Sunday, 29 July 2018

All things are possible

Trinity 9 – Sunday 29 July 2018- Stoke Hammond

Gospel John 6:1-21

Sometime after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing those who were ill. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming towards him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

7 Philip answered him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’

8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’

10 Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Jesus walks on the water

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, ‘It is I; don’t be afraid.’ 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.


Today’s gospel reading from John describes the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, and immediately following that is the account of Jesus walking on water.

You have probably heard countless sermons on the so-called nature miracles; and most clergy have preached several times on these events, which turn up more than once, every year in our lectionary.

Let me start by reading for you a passage from 2 Kings chapter 4 in the OT by way of background:

Feeding of a hundred

42 A man came from Baal Shalishah, bringing the man of God twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe corn, along with some ears of new corn. ‘Give it to the people to eat,’ Elisha said.

43 ‘How can I set this before a hundred men?’ his servant asked.

But Elisha answered, ‘Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says: “They will eat and have some left over.”’ 44 Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.

The ‘man of God’ was Elisha the prophet, and I am sure you were struck by the similarity of the miracle with the feeding of the 5,000. In fact the chapter is full of such events involving illness and famine.

Jesus’s audience would have immediately made the link for themselves. Did John want to depict Jesus as a prophet in the mould of the OT prophets? We know Jesus constantly quoted the Hebrew scriptures, and called himself Son of Man and so although we nowadays are not steeped in the Old Testament prophets, we can understand better the miracles such as the Feeding of the 5,000 by appreciating how the first audience would have interpreted it.

The parallels are obvious. Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea. The last meal that they ate in Egypt was the forerunner of the Passover, and of course the Holy Communion. Moses went up a mountain, and so did Jesus—and so on.

But the passage is not just about Jesus the Prophet, but who Jesus was which goes way beyond the fact that Moses talked face to face with God, as did Jesus himself. This is where we have the advantage—we know and believe Jesus to be divine, which would have been a giant step too far for those who sat down the eat with him.

Elisha’s servant protested to his master that 20 loaves of barley bread were hopelessly inadequate to provide a meal for a crowd, and Philip protested to Jesus that ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’ Elisha’s servant just did what he was told and there was food left over. Likewise there were 12 baskets remaining of bread left over at the end of the Feeding of the 5,000—proving God’s abundance and grace to those who put their trust in him.

The crowd are impressed by what they have seen, but they only conclude that Jesus is a latter day prophet in the OT mould.

‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ they say. This is why Jesus resists being acclaimed king. He is much more than that, but it will take more than a ‘sign’ before they are prepared to see him as more than just a prophet. This will be by a series of signs, some demonstrating mastery over the forces of nature which can only point to his divinity.

The Walking on the Water is a case in point. He tells the frightened disciples ‘It is I; don’t be afraid,’ making reference to the words “I AM” —It is I—which in this case is the name for God.

So here we have the start of a transition between how Jesus portrays himself in a way that people steeped in the OT can understand, but also laying the foundations with his disciples who will be called on to assert he is much more than just another prophet.

The test of our faith and that of the church is to put ourselves in the shoes of Philip and Andrew, or of Elisha’s servant. Would we respond with the impossibility and impracticality of what we were being asked to do—of what Jesus challenges us to believe—or would we put our faith and trust in him and boldly lay out the provisions, inadequate as they seem to be?

Putting prayer at the centre of a life of faith provides that challenge. Do we ask for the impossible? Do we stick to asking for what we believe can be answered? Do we listen to God’s command and believe that in Jesus, all things are possible?

Monday, 9 July 2018

Be prepared

8 July 2018 at Wingrave – Trinity 6


Merciful God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.

Reading 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows. 3 And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Gospel Mark 6:1-13

A prophet without honour


Jesus left there and went to his home town, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him.

4 Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.’ 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few people who were ill and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Jesus sends out the Twelve

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

8 These were his instructions: ‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed with oil many people who were ill and healed them.


