Trinity 9: John 6, 1-21
I wonder if you know anyone who's a bit obsessive; who keeps going on and on about a particular topic or issue?Well, in some ways I am that person, for today, I do want to talk, once more, about our the three H’s, our aspirations: hospitality, healing and holiness. I want to do so because I am totally convinced that they are our keys to mission and evangelism. I also think that today’s gospel reading speaks to all three of our H’s.
Let’s start with hospitality. John tells us that Jesus that Jesus saw a ‘great multitude coming towards him’ and that Jesus’ first instinct to feed them. Surely, the first instinct of the church should also be to feed people? After all Jesus also, later on, repeatedly told Peter, the rock on which the church was to be built, to ‘feed my flock.’
But, we should also note, that Jesus is indiscriminate in his hospitality: he doesn’t rank, categorize, or, indeed, make any prior judgements about people’s worthiness or righteousness. Neither should we, for the thing about Christian hospitality is that it really is wild, extravagant, and totally inclusive.
The really good news is that if our hospitality is wild, extravagant, and all inclusive it will be blessed and the effects will be multiplied. Jesus you see hasn’t given up on the idea of feeding the multitudes, he just expects us to play our part. In fact, if I had to define holiness I would suggest that it might be reducible to the three words I have just used ‘play our part.’
In the story of the feeding of the 5000 two seemingly minor characters do just this: they play their part. The young lad and Andrew. The young lad encouraged by Andrew offers his meagre rations to Jesus. In fact he offers all that he has; it might not be much, but it is in fact everything. He does what he can do, and doesn’t worry about what he can’t do. He also doesn’t seem to worry about what will happen to his loaves and fish. He, like Andrew, seems to have a naive level of trust about him. Can we develop such holy naivety and the confidence to simply offer to God, for blessing, our own meagre rations? I would want to suggest that if we develop the holy arts of trust and generosity we can legitimately leave the rest up to God in the full expectation that he brings abundance out of scarcity. Abundance from scarcity is God’s particular skill.
So what of healing? Well to understand what this might mean for us we need to consider the second part of the gospel story where Jesus walks on the water to meet his disciples. Let’s listen again to Jesus’ opening words: ‘It is I, do not fear.’ Fear is, I suspect, one of the great diseases of our time. Many people are paralysed by ‘what if syndrome.’ What if syndrome always projects the worst into any situation, it plays on our fears; it takes them and extrapolates them. What if syndrome plays on our fears that we aren’t quite worth it, or that we aren’t good enough. What if syndrome invites us to build inauthentic lives, it invites us to believe that happiness comes through wealth and status. What if syndrome isn’t real. The secular world seeks to help us manage the symptoms of what if syndrome but never gets to the cause. The cause is of course our sense of insecurity and fear. This sense of insecurity and fear, for many of us, me included, can be at its worst when life is stormy, and when all around us seems dark. It is when we experience insecurity and fear that we are most in need of healing: God’s healing. Like Jesus’ disciples we too need to hear Jesus saying to us ‘it is I, do not fear.’ But, how do we do this? How do we open ourselves up to Jesus’ healing touch? Well, once more, and sorry for banging on, well I am not sorry really, the only way I know is prayer, the simple act of coming before God and talking to God, telling him your fears and letting him speak back to you.
As an aside I am so concerned about fear (as well as depression and anxiety – the diseases of our time) that I am currently writing a short liturgy which I hope will allow people to live with, through and beyond anxiety, depression and fear. I hope to introduce it in the autumn. I think that if we are to take seriously our aspiration to be a healing church we must take fear, insecurity, anxiety and depression seriously.
So there you have it, I have been banging on again about hospitality, holiness and healing. I hope that over the next few years we will grow into a deeper understanding of what these might mean for us. Can I ask you to think about this and pray about this? Can I also ask you to take home with you today’s gospel reading and let it penetrate your very soul, let it teach you more and more about hospitality, holiness, and healing,
Trinity 6, Ezekiel 2, 1-5, 2 Corinthians 12, 2-10 & Mark 6, 1-13
I wonder whether you have ever, on an occasional or persistent basis, felt that you might not quite be good enough, or capable enough? If you have, fear not, you are not alone. Feeling not good enough, or not capable enough, is in large part characteristic of the human condition. St. Paul certainly knew what it felt like, so I suspect did the prophet Ezekiel. One of the great lies of our time is that in order to do anything remotely useful we need to be strong, highly capable and, independently resourceful. Its a lie, or a myth, than can lead to untold pain; please don’t believe it. Its a lie or a myth that leaves little or no room for God working in and through us.
As Christians we need to take to heart St. Paul’s recognition that God’s power ‘is made perfect in weakness,’ and the fact that he refused to boast about anything ‘except of my weaknesses.’ The twelve apostles who were sent to proclaim the arrival of the Kingdom, and who so we are told ‘cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them,’ were hardly candidates for the front page of Hello Magazine or the Harvard Business Review. They were all, like Paul and Ezekiel, flawed and vulnerable characters. And, yet like Paul and Ezekiel they became real game changers; catalysts for the breaking in of the Kingdom.
