It’s Oh So Quiet (shhhh, shhhh!).

It’s going to be a bit quiet here at Nothing Like a Dane for the next 3 months, and this why:

 

Study Leave or Leaving the Study?

I have been trying to declutter my study! The lifestyle of a vicar seems to be to a constant state of bouncing between one appointment and another with the occasional 30minutes of stillness to contemplate Sunday’s sermon. The thing is, I’m not a naturally tidy person, and over the last 9 years too many things have been placed down ‘for now’ until I have time to tidy them away properly.

Well now is the time for I have been granted a period of Study Leave by the bishop. Study Leave, formerly known as a Sabbatical, is a period of three months when clergy are released from their normal duties so that they can focus whole heartedly on an area of spiritual interest. My area of study is to be the spirituality of food and I hope to create a designated blog, Facebook page, Instagram account and twitter ID under the name of ‘Soul Food’. The bishop is hoping that I am also able to produce something that can be published in the traditional style, so let’s see!

The term ‘Sabbatical’ comes from the same stem as ‘Sabbath’ so you won’t be surprised to note that there is an element of rest and restoration. Often clergy simply disappear for three months, experiencing worship in a different culture perhaps, however, as a mum of children at school that just won’t be possible.  If you do see me round and about you will be seeing Vanessa the mum and not Vanessa the vicar.

We are also encouraged to take off one of the major festivals, and as my husband was born on Christmas day, it seems obvious to take this once in a ministry opportunity to disappear for Christmas and, for once, allow him to be fully spoiled on his birthday.

I will miss you, and all the special services that take place between now and the end of the year, but I am also really excited to be able to spend some time at home in my kitchen doing three of the things I love the most: reading, writing and baking. Spending time with my family, especially at weekends and over the Christmas holidays, will also be a real blessing for me (and hopefully them too).

So for the next three months, if you need a vicar Peter and Matthew will be on hand. My email account and telephone number will not be monitored during this period.

I wish you a wonderful Harvest and Christmas and look forward to catching up with you all in the New Year,

God bless,

Vanessa

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Trinity 16: Getting to Know You

On the way Jesus asks his disciples the most important question, the one that we all need to face at some time, if not in life, then certainly in death – who is Jesus?

The disciples have spent the last couple of years getting to know Jesus, treading in his footsteps and bathing in the dust kicked up by his sandals. They have witnessed the most amazing miracles, seen people healed and restored and even brought back to life. Thousands have been fed, and others have received hospitality from Jesus in ways no other religious leader would have offered. They have sat at his feet and listened to him bringing alive the Kingdom of God, they have witnessed him challenge those in authority in such a way that has left them speechless. They have walked with him, and camped with him, laughed and cried with him, and now they come to a turning point.

Sometimes when I read of Jesus and the disciples travelling, I imagine Jesus forging ahead whilst the disciples traipse behind trying to makes sense of what has just happened. Other times the reverse, the disciples bickering with each other whilst Jesus lingers behind listening in. Today I imagine Jesus walking alongside different people at different times in the journey. And as on any good hike or ramble, when time slows down and the rhythm of footsteps helps focus the mind, conversations take on a deeper meaning. This isn’t just a journey from A-B, but a pilgrimage.

As Jesus slowly weaves between each of the disciples, he asks each of them the same question. The mission is changing shape and energy, Jesus knows that they are now heading towards Jerusalem and he wants to know if the disciples are truly with him. He knows each of them, their strengths and weaknesses, what makes them laugh or cry. Jesus knows what made each of them give up their day jobs to follow him, he knows their hopes and dreams, their doubts and fears; but do they know him?

If they don’t know him, then what is to come is going to be even harder. And if they haven’t worked out who he truly is, then will anyone else?

Who do people say that I am?

That’s an easy question to answer – all sorts of rumours are going around, John the Baptist, Elijah, another of the prophets of yore – all dead.

But who do you say that I am?

Now that’s a trickier question .

If Jesus is just another Rabbi, there are plenty more to follow if things go wrong. If he is a prophet, well they come and go. If he is just a good man, a friend, a brother, well, hasn’t this been fun. If Jesus is more than that, if he is ‘the one’ then life has changed for good, and perhaps for worse too.

Just like a marriage begins with courtship, ‘walking out’ with each other, ‘getting to know all about you’, there comes a point when a decision has to be made: is this the one? If this is the one then life is about to change forever, for better for worse, in sickness and in health…. If not, then it’s game over. Time to move on.

Have the disciples go to the point where they know Jesus so well that they are ready to commit everything to him, that they are unable to imagine their lives without him?

Who do you say that I am?

