Be bold…a lesson from feeding of the 5000.
Sermon for Adel Parish church 2nd August 2020.
Matthew 14: 13 – 21
The feeding of the 5000…when I hear that story, I’m transported immediately back to Greenbelt festival in the summer of 1984. If you haven’t heard of Greenbelt – it’s a Christian music festival. It’s definitely not my sort of thing…but at 19 and at University I was somehow swept along…
Looking back now, the only things I can remember are the queues for the loos, and the feeding of the 5000. It was the gospel at the Sunday service…and it was brilliantly told by someone pretending to phone home with an eyewitness account…breathless, amazed, puzzled…it was a great bit of acting, and it stuck with me.
I haven’t the skills to reproduce it, especially without an audience…but there is something very powerful about an eyewitness account…so, let’s go back to that day with Jesus in the wilderness.
Let’s imagine we’re his disciples…with Jesus we’ve just heard the news that his cousin John the Baptist has been beheaded. Jesus, weary with teaching and healing, now overcome with grief, just wants to get away. He takes a boat to a deserted place.
But the crowds follow, bringing their sick, desperate to hear more of his life changing teaching. We want to turn them away…’can’t you see, he’s just lost the cousin he loved…can’t you leave him alone?’
Jesus though, stops us. He looks at the crowd, hungry for love and direction. Tired as he is, he has compassion. He heals and teaches for another long, exhausting day. And, following his example, we look at the people in compassion. We imagine how hungry they must be, and remember how far we are from any village. Tentatively we suggest that Jesus sends them away to buy food.
But Jesus does what he so often does…takes our idea and turns it into something much bigger and bolder. ‘If you care for them…why don’t you give them something to eat?’ he says. And we do what we always do…we make excuses. ‘We have nothing here…nothing to give them.’ But perhaps because we know Jesus knows…we qualify it with the truth, ‘Well…nothing except 5 loaves.’
And because we really do want to help Jesus in his kingdom building, we bring him the little we have.
Then comes the bit that made such good drama at Greenbelt all those years ago…Jesus looks up to heaven praying to his Father…he blesses the bread, like he always does…then he breaks it, like he always does…then he gives it back to us…
And we hand it out, and hand it out, and keep on handing it out. And people eat and eat, and still there’s more to hand out…but people start refusing it…too full to eat another morsel. And we collect up the left overs…12 baskets full…
And we know Jesus has done something amazing…but also that we seem to have had quite a big part in it. In Jesus’ hands, our meagre offering has achieved something huge.
I think in the last few months we’ve experienced something similar. Life changed very suddenly. Almost overnight, ‘church’ was not possible in the way we’ve been used to. We knew we wanted to keep faith and hope alive. We knew we needed to find new ways to worship, pray and care, but perhaps felt we had little to offer.
We did offer what we had though…in a panic, not really knowing what we were doing…apologetically, not really thinking we had the skills…anxiously, thinking it could all go horribly wrong.
And Jesus seems to have done what he did with those 5 loaves…taken our small, tentative, nervous ideas, and turned them into something much larger, bolder…and more use in building his kingdom.
We’ve found we can write prayers, read lessons, produce services online, coordinate an online choir, lead children’s groups, lead services, share our faith in words and pictures, turn our churchyard into a place of prayer…we’ve found ways of socializing, celebrating, sharing and supporting.
Which is wonderful, because I suspect the next step in this journey is going to be equally challenging. From 13th September we will reopen for actual services in church. ‘Hurray!’
With current restrictions, we’ll have 9 pews and 2 choir stalls available…hmm.
I spoke recently to someone who’s been unable to access our online services. Someone who is desperate for physical services to start again. He understands the challenges – but said to me ‘Be bold’.
‘Be bold’. What a great phrase to take into this next stage. We’ll probably need extra services…we’ll need to keep our online services going for those who can’t get to church…we need to work out what to do about music…Junior church…social events…fundraising.
So, we’ll need stewards, cleaners, extra readers and pray-ers, musicians…people to help with Junior church…and probably all sorts of other things we haven’t thought about yet.
It could feel like an impossible task. Or we can remember the feeding of the 5000. We can each bring out the little we feel we have and offer it to Jesus. And perhaps if we do that in trust and hope, he will take it, bless it, maybe break it…and give it back to us.
And maybe we’ll find our nervous offerings have been transformed into something wonderful, something much bigger and bolder than we dared to hope.
Since mid-March, I’ve been deeply grateful for the people who’ve quietly been doing the jobs they’ve always done…the people who’ve found new ways to do the things they used to do…the people who’ve come forward to try new things they never thought they could…the people who’ve emailed or rung to say how much they appreciate our efforts…and the people who through all of this have been praying…for me…for the church…for the community.
The next months hold at least as much challenge as the previous ones. And we will have to find solutions within our community. But today’s gospel reminds us that if we offer whatever we have, Jesus can transform our offerings. So together – let’s be bold!