Worship Service for 31 July 2011
Year A. Pentecost 13. Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21. Green.
Call to worship
See what God has done!
The hungry are fed
The sick are healed
The poor and the outcast have a place to belong!
With God, all things are possible.
Hymn Together in Song 107 Sing Praise and Thanksgiving
Prayer of adoration and confession
We thank you for the wonder of all your works -
for the beauty and mystery of your work of creation -
for the love with which you sustain and care for all of your works – especially us.
We thank you that your love for us knows no bounds -
that you understand and meet our deepest needs -
we thank you that in Jesus
you meet our deepest need of all -
our need to know you, and to know your love for us.
We confess our failure to trust in your love.
So often we speak and act as if everything in our lives depended on us.
So often we try to find our own strength and wisdom apart from you.
So often we try to meet our own needs and solve our own problems without consulting you.
Forgive our attempts at independence -
putting limits on you.
In Jesus' name we pray.
Declaration of Forgiveness
Kids' time – Erica
Hymn Together in Song 155 How great thou art
This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.
When we look at the story of the feeding of the 5000 people (or maybe up to 10000, 15000 or 20000 if you count the women and kids), there's a few approaches that are fairly common.
You can look at the question of whether it was really a miracle, or whether handing out this food encouraged those who carried food with them to share what they had as well. Those scholars who suggest this is what happened would say the real miracle was that Jesus inspired the generosity that allowed people who were keeping things to themselves to share their resources.
You can look at it as a precursor to the Last Supper and the institution of Holy Communion, as Jesus prays, distributes the meal, and everyone shares together.
You can look at it as an example of God's amazing provision – the food didn't just feed the huge crowd – there was heaps left over as well.
Or you could ask the question “why not counting women and children?” The answer to which question is not about whether women and children are important in the kingdom of heaven, but whether women and children were considered important by the man who recorded this in a time and culture where women and children tended not to be counted.
Today, we're going to take the approach of looking at the real human beings involved in this story – not just as people “back then” - but as people who are actually quite like us in many ways. We're going to look firstly at Jesus, then at the disciples, and then the crowd. We're going ask the questions of what was happening from their point-of-view, and what this incident meant for them.
Let's start with Jesus.
As the story begins, Jesus had just had news of John the Baptist's death. And he didn't die peacefully, in his sleep. John had been killed by Herod and his head presented on a platter as a favour to Herod's his step-daughter.
John wasn't just another itinerant preacher. He was a relative of Jesus, of a similar age, and as their mothers were close enough to support each other through pregnancy, we can imagine that Jesus and John had probably known each other quite well growing up. So there was a close family and emotional tie there.
Jesus respected John as a prophet, even likening him to Elijah. And they shared a ministry – John prepared the way for Jesus, and even baptised Jesus at the very start of his ministry.
When Jesus went off in the boat to be alone – he was experiencing real grief. He just needed to get away, to be away from all of the crowds and the demands, and to be away from the people who had done this horrible thing to John. He crossed out of Herod Antipas' territory, going into the Gentile territory. He got away from Herod and his henchmen, and away from where the crowds were likely to follow him. He needed peace and quiet, and time to deal with his loss.
The crowds were determined, however, and they did find him, going around the lake on foot to meet him on the other side. And they brought all of their needs, and particularly all of their sick family and friends with them.
At this point, Jesus had compassion on the crowd. He put their needs ahead of their own He cured their sick and met their immediate needs. He continued to put their needs ahead of his own until it was quite late.
Jesus had to have been completely exhausted when the disciples pointed out how late it was getting, and suggested he send the people to get some food.
They were in Gentile territory, however, and Jews could not eat the food available in Gentile towns. Jesus, exhausted, had been meeting everyone else's needs all day, and this time told the disciples to deal with the situation. They could organise some food.
They, of course, told him it was impossible. And he gave them detailed instructions on what to do, to allow God the opportunity to make it possible, and still at the end of the day found energy to give thanks to God for what they had.
Shortly after this, when the crowds did disperse, Jesus finally had the time to go away by himself to pray, to deal with the grief of the loss of his relative and friend.
Let's look at the disciples.
They'd also heard the shocking news about John. Some of them had started out following John – and the others would have at least known him as Jesus' relative and as another preacher and prophet. They may also have been grieving over John's death.
