.  This is what we call making amends.

And so enters your Good Shepherd.  Upon the cross, His bitter suffering, agony, and finally His death made amends for your sin.  Jesus died for sinners; He died for you.  Jesus died to pay for your sins; to remove your sins from your standing before a righteous and perfect Creator; sins you have committed first against your Heavenly Father and second, sins you have committed against your neighbor.  That is what He did for the entire world, but this atonement, this making amends wont help you in the least if you do not claim it as a work that He does for you.  In your baptism, He gives you the means to do this very thing!  In your baptism not only does He give you complete restoration with Him, but He also provides you with the real presence of His Holy Spirit and the Sprit’s power; He gives to you the Good Shepherd Himself, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Now, as you go out in the real world you will encounter real dangers; dangers that on your own you can’t overcome.  That is why you need the Good Shepherd.

On your own, you are only a little lamb.  You need the Good Shepherd because bad things really do happen to righteous, baptized children of God; in fact, bad things happen to everyone.  Bad things happen, because until the end of all things when Christ returns, God’s Children of faith are still to be living, breathing, and finding their very purpose of life in Him, here in this sinful and broken world.  But, as we wait for Christ’s return, we wait with a purpose, or for a reason.  We live first to give God glory in all things, and then we live to share God’s presence and gifts with other sheep who have not yet heard their Good Shepherds voice, or have maybe forgotten that voice and have wandered away into danger; the real danger that exists in this world.

So, as we wait, we are busy listening to our Savior’s voice and following Him through some pretty rough places. If we listen, we will find comfort and assurance that safer pastures are just around the bend, down the hill, or through the canyons.  If we listen we are assured that the Living Water is always with us to quench our thirst, and we little sheep can really work up a thirst, especially when we are wandering away from our Good Shepherd’s voice, and falling into some pretty sinful places; places that we have no business being in or going to.  Of course, the Living Water that I am speaking of is the privilege that comes to us who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And that privilege is the forgiveness of all of our sins.

Each and every time you receive the absolution, you are being picked up, cleaned off, and brought back to the fold by your Good Shepherd.  But remember, you are here for a purpose, and that purpose is to glorify God and to help others know his forgiving love as well.  An excellent way for you to do this very thing can be observed in how you pass through those dangerous times of life when you are following your Good Shepherd.  What kind of dangerous times?  Well right off the bat, we might include illness, tragedy, and disaster; and those would be good examples, but what about when you suffer unjustly at the hands of another simply because as a Christian you are an easy target; a target that will not fight back by meeting evil with evil?

You see, whether you sin by responding to an unjust attack with a similar counter attack, or simply let it pass without response, you still will have to endure through the suffering.  “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” [1 Peter 2:20b, 21]  To what have we been called?  To suffering?  Well… yes, but you are suffering for a mission, with a purpose.  What purpose?  That others will see your life and how you live it and give glory to Jesus, your Good Shepherd.

Think of how much Jesus suffered for you; think about His passion to save you, and then remember the wonderful gift of complete forgiveness that is yours because you have been baptized.  Isn’t that enough to move you into a condition of heart that simply desires to listen to the voice of your Shepherd and follow Him through this dark valley you are passing through?

Do you Remember the choice we were given in the beginning of our message?  You can either pass through that danger with or without Him?  Now before you answer, consider what your Good Shepherd did to save you.  “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him (that is God the Father) who judges justly.  He himself bore (your) sins in his body on the tree, that (you) might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (that is you have complete forgiveness of sin).  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” [1 Peter 2:22-25]  Do you really want to wander away from all that your Good Shepherd provides?

I trust that the voice of your Good Shepherd has put your little feet back on the straight and narrow, so now, let’s follow Him as He shows us how to live our lives in both the obligation to bless and glorify God and to bless each other and our neighbor with His service to us and through us.

Let’s be clear on something, God does not need our worship nor our service.  God is God and He neither lacks or needs a thing.  But He insists that we both worship and glorify Him and serve our neighbor.  Why?  Because we need Him and your neighbor needs you.  We need to meet God and receive His divine service, and we receive that very thing when we gather around the teaching of the apostles in His Word and the breaking of bread, that is His Holy Supper, where Jesus gives us both His body and blood, for the forgiveness of sins.  We need to hear Him speak forgiveness to us, but we also need to ask for it; that is we need to speak to Him in prayer.  In other words friends, we need God’s Divine Service so that we can continue to follow our Good Shepherd as He leads us out.

