Sunday Reflection and Prayer 2nd August
Jesus said, “Bring them here to me.” (Matthew 14:18) What are you struggling most with just now? All of us will have specific challenges that are particular to our own situation and we may feel that noone else understands and perhaps even that no-one else has ever been where we are. We also share the challenges of the day that are affecting everyone in our society at the moment – the limitations on life as we have previously known it that are the result of measures in place to protect life in the face of a previously unimagined threat. As Christians we share too the challenge of being the Church in a post-Christian society where the old certainties were crumbling and traditional expressions of faith were becoming unsustainable even before lock-down changed everything in the blink of an eye. There are certainly plenty struggles for us to contend with, but don't think it was any different for Jesus and His disciples. 1 Our Gospel reading this morning is a familiar one – the feeding of the 5000 is only one of Jesus' miracles to be recounted in all four Gospels so it must be significant – and we will all have heard many different sermons drawing out the many lessons This morning I want to focus on the context in which the miracle took place rather than on what was going on with the five loaves and two fish. Immediately prior to this episode in Matthew's Gospel is the account of the death of John the Baptist who, you remember, was a close relative of Jesus' and the one who in God's purposes had been sent to prepare the way for Him. Jesus Himself, then, was struggling with grief and perhaps with a renewed sense of foreboding about what lay ahead of Him, and Matthew tells us here that Jesus had the intention of going to a lonely place by Himself to pray. Although also recounting John's martyrdom, Mark tells the story of the feeding of the 5000, as does Luke, just after the return of the Twelve disciples from the mission which Jesus had sent them on to preach the Kingdom of God. The disciples were also struggling with physical and spiritual exhaustion, and Mark tells us that Jesus was taking them off by themselves to get some rest. Whatever you and I may be struggling with at this time, Jesus invites us to come away with Him not in the sense of running away from our troubles but to recharge our batteries and to get things into perspective. That was what Jesus Himself knew that He needed to do and that is why the habit of weekly worship and daily prayer is such an important one to cultivate. In the words of the 23rd Psalm, the Lord our Shepherd seeks to restore our souls. So here they are, Jesus and disciples, looking forward to a wee bit of rest and recuperation, but when they get out of the boat there is a crowd of thousands there before them. I know how I would feel if I arrived at my holiday hideaway to be greeted by half the congregation. But despite His own grief, Jesus, we're told, 'was filled with pity for them' – the Greek word that Matthew uses means that His whole insides heaved with compassion for them. Wow! And we learn that He reached out to heal those who were ill. Perhaps the disciples were having a harder time of it, although the fact that they came to Jesus as evening drew near with concern for where all these people were going to find food displays a certain compassion too. 2 However, it has to be said that it is probably out of tiredness and selfinterest that they plead with Jesus to send them away to get provisions. It is here that Jesus completely shifts the ground on which the disciples are standing – 'The crowd don't have to leave' He says. 'You yourselves give them something to eat.' (v.16) I think if I had been one of the Twelve that would have been the point at which I threw in the towel – exhausted and deprived of a longed-for break, to be told that I was responsible for finding food in a remote place for thousands of people would have tipped me over the edge, I think. And many of us in the midst of our struggles do come to the point where the last straw is laid on us and we collapse in a heap. 'All we have here are five loaves and two fish' – in John's account, it is Andrew who has found the boy with something he is willing to share, and we will all have heard sermons about that link in the chain. Andrew recognises that it's not going to go far amongst such a crowd, but Jesus utters what is perhaps the key message in this sermon: 'Then bring them here to me.' Isn't that what Jesus Himself did with His grief and His struggles? He brought them to His heavenly Father in prayer. Isn't that what the disciples had already done in bringing their tiredness to Jesus and in bringing to Him the fact that the crowd needed to find food? Isn't that what we each need to do as individuals, as a church, as a society in the face of those things that are beyond us – and how many of those there are: personal trials, the whole Covid situation in tackling the spread of the virus, in dealing with the care of those who fall ill, in coping with the economic implications of lock-down and the challenges of coming out of lock-down safely, and that's before we think about the challenges facing the church in our time. Jesus says, 'Bring them here to me.' When the disciples bring the bread and the fish, Jesus takes control and orders the people to sit down on the grass. It's no accident in the context of a Middle Eastern setting that Mark makes a point of describing the grass as being green and that John goes out of his way to tell us that there was lots of grass – in the words of the Psalm that we sang earlier, the Good Shepherd is taking the flock to green pastures; He is preparing a table before them where all are satisfied and there is more left over. It's no accident that in