Peter is the one who knows, and is willing to make a stand and speak it out loud:

You are the Messiah.

So Jesus stops the journey. They sit and listen in to Jesus as he explains what it means to be ‘married’ to him. There is no fairy tale wedding, instead there is suffering and rejection and torture to the point of death, and there is nothing they will be able to do to stop it. Are they ready for this? Others are crowded around, are they too ready to follow? Are they ready to ‘pick up their cross’ whatever that might mean? Following Jesus isn’t all about free meals and signs and wonders, it is about being willing to lose your life, to give up your independence for the greater good – the good of the kingdom of God. Are they ready to do that? Are they willing to forsake all others, including themselves, for the love of God? Until death us do part?

There is, however, a ‘happy ever after’: Jesus will be killed, but life will be triumphant. Three days after his murder, his burial, Jesus will rise, and those who give of their life, whether through martyrdom or sacrificial living, will find eternal life with Jesus.

It’s a choice each of us has to face. Peter understood, and then very quickly misunderstood: there are often misunderstandings in a marriage, but commitment and hope and of course love, can enable a couple to move on from them and into a deeper level of trust. We have to decide just who Jesus is. We have to decide why we come to church, and then choose how to live our our lives according to the decisions we have made. We can put off making a commitment for years and years and years, and never know the joy or the celebration of being part of something so much more than just the sum of 1+1. We can hide from the truths that whisper into our hearts and urge us to take that next step of faith, for now, for the whole of our lives, but we cannot hide from it in death.

Jesus walks beside us along the way of our lives, and he asks us, ‘Who am I?’, are you ready to answer him, ‘You are the one.’

Something to do:

  • Light a candle and read the gospel passage out loud, read it here,
  • Go for a walk with friends, stop to read the passage at a suitable point, then discuss what it means to you as you continue your journey.
  • Play an icebreaker game to get to know friends better – for ideas, click here.

Something to watch:

Something to think about:

  • What is the most surprising thing about yourself – is there something  about you that would completely surprise people who think they know you?
  • Try describing yourself (and others) in just a few words.
  • Try describing Jesus in just a few words.
  • Why do you think the disciples spoke about other peoples perceptions of Jesus, but were reluctant to share their own?
  • What was it about Peter that enabled him to speak out?
  • Are there times, when, like Peter, you have been surprised at insights you have been given?
  • Is there a sense that Peter has ‘made it’ when he makes his messianic statement?
  • Why do you think Peter fell so quickly from grace?
  • What does it mean to ‘take up your cross’, or to ‘lose your life’ for the sake of the gospel?
  • How can we be a people more willing to abandon our sense of independence?

Something to pray:

Redeemer Christ,

we come to acknowledge you again as our Lord and Saviour; to declare our faith in you as the one who sets us free, delivering us from all that holds us captive and denies us life.

Yet we come also knowing how easily we turn serving you into serving self, being happy enough to receive but reluctant to give, ready to profess allegiance when t suits us but unwilling to take up our cross should following [rove costly.

Equip us, then to honour you not just with protestations of loyalty but above all with lives committed to your kingdom and lived in obedience to your will.

In your name we pray, Amen.                                                                   Nick Fawcett

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Trinity 15: Unclean, unclean?

This week I celebrated communion in the homes of some of our more elderly and frail members. As we read through the gospel passage with one of our members I was reminded of a story she had shared with me previously. This woman in her 90s with white candyfloss hair was, and still is, a formidable woman. A young Dutch nurse, involved in the Resistance during the war she met her ‘Tommy’ husband. They married bringing her to England, where she worked with her husband’s family in setting up a printing business as well as raising a family of four. As their children became older Jimmy entered their lives. Jimmy was a man with neither sight nor hearing and was often left to his own devices, trapped in his own world, except for these visits to her home. Her training as a nurse and her determined nature sought the best for him, and discovering that he had been confirmed as a teenager, arranged with the vicar of the time for Jimmy to receive communion. The day came and he dressed in his best suit, and they went to church. The vicar began the prayers and she prayed that Jimmy would understand what was happening. She had prayed for a sign and suddenly he was filled with a sense of urgency and came forward to the communion rail, the communion prayer was shortened and Jimmy laid out his hands, one on top of the other, in the shape of a cross, with basic signs for bread and wine, Jimmy understood and received Christ.

Mark places the stories of the unclean Gentiles, a mother of a demonised daughter and a man who could neither hear nor speak, next to each other; he also places them after the incident in which the Pharisees criticise the disciples for  not washing properly before eating (read about it here). In that previous passage Jesus declared all foods clean, here Mark is indicating that to Jesus all people are clean.