Again, let’s consider where He leads us out to; He leads us out to be with first our brothers and sisters in Christ (that is, the church), and then He leads us out to be with our neighbors who are lost little sheep without the Good Shepherd.  To get an idea of how this life style might look, let’s read a portion of our first reading: “And all who believed (that is all who were given the gift of faith through the Word of God about their Good Shepherd), were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” [Acts 2:44-47]

That dear friends is a picture of a wonderful and forgiven flock of sinful sheep that simply have learned to trust their Good Shepherd.  All who believed were willing to trust all that they had to the use of their Good Shepherd.  All who believed were reminded that all that they had was simply a gift from the very One who was still leading them into an eternity where there would be no more suffering nor pain, sorrow nor offense, sin nor death.  That is where their Good Shepherd was leading them, and that is where He is leading us.

Isn’t it a little thing to simply follow the One who has given and done so much for us?  Is it too much for Him to ask, that as we go on our way following Him, that we praise Him and tell everyone what He has done for us and for them?  Shouldn’t we have glad and generous hearts that freely give as we have received?

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We confess in the Creed, “I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church.” We believe what we cannot see. We cannot see the unity in the body of Christ, instead we see division. We cannot see the holiness of the church, instead, we see sin. But we must have faith, not in what we see, but in what Jesus our Good Shepherd says.

When we place our faith in His Word, we will find that our unfaithfulness is simply no match for His faithfulness. He who gave his life for the sheep has never accepted our sin; He died for it!  He has never excused our sin; He forgives it!  His voice, is what unites us with Him. His voice is what unites us with each other. His voice – his holy Word – is our greatest treasure in this life. It leads us through some pretty dark and rough times, and it teaches us how to receive and share God’s heavenly treasures here in Christ’s Church on earth.  May each of us forever follow His voice as He leads us to our eternal heavenly home… Amen!

You Can Hear Him!

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter 4C, April 20th, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

My Sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [John 10:27]

As our nation gathers together to morn and sort out the events surrounding the terrorist attack against those gathered at the Boston Marathon, as our fellow country men, there and across this  great  nation gather for moments of silence and combined “all-faith” worship services, you have instead come here; to God’s house.  For most of you, this is not unusual, because you do the very  same thing most every Sunday.  For some who are visitors this morning at Trinity, or visitors to my website, you may be listening to or reading this sermon with the intent of trying to find some  comfort or perhaps find a higher purpose to all of the fear and suffering, let me repeat the Words of Jesus again: “My Sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Can you hear Jesus speaking to you in those Words?  If so, good!  Continue hearing; listen to His Words and you will find strength and comfort.  To those of you who may answer, “No” or  “I’m  not sure,” that is alright; you should continue to listen as well, because you see, it is only by listening to the Word of God that you will find faith and be able to hear the voice of Jesus’ speaking to  you.

A truth that is even sadder than the Boston carnage is the fact that there are many people in this world who will not not hear Jesus speaking to them.  They demand new proofs and evidence all  while dismissing the great proofs that have already been recorded for them.  It is as if they are calling out with unbelievers in our gospel lesson (John 10:22-30): “If you are the Christ, tell us  plainly.”  And as Jesus answered the unbelievers then, so He answers them today: “I (have) told you, and you do not believe.  The works I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” [John 10:25, 26]

Why don’t they believe?  Because they are not among Jesus sheep, so they don’t hear His voice.  But their lack of hearing; their lack of believing isn’t Jesus’ fault, it is their own.  Jesus speaks to them; He desires them to hear, but they will not.  They choose instead to hear many other voices that call out to us through out the world.  For instance…

They will hear the voice of Hedonism.  A voice that discourages higher learning and critical thinking, and instead encourages a generation of Reality T.V. to “Party on… eat, drink, and be merry!”  Or…

Then there is the voice of Materialism, which constantly pressures us to buy things.  “Buy, buy, buy” it says, “until you find contentment.  You deserve to be happy and experience the good life.”  And as we follow that voice, we become so caught up in acquiring more possessions, that those left in need, suffering in poverty go without, and finally die because we would not help.  And …

Then there is the voice of Narcissism—Self-centeredness that constantly encourages us to join in singing the hymn of all fallen and sinful creation: “It’s all about me; it’s all about I; it’s all about me oh my, oh my!”  Within this voice, are the various word of faith leaders and “possibility thinking” hucksters and philosophers who want us to “Tap into the great potential that is you!”  This voice really makes the voice of Christ unneeded, because if you believe their message, you can be your own savior!

