Sermon Aug 2
What can God bless?
The story of the feeding of the five thousand is a familiar one. So let’s see what we can find out about it that might not be so obvious. When did it happen? Our passage starts with ‘after this.’ After what? Just before this, Jesus has heard that his cousin John the Baptist has been killed by the evil King Herod. John had preached in the wilderness that Jesus was coming soon, and John had baptised him in the river Jordan. It would have been a hard time for Jesus, so he went away into a quiet place, to have some time to himself, maybe to think about and mourn his cousin.
But He couldn’t even find that little bit of peace. The crowds found him, followed him, and filled his quiet place.
Jesus reacted in a way that many of us would not – instead of saying, like the old film star, ‘I want to be alone’, He did what he was sent here to do- he cured the sick, and ministered to the people. He had compassion for them.
He had taken a little time for himself, but when life came hurtling back at him, he was ready to step up to the plate.
It’s like that in Christian ministry too isn’t it? We can be having a really bad day, need some time to ourself after a particularly harrowing morning, and someone turns up for the food bank, or calls, and really needs our attention and our love. This is where arrow prayers are a God-send, literally. They are a quick prayer sent straight up, God, help me now! That’s all they need to be. An acknowledgement that we need God’s help, that whatever we are being asked for, we cannot do it out of our own strength, because we haven’t got any left. It’s not a bad thing to admit our lack, our weakness I these situations. This is a God-space. Where we are not enough God is always enough.
As the day with Jesus and the crowd drew towards evening, some of the disciples began to worry about the crowd. ‘They’ve got no food with them, they all came out in a hurry, desperate to see Jesus, and now they’ll be getting hungry.’
When people hang out around Jesus, they see the needs of other people. The disciples reacted with compassion, with practical care. Send them away, they said, so they can get food. They were not wanting the people to go away because they were sick of them or because they thought Jesus needed a break. It was out of care for people who needed a feed.
Jesus had another idea. He asked the disciples to feed them.
Can you imagine being a disciple and being told to feed 5000 plus people? Maybe for a minute you would think that Jesus was crazy to suggest it, or away with the fairies. Bring what you have, he said.
This is an echo of the story of Elijah and the widow. She was facing having to sell her only son into slavery to pay off her debts, when Elijah asked her, what do you have? She opened the cupboard and found a little bit of oil. When Elijah told her to pour it, it kept going, filling up all the jars she had, and she had to borrow some from neighbours. Then she could sell it and pay off her debt.
What do you have in your cupboard? When you feel a lack of something in your life, what do you already have that God is ready and waiting to miraculously grow for you? Do you have a little bit of energy? A good idea? A sense of humour? Some spare time? Too much silver beet? A particular skill?
Just like the loaves and fishes, we all have something. It might only be a little thing, but God can magnify it, and make it bless others.
Can you imagine the scene in the previously deserted wilderness? The people would have been getting hungry, and Jesus lifts up five loaves, and two small fish to God, and blesses them, and breaks them. This sounds like communion doesn’t it? Maybe the folk would have thought, oh, he’s having his tea now, but what are we going to do? But as Jesus broke the bread and fish, it seems to double, and double again, and again, so that there was not only enough for everyone there, but also 12 baskets of leftovers! Can you imagine how much food you would need for five thousand men, and more women and children? How many loaves of bread? How many fish? I have a hard enough time working out how many people I’m feeding at my place, especially in the weekends when extra teenagers seem to turn up, but here is Jesus breaking the bread and distributing it, knowing that it would be more than enough.
When we bring our small stores of whatever we have to Jesus, he will bless them too, and they will expand to fill the need. If we all bring our talents and time and resources to Jesus for the sake of the kingdom, just like we heard in last week’s Gospel about the mustard seed, they too will grow and grow, to fill the needs of those around us.
But hang on, you may say. I don’t have anything I can give to the kingdom of God. That’s when you need to ask God what is it that you do have. What’s in your cupboard? It may be something that you haven’t thought about.
I can imagine that the crowd around Jesus might have fancied something different for tea than dried fish and bread. This was a pretty basic meal, but that’s what was there. There are times when we want a certain thing, and God fills our need by providing something else. Wants and needs are different, and being flexible to God’s leading is important here. That’s why it is so important to offer them up to God in prayer. If we have an idea for a new outreach in our parish, before we go in boots and all and try to get it up and running, we need to bring it to prayer. Next weekend we are having a planning day for the vestry and clergy, and that’s exactly what we will be doing.
God will bless what needs to be blessed, and give the increase where God wants to. If we sense that our offering is not going anywhere, perhaps it’s time to come back to God and ask again. ‘Lord, what do I have in my cupboard that I have overlooked? What resource have I already rejected? Can you do something with that Lord?’
God uses things and people that the rest of the world rejects. The stone the builder rejected has become the cornerstone, the scripture goes.
Let’s take this story of the feeding of the five thousand as an encouragement to us, that whenever we are in need, we can bring whatever we have to God, ask for God’s blessing on it, and in confidence and trust expect a miracle!