Growing in resilience is central to growth in Christian maturity. Sometimes we hope for, and even pray for, the alleviation of all of our problems, and yet the better way is to learn to bear our equivalent of Paul’s ‘thorn’ in our sides. We become strong when we allow God to work with and through our pains and tribulations. Mother Theresa is a wonderful modern example of someone who allowed God to use and work through her vulnerability. Mother Theresa, you see, suffered terribly with feelings of black-dog, despair, depression even. She felt her self to be both physically and mentally weak and yet we know what an unbelievable contribution she made to the lives of some of the world’s poorest people.
Mother Theresa knew that she was sent from the relative security of her monastery to serve the street people of Calcutta. This sense of being sent is captured in the reading from Ezekiel - ‘mortal I am sending you’ and again ‘I am sending you to them.’ In the gospel reading we hear that Jesus ‘called the twelve and began to send them out two by two.’ One of the things we should prayerfully ask God is ‘to who, or where, I am being sent?’ At the end of today’s service I will invite you to ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord.’ This week could I encourage you to ask just what this means for you? Where should you be serving and who should you be serving?
What strikes me about Ezekiel, Paul and the Apostles is that they were able to serve God because they trusted in God. They all had this remarkable confidence that God would provide. The Apostles, as we know, took ‘nothing for their journey,’ and yet they succeeded in their mission. But, what we also know is that trust in God and stepping out in faith won’t immunise us against worldly criticism. Ezekiel was rejected by many despite being God’s mouthpiece and lot’s of people ‘took offence at him (Jesus),’ whilst the Apostles were clearly not welcome everywhere they visited. In many ways their success rate was poor by comparison with worldly standards, as celebrated by the likes of Hello Magazine and the Harvard Business Review. However, the remarkable thing is that all of these years later we are still talking about them; still inspired by their stories.
Ezekiel, Paul, the Apostles and Mother Theresa all knew for sure that God’s strength is, paradoxically, ‘made perfect in weakness.’ Our task is simply to accept this basic spiritual truth and then to trustfully and prayerfully ask God what, and more precisely where and to whom, we should ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord,’ for loving and serving the Lord is what we are all sent to do.
St. Peter: 1 Peter 2, 19-end & Matthew 16, 13-19
Can I ask if anyone here has a friend who they love to bits and yet who drives them crackers at times?
The relationship between Peter and Jesus must have been a little like this. Peter gets some many things right and yet he also gets so many things wrong. He is an interesting character, full of bravado at times, and yet also a little bit fickle and unreliable. And yet, he is the apostle who Jesus ultimately appoints as the one on whom he is going to build his church. Imperfect, and at times flaky, Peter is to become the rock. This is something that we should all take huge confidence from: God’s strength is perfectly capable of working in, and through, our human weakness.
I love the today’s reading from the epistle, for what we see is the mature Peter; the Peter who has come through numerous trials and tribulations, the Peter who has had to face his own character flaws and yet who has grown into full spiritual maturity. Peter teaches us that growing into a mature faith is a life time’s work. In the epistle what we hear is a full exposition of Christian maturity and understanding. Peter it seems has finally got it. He, finally, understands everything that is to be understood about Jesus. He understands that Jesus came to do one thing and one thing only: to ‘set us free from our sins.’ He also, again finally, shows us that the way to real and eternal freedom is to ‘entrust’ ourselves to ‘the one who judges justly.’
Just pause to think about this: the man who rejected his best friend, and his Messiah, at his hour of need, has come to the radical understanding that God is above all else merciful. It is an incredible thought isn’t it that Jesus, despite Peter’s rejection, sees though our human frailties to our potential. If you ever feel that you fall short in your faith can I invite you to reflect on the relationship between Jesus and Peter. But can I also invite you to look beyond the perceived frailties and shortcomings of others, just as Jesus did.
If we see the mature Peter in the epistle we see the heroic yet immature Peter, in the gospel reading. Peter is of course correct in his affirmation that Jesus is the ‘Messiah the Son of the Living God.’ Like Peter we too must continually make this affirmation of faith. The entirety of Christianity is contingent on agreeing with Peter’s declaration. And, of course the basic job of the Church is to bring people to the place where they too can answer the question Jesus poses: ‘but who do you say I am.’ This is the most basic job of this church.
When, however imperfectly, we are able to say with Peter that Jesus is the ‘Messiah the Son of the Living God, then the door is opened for the Holy Spirit to begin the journey of bringing us, like Peter, to a mature and living faith; a faith which allows us to live radically different lives, a faith which becomes characterised by our willingness to endure pain and suffering with a sense of hope, a faith which allows us to become the sort of people who extend the hand of friendship and offer forgiveness, a faith which frees people from the burdens of their past and offers them new hope and a new identity as children of God, a faith which doesn’t simply look to the after-life but which brings the Kingdom of God into the here and now, a faith which accepts and works with imperfection, frailty and vulnerability as its essential ingredients.
By mediating on the nature of the relationship, the friendship, between Peter and Jesus we get to understand a whole lot more about God, for we see the tenderness, compassion and mercy of Jesus. We begin to understand that God is good at working with and through the messiness of our lives and that God can, and will, bring us to maturity.
Surely that is a faith worth having and a faith worth sharing? Amen.
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