The Syrophoenician woman is ‘unclean’ due to her race, faith and gender.

The woman was on to a losing streak before she even opened her mouth, she was after all a woman. A woman had no place in speaking to a man! Especially not a respected man. Yet she does. She is a woman with no name, no status, no voice, and yet she speaks up. She speaks against the criticism and derogatory terms flung at her from the one she came to for help, but she will not be silenced. In breaking through the cultural silence that was imposed upon her she finds healing for her daughter and affirmation from God.

At first this passage is shocking. We are surprised to hear Jesus speak so callously, so heartlessly. As preachers we try to soften the blow, suggesting that Jesus may have had a twinkle in his eye, may have been using this moment to teach the disciples, or us, about what is clean and unclean.

The deaf mute didn’t have a voice either. His silence was physical rather than cultural, though, and he had friends to speak up for him, friends who begged Jesus to restore his sight and healing. And he does so, he takes him to a private space and speaks that unpronounceable word and the man can speak and also hear once more – but with a warning to keep quiet, not to tell anyone. Having just given the man a voice he silences him.

We are shocked at this reading, the way that Jesus breaks out from his mould of compassion and has to be pressurised into granting healing to these desperate people. We are shocked because we want Jesus to be different, because Jesus is different. Jesus was there at creation when man and woman were created equally, when colours of every hue were spun into flowers and animals and even humans. But Jesus is also human. It is his day off, he is tired and his humanity breaks through as it conforms and almost condones cultural behaviour of the day.

Perhaps we are also shocked because despite these stories being over 2000 years old, people are still being silenced for their colour, gender, sexuality, wealth…

Despite Pride marches taking place across the summer, gay and trans people still find themselves prejudiced against, and limited in their options and freedoms in way that others aren’t. The Windrush scandal in the UK and the caged children in the USA reveal how race can be used against human dignity. The #MeToo campaign has released voices to speak of abuse suffered in silence because of fear of being alienated for speaking out. And just as Jesus was surprisingly unwelcoming of those who are marginalised, his church still struggles with a love and respect which is inclusive.

But there is hope here. Jesus, despite his kneejerk responses, does listen to the woman and to the deaf mute’s friends. He hears their pleas and allows compassion to rule his heart and he brings healing and hope, ahead of the planned excursion into Gentile territory. Healing, hope, and a voice to those previously oppressed. Perhaps this should  be our prayer too, that the church will listen with hearts of compassion allowing the ‘unclean’ to be given a voice and a place of acceptance.

Something to do:

Light a candle and listen to the following:

Read through the two gospel stories – the Syrophoenician Woman and the healing of the deaf mute – taking each separately, what stands out to you?

Something to think about:

  • Is there a time when you have been ‘lost for words’?
  • Why do you think it was important for the woman to be heard by Jesus?
  • Are there times when we don’t listen to people properly?
  • How can we engage better?
  • Why was it important for the deaf mute’s friends to speak out for him?
  • Are there people we need to speak out for?
  • What prevents us from doing so?
  • What silences us?

Some background reading:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-40408609                LGBT+ bullying in schools

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43808007                             Windrush

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-44518942   Child immigrants in USA

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-45381687   and   https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-41633857         #MeToo

 

 

 

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Trinity 14: Eat Slugs!

The Pharisees are out to attack Jesus again! They notice that Jesus’ disciples aren’t the most hygienic of men. We would probably look back upon the standards of Jesus’ day and wonder what on earth they were worried about. A culture in which daily bathing or showering just weren’t possible, where deodorant didn’t exist and clothes were rarely changed. No plumbing was in place and effluence was allowed to run down the middle of the street.

Perhaps the lack of sanitation was one of the reasons why the religious leaders were so fastidious about religious hygiene laws; and let’s not forget that the laws about cleanliness, mildew, washing, being clean and unclean were given to the early Israelites by God, way back in Leviticus. However, much has changed in the way the Israelites live since then, no longer are they nomadic, their homes and opportunities to be clean have become more stable. It seems that the rules have also become more stable, in fact pretty solid, and not for reasons of hygiene or even faith, but simply by tradition: this is the way we have always done things, why change the way of our Fathers and forefathers, change is wrong and unholy.

Jesus challenges this assumption.

