Pentecost 11a

Preached: August 24, 2014

Jesus Trains Our Trust
Matthew 14:13-21

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to train our hearts is Matthew 14

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food." Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."

"We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered.

"Bring them here to me," he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

(Matthew 14:13-21 NIV84)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Football is not just a game. It teaches young men discipline and determination. It fosters teamwork and camaraderie. It builds character and mettle. So also, similar arguments are made for other sports.

Our purpose here isn’t to discus whether those goals are achieved or not. Rather, notice how even the world recognizes that something physical, like a sport, can affect us much more deeply. It doesn’t only train the body. How much more so can our God, who designed us and gave us both body and soul, use the physical to train us on a much deeper level! See how he used physical food, or the lack thereof, to train his disciples to trust him.

Jesus trains us as well. He trains our trust, often using the physical things in our life, whether that’s food or health or money or stuff. He trains our trust. That’s the theme today. He trains our trust to rely on him instead of our own abilities. And he trains our trust to follow him even when we don’t understand the way.

A. To rely on him instead of our own abilities

Jesus wanted time alone with his twelve disciples. They had recently returned from the preaching mission he had sent them on to the towns of Galilee. They needed time to be refreshed with Jesus. Moreover, he had just received the news that John the Baptist had been beheaded. So they sail off away from the populated towns to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.

But their time alone was short. The crowds follow on the shore, bringing along the weak and sick. When they arrive, Jesus goes out to them. His heart aches for them. So great is his compassion! He takes this opportunity not only to help the crowd but also to train his disciples. He trains their trust to rely on him instead of their own abilities.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John provide us with several different details of the day’s events. Early on after the crowd had arrived, Jesus asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5 NIV84). As Philip and the others talked it over, they realized there was no way they could feed all these people. It was impossible. So as evening fell, they said to Jesus, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages, and buy themselves some food” (Matthew 14:15 NIV84). That’s logical. That’s the reality.

But Jesus contradicts them. “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16 NIV84). Wasn’t he listening? Couldn’t he see the reality of the situation? They had done the math; numbers don’t lie. Eight months wages couldn’t even buy enough food for the thousands of people to have a bite. And that’s assuming they had a place to buy the food. All they could find on hand was a boy’s lunch of five small barley loaves and two fish. How far would that go?

What numbers don’t add up for you, dear friends? Is it the numbers from medical tests that show no improvement or the numbers in the checkbook that make you feel that you’re falling behind. Is it the number of hours in a day that seem not to be enough to do what you want? Or is it the number of failures and disappointments that keep growing larger while the number of meaningful relationships or accomplishments stagnate or dwindle?

How much more depressing these numbers are when we truly want to serve our Lord but reality seems to hold us back! We don’t have the finances. We don’t have the time. We don’t have the abilities. We don’t have the health. Or whatever else makes us feel inadequate. The disciples wanted to do what was good for the people, but they just didn’t have the resources—only five loaves and two fish.

Like the disciples, we too need to be confronted with how limited we are. How easily we focus on my abilities, my resources, my time, my accomplishments even when it comes to serving the Lord. How dangerous the mindset that says, “What can I do with my abilities to help others or serve the Lord?” How dangerous when the emphasis is on “I” and “my abilities,” rather than on “help” and “serve!” Yes, even as our outward actions serve the Lord, our hearts so easily focus on me. Look what I can do! That’s not trusting the Lord. That’s not relying on him. How dangerous! How spiritually and eternally dangerous that mindset is!

So the Lord proves to you and me how limited we are. How could we ever accomplish all that the Lord gives us to do? How could the disciples feed thousands of people with five loaves and two fish? How? What does Jesus say? “Bring them here to me” (Matthew 14:18 NIV84).

Yes, dear Christian, when the reality of the numbers hits you in the face, bring it to Jesus in prayer. Lay out before him your thoughts, plans, aspirations, and desire to serve. Lay out before him how you feel limited by reality whether that’s due to health, finances, ability, or time. Lay out before him your struggles and failures, your disappointments and losses.

Lay all this out before him because this is Jesus, whose heart aches for you. His compassion saw you and me lost and harassed as sheep without a shepherd. And even for sheep like us, this Shepherd laid down his life and took it up again. He knows you by name. He cares for you. So bring it all to him. Bring it all to him in prayer, relying on him instead of your own abilities. He did not fail you when he went to the cross for your sins and rose from the dead in victory. And he will not fail you now. Rely on him, your Shepherd, and follow him. For he trains our trust not only to rely on him instead of our own abilities. He trains our trust to follow him, to follow him even we do not understand the way.

B. To follow him even when we don’t understand the way

Jesus had the people sit down. We’re not told what the disciples thought about it, but I would’ve been confused. “Jesus, there’s only five loaves and two fish. If the people are sitting down expecting to eat, they’re going to be disappointed. Do we want to get their hopes up?” But whether they understood or not, the disciples did what Jesus said.

Then look at what Jesus did. He didn’t complain that this was too little. He didn’t bemoan that he could do so much more if they would have found more food. He didn’t chew them out for not trying harder. Rather he looked up to heaven and gave thanks to his heavenly Father for what they did have. And then gave the food to the disciples to distribute to the people.

Here again, I would’ve been thinking. “This isn’t going to last long. I’m going to run out even even before the first group gets a bite.” But the disciples followed what Jesus said. I didn’t matter whether they understood or not, for they trusted Jesus. And not only did everyone have more than enough to eat; twelve basketfuls where left over.

So also, dear Christians, Jesus trains our trust to follow him even when we don’t understand the way. First of all, follow him by giving thanks. Whether you think you have much or little, give thanks. All that we have is a gracious gift from the bounty of our heavenly Father. He knows how much he has given us, and he knows how he can use it in our lives. He knows, even if we don’t understand.

And then do as Jesus has instructed us in his word. Be active in his word. Grow in your understanding and knowledge of the Scriptures. That’s what he taught Martha as he pointed out how Mary had chosen the one thing needful as she listened to his words. Love for God means love for his words, for his words bring us his message of love.

What’s more, Jesus wants your life to shine out reflecting God’s love to those around us in our lives. Look at where the Lord has placed you in life. How can you show kindness and forgiveness to your neighbor and family? How can you carry out your responsibilities as husband, wife, parent, child, student, worker, citizen, and church member? How can you live in gentleness, love, and humbleness, always ready to give the reason for the spiritual hope that you have? How can you personally share the message of God’s love with those around us? How can you support the spread of his message to places you cannot go?

Often we don’t see how our daily acts of kindness or how carrying out our god-given responsibilities can make any difference. We may not see any noticeable results. Others may appear to be much more successful in the Lord’s work. In fact, following the Lord’s way instead of what we think is best may not seem to work. But, dear Christian, trust the Lord. Follow his way even when you don’t understand how it could work.

The Lord knows how many or how few gifts and resources he has given each of us. And he is able to put them all to good use, whatever he’s given you. Rather than worrying about whether others are properly using their five loaves and two fish, focus on using yours. For as we each faithfully serve our Lord using what he’s given each of us, he bless that. We might not see until in heaven how much he multiplied our feeble efforts. So for now follow him, even when you don’t understand the way. For he is using your life here on earth, both the physical and the spiritual to train your trust.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313