They were also probably concerned for Jesus, and were more than willing to be part of the plan to get away from the crowds for a while.
Imagine their surprise (not a pleasant surprise) to make it across the lake and discover the crowds they thought they'd left behind.
When they suggested Jesus send the crowds away to find food, it would have been a very sensible suggestion. The crowds needed to eat, and Jesus and the disciples needed to be left alone! It would have been a very practical suggestion. Sure, it wouldn't be religiously pure for a Jewish crowd to be eating the food they could buy in Gentile territory, but it's easy to see how, from the disciples' point-of-view the practical might outweigh religious purity at this point.
Imagine how they felt when Jesus told them: “Feed them yourselves.” This is a logistical nightmare, even if they did have a source for enough provisions. Catering for any large function is difficult enough if you have plenty of preparation time. This was a crowd of maybe ten to twenty thousand people, if the figure of five thousand men plus their families is accurate. There was no preparation time, and no real resources available. This was an impossible task. They were tired, they were worried about Jesus' in his grief, they were feeling their own grief and perhaps fear – what had happened to John could as easily happen to Jesus' and maybe them as well. They would have felt helpless in the face of the task before them and the limitation of the resources they had
Despite all of that they were faithful. Even when the instructions Jesus gave them didn't make a lot of sense. Even though they didn't understand, and probably really didn't have the energy left to do the work, they did as Jesus said.
A miracle happened, because people who couldn't see what Jesus was up to, followed his instructions anyway.
Now, let's turn our attention to the crowd.
The crowd either didn't know or didn't respect Jesus' need for some time out.
Some of them were acting like the fans of modern celebrities – just to get close, to see and hear him, maybe get his autograph and make all the other girls at school jealous.
Some were hoping or desperate, taking their sick family members to a miraculous healer – their last hope.
Some probably wanted to challenge Jesus or debate with him.
And some would have had real faith They had heard something of Jesus, and desperately wanted to see and hear for themselves what God was doing in and through him.
They were all there to have their own needs or wants met. Effectively the crowd was selfish or self-centred. Each person saw their own needs. They did not see that Jesus and his disciples were also suffering, grieving, and had needs they wanted met. Yet, Jesus had compassion on them.
So the point of this quick visit to the characters in the story? Well it tells us both something about Jesus and something about ourselves.
Looking at Jesus: it tells us about his humanity – about his love and grief and need to be alone after John's death. Jesus in his full humanity shares our human frailties and our human needs and feelings. Jesus, in his divinity, in his being one with God, has endless compassion, gives of himself, heals and provides for people's needs despite the cost to himself.
Looking at us? Well, sometimes we will have things in common with the disciples, and sometimes with the crowd.
We may see practical needs, and want and expect God to provide practical solutions – so we limit God to what we think is possible. Therefore we feel helpless in the face of situations that seem insoluble to us. If we can't see any way it can be fixed, then of course it can't be fixed, right?
We tend to think of our own needs and wants, rather than what Jesus might need or want from us.
Like the crowd and the disciples, we are accepted and loved by Jesus, despite our failings, anxieties, self-centredness. We are accepted and loved even without our changing to working to measure up. We are loved exactly as we are, and then challenged to realise that God is bigger than the limits of what we can see or imagine.
Like the disciples and the crowds, we are faced with the challenge to accept that with God, all things are possible.
Hymn Together in Song 260 He walked on earth
Prayers of the People
we read of miracles where people are healed and people are fed
And we look at the world around us and see that so much is still needed.
There are so many people with so many real needs -
and so often there seems to be so few resources.
When we hear Jesus command to go and meet the needs we have seen -
we feel helpless and see only the needs, not the solution.
Help us, we pray, to be a part of the solution -
to the needs you show us day by day.
Show us how to use whatever little we have
to share your love with those who have less..
In a short time of quiet we pray for the specific needs we are aware of,
For the needs of our own congregation,
For those we know and love who have special needs at this time,
For the life of the wider church
For the wider world – particularly those in Norway, in the Horn of Africa, for everyone facing or recovering from disasters, either natural or of human origin.
For those in our world who see no solutions to their problems apart from violence.
This is your world
We pray that you will feed all of its hungers
and heal all of its hurts.
In Jesus' name we pray.
The Lord's Prayer
Hymn Together in Song 473 Community of Christ