Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 27:25 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sometimes we think that the difference between introverts and extroverts is that introverts hate people and extroverts love people. But those things could be true of anyone regardless of personality. The real difference between introverts and extroverts is that introverts are refreshed, renewed, and rested by being away from people and extroverts are refreshed, renewed, and rested by being with people. I don’t know which of the disciples are introverts and which are extroverts—although we could make some guesses based on who is always talking—but Jesus tells all of them to come away by themselves to rest for a while. Come away to a deserted, wilderness place and rest a while. Huge crowds were coming and going and they did not have time even to eat.
But when they get there, it’s not deserted at all. The people recognized their boat and ran around to where they were going to stop. So when they get there, there’s a huge crowd. And Jesus sees them, but He doesn’t send them away. He looks at them and He has compassion—He feels it in His guts. They are like sheep without a shepherd. They haven’t been led to the good pasture and the good water. So Jesus shepherds them. Psalm 23 begins, “Yahweh is my shepherd,” but the word for shepherd is actually a verb. Of course, the Lord is a shepherd, but the word is a verb: The Lord shepherds me.
And Jesus shepherds them. He is the God who has come Himself to shepherd them, to gather them from all the places where they had been scattered, to feed and nourish them. He gives them the good pasture and the living water as He teaches them many things. In the middle of all this, the disciples tell Jesus that it’s getting late, and that He should send the people away to get something to eat, because this is a wilderness, deserted place.
Jesus says to the disciples: you give them something to eat. And the disciples say, are we supposed to come up with the money from working 200 days in order to give them something to eat? This whole thing seems to revolve around something to eat. Mark says they didn’t have time to eat. The disciples say that Jesus should send them to buy something to eat. Jesus says, you give them something to eat. And the disciples say, we don’t have enough money to buy them food to eat. Though Jesus took the disciples away to give them rest, and though He is teaching the crowds many things, here He is teaching the disciples something.
Jesus tells them to give the people something to eat, and they’re surprised. But why? Did they not just come back to Jesus after He sent them out and tell Him all the things they taught and all the things they did? Mark tells us earlier in chapter 6 what they did and taught. They went out and preached that people should repent, they cast out demons, and they anointed with oil the sick so that they might be healed. And now Jesus gives them one more command, one more thing to do: give them something to eat.
Have they forgotten that earlier preaching and healing? Or have they forgotten who was really doing all of that? Where did their authority to preach repentance come from? Where did their authority to cast out demons come from? Or their authority to heal? Did they forget that those were exactly the things that Jesus was doing? In fact, while they were doing those things, that it was actually Jesus doing it? If they did not forget, why else would they think it was strange for Jesus to ask them to do this thing? If they can preach and heal and cast out demons, can they not give the people something to eat?
Did they forget, like we often forget? We look around at the Church and we sometimes forget what all of this is for; that is, we forget whose Church this is. We start to think of ourselves as responsible for all of it, like the disciples thought they were responsible—perhaps because Jesus wasn’t right there, visibly, with them. We can’t see Jesus so we start to think we deserve the credit when things go well, when people join the church, when things look good and successful. We built this, we made this, we did this.
But when, as far as we can see, things aren’t going so well, we start to get worried and fearful and anxious: what do we have to do to fix this? Do we have the resources? How will it happen? Like the disciples wondering how they’re going to feed the people. Did we forget who is really at work here? Jesus doesn’t take back that word that the disciples give them something to eat. He asks them how many loaves they have. They say five, plus two fish. Then Jesus takes that bread, blesses it and blesses God with a “good word” of thanksgiving, breaks it, and gives it. And the disciples do what Jesus told them to do. They give the people something to eat. And then they come back to Jesus, He gives them more, and then they give the people something to eat. Over and over until all the people have eaten and are satisfied.
Who is feeding the people? The disciples are distributing it, but it’s really Jesus who is giving them what they need. Who healed the people? Jesus. Who cast out the demons? Jesus. Who caused people to repent and believe? Jesus.
Jesus hasn’t taken back any of His words to us either. The same words, the same commands, the same promises apply today just as they did from the very beginning. Repent and believe the Gospel. This is how you make disciples: baptize them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Whatever sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Take and eat; take and drink. Do this in remembrance of Me. All the same words, and unless we want to destroy the Church instead of building it up, we should not forget that these are the only things that the Church has the authority to do, to give out to people, for them to eat and live.
The disciples were apostles; “apostle” comes from a word that means “to send from.” They were sent from and by Jesus, out to do and teach the things He had given them to do and teach. They had no other authority to do anything else. And we have no other authority, either, because Jesus has given these things to His Church to hand out and deliver and distribute.
This is how Jesus shepherds people. Here He has them sit down on the grass—actually, not just sit on the grass: recline as if they were getting ready for dinner. They sit in groups, a word that means to drink wine together and to talk, to laugh, to be happy. And they recline for this meal on the green grass. Did that strike you? Three times this is called a wilderness, deserted place, a place away from human cultivation. The wilderness is the opposite of a garden. But they sit down on the green grass, and they are now sitting in groups laid out like the plots of a garden. All of a sudden, in the middle of the wilderness, they are in paradise, in a garden. This is no longer the wilderness because Jesus is there, Jesus is feeding them, Jesus is shepherding them. Here is bread like manna, as well as the bread of heaven that gives life to the world.
And the disciples are the servants, giving out the food to those reclining at the table. So it goes, still today: bread taken, blessed, broken, and given out to those who are reclining at the table that the Good Shepherd has prepared among us. Pastors as the servants of the Lord, giving out what He has given into our hands, and nothing else. Pastors may not forget that everything that is happening and everything that they are doing is not from their authority, not from their power, not from them at all. I can only give you what Jesus has given me. And the Church has nothing to give to people except what Jesus has given.
Here is our rest, refreshment, renewal, whether we are introverts or extroverts, or whatever else. Here, until we see our paradise, is our paradise in the middle of this wilderness world. Here Jesus shepherds us through the wilderness, until we have crossed the Jordan of death and resurrection into the eternal Land of Promise. And He is making all things new. He, the Lamb, shepherds us to the good pasture, and the still water, to the table prepared for us, to the bread of life and the living water.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/16/21