Sunday Worship 2nd August
Although the church reopens for worship today (with government restrictions applying) as numbers are limited to 30 people who must pre book our Pastor Julie is still preparing a service for members, adherents and the public to use at home.
Opening words: Psalm 145:8-9
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
Mighty God of miracles, we come before you.
We imagine what it might have been like
being part of a crowd of 5,000.
There may be far fewer of us here today,
but we think about the people in other churches in our town,
village, and country, also worshipping you.
Bound together by your great love,
we gather in spirit to meet with you, Jesus.
you look deep inside us,
seeing not only our outer but our inner needs.
Have compassion on us, we pray.
Feed us today from your holy word,
and we will be filled.
Isaiah 55.1-5 Psalm 145.8-9,14-21 Romans 9.1-5 Matthew 14.13-21
Comments on Bible Readings:
That wonderful song from Oliver ‘Food, glorious food!’ reminds us just how important food is to all of us. At its most basic, we need it to sustain us and keep us going. But it can also become much more than that, we often share meals with those we love, our family and our friends, then food is a source of delight and joy, whether through culinary magic, or through the company with which we share it.
In this week’s reading from Matthew 14.13-21, we hear how Jesus meets this basic need in a miraculous and creative way, bringing people together through the small act of sharing some simple gifts: five loaves and two fish. The good we share does not have to be grand, it just has to be prepared and given in love.
All through the lockdown period and even now food has been one of the most talked-about aspects. First there were the shortages – possibly the first time that those of us normally blessed with a comfortable lifestyle will ever have experienced worry about what we will eat and where the toilet paper will come from! There were empty shelves where the eggs or fresh vegetables would normally be in the supermarket, there were no online delivery slots even for loyal customers (yes we had to shop for two weeks) – ironically they were the weeks Tony and I were ill, so Richard had to get ours. There was no chance of signing up if you weren’t already a customer or even on the at risk register.
Once the panic-buying subsided, and everyone knew the shortages were caused by selfish people bulk buying then the sourdough bread-making began, with every Instagrammer showing off their new lockdown-learnt baking skills. Now we are hearing how big retailers like Amazon are taking advantage of food shopping habits by moving online. Boris has realised that those who carry excess weight are more at risk if we catch COVID and conscious of COVID weight gain in many has now decided how much less many of us – myself included – should eat if we are to stay well and save the NHS.
That’s one side of the experience. On the other, many in our society have struggled and continue to struggle to feed themselves and their families. In the current crisis, with schools closed and work and income drying up for many, it has become harder to ignore just how many people live in or close to the edge of food poverty. Perhaps this time their cries will be heard and their needs met?
In June, the campaign headed by the footballer Marcus Rashford won its battle to secure summer food vouchers for children in need. Now the government’s own National Food Strategy review says free school meals should be extended to all children in households on universal credit and equivalent benefits, to provide them with the “foundation of equality and opportunity” they need. A with most government initiatives at this time what is not clear yet is how this extension will be funded.
But here in our bible reading we see Jesus after the be-heading of John moving into the wilderness no doubt to think about the way forward from this point in His ministry. Is Jesus’ mission over almost before it has begun? He has been rejected in Nazareth, and people are scandalised (Matthew 13.57). John is beheaded, but instead of finding some breathing space, Jesus is beset by a needy and now hungry crowd. Surrounded by this crowd of hungry people, Jesus miraculously feeds them all. But notice how He does this for Jesus actually passes the challenge of feeding the crowd on to the disciples. Their suggestion that the people should be sent to find food is perfectly sensible, but Jesus challenges them to provide what is needed. I wonder how the disciples felt at this – what would they do, where could they go? But the answer was in front of them, they were to use the resources around them. God provided for them and God equally provides when our human resources appear exhausted. Matthew emphasises that this is the response to Jesus’ prayer. What needs can we see around us, and what is our prayer?
The disciples must have felt utterly incapable of doing what Jesus asked of them, but they faithfully do what they can, and Jesus works a miracle through their efforts. So, there is hope here for all of us who ever feel powerless to do what Jesus is asking of us.