And finally, there are the voices of the religious fanatics.  Their voice is perhaps the most dangerous, as they teach that change, their kind of change, must come from outside of a society, and it must come by force, fear, intimidation, and death if necessary.

So what voice are you really hearing?  Which voice has won your attention; has peeked your interest?  If it isn’t Jesus’ voice, then again I repeat, it is not Jesus’ fault.  He has spoken to you repeatedly, but you will not hear; you will not believe.  His works, His suffering and death upon the cross and His resurrection from the dead verify that He is the very Son of God.  The lives of Christians living in peace and seeking peace from others, with no fear of death is also proof that this Jesus is the risen Son of God.  He truly is the Good Shepherd who can provide mysterious gifts of comfort and security in times of turmoil.  The lives of Jesus’ little lambs proves that He really does care for His sheep.  All of this proves that…

His sheep really do hear His voice.  Jesus tells you this morning that: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” [Vs. 27]  Jesus sheep always hear Him speak.  While it is true that they don’t always listen, or follow, they do always hear.  And when they wander, for we sheep of Jesus are prone to wander, He leaves the secure and safe 99 sheep to bring His lost little lamb back into the fold, which is His church.  He brings us back in the same means that He first saved us, with His voice.  And within that voice, we sheep hear the content of that voice, we hear the gospel Word, you are forgiven; come home.

To those this morning, who are not His sheep, either because they never have been or have chosen to wander away, Jesus speaks the gospel call this morning to become one of His little lambs.  This morning Jesus tells them who and what they really are without Him, “You are not my sheep.  You have not been saved from the coming judgment.”  But He also tells them who they will become if they listen; if they allow the Words and the voice to give them faith.  To those sheep who are caught up in the sound of another voice, Jesus promises that if they will hear Him speak forgiveness of sins and new life, “I (will) give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father who has given them to me, is greater than all (other teachings and voices), and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” [Vs. 28, 29]

“But how can this be true,” some may ask?  And to this Jesus speaks Words of mystery, but Word’s that also give faith: “I and the Father are one.” [Vs. 30]

Do you hear the mystery that is God?  God exist as One, yet in a very intimate and close relationship of persons—Father, Jesus the Son of God, and Spirit, and you have been or are invited to be brought into that relationship through baptism.  If you have wandered away, you are invited back into the church.

Through Jesus Christ, the Son of God you are guaranteed that not only does God the Father know you but He loves you; He becomes your Father.  You are recognized and you will always recognize Him because you will know the voice of your Good shepherd when He calls.  You need never be alone or afraid in this world, because God is with you.  And with the rod and staff of His Word, He leads and protects you.  With that same Word He gives you cool drink and green secure pasture.

In His Word He invites you to His banquet table, where you feast on His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, where he satisfies a hunger and thirst that can only be satiated at His table; it is a feast of complete forgiveness and strong faith in your God Who alone is your Good Shepherd.

Imagine that you are walking on a street within our community and there in the driveway of a home are three little children getting ready to climb inside the family’s mini-van.  The van is packed with luggage and coolers.  The father is just about to close the rear door for departure and the mother is locking the front door of the home.  Obviously, they are going on a trip.

You walk up to the little children and you ask: “Where are you going?”  Wide eyed they stare back at you, silent.  They don’t know.  “What highway will you take?”  Again, no answer.  Where are you going to have dinner tonight?”  No response.  Then you ask what in their minds is the only question that matters: “Who are you going with?”  Now there eyes light up, their faces break into smiles.  “With Mommy and Daddy!” they exclaim.

Dear friends, your life lies ahead of you.  There are many unknowns, even many dangers that are ahead of you.  For many of the questions you have in life, like the whys and how comes, you for now, will get no answers.  But you do have “The Answer” with you always.  Jesus is with you and He has already called out to you with the Words “Follow Me!”  He has promised to be by your side every step of the way.  And because of this truth, for you His little lambs, eternal life isn’t something you enter when you die; no, you are in it right now!  And His means of grace, His Word and Sacraments are what sustain you every day in this world of uncertainty.

