Sermon St Mary’s Marlborough 2nd August 2020
Eight Sunday after Trinity
Matthew 14.13-21: The Feeding of the 5000
When I hear the story of the Feeding of the 5000, immediately the image of an All Age service a few years comes to mind. The Open the Book team acted out the story of the ‘Marvellous Picnic’, and I remember the discussions on the logistics of how the bread should miraculously be multiplied after Jesus – a role impressively played by Anna – blessed the loaves and broke the bread.
I don’t quite remember how it was done, but I do remember a sense of awe in the congregation, children and adults alike, as the bread appeared. There are many ways to interpret the events that lead all four Evangelists to record the Feeding of the 5000. However, no matter which interpretation we choose, the story makes the point that miracles happen, if we trust God and dare to get involved in His plan for us.
In our reading this morning, it is precisely what Jesus asks the disciples to do when he commands them: ‘you give them something to eat’. Yes, it is Jesus who blesses and breaks the loaves, but the disciples have their role to play too. Jesus enables them to play their part: ‘you give them something to eat’.
If there is one thing that my time in Marlborough has taught me, apart maybe from a slightly less Dutch and more Wiltshire accent, it is the confidence that miracles still happen when we trust and get involved. We still have our part to play sharing God’s abundance with our world: ‘you give them something to eat’.
Some of us here at St Mary’s have taken that fairly literally. Those of us who were involved in the Get There! holiday club will remember the abundance of food that appeared every morning, and subsequently disappeared even more quickly as the children started to come in! Or think of the many celebrations for which Pat Spackman made a cake; the hampers that were provided to families for Christmas and of course not to forget the endless trays of mince pies in the run-up to Christmas. Food always appeared, and was always abundant.
‘You give them something to eat’ can also be interpreted a little less literally, as indeed, we do not live by bread alone. There have been many projects I have seen coming together over the last six years, and it was always thanks to the gifts and talents that so many were willing to share. Things that stood out for me were the Paul Hobbs exhibition and Experience Easter, both here in St Mary’s Church.
It has been a huge privilege to be part of this group of disciples here in Marlborough, and to see miracles happen. Joining in with God’s plan is not always easy. We may feel that we don’t have the gifts or talents that are required, we may feel that we are not good enough, or that someone else will do a better job. And thus, we need courage and encouragement. We ourselves need to take some little steps, sometimes more than we feel comfortable, and encourage others to do so too.
We need the courage and the encouragement to trust: to trust that we too – yes, each of us, has a role to play in God’s plan. It is not so much just a belief in our own abilities, but a trust that when we share and give what we have, God will use it. Who would have thought that just two fishes and five loaves would feed a crowd of thousands? Yet, is was more than enough as a starting point.
Just weeks before I was ordained and moved to Marlborough, I had real doubts whether ordination was the way forward for me. I worried that I would not be good enough. Someone wisely said: ‘none of us is good enough, that is the whole point’. None of us on our own can feed a whole crowd with five loaves and two fishes, we need each other and indeed God’s blessing to be able to do so.
It can be very hard to trust: ourselves, others and God. Some of us may find it easier than others, depending on the experiences we have had so far. Some of the disciples needed more encouragement than others to believe that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. So for us too, some of us will need more courage and encouragement than others to join in with God’s work, but we all do.
More than any time, we have realised this over the last few months, which have been a challenge for all of us. In the light of so much uncertainty, we have realised how hard it is to trust. When suddenly the things we took for granted are no longer the case, we may wonder what this means for the beliefs we have held. That means that it can even feel harder to share, and to believe that God will use what we give.
Going back to the reading for a moment, we may get a clue where to start. When Jesus sees the great number of people, we read, he has compassion. He cures the sick and later feeds the crowds, because he has compassion. That is where it all starts. But how can we be compassionate, if we are overwhelmed by our own problems? Is that not something only God’s own Son can do, but isn’t that bar too high for us? How can we, normal people, be compassionate, see the other, let alone try to help them, when our own tears cloud our sight?
That question brings us right to the core of our faith, it brings to the story of the first Easter morning. Mary, in her desperation and grief after Jesus’ death, did not know what to do. So she went to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been lain. Overwhelmed by her tears, she did not recognise Jesus until he said her name: ‘Mary’. Then she recognises the risen Christ, and also, she knows what to do. She goes to the disciples and proclaims: ‘I have seen the Lord’. This is her part in God’s story, she is the first to meet and proclaim the risen Lord.
As I finish, I’d like to go back to us – soon, ‘back to you’ – here in Marlborough. This morning, we have moved from Jesus’ command ‘you give them something to eat’ to Mary’s proclamation ‘I have seen the Lord’. It is in a nutshell what it means to make Jesus known. And we realise doing so, changes us too. Joining in with you in the last six years, is what has made me the person I am now: ready to share in God’s story in a new place.
So, let us have the courage to trust: that miracles do happen, and that we have our role to play in the unfolding of God’s plan. Let us take that command to heart ‘you give them something to eat’, so that we and others can say too ‘I have seen the Lord’. Amen.