The 7th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 13A (July 31, 2011)

Lessons Isaiah 55:1-5 Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 (16) Romans 9:1-5 St. Matthew 14:13-21

Semicontinuous Series Genesis 32:22-31 Psalm 17:1-7, 15 (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.

Lesson

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 ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

A Time of Sabbath

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there.

An ominous way for a Gospel lesson to begin, isn’t it? What does Jesus hear? Why does it impact him to such a degree that he withdraws to a lonely place with hopes to be alone? It is, of course, the devastating news that his relative and partner in ministry and respected friend, John the Baptizer, has been murdered – beheaded by King Herod. And so he goes, St. Matthew tells us, to “a deserted place by himself.” A deserted place where he might find solace and healing. A deserted place where he might be alone in prayer with God. A deserted place where he might find spiritual and physical and emotional renewal, in order to continue the ministry God has entrusted to him.

That renewal will have to wait, of course. The crowds (5,000 families?) follow him, and his time alone won’t come until after he spends a day healing them, teaching them, and feeding them. Yet it is significant to note that even Jesus finds 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. And 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, from 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.

My family and I have recently returned from two weeks away from Saint Peter. It was a long time, in some ways. We traveled quite a few miles, and saw quite a few sights. And we missed being part of the rhythm of this congregation’s life together. Yet it was an important time for us: a time to escape the daily demands of work and home; a time to be together as family in a more relaxed setting. The middle portion of that time was a week spent at Holden Village: a Lutheran retreat center located in a remote valley of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. Each day included Bible study, worship, fellowship, exercise, reading, eating healthy food, and relaxing together. It was a wonderful and refreshing time for us all.

This fall I will experience an extended time of Sabbath: a three month leave from Saint Peter. This is a congregation well familiar with the concept of "Sabbath Leave." We ask our pastors to periodically take some time away for reflection, rest and renewal. And we find that often the pastor returns with a renewed commitment to the congregation, and fresh insights about what it means to be faithful in ministry. I am grateful to be serving in a congregation that realizes how helpful this can be, and I look forward to my time away (September 1 - November 30), and what it will bring.

Whether it is a two-week vacation or a three-month Sabbatical, these times away are opportunities for us to remember God's command to make Sabbath in our lives; times for us to be reminded of how important it is to step off the treadmill and rest in the presence of God. I hope you find time like this for yourselves 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!

Amen.

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What must it have been like for Jesus to receive word that John had been murdered?
  2. Why does he seek to spend time alone in a deserted place?
  3. What does it say about Jesus that he puts his own need for renewal aside for long enough to minister to the crowd that follow him?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  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 might I establish regular times to be alone with God, in order to remain strong for the ministry God has entrusted to me?