Treasure Valley Prays

How Prayer Works

Matthew 14:13-21

I just got back from Luther Heights Bible Camp.
I’m one of the lucky few this summer
who has been able to see this place
so beloved to so many of you.
I needed a break,
I needed to get away,
I needed to pray and rest,
and Kelly and her skeleton staff
were kind enough to make space
for this pastor’s personal retreat.

This Sunday’s gospel text is from the 14th chapter of Matthew.
The story starts with a lonely, tired Jesus, going on retreat;
When Jesus heard this, Matthew says,
he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
What Jesus heard was that King Herod
had murdered John the Baptist.
So maybe Jesus needed time to think:
If Herod was killing prophets of God like John,
then what would he do to Jesus, if he caught him?
Or maybe he needed time to grieve.
This was his cousin, after all.
John, the only one who really seemed to get what Jesus was up to.
Or maybe Jesus was just tired,
worn out by needy people and their unending troubles and pains,
people wanting miracles and wonders and no new taxes.

But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
This is one of those rare Jesus stories
where there is no preaching at all;
just mercy,
just compassion and healing and Christ
loving and holding and touching us.

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.”
It’s been a long day,
it been a long road to follow you,
it’s been a long pandemic
and we’re sick and tired of it.
Send them away, Jesus; give it a rest.

It has been a long six, eight months, hasn’t it?
Aren’t you tired of this?
Don’t you want your summer back,
your life back,
your economy back?
What are we supposed to do
with millions unemployed,
and now, maybe millions who can’t pay the rent?
Or buy groceries?

Jesus just looks at his disciples and says,
You give them something to eat.
You do something.

It might be important to remember that, according to Jesus,
when this life is over, the question you’ll be asked is not going to be,
How did you vote on Election Day?
or—Which political party did you belong to?
or—Did you wear a mask?
and certainly not—Did you pack a gun?
or—Which side of which social issue were you on?
The question will simply be,
‘When I was hungry, did you feed me?’

Feeding has always been a Christian’s work.
From the very beginning the church was serving meals,
and providing health care and medicine and clinics,
and shelter and clothing,
or a bag of groceries, or rent money, or something.
We’ve been surprisingly good at it sometimes, and sometimes not,
but it’s always been the kind of work Christ gives us:
You give them something to eat.

A reporter asked the Dalai Lama,
what was the answer to all the poverty in the world?
He answered with only one word:
“Sharing,” he said;
that’s the answer—sharing.
Mother Teresa’s might have been even better:
“God didn’t create poverty,” she said,
“people did, when they decided not to share.”
“We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”
I once heard Jim Barclay,
president of Lutheran Family Services of Colorado, ask,
“If I am a follower of Jesus,
why, when I feel I have given so much,
do I find I have so much left over?”

Bring them to me, Jesus says.
And taking the five loaves and two fish, [Jesus] looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.

All they really needed was something to snack on,
something to keep their stomachs from growling
until they got back to their own cupboards again.
But Jesus made a full meal,
Jesus made seconds until they couldn’t eat another bite,
Jesus made leftovers,
Jesus made the disciples wish for Tupperware.

Bring me whatever you have, Jesus says; we’ve got some sharing to do.

And then, as if blessing and breaking and sharing was a joy,
as if overflowing grace was just part of the fun of being
the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth,
Jesus sets a feast on the table and
bids us come eat with the hungry and the poor.

These days we drag our bedraggled souls to Jesus,
our pandemic weariness and broken dreams,
our tired feed and heartbreaks and worries about tomorrow.
We demand our liberty,
the freedom to do as we please,
without regard for our neighbor.
We are tired, we need a rest, we want our lives back.
It is a deserted place we are in;
we are as lonely and frightened as Jesus,
as sad and sorrowful and tired,
and, God, we don’t get it.
What should our prayer be in these times?

Perhaps we should pray
to be the compassion of Jesus
to our neighbors, in our world.

Bring them to me, Jesus says.
I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer this weekend.
I’ve brought a lot of stuff to Jesus,
and I have to admit
it was all just dry crust and fish bones.
God, transform my needs
into compassion for others.
Because I’ve found out Pope Francis is right:
First “you pray for the poor. Then you feed them. That is how prayer works.”

So I’m ready to be back.
I hope you are, too.
I hope we’re ready to discover that compassion is a joy,
loving your neighbor is what freedom is for,
overflowing grace is just part of the fun of following Jesus.

Go in peace.
Serve the Lord.
Feed the hungry.
Remember the poor.
And thanks be to God.

© Paul R. Olsen

TVPRAYS.ORG – “How Prayer Works” – July 28, 2020 – Matthew 14:13-21

Picture of Paul Olsen

Paul Olsen

ELCA Pastor, King of Glory, Boise ID

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