The sign of the cross at the beginning of our service helped us recall our baptism, which is a “spring of living water” for us.  Therefore we “hunger and thirst no more.” [Revelation 7:16]  And at His Holy Supper you again will receive life giving food, which for us, is a foretaste of the feast to come.  Therefore, we join in with all of the company in heaven robed in white praising our God around His throne.

You are forgiven.  God has raised Jesus from the dead and your redemption is assured.  Now Christ calls you—His sheep and His witnesses—to follow Him.  You do hear Him!  Now, what shall you do?  AMEN!

Don’t Be Afraid!

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

8th Sunday of Pentecost, July 26, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

 

INTRODUCTION: Do you ever feel like life is one big test, and you keep failing?  That must have been how the apostles felt after a couple of years with Jesus.  No matter how hard they tried to anticipate the right response to Jesus questions, statements, and actions, it must have seemed to them that they were continually missing the mark!  Why they simply had to remember back a couple weeks and they were confronted with memories and experiences that proved that true.  There was the time on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus was asleep on the boat.  When that terrible storm came upon them they panicked and woke up Jesus asking Him if He even cared that they were all about to die.  And what did Jesus do?  He stretched and commanded the sea to be still, and it did.  Oh yes, and He scolded them for their lack of faith!

 

Then there was the preaching tour that Jesus sent them out on.  “O.K.  This will be pretty simple” they must have thought.  “All we have to do is preach that people should turn from their sinful lives and we’re done!  We don’t know why He wants us to do that without Him, but will do it to please Him.  After all, He’s the Master!”  And what happened while they were out?  Was it that simple?  No. In fact, God moved in a mighty way.  They were amazed, even dumfounded when people were healed by the droves and multiple demons were cast back into the pits of hell!  Who could have figured that one out?!

 

Oh yes, then there was their logical demand that Jesus send the thousands of people away from the deserted place so they could buy food.  No, that was wrong too!  He fed the masses Himself with just a few loaves and a couple of fish.  And now, in our gospel reading this morning we read of yet one more failure on the part of the apostles.

 

Jesus had sent them out onto the Sea of Galilee once again, but this time without Him.  Back to the same body of water that almost claimed their lives.  “Why?” they must have thought, “Doesn’t He know this is storm season?”  But off they went, and sure enough, just as they got about midway across the sea (about three miles), another nasty storm broke out.  They fought the waves for hours and they seemed to be frozen in the same spot; not able to go forward or even back to Jesus.  Here we go again!  Why does He keep letting us get into these situations?

 

Does any of this sound familiar?  Have you been there before?  If you have lived any amount of time then you know exactly how the apostles felt.  We’ve got trouble all around us, and the cause of all these troubles is sin!

 

I. Sin?  Yes friends, one way or another all of our troubles are related to our sin or someone else’s!  Illness, disease, premature death, and the weakness and chronic pain of old age are all signs that God’s perfect creation is broken because of sin.  Broken relationships, hunger, crime, tragic accidents, and heart aches of every kind are here slapping us in the face each day because of our own sinful choices or someone else’s.  Oh we try to protect ourselves the best we can, but no matter how hard we try avoid pain and tragedy, it seems to find us!

 

Friends, no matter what a politician or preacher tells you, life won’t get any better by following their plan for the future or a few simple biblical rules…it won’t!  Why?  Because this is a broken and sinful world.  Jesus Himself said that “In (this) world you will have troubles.”  But He also said that we should “take heart” because He has overcome the world. [Jn. 16:33]  He said that He came so that you may have life and have it abundantly! [Jn. 10:10]  But how?  How can this be true when we are smack dab in the middle of a crisis?  How can we feel God’s goodness and love when we are out in the middle of an angry sea amidst a storm?

