Today let me begin my sermon with one of my favorite poems. It is written by a Korean poet named Jinha Goh. He is renowned in Korea, and more interestingly to us, he is a Methodist pastor serving a church in a rural area. Anyway, it’s a simple poem with the title, “An Empty Field.”
An Empty Field — Jinha Goh
Where only dry grass crunch
By the wind of late fall,
It is an empty field,
An empty field without hope,
An empty field without people,
An empty field without tomorrow.
Oh, and yet,
Who are you?
You who fill in the empty field all around,
The field nobody wants to enter?
Now let me invite you to imagine with me. One day in the late fall, probably one of the days in October or early November, the poet takes a walk around his rural town. It’s after harvest so the field is empty. It looks all bleak and barren. It evokes the emotions of sorrow and futility in his mind. And it brings him back to the moments in his life and perhaps, in his ministry, when he felt deep emptiness in his heart…the moments when he faced struggles of deficiency, helplessness, loneliness, and lack of possibility. Standing beside the empty field, he quietly intones, “It’s an empty field, empty field without hope, without people, without tomorrow.” There is nothing.
At that very moment of anguish, however, he suddenly feels something. A strange wonder awakes him and opens his eyes to see the reality in a different way. Perhaps, his eyes catch the glimpse into a spiritual dimension? On the empty field, the poet begins to sense the presence of something greater than him, something we may call the divine presence. In awe of this mysterious experience, he asked, “Who are you, you who fill in the empty field all around, the field nobody wants to enter?” In the presence of God, a moment of anguish turns into a moment of grace.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus goes to an empty field. It is “a deserted place,” the Bible elaborates. To this wilderness, there comes a large group of crowds. They are following Jesus on foot from the towns. But who are they? How can they travel in search of Jesus during the day? They probably have no daytime jobs. And later in our reading, we get to know that they didn’t bring anything to eat. They are desperate. If I may venture to compare, they are like the “dry grass” described in the poem…the poor dry grass on an empty field, swaying and crunching by the gust of wind. Empty-hearted and empty-handed people, who lost hope in their harsh conditions of life… they are indeed the dry grass in the wilderness.
But watching these people staying with Jesus until evening, the disciples come to Jesus and say, “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” (Matthew 14:15). To them, Jesus replies, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat” (14:16). The disciples reply, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish” (14:17). They see nothing there on the deserted field, which is not really surprising. In fact, the only reasonable choice they can make is send the crowds away. But Jesus refuses to do so.
Then, Jesus asks his disciples to bring the five loaves of bread and two fish. And the Bible says something significant here, “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looks up to heaven” (14:19). “Jesus looks up.” Jesus sees something, instead of nothing, on the empty field. What does he see? Both Jesus and the disciples see the crowds like dry grass. But the disciples are unable to see beyond what’s before them. It is hard for them to see the one…the one who already fills the empty field all around, and the one who is present with divine possibilities among those who are weary.
Today, we see ourselves in the disciples. It’s so difficult for us to see beyond our reality. It’s never easy for us to look up to heaven and seek out divine possibilities. And it’s impossible that we become like Jesus. Yes, that’s true. However, there is a way in which we can see as Jesus sees, or at least, as the poet sees. This way is called faith. I think you would be familiar with this cup-half-full-and-half-empty analogy.
We know positive thinking is to see a cup half-full and negative thinking is to see it half-empty. Then, what is it to see a cup that is almost empty but still say it is full? Crazy thinking? No, that is not the answer for Christians. The Bible testifies, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Through faith, we see beyond. Through faith, we find potentials above objective analyses on our status quo. And through faith, we encounter moments of grace in the middle of our moments of suffering. Indeed, faith is truly what matters in our lives to make differences, the differences that we have never imagined before.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, when we feel like we’re helplessly standing in a deserted place like dry grass, through faith, I hope we can raise our eyes and see God as Jesus did. And we can still find God’s abundant grace that we can experience anywhere, anytime. How about our church? Do we sometimes feel like our church is like an empty field? Stop focusing on what we don’t have. Instead, why don’t we bring our five loaves of bread and two fish to Jesus and see beyond through our faith? Don’t mumble, “We have nothing.” And don’t murmur, “We only have five loaves of bread and two fish, and that’s it.” Instead, proclaim, “We always have something more in the presence of our God.” And declare, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish and that’s enough…that’s enough for God to work with, to multiply, to feed us all, and to transform our realities with grace.” Faith, that’s what matters on an empty field indeed. May the Lord richly bless us today, so that through our eyes of faith, we may see beyond, find divine possibilities, and feel the presence of our God in our midst always. Amen.