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Sunday 2nd August 2020 – Ninth after Pentecost
Call to Worship
Leader: All you who are thirsty,
All: come, drink from the waters of life.
Leader: All you who are weary,
All: come, bathe and be refreshed in God’s river.
Leader: All you who long for peace,
All: come, rest in the clear, silent pools of God’s love.
Prayer of Adoration, Confession and Renewal
God of miracle and God of everyday,
may we see you no:
healing, feeding, teaching, serving,
through ordinary people,
whom you call to be your body in the world today.
We thank you that you reveal your love
in those around us,
and that you even enable us
to step up to be Christ for one another.
Lord, forgive us
for the times we cannot be bothered,
the times we look to our own comfort first,
and forget that your command is to love one another.
Forgive us and help us to do better.
your forgiveness knows no limits,
you renew us time and time again,
strengthen us through worship
deepen our faith, to live more in trust of you
draw us together, as a community of faith.
God, in Jesus you gave us a perfect example.
May we keep on learning from him,
and may we become imitators of him,
until we too are sought out by others,
as people of peace and of love in the name of God,
who is love.
Reading : Matthew 14 : 13-21 (Jesus feeds the five thousand)
The importance of food within society is undeniable. We need it to sustain us and meals frame much of our day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, food is for celebration, wedding feast or birthday cake, social rituals from graduations to baptisms, and seasonal celebrations like Christmas, and we are drawn to it in summer weather with barbequing outside. From our earliest memories we can associate with foods that we have loved and loathed, for athletes they know each intricate calorific value of each morsel, and we know what foods to reach for when we need comfort on a wet and rainy night.
In and through the bible food is important too, and I am sure we can list occasions and stories; Manna and quail in the wilderness as the iconic Old Testament feeding story, the widow of Zarapeth whose flour and oil didn’t run out (1Kings17) the never ending wedding feast at Cana, Jesus eating with Zacheus, breaking bread with strangers on the Emmaus road, and many more.
Eating, particularly with others occurs frequently in the bible, because food and friendship are vital for life, especially life with dignity, and at times in the ancient near east it was hard to come by for some people.
The feeding of the five thousand is one of those iconic stories that we never tire of hearing, and we could spend time considering how it all happened, offering practical reasons to explain the miracle; everyone took only a small morsel of food, or perhaps already had a packed lunch tucked away and only produced it when they saw others do the same, to concentrate on the practicalities can be good, but also miss the point. What is the bigger picture for us today, feeding so many people, or perhaps the miracle that people sat down and ate together?
In the way that society has grown and changed over the years, eating together is no longer the norm for many people, busy lives, work and social commitments at all hours, more single people than ever before, eating together has become the exception, anecdotally I wonder for how many the practice changed over the past few months of lockdown and meals were shared together.
Sharing and community are only part of the feeding of the five thousand, our passage doesn’t begin there, but rather with the picture of a tired Jesus pushing a boat out into a stretch of water, a deserted place. He had received bad news, John the Baptist had been beheaded, and he sought a space away from the crowds. Who among us hasn’t sought that from time to time, and then had to find that hard route back into circulation, and is there a correlation for us as we find our path out of lockdown to a different kind of normal?
Jesus managed peace for a moment but the crowds followed and he finds himself once again with people. He has compassion on those he meets in the crowds, he understands their pain and hurt, and he sets about healing and curing the sick, sharing God’s abundant love with all who have travelled to that deserted place.
The people saw in him something of God, he could cure and heal, yet in C1st AD the Gods of the ancient philosophers were distant and dispassionate, the God’s of the Greeks and Roman empires were thought to use humans as playthings and for ordering the world to their whims. Yet here is to them a God like figure able to cure and heal, amongst the people, filled with compassion and interest and love. Jesus renews, embodies and fulfills the consistent call of the God of Israel to feed the hungry and help the poor.
What we call food scarcity wasn’t only known in the ancient world, it was rampant. This jars with the disciples next conversation with Jesus. They can see what is happening the hour is getting late, they are in a deserted place and there is nowhere to find food. They call for people to go and fend for themselves. Callous, unrealistic, even insulting, when much of the gathered crowd probably didn’t have money to buy food in the first place. Jesus sees things differently to the disciples. The disciples saw why they could not feed everyone, they did not have enough; but Jesus trusts that what has been provided will be enough. The disciples saw only five loaves and two fish and a large crowd, and a big problem. But Jesus saw the same 5 loaves and two fish, trusted God and saw potential. And there was more than enough.
What do we do when we see scarcity? When do we hold on to what we have rather than share willingly? Sometimes we are called on to give when we don’t know if we have any to spare, sometimes we are called to act when we feel unequipped, sometimes we are called to speak out and we don’t know the words to say. The real wonder of this story is that it continues: God still cares deeply and passionately for those who are most vulnerable – the poor, the immigrant, the hungry – and God still cares for us and continues to use us to care for them.
It is all too easy to look at what we have, and see scarcity, to see what we don’t have and can’t do; but what would happen if we looked at what gifts we do have with the gratitude and the trust that Jesus showed? Jesus came and showed the disciples a fresh way to trust, and he shows us a way to believe that there is more to us and more to life than we ever imagined.
There are two miracles in this story, which have little to do with simply multiplying loaves and fishes, and by pointing us to see them we are also equipped to continue them. And that is no small thing at a time like this.
Questions for Reflection
What was the best meal you have had, and when was it?
What made it special, or outstanding?
Can you think of a time it was hard to share something with others?
Why was Jesus so popular that the crowds followed him?
Prayers of Gratitude and Concern
Loving and gracious God,
you have created a world,
where there is an abundance for all,
teach us to graciously share what we have,
so that all might be filled.
We pray for those who hunger in this world,
those whose only kitchen is a soup kitchen,
whose only food is what others don’t want,
whose diet depends on luck, not on planning.
Lord feed your people
using our skills and conscience,
and eradicate from our politics and lives
the apathy to hunger, and the possibility
that foodbanks will no longer be a lifeline for people.
We give thanks for all you have given us O Lord,
we pray for those suffering through poverty or famine,
for those who live in shanty town or favela,
struggling with a world pandemic and hunger.
Along with aid agencies and charities
we long for solutions and pray for hope.
We pray for those who hunger for justice,
who document inequalities,
distinguish between need and greed,
and are sometimes misrepresented or persecuted in the process.
May their labour not be in vain
and remind us what gifts we can share,
of time and talent, of voice and prayer.
Your kingdom is for all who answer your son’s call
to come and follow, whoever they may be,
to share with compassion and to bring hope.
Let us be people of light in the days ahead,
Our Father in heaven
hallowed be your name
your kingdom come
your will be done
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil
For the kingdom, the power
and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen
May the blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
be with you this day and everyday.