August 1st 2020

Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21

For many of us, one gift that the isolation of dealing with Covid-19 in our environment has given us has been the gift of time. In the beginning, many of us were a bit stunned. We applauded the opportunity to get caught up on housework, reading, even, in some cases, gardening. It turns out that the lack of time was not the reason for my laid-back approach to housework, but enough said on that point.

Initially though, for me at least, it was surprisingly difficult to concentrate for any length of time. I had great ideas of how I was going to use this newfound expanse of time. However, just getting started was a hurdle to overcome, never mind sustaining any kind of effort needed to nudge a project along. It took me a while to realise that this was normal and that I was not the only one struggling to get going, and it dawned on me that in part, it was because we were dealing with loss and an unknown future.

I think that today’s passage from Matthew’s gospel has a few things to say which may help us make sense of how we are feeling about these current circumstances, and offer us the comfort and sustenance we need to keep journeying through these unchartered waters.

The first thing to note is something often overlooked when we consider the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus is dealing with the news of the loss of his cousin, John the Baptist. He is grieving. He has taken himself to a “solitary place” one presumes to mourn his loss and reflect upon what this means for his ministry in the time that lies ahead. He has withdrawn from society and sought solitude to deal with his loss.

Loss comes in many forms and guises, and each needs to be acknowledged and accepted before we can move on to the next stage. What we have lost in the church, at least for now, is the freedom to gather together to share in fellowship and worship. This is a very real loss which comes with the knowledge that worship as we knew it, even a few months ago, has changed, probably forever, for even when we do return to being able to gather together, it will never be the same, because we have been changed by these circumstances, and encouraged by God to reflect upon what these challenges have taught us. This period of isolation has given us time to consider just what “church” means to us; it has given us time to mourn, and now, time to contemplate what this experience has taught us about what it means to “be church” from now on.

The second thing to notice from the passage is that Jesus’ period of withdrawal was cut short when a crowd of people followed him, desperate for his help. What Jesus did next was characteristically reach out to them with compassion. His future ministry was determined by the needs of other people, known and unknown. Many of those gathered around him wanted healing, either for themselves or a loved one. But it is likely that just as many more had come because they needed to hear more about the kingdom of God that Jesus described. The people needed healing, but not just from physical ailments. They needed to hear the healing words Jesus spoke to them about the graciousness of God, about the place there was for each of them in God’s heavenly kingdom.

It may feel like our ministry here has been thwarted, but the truth is quite different. Circumstances have forced us to “do” church differently, and whilst challenges still exist, I would argue that we have moved from doing church on a Sunday to much more overtly “being” church every day. In my opinion, the denial of access to our buildings has done us a favour for it has pushed us out into the community is so many other different ways, doing things we have talked about before but never quite gotten around to. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. Whilst we may not have actually invented anything totally new, we are doing things which are new to us. God has taken us out of our comfort zones and pushed us into a new reality, fearsome yet exciting, daunting yet energising.

This brings me to the final point I would like to draw from the gospel passage today. As the day drew to a close, the disciples recognised that the people would be hungry. Realising they themselves didn’t have enough to feed them, the disciples urged Jesus to send the people away to find food for themselves and to do so quickly before the villages settled for the night. This act of consideration met an unexpected response from Jesus. “They do not need to go away” he said, “You give them something to eat” (Matt. 14:16).

We know how the rest of this story ends, but the important thing for us to note and take away from all of this is that God will provide for our every need, just as he did for the five thousand surrounding Jesus that day; indeed, just as he did in the time of Moses when the people of Israel were wandering the desert. We may not be wandering the desert, but we are travelling a hitherto unmapped route. If the Bible teaches us nothing else, it teaches us that God’s abundant provision for his people is far greater than we can ever imagine. We are God’s people! God is still with us, guiding us through and I, for one, am both grateful and amazed at the work he is doing through us all. As the song goes, let us then continue to “Look forward in faith”.

Prayer

Almighty God, as we travel unchartered waters, we give thanks for the knowledge that you are leading us forward. The future may not be as we liked to imagine. The challenges may seem to us to be too great. But you have reminded us that nothing is impossible with you and that your plans are always better than ours and your ways infinitely more meaningful. Protect us from the desire to stick to the familiar and encourage us to embrace this new way of being your people, sure in the knowledge that you are with us, always. May the presence of your Holy Spirit continue to inspire us. May the ministry of Jesus encourage us. May the faltering steps of the disciples remind us that you want us to serve you just as we are, flawed and frail, yet totally committed to serving you with our whole hearts. All this we pray in the name of Jesus. AMEN

To listen to “Bless the Lord, O, my soul” by Matt Redman, sung by Steven Samuel Devassy, click this link

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UNOaxLiHbg