 

Friends, this is the question of a hard heart; this is the question of a sinful heart;  this is the question of our hearts.  Our hearts forget that the one we call master and Savior is also the creator of the world.  He is the one who see’s all things.  Remember the 12 apostles out on the boat on that stormy sea?  It was 3:00 in the morning and its pitch black out.  The winds are howling, the rain is coming down in sheets, and Jesus sees their trouble.  He sees that they’re trapped and in danger so He goes out to them.  Jesus saw what was impossible to see because He’s God!  Jesus did what no one else could do, He not only calmed the sea, but He walked on water to get to them.  And when He got to them, He didn’t jump right in and make everything better; no, but what did He do?  He veered slightly away from them.  Why?  Doesn’t He care?  Sure He does, but may I suggest to you that He wanted them to call out to Him; He wanted them to invite Him into the boat, into their dilemma.  And did they do that?  No, instead they let their sinful superstitions grounded in fear take over.  “Ahhh!  It’s a ghost!”  Did Jesus walk away from them in disgust for their lack of faith?  No.  Instead He said, “Take heart; it’s me.  Don’t be afraid.”  In the boat He goes and before they can even ask Him about the walking on water thing, the storm died down, the sea became peaceful and as John’s gospel tells of the same account, they were immediately docked on shore!

 

II. Friends, many times we find the truth hiding in plain sight.  God’s grace and His comforting presence in our lives are always there but we find ourselves living as if it isn’t.  Like the apostles we too can think back on the many hard and even tragic times in our lives and see that somehow things turned out O.K.  We made it through even stronger perhaps then when we went in.  We chalk it up to luck, the help of a friend or family or even our own resourcefulness, completely dismissing the presence of Jesus.  We do this because of our sin; we do this because of our hard hearts.  But God will not let this type of hard heart remain with us; He can’t because you see, He has claimed you as His own just as He claimed His disciples of old.  In your baptism, you’ve been allowed to see that which is hiding in plain sight.  Through your baptism, God has shown you what the 12 apostles in the boat would have to wait and see…Jesus Christ the Savior of the world who was crucified and resurrected for you!  Through your baptism God has put to death the old sinful you; you know that person don’t you?  It’s the one who has a hard heart and can’t seem to accept the truth of God’s divine presence for every moment of your life.  It’s the old you that tries to rationally explain away every mystery and miracle that is God.  But that isn’t the real you.  You see, that old person that you were has been put to death, drowned in the holy waters of your baptism.  Through simple water and God’s creative Word, you have been reborn in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  You have been born again as a person of faith…faith in the miraculous presence of Jesus Christ in every aspect of your life.

 

Through the Holy Spirit God is leading you to look back in your life and see that it was always Him protecting and guiding you.  It wasn’t the ghost of blind luck, rational thinking, government intervention, or your own resourcefulness; it was He who knew you in your mother’s womb.

ILLUS: There was once a boy who rode in an elevator for the first time with his father.  When he got home he was dying to tell his mother about the experience.  “Mom” he said excitedly.  “You should have seen it!  Dad took me into this little room and when he shut the door, he made the upstairs come down to me!”  Friends, God wants us to be that little boy.  He wants us to be amazed at His miraculous presence in our lives.  He wants us to know for certain that He has made the upstairs come down to us.  He has brought heaven and His love to us through His Son Jesus Christ.  He wants us to know that because He loves us and we love Him, all things, even the darkest storms of life will work together for our own good because He has called us according to His purpose!

 

Friends, life isn’t a test.  We don’t have to be afraid of getting it wrong, for you see through the presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is always right there beside you.  Through your baptism God has given you all that you need to experience His real presence in your lives.  Through your baptism you have been given His Holy Spirit to guide you through His Word.  Through the Holy Spirit you have been given the eyes of faith to see that which to others remains hidden in plain sight.  Through the gift of grace you have been brought into the body of Christ, His holy Church as a true son and daughter of God the Father.   

 

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, it is my practice each day, before I begin my work here at church, I come into this sanctuary and like St. Paul, I pray for you.  I pray that Christ’s presence in your life will grow stronger each day so that you too maybe rooted and grounded so firmly in His love that you will always know the immensity of that love; a love so vast that even the world’s most sophisticated computers can not measure it.  I also ask God to allow you to know even greater, the love of Christ and that you would hear His voice speaking to you in whatever life storms might come your way.  Listen friends, He is speaking to you and saying, “Take heart; it is I.  I am with you.  Do not be afraid.”

 

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within you, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  AMEN! [Eph. 3:20-21]

A Little Is a Lot!

