July 27, 2020
Still your children wander homeless;
still the hungry cry for bread;
still the captives long for freedom;
still in grief we mourn our dead.
As you, Lord, in deep compassion
healed the sick and freed the soul,
by your Spirit send your power
to our world to make it whole.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #712, verse 2]
The readings for Sunday, August 2, 2020, the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
The Gospel reading we will hear this coming Sunday, the story of the feeding of the 5000, is one of my favorite miracle stories of Jesus.
Jesus Multiplies the Loaves and Fish - Jesus Mafa, Cameroon, West Africa
It is the only miracle story found in all four gospels. In fact, Matthew and Mark each have an additional account of the feeding of 4000. So in all, we have six feeding miracles to compare. Why does this story, more than others, grab the attention of all the gospel writers?
In Matthew's account, as well as probably the others, we are accustomed, perhaps since as early as Sunday School, to focus on the miracle by which all these people were fed from five loaves of bread and two fish. But I want to call your attention to a couple other points besides the feeding story itself.
Take for example, the very first half-sentence of this Gospel reading - verse 13. If you read it in any Bible, it states, "Now when Jesus heard this." If you're reading from an actual Bible, you may have read the verse before where our reading picks up, which explains that the "this" our reading refers to, is the beheading of John the Baptist. Many of you will hopefully hear that explained by whoever you hear preach this week.
Jesus receives the very sad news that his cousin, the one who "prepared the way of the Lord," who foretold of his coming, had been unjustifiably beheaded. Imagine what that meant for Jesus!
First of all, Jesus wasn't able to attend the funeral.
I'm guessing there are more than one of us who has been in this same situation over the past five months. With our church buildings shuttered for at least a portion of that time, someone close to you has died and has yet to receive an appropriate memorial service.
This is but one of the many consequences of this pervasive pandemic that refuses to go away. We had hoped that by this time, we would have returned to some semblance of normalcy.
In response to this personal tragedy Jesus withdrew, privately to a solitary place, most likely to deal with his grief and loss. But more importantly, even though the reading doesn't clearly say it, we can assume he went off by himself - to pray.
However, as often happens in the gospels when the people hear that Jesus is around, the crowds follow him too. We can only assume that they weren't going out to offer their condolences or share with him in his grief.
Instead of sending the crowd away, our reading tells us that when Jesus saw them, "he had compassion for them."
Jesus is dealing with his own sense of grief and loss, but he had compassion, not for himself, as he had every right to have, but for them - for others before himself. Jesus meets the needs of others in his life of obedience to God even if it meant giving up his own desire for solitude.
We read or hear that word "compassion" often when we hear stories of Jesus. I'm also sure you've heard a time or two that it is compassion that commands Jesus' relationship with humanity. It is compassion that directs him to care for those who seek him. It is compassion that prompts him to ask the disciples to figure out how they were going to find enough bread for the people to eat.
And this brings me to the second point on which I would ask you to focus as you look ahead to this coming Sunday.
The disciples ask Jesus to send the crowds away so they can go buy food for themselves. Jesus' response is a direct challenge to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."
This command is often missed when people read this story, and not many people get the point that Jesus makes here. He tells the disciples to feed the crowd.
How familiar does this sound to you? You can hear words like this just about any time, especially when there is a social or political problem that requires an infusion of resources. Or, to bring it closer to home, when our churches are challenged to test our faith - when we are challenged to believe in God's power to do the impossible in the midst of the reality of the situation that surrounds us.
We are facing uncertain times as a church. We don't know how long this virus is going to hang around and what effect it will ultimately have on us locally, nationally, or globally. We wish we could just go back to a happier time and place instead of dealing with this burden of anxiety.
Humanly speaking, you and I have very little to offer. Our faith is imperfect. Our leadership skills are imperfect. Our ability to see others' needs is often poor. Our compassion is not what it could be.
But when we say, "We don't have enough," Jesus doesn't let us off the hook so easily as we would like. He says, "Bring what you have here to me." He takes them into his hands, and blesses what little we have and multiplies it.
This miracle reminds us that Jesus calls us, all of us, into the ministry of God's work in the world. Jesus says to us, no matter how meager our resources, "Bring them to me."  What we have might not be sufficient in our eyes, but Jesus can take what we offer and produce a bountiful harvest.
We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ and share in the abundant blessings of God, to respond to the needs of all humankind with compassionate hearts, offering all we have to Jesus, that he might bless it for us to share in the ministry of God for the sake of the world.
We have narrowed it down to a familiar slogan: God's work, our hands.
Once again I have an unusually light electronic meeting schedule this week:
Monday:      Staff Meeting

Assembly Planning Committee Meeting

Ohio Faith Leaders Prayer Gathering

Thursday:     Southern Africa Companion Synods Network Meeting

Conference of Bishops Weekly Check-in
This week's closing prayer is attributed to Augustine of Hippo, and is suggested for use during a time of pandemic.
Loving God, to turn away from you is to fall, to turn towards you is to rise, and to stand before you is to live forever. Grant us, dear God, in all our work, your help; in all our uncertainties, your guidance; in all our dangers, your protection; and in all our sorrows, your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
+Bishop Abraham Allende