Be Prepared was a motto I learned at cubs. I never was prepared, and generally considered a boy who could immediately lay his hands on a swiss army knife as a bit of an anorak. Still, I am sure it was good advice at the time.

As I looked at today’s gospel reading, the thought occurred to me that we were witnessing an important preparation for the disciples in their training and development to be witnesses to Jesus, and we might learn from them too, but in this context was is it to “be prepared”.

Jesus’s encounter with the people of his home town starts chapter 6 of Mark’s gospel. It’s a self-contained unit. Jesus has been performing miracles elsewhere, but in Nazareth he encounters rejection and a complete lack of faith which prevents him doing the same in his home town.

The text suggests a positive reception at the beginning, but the crowd are scandalised when they consider who Jesus is, his questionable paternal lineage, and his familiarity as a tekton—a craftsman, a small builder or a carpenter.

You will recall that in Mark 3 Jesus’s family came to fetch him and stop him preaching and teaching because they thought he had gone out of his mind. Tradesmen did not suddenly morph into prophets and miracle workers—it would be like your local village handyman leading public meetings and claiming to be inspired. ‘Who does he think he is?’ would probably be most peoples’ hostile reaction.

Given his known background, it’s no wonder those who have known him all his life refer to him as ‘son of Mary.’ This question of Jesus’s identity is a recurrent theme in Mark. Think forward to chapter 8, where Jesus himself asks:

‘Who do people say I am?’

—and after Peter’s declaration

‘You are the Messiah’

we are asked the same question

‘But what about you? Who do YOU say I am?’

The sending out of the disciples follows from verse 7. The background is not auspicious. The disciples in chapter 4 fail to understand Jesus’s parables, and ask for explanations. In the same chapter the disciples are accused by Jesus of lacking faith and being fearful before he stills the storm. They wonder ‘Who then is this?’—a man who can intervene in the forces of nature and save them all from drowning.

The immediate background is the controversy in Nazareth, and the people’s complete lack of faith which prevented Jesus performing any miracles in his home town. Now the disciples are told they are being sent out on a mission to preach repentance, heal the sick, and cast out demons. It’s this challenge that I think speaks to us today.

The first thing that occurs to me is that God does not necessarily choose those who are well versed and equipped to do his work. The disciples were for the most part completely unqualified and lacking the skills to face the immense challenges that came their way. Maybe we need to hear this kind of encouragement occasionally when we doubt our ability to fulfil our own mission.

Secondly, the list of equipment and resources the disciples were allowed to take was meagre in the extreme—yet people continue to emulate this unpreparedness even today. A month or so ago I saw on Breakfast TV a disabled cyclist who rode her recumbent bicycle round the coast of the UK. It took her years to complete the task—she carried everything on her bicycle—and when she was not camping out in bad weather alone she was invited into people’s houses and given provisions needed for her immediate needs. God will provide—and does—through our own hands.

Thirdly, how much does our own faith determine how effective we are in furthering God’s mission through his Son here on earth? Jesus marvelled at the unbelief that surrounded him—but for some of us, in our nice houses, with lovely views and every advantage including a pension that will guarantee our economic security for the rest of our lives—how much are we like the man who pulled down his barns and built bigger, in order to house all his wealth and put his feet up—only to wake up the next day and find his soul had been required of him?

‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.

What is the modern day equivalent of this I wonder? The disciples took a walking stick—and not only no money, food or possessions, but no bag to hold anything they were given, and no pocket in which to keep donations.

While the disciples were away, John the Baptist was beheaded. They returned to report back:

30 The apostles gathered round Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’

Notice how Jesus cared first for their physical wellbeing before anything else. Yet the comparison between their meagre equipment and the abundance associated with the Feeding of the 5,000 could not be more striking.

We do, though, have one thing the disciples did not, and it makes all the difference. We have experienced the faithfulness of God in Jesus crucified and risen. So, we may marvel at the unbelief around us, but still we go forth, proclaiming and practising our faith in Christ, trusting in God to provide abundantly for our journey. That is to “be prepared”.