Jesus appears as the new Moses, feeding people as they had been fed on manna in the wilderness. The story also recalls Elisha’s feeding of an army in 2 Kings 4 – and it is constructed to emphasise its symbolism. Similar words are used in both accounts ‘give it to the people to eat, for the Lord says ‘They will eat and have some left over’’ Jesus does the same, with the bread and fish as Elisha did with the 20 barley loaves. he tells the people to sit and then he prays. In both cases the people were filled with leftovers too.
But the story is also a reminder of how God provided manna in the wilderness. Matthew does not labour this, but the fact that he describes the place as a wilderness emphasises the link. The passage from Isaiah also speaks of God’s people needing provision in the wilderness. In both there is the stirring of liberation, of the coming together of people for the journey on which God will take them. Both stories talk of God’s people being equipped to meet the needs of those around them.
I wonder would all those people have gone into the wilderness without taking food? Where they so taken with following Jesus that they did not realise they had travelled so far or the hour was so late. I wonder how carried away we get following Jesus? That we don’t realise we have left our food behind or that we are now totally reliant on God for what we need.
It may be that they had taken food but, not knowing whether they were in respectable company, they might have been reluctant to eat, especially when ritual purity needed to be maintained. (given social distancing today we know this feeling of doing what is right and acceptable) They were, after all, seeking an experience of God. Was it Jesus’ act of sharing that enabled everyone to share so that the superabundance of food emerged? Remember the days of our faith teas, each brings a bit and we have our fill and have some left over, is that what happened here. Jesus encouraged the sharing of food until all were fed. If so, is making selfish people generous actually a greater miracle than producing bread? In the present age, it is generosity that is needed to share the earth’s resources so that all have enough. Are we improving our stewardship of resources and our awareness of need and how it might be addressed?
But is this feeding a foretaste of the future when God will feed his people. Replace the fish with wine and you have communion. Seeking the military overthrow of Rome was not Jesus’ mission, even though many would have thought of the Messiah as someone who would repeat David’s slaying of Goliath. Matthew shows that Jesus is not leading an army against Herod (who had just killed John the Baptist), but rather he is feeding his church – Matthew’s is the only Gospel to use the word – of men, women and children. In this way,Matthew allows us to see this story as representing communion which is for all (‘Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves’, v.19) . At the last supper Jesus looked to heaven, broke the bread and blessed it, this bread and wine, this meal, this food is not just food it is Jesus Himself, the bread His body, broken on the tree, the wine His blood poured out for you and me. All the people were filled and Jesus continues to fill us each and every day, until we are overflowing, there is no end to His abundance.
Sometimes when confronted with others’ needs, we too might find ourselves saying, But Lord, I do not have enough time, energy, courage, hope, wisdom, skill, strength, love, money, even to sustain myself! See what little I have, how can it be of any use to the situations I see in front of me?
Jesus shows how. He takes the little that is brought before him and blesses it, looking to heaven, to God. With God’s blessing the small gift shared grows in the sharing until it is enough to meet the needs of everyone present, and to overflow beyond. What we bring, God will bless.
"And all ate and were filled” (Matthew 14.20). Thanks be to God! Amen
God of grace, good to all, You have compassion over all you have made. When I am falling, hold me up. Raise me to my feet, so that I can walk with you. When I am in need, meet with me. Open your hands to me, to satisfy my longing. When I call out to you, hear my cry. Watch over me, that I may live in your love. When I am hurt, lend me your grace. Open my heart, that I may forgive. When I see need, help me to face it. Open my hands, to offer all I have and am. When I hear you, help me listen. Open my mouth, to bless your name. Amen.
Lord, today, we pray for people who have little or nothing: for those who feel trapped in their situation, and can’t see the bigger picture, or even any tiny glimmer of light.
We pray for people who are hungry: for parents who struggle to feed their children, and themselves. We thank you for the work of food banks, and pray that they would have the resources to continue to meet so many needs.
We pray that you would give us an appreciation of our food: the work that goes into producing and distributing it. Teach us not to be wasteful, but to preserve and pass on the goodness of your earth. Amen.
Lord, a new week lies ahead of me and I don’t really know what it will bring.
Help me to be aware of people around me who are struggling in any way.
May I be sensitive to their needs and seek your wisdom as I come alongside them.
I want to be there for them, Lord, bearing your blessing.
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