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

7th Sunday of Pentecost, July 19, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audil of this message

 

Today, our message comes to us from our Gospel lesson, with special attention on verse 34.  “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. (Mk. 6:34)

 

Introduction:  Our Gospel lesson this morning is an account of the only miracle that made it into all four of the gospels.  In Matthew, you will find it in the 14th chapter.  In John, it is located in the 6th Chapter, and in Luke it is in the 9th Chapter.  It was a time marked by great success; Jesus had just completed several days of teaching and healing and many of his disciple had just returned from their “two by two” evangelism mission, which Jesus had sent them on with instructions to preach repentance.  They were reporting to Jesus how God proved His faithfulness, by providing for all of their needs and even validating their message by healing the sick and casting out demons.  It was a wonderful time!  But it was also a time of emotional pain and disappointment; the kind that comes from devastating news.  Just as they were finishing up their reports, they were told that not far from them, King Herod had beheaded John the Baptist, a man that all of them including Jesus had grown to love and admire.  Now, as Jesus looked around at each face of his friends and students, he came to the conclusion that He and the twelve apostles needed time alone; they needed to get away from the crowds, in order to rest, reflect and learn.

 

So they left the crowds and headed to the opposite shore of Lake Galilee. St. John tells us that they had a little bit of  “alone time” with Jesus on the grassy slope of a large hillside, until Jesus looked off into the distance and pointed out a very large mass of people that were making their way towards their now, not so secret location; the crowd had found them again!  All day long Jesus stayed with the masses teaching them and curing their illnesses.  As their true “Good Shepherd” Jesus was tending to their spiritual and physical needs.  As the day was drawing to a close, and the disciples own stomachs began to grumble and growl with hunger they reminded Jesus of the hour (the dinner hour), and they began to plead with Him to send the people away, because they were hungry!  But Jesus answered them and said, “You give them something to eat.”  ‘What?  How!?  Even if we had that great amount of money, where would we find a place nearby that could even provide that amount of food?’  Where indeed!  There were about 5,000 men in that group, and that’s not even including the women and children that must have been with them.  The true size of the crowd was probably closer to about 11,000 people!  That’s enough to fill the San Diego Sports Arena!!  In my mind’s eye, I can see Jesus smiling and slowly looking around at the twelve stern and concerned faces, amazed at their lack of faith.

 

What a sad vignette.  It is the picture of a congregation of Christians that is tired, hungry and frustrated by a lack of resources.  But we can learn something from this story; something eternal and life changing; something that just might reinvigorate life in our own ministries here and within our communities.

 

In our Gospel reading, Jesus has just administered a “Pop Quiz” designed to help the apostles along with us learn two things:

1.      What the true quality of our faith in God is.  And…

2.      The fact that God wants us to experience His faithfulness.

Once we have learned these two lessons, we will then also discover these two truths:

1.      With God, a little is a lot.

2.      To Jesus, there’s no such thing as leftovers!

 

I. Like the apostle’s, we all have to discover what the quality of our own faith is-And Jesus used just one challenge to help the apostles discover the quality of theirs. Challenges are like riddles.  You know there is a way to solve it, you just have to figure out how!  Notice that Jesus didn’t ask, “Can you give them something to eat?” but instead he said, “You give them something to eat?” A response to this type of teaching requires a good deal of thought and even discussion on the students part and in regards to the teacher, He better know the correct answer to the riddle before he issues the challenge!

 Now it is easy for us modern day Christians to be judgmental of the apostles.  After all, we have the luxury of looking backwards into time.  It’s easy for us to wonder why they so quickly forgot the Canaan wedding miracle where Jesus turned water into wine.  We could remind them of Jairus’ daughter and even the widow of Nain’s son who both were raised from the dead.  Certainly we would have faired better than they, with our advantageous perspective of time, or would we?

 

Well this morning, I would like to ask you a question, and I want you to think for a moment before answering it–What is our biggest problem, our own test facing the church today?  (Pause) Many might quickly answer that it is a lack of resources that is holding us back.  But I submit to you, that the biggest problem facing the church today is not a lack of resources, but rather it’s the same problem that the apostles had, a lack of faith.  To this lack of faith Jesus asks us to report what little we have on hand.  To the 12 Jesus asked, “How many loaves do you have?  Go and see.”  What did the apostles report to Jesus?  “We have 5 loaves and two fish.”  St. John’s gospel records that they finished their report with these words, “But what are they for so many?”   What’s the first question someone will ask when a necessary expense request is brought into almost any church council, “Where’s the money coming from?” But I submit to you that that’s the wrong question. The only question we should ask is: Is this God’s will for our church? And if it is His will, shouldn’t we trust Him to provide what is needed?  Like the apostles, our faith many times, even with the advantage of the perspective of time is still very small.  But what is it that Christ said? “…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” And we would add, (if it is keeping with God’s will) [Matthew 17:20-21]  

 

What we must remember is that just as Jesus tested the faith of the apostles, He also tests our faith as well, by putting us in difficult situations with no easy answers. Why?  So that we can learn what the quality of our own faith is.  After asking and waiting so long, do you still trust Him to find you a job?  Do you trust Him to help repair a broken relationship?  Do you trust him to overcome your illness?  Do you trust Him to replace your depression with passion and joy?  Do you believe that He will bless and strengthen our church? It’s during times like these, when prayers seem to go unanswered, that we may become frustrated, just as the apostles were. However, frustration is never what God wants us to feel! The faithful disciple will trust that God has answered their prayer, but it can only be experienced in His time.  The apostles fell short because they allowed their faith to be weakened by their own limited resources instead of seeking God’s limitless resources. 

Both the apostles and even us today, seem to want God to work according to what we want instead of what God wants.  But in the midst of our worry and concern we sometimes hear the same words Jesus spoke to address His disciples concerns, “Have the people sit down.”   I wonder what the disciples were thinking after he said that!  “What is he doing?  Why is He having all these people sit down as if their going to dine on this little bit of food?  Is he going to make them watch us eat our dinner? The truth is, sometimes we need to just sit down, relax, pray and wait on the Lord.  Sometimes we must just learn to be willing to set aside our worries and concerns and simply wait for the Lord.  And so they waited, they listened, they watched and then they learned and remembered that…

 

II. God wants to bless us by experiencing His faithfulness! Our Lord once said that “What is impossible with people is in fact possible with God.”  (Luke 18:27)  And now the God-man Jesus Christ demonstrates that truth by taking a few loaves and 2 fish and miraculously making it fill the bellies of over 11,000 people!  Only one person could do that … the sinless Son of God; the one who also followed His humiliating suffering and death with His exalting and miraculous resurrection from the dead to gain forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life for all of us; even for you!  Those who witnessed and personally benefited from Immanuel’s feeding miracle, and we along with them who have believed by faith and benefited from His miraculous resurrection, joyfully realize and gratefully admit that all things do in deed work together for the good of God’s children and His church, only because we are called according to His purpose! (Romans 8:28)  And what is that purpose?  Well, the other three Gospels augment verse 11 by stating that Jesus had the apostles acting as waiters, by bringing food out to the people in baskets, all 11,000 of them.  They were tired and they were hungry, but here they were in total amazement and invigorated with a new vitality as they partook in a miracle and served Jesus by serving the people who didn’t know Jesus!  Dear friends, God’s desire, His central concern after our own salvation is that as Christ’s disciples, you and me, should be continually working with Jesus to seek out and save the lost! 

 

CONCLUSION:  As I stated earlier, this message now leaves us with two eternal truths and they are: First, with Jesus, a little is a lot.  The disciples’ reluctance to wait on Jesus to attend to the crowds was not really based on their concern for the people, but rather on their own tired bodies and empty stomachs.  While they knew the people must be fed, they could not see how what little they had could be used for that.  So they quit; they gave up and asked the Lord to bless their failure.  But Jesus wanted to do so much more with them, and He wants to do so much more with us!  If we will only trust in His promise to provide for our every need, then we will discover as the apostles did that day Jesus will provide all that we need as we follow Him.  And finally, I promised you a second truth, and it is this, there are no leftovers with Jesus!  Have you ever wondered why Jesus had the disciples gather up all of the remaining loaves and fish with 12 baskets?    May I suggest that it’s because those little baskets were intended by Jesus to be their lunch boxes, which Jesus Himself ensured were filled so that they could in-turn, each eat and be filled.  Friends, Jesus was faithful to provide for them, but He did it after they served their community; but what about Jesus?  Wasn’t He hungry as well?  Well sure He was, but may I also suggest that Jesus expected the Twelve to share their abundance with him?  Maybe 10% from each apostle?  Wow what a concept!  Friends, Jesus still pours his abundance out to us today, and He expects us to remember him in our giving to the needy, to the support of the church and with our service to our community.  May God help us to remember these lessons and believe in His miraculous real presence that is with us today!  In Jesus name….AMEN!