Jesus questions the ‘religious’ lifestyle. Perhaps it was a little uncouth of the disciples to not bother washing their hands before eating, 13 men on the road together, camping out, eating when hungry without airs or graces, sounds a bit like ‘bachelor rules’ being applied.  What Jesus sees is not so much the grubby hands diving for food, but the hearts of men who are striving to live their lives all out for the kingdom of God and who have put aside some of the niceties of Jewish culture. Jesus doesn’t just excuse them for it but loves them for it: their hearts are in the right place, and yes some grubbiness and grime and who knows what else may go into their mouths along with the food, but what comes out of their hearts and is seen in their actions towards God and other humans is pure and clean.

When I first read today’s passage, my mind originally took me to a scene from Harry Potter:

What is clean and unclean in this moment from the Wizarding World is pretty unclear: Malfoy has insulted Hermione, nothing new there, but the insult is shocking: ‘mudblood’ is akin to the nastiest, most racist insult we can imagine. Only an unclean heart, even one born of a ‘pureblood’ family, could utter such a word. Yet Ron is the one spewing slugs, despite his intentions being chivalrous and his heart clean. A damaged wand is the real culprit.

There are times when the disciples ‘spewed slugs’, Peter was told ‘Get behind me Satan’, James and John were spoken to sternly after seeking positions of status in Jesus’ Kingdom, Thomas moaned and complained and doubted everything, it seems, and everyone panicked in the boat when the storm whipped up around them; yet their hearts were seeking God’s kingdom and trying to live their lives accordingly.

In search of the Kingdom of God, the disciples of Jesus were willing to try new things, give up old securities, be put in frightening and challenging situations, even leave behind the comforting lifestyles and traditions they had grown up in. It is the Pharisees absolute fear of change that Jesus criticises. This controversy isn’t about what is clean or unclean, but about the upholding of religious traditions over and above loving God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength.

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human traditions Mark 7: 8

Jesus doesn’t deny a need for spiritual cleanliness, it’s just that his interpretation clings much more closely to the 10 Commandments than all the laws and sub laws which have been built up around them: adultery, greed and envy, deceit and slander…

Jesus does not abolish the concept of ‘defilement’ or the ‘clean/unclean’ distinction. He does, however, reinterpret the latter in a way that picks up the prophetic and ethical understanding of uncleanness and rejects the ritual and Pharisaic understanding of it.                                                                    Lamar Williamson Jnr.

In our culture and traditions we may have very few hygiene rules: washing hands after going to the toilet, cleaning our teeth, wearing deodorant…. Men may still be looked at askance for wearing a hat in church, and ladies for wearing anything too low cut at the communion rail, but nobody stands on the doorstep to the church checking to see if your fingernails are clean before allowing you in. So what does it mean to be clean, or unclean?

Coming to worship with an argument burning away in your heart? Giving a large donation to church to cover up dodgy financial dealings? Sitting next to someone in a pew in order to carry on an extra-marital flirtation? Arriving with the intention of criticising the music, the sermon, the children, their parents……?

If this is what it means to be unclean, how can we become spiritually clean once more? We can take the time of confession seriously, examining our hearts and meaning the words that are spoken. We can take the words of absolution deep into our hearts and make them come alive in our hearts. We can turn back to our baptism vows and renew them, cleansing ourselves body and soul.

Something to do:

Light a candle and read through today’s Gospel passage

Something to watch:

As you listen to the words of  the song, what strikes you from the Bible passage?

Something to think about:

  • What is the dirtiest you have ever found yourself (physically)?
  • What did it take to get truly clean again?
  • Are there traditions and behaviours in our church culture which need to be addressed?
  • How can we be a church that has a ‘prophetical and ethical understanding of cleanliness’?
  • Is there anything in my own life that needs to change, to be purified?

Something to pray:

Almighty God, help us to  truly worship you – to offer not superficial show, empty piety, lifeless ritual or outward observance, but heartfelt praise, true thanksgiving, genuine penitence, sacrificial commitment, meaningful intercession and a real hunger and thirst to know and serve you better.

Work within us now, so that what we declare with our lips we may believe in our hearts and display in our lives, to your glory. Amen                               Nick Fawcett

 

 

 

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Trinity 11: How to make Living Bread

So Jesus claims to be the ‘bread of life’, the ‘living bread’, but the truth is all bread is alive.

Read Jesus’ claim here.

A simple recipe for bread consists of flour, water, a little butter or oil and a raising agent, such as yeast. Yeast is a living organism and as it grows in warm conditions it lifts the other ingredients to form a loaf ready for the oven.

Sour dough is a little more complicated: it requires a ‘starter’ of flour and water  which is whisked together to encourage air borne yeast to brood within it. This starter needs to be attended to for a period of time before it can be used as the raising agent for a loaf. It needs to be fed and whisked each day and left to ferment. Then it is ready.

The thing with bread that is baked and eaten is that it needs to die