John's Gospel where there is no account of the institution of the Lord's Supper, it is in the account of the Feeding of the 5000 announces 3 'I am the Bread of Life' and that 'those who come to me will never be hungry.' (John 6:35) What are you struggling with just now? And how are you going to cope with it? Our human instinct is to be self-sufficient but Jesus' way is to go and ask for help and as disciples of Jesus, we also need to be ready to ask for help, both from others and from the Lord. Our human instinct is to put self-interest or self-preservation first but Jesus' way is to have compassion on others, so as disciples of Jesus perhaps we should be looking up from our own situation and considering what others' needs might be first. Our human instinct is to find a rational or material answer to our problems but Jesus encourages us to consider the radical alternative – 'the crowds don't have to leave' He says to His disciples when they ask Him to send them away – and as disciples of Jesus today perhaps we need to be thinking out of the box when it comes to answers to our struggles. Finally our human instinct is to give up when the going gets tough whereas Jesus invites us to start where we are and to start with what we have (meagre though it may seem) and bring it to Him. What do you have in your hands already today that may in fact just be the beginning of the answer to your own current struggle or the challenge that the Church is facing in our time or even the current world crisis. Jesus says to us today as He said to His first disciples with the bread and the fish: “Bring them here to me.” What will Christ do with what you bring to Him this morning? As the apostle Paul would later write, “He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” Now, doesn't that put our struggles in context! “Have we trials or temptations, is there trouble anywhere, we should never be discouraged, take it to the Lord in prayer. Are we weak and heavyladen, cumbered with a load of care, Jesus is our only refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.”
Prayers of Intercession :
Lord God of love and compassion, we come to you with thankful hearts as we celebrate your goodness to us and to the world. We thank you for the transforming power of the Gospel and pray that you would enable us to be not only hearers of the Word but doers of it also. And as we thank you that you are the hearer of prayer and that you are able to do immeasurably more 4 than all we ask or even imagine, we come to you with our prayers and with the deepest longings of our heart. For our world we pray. Lord, you have blessed this world with abundance and we praise you for your goodness to us. As we ask your forgiveness for the ways in which we have taken your bounty for granted, we pray for all who are victims of the unequal sharing of your gifts that begins in the hearts of each one of us. We pray for the hungry and for the homeless; we pray for those who are not paid a living wage for their labours; we pray for those who are caught in the crossfire of battle and we lift before you those nations where there is suffering today. O Lord, hear our prayer and in your love be pleased to answer our cries. For the leaders of the nations we pray. Lord, you have appointed rulers to govern and you have entrusted the reins of power to people just like us with all our weaknesses and failings. We pray for those who have hard decisions to make in these days in all the nations of the world that they may act wisely In particular, in our own land we lift before you today HM the Queen, Boris Johnston and the UK Government and all MPs, Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government and all MSPs. O Lord, hear our prayer and in your love be pleased to answer our cries. For our communities here in Kinross-shire we pray. Lord, the boundary lines have fallen for us in pleasant places and we thank you for this place in which we are privileged to live. Hear us as we lift before you our neighbours and families and friends. For the sick and the dying and for those who work in health centres and hospitals – bring healing and life we pray. O Lord, hear our prayer and in your love be pleased to answer our cries. For the anxious and the troubled and for those who offer a listening ear and practical support – bring peace and hope we pray. O Lord, hear our prayer and in your love be pleased to answer our cries. For those imprisoned by circumstances, by addictions, by the behaviour of others, and for those who work to protect others including the police and our armed forces – bring freedom and safety we pray. O Lord, hear our prayer and in your love be pleased to answer our cries. For the young and for all preparing to return to school next week – teachers, support staff, parents – we pray today. 5 O Lord, hear our prayer and in your love be pleased to answer our cries. For those by whose work and voluntary service our communities are sustained and blessed we give you thanks and praise and we pray that they may find encouragement day by day and the enthusiasm and strength to do their best for the common good. O Lord, hear our prayer and in your love be pleased to answer our cries. And finally we pray for ourselves. Give us the compassion of Christ for the world; teach us to depend upon you day by day and to turn to you often; inspire us to consider the needs of others before ourselves; grant us vision always to seek a better way and the faith to follow your lead; help us to bring you what we have and to be prepared to be astounded in our time at what you will do with what we offer, for we ask these things in Jesus' name and in the words He taught His first disciples we pray together, saying: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory for ever. Amen.