Sermon for 2nd August 2020

Matthew 14:13-21

One of the reasons we meditate on scripture – is that it can enable us to have a greater understanding of the nature of God and his longing for the world.  Meditating on it, rather than just reading it, allows the Holy Spirit to use it as a vessel to speak into our hearts and sometimes into a specific situation that we’re facing.  

There’s a fancy term for this - ‘Lectio Divina’.   This is especially fruitful when done with others as each person will be drawn to something different, which then enriches the whole groups understanding of God. 

We do this each Monday mornings on the normal Zoom link – anyone can join in.  But it’s useful to have the passage in front of you so do email me to get this beforehand.  Much of what I’m saying today was revealed to us a few weeks back and I’m hoping that by sharing it a few more of you might join in.  So unusually today I’m going to look at the Gospel reading a verse at a time.

It begins: ‘When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.’

What Jesus and the crowds had just heard about, was the death of John the Baptist, his cousin and great supporter.

King Herod had married his sister-in-law, this defied Jewish law so John the Baptist had challenged this.  In order to shut him up Herod imprisoned him.  At Herod’s birthday feast his new wife’s daughter so pleased Herod with her dancing that he rashly promised to give her whatever she wanted.  Prompted by her mother she asks for John the Baptist to be beheaded.  This immediately takes place and his head is carried into the banquet on a platter. 

So this is the ghastly news that Jesus is responding to when he seeks to be alone.  He wants to be able to process, he wants time to grieve away from  the crowds.  This brings home Jesus’ humanity to us, here we see Him responding just as we might.  It’s all too easy to forget (because of the miracles) that Jesus was fully human as well as being fully God.  This is good news for us, because it means that when we’re hurting and cry out to God He knows and understands how we feel.  He has compassion on us – and that’s exactly what we hear about next in the text which says: 

‘When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.’  The awful news about John The Baptist hasn’t just affected Jesus – it’s affected the crowds as well. As Rev Julie explained last week, the crowds that gather around Jesus are living under the harsh rule of Roman occupation, their lives are scarred by poverty, violence, illness and fear.  John prepared them for Jesus’ arrival and brought news that things were going to change.  So John’s death threatens to destroy this hope, Jesus understanding this, sets about restoring their hope by illustrating that it doesn’t  lie in overthrowing the Romans but in the growth of his kingdom, where the sick are healed, the oppressed are set free and the poor receive good news. (Luke 4: 18) 

So Jesus’ compassion results in action – I’m challenged by this, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one who hears about something – say the Radio 4 appeal on a Sunday morning – I make a mental note to contribute, but then the moment passes and my compassion doesn’t manifest into action.  We can be full of good intentions – but intentions are not enough. 

Thankfully though it seems that Jesus’ compassion has rubbed off on his disciples because they too show loving concern and want to take action – as next we hear:
As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”  The crowds have walked out to this solitary place and they need to get back into the villages to buy food before everything closes down for the night.  However  Jesus responds by saying:    

“They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”  
And they reply:
“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish…” 

How often do we think that what we have is insufficient to meet a need? 
When I read this the other morning I was reminded of my own tendency to think that what we have to offer in the rural Church isn’t enough for families so  I’ll encourage those with children to try larger town Churches where they have specialised children’s work.  

And yet I had a conversation this Thursday with a Mum who told me how her daughter from the age of 4 cleaned a Church like ours each Saturday with two elderly ladies and how the relationships forged through this had been so valuable for this child. 

Or take Hermione who’s been coming to Miserden since she was a babe in arms.  I loved the day when she put up her hand in the school assembly and stated ‘You were at my Church yesterday.’  I doubt if she’s understood much of what I’ve preached over the years, but hopefully she will have learned something of God’s love for her by the way she’s been welcomed here.

So I wonder – what are you holding back from because you don’t think you’re well enough equipped? Because it seems from this story that having ‘next to nothing’ is just the kind of thing that Jesus likes to work with – as Jesus says of the bread and fish:

 “Bring them here to me,” …. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. 

So here Jesus is saying bring what you have and I will multiply it so that people are fed.  We’re just approaching the time of our postponed APCM’s – so perhaps you could bring your ‘next to nothing’ and offer to serve on one of them?  Or perhaps you could offer your skills to a charity, or to mentor someone who’s looking for a new job, or help a young mum who’s miles from her family, or invite someone who’s been shielding to tea in your garden?  

So often we don’t do the things we could do, because we don’t think its enough or because we can’t cope with the feelings of rejection should we be turned down.  Well let’s try and get over ourselves and offer what we have to God in the service of his Kingdom and trust that He will multiply it.

Of course there’s also a great resonance between todays story and the last supper, in both we see Jesus giving thanks, breaking bread and sharing it.
Sharing food around a table has become an important symbol of the Christian faith, Jesus himself urges us to do this ‘in remembrance’ of Him.  

It’s through Jesus that we have communion with God, it’s through him that we are invited to God’s table and in turn, we’re called to bring this invitation to others.  

God chooses to work collaboratively with us – we see this in the story:

‘Then he gave them (the bread and fish) to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 

Our resources may be limited – but if we each offer what we have to God He’s able to take what’s offered and transform our lack into abundance.   
‘They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.’

So over the last few weeks we’ve seen Jesus teaching about the Kingdom of God through parables but in the Feeding of the 5000 Jesus makes the kingdom of heaven real through acts of healing and feeding. In the kingdom of heaven we find compassion, people share their resources, and there is more than enough for everyone.   Amen


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