“Gather up the fragments so that nothing may be lost.”

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Sermon for Trinity 9 at St Mary’s Whitkirk

“Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”

Many years ago, when I was a student, a friend and I catered for a Christian Union weekend away. Giddy from the unaccustomed excitement of spending £70 on food in Sainsbury’s – we drew up a menu for the kitchen door. ‘Friday evening – bread and fish; Saturday – leftovers.’ We were ridiculously pleased with ourselves!

We weren’t used to cooking for more than one or two – so we did tend to over-cater. I think we saw the leftovers in the feeding of the 5000 as a sort of divine over-catering, a sign of God’s generosity. And in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels this is how they appear.

But John puts it slightly differently.

“Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”

Suddenly the focus is not on how much is left over – but the importance of each fragment. Why is it vital that not one fragment is lost?

Well it’s seemed to me this week, as I’ve thought about this reading, that ‘gathering the fragments so that nothing is lost’ is often how God works.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the people Jesus fed that day focused on the miracle of multiplied loaves and fishes – and wanted to make Jesus their king. As humans that’s the kind of God we want – all-powerful, ready to get rid of the difficult stuff.

We often struggle with faith because God doesn’t swoop in when bad things happen. The pictures of suffering we see on our screens can be difficult to reconcile with faith in a loving God.

But incarnation suggests we’ve missed the point.

God’s response to the mess of human lives was not miraculous interventions from heaven…it was to become human.

Becoming human meant Jesus could only live one life – as one person, at one time in history. But that particular life was filled with things the world sees as worthless – fragments we might expect to be beneath the notice of God.

An inappropriate pregnancy; life as a refugee; spending time with outcasts; struggling with temptation; feeling abandoned by God; grief at the death of loved ones; being betrayed and abandoned by friends; fear of difference that leads to hatred…even to murder…

…these were all part of Jesus’ life. Perhaps his living them gathers those fragments – shows they are not lost, because God is in them.

The fact that Jesus experienced the worst aspects of human life – suggests that even these can be healed. God doesn’t intervene to stop them, but by living them Jesus gathers them in. Even the worst situations are not lost to God – Jesus is able to transform even them.

We have a tradition of offering the best to God…amazing buildings, beautiful music, carefully ordered worship, wearing our Sunday best. Nothing wrong with this, of course, but perhaps we forget that God is not only interested in our Sunday best.

Jesus was constantly challenged for eating with ‘sinners’…and responded that it is the sick not the well that need a doctor. His whole life was spent searching out the lost, reaching into the lost bits of people’s lives.

When he met a rich young ruler – who had genuinely kept God’s commandments and done the right thing – Jesus picked on his one flaw – a love of money. Jesus wasn’t dismissing all the good in that life, he wasn’t trying to catch him out, he was searching out the one fragment of him that was lost to God.

“Gather up the fragments so that nothing may be lost”

I suspect God really wants the fragments we find it hardest to offer him…

…our workplaces…perhaps a job that is unfulfilling, stressful, boring…perhaps a job we love but where we find it difficult to live as faithful Christians…perhaps a workplace where we struggle to see God’s presence.

…or may be it’s a relationship that has soured…where we’ve been hurt or have hurt someone else by our words and actions…it can be hard to let God into our anger and hurt…or our feelings of guilt.

…or may be it’s just our personality flaws, the things about us we know are not at all Christ-like, the parts of ourselves we don’t particularly like.

These are the things in our lives that need changing…so perhaps these are the fragments Christ wants to gather up.

I became very aware of this at a funeral I took earlier this year. I don’t know if you can describe a funeral as ‘good’…but this one seemed good to me. When I met the family, they shared stories of complex relationships. The personality of their loved one had often made family life difficult. There was no lack of love – but things were not straightforward. In the funeral we were able to acknowledge all of that. We felt that we had offered all the fragments of that life to God – in the hope that through Christ they would be gathered up and healed.

There are times in most lives when we feel broken, fragmented. We might feel those bits are best forgotten, but those are the very fragments that need Christ’s healing, transforming touch. Until everything is gathered – we cannot really be whole.

The 5000 were amazed when they were fed. It took them longer to realise that Jesus offered not just food for the day – but healing and wholeness of life.

Lord Jesus, you sought out sinners, you challenged what was wrong in their lives; gather up the fragments of our lives so that nothing may be lost, but everything might be transformed by you. Amen

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