First Lutheran Church
July 19, 2015
A WORD TO WEARY DISCIPLES
Soon after beginning my work as associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hutchinson, Kansas my colleague went on a 3 week vacation leaving me in charge of the 400 member congregation. It was mid-summer, which was generally considered a quiet time in church work. I was to preach and lead staff meetings, and lead a delegation to Wichita for a 3 day training in the LOGOS children and youth program. All this was added to the work I was already doing. But things never go as we think they will in the church, let alone in human life. We all know what it is like to be weary disciples but those 3 weeks taught me a particular lesson.
Jesus’ first disciples were learning that as well. They were tired, first from following him, them from their own journey of teaching and preaching. Jesus, in his compassion for them, calls them to a deserted place by themselves to rest. They get in a boat anticipating a time of quiet and renewal. Jesus was tired himself. He often stepped away from his ministry to pray. He recognized that his disciples needed to do the same because we cannot continue to give unless we replenish ourselves in God’s compassionate mercy. But the rest was going to have to wait. Crowds circled the lake, reaching the shore before the boat did, waiting eagerly for Jesus to come ashore and teach some more. And so, despite being bone tired, Jesus begins to teach them, to feed their souls and spirits because he had compassion for them. The disciples had to wait with him, but they were chafing in the delay. As the sun began to set they realized they were far from a city with resources for food and provisions for this great crowd of over 5000 people.
The disciples became concerned, foreseeing a real problem. They asked Jesus to send the people away, before they get too hungry, before it gets too dark, before the crowd gets out of control. They also had compassion for these people. They had been around Jesus long enough to have learned something about that and they were good people themselves. But they were so tired and their compassion was mixed with their own weariness and growing impatience to get on with their well-deserved rest. Take care of the crowd, Jesus, please, so that we can get on with taking care of ourselves.
The heart of this story is verse 34, As [Jesus] went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. Jesus had compassion for his disciples, but he perceived that the people had the greater need so he feeds them mind, spirit and body. But the disciples intervene, pointing out the obvious crisis that is about to erupt. You give them something to eat, Jesus tells them. I have been feeding their spirits and souls, you feed their bodies. The compassion Jesus shows to the crowd comes across as an unreasonable demand to the disciples. You can’t be serious, Lord.
We are not responsible to feed all these folks and we are so tired, we do not have it within ourselves to even try. Haven’t we all been there from time to time? I felt that way that summer in Hutchinson. Lord, don’t send me one more pastoral crisis this week. I can’t be responsible for that; I don’t have it in me to keep giving of myself in that way, not on top of everything else you have given me to do. In the course of 6 days, in addition to preaching 2 Sunday services and teaching a class, I officiated 4 funerals, including 2 on Saturday. I do not recall when I was ever so worn out.
But I discovered something important during those days of crisis, and that is I do not get out of my responsibilities to the church and to the Lord that easily. I am responsible and I am expected to fulfill that to which I am called to do. But far from being a burden, it really was an amazing occasion of grace for me. Even as he commanded the disciples to feed his people, Jesus revealed his confidence in them that they can do it. And he gave them what they needed for the task with plenty leftover for themselves. Jesus provided same for me during that week in Hutchinson.
On the Saturday of the 2 funerals, I returned home about 4:30 in the afternoon. I fed Jessica my cat, then stepped outside to turn the water on in my front yard. As soon as I shut the door, I knew that I had locked myself out of the house. I was still in my dress and stockings, and it was a 106◦. Oh, Lord, you’ve got to be kidding. I still have a sermon to write tonight. I have to preach twice tomorrow and teach my class and prepare for Monday’s memorial. I don’t have time for this. God gently reminded me that grace and compassion abound in the most ordinary but vexing circumstances.
On Friday night, my shower door came off the runner. I asked my friend and neighbor, Howard, to come by sometime on Saturday and fix it for me while I was gone. As I standing out there in the heat in my front yard, I remembered that he still had my garage door opener. I walked the couple of blocks to his home, praying that he and Georgia were there, which they were. They drove me home. God took a nuisance like my shower door and used it to give me what I needed, not just a means to get back into my house, or a reminder that we are gifts of God to each other, but also the words to finish my sermon, and the rest I needed to preach 2 sermons, teach a class and prepare one more memorial service. I was given what I needed to do what I love to do best, what I am called to do, which is preach and lead worship and teach and visit and walk with Christ’s people in their crises. The Lord had compassion on me and fed my soul and my spirit.
All of us find the demands of ministry overwhelming from time to time. All of us feel put upon by unreasonable demands, plagued with too many things to do with too little time to do them, weighed down by sleep deprivation and poor eating habits and not enough retreat time for ourselves. But the Word of Christ to his weary disciples is that he is with us and he gives us the grace to do that which we are asked to do. The command, You give them enough to eat has embedded within it the promise of more than enough, for them and for us. It is what Christ gives to us when we choose to follow him, the support along with the responsibility, the compassion along with the weariness. The truth is, it feeds me to feed you and I can feed you because Jesus Christ feeds me. What is weariness in the face of that?
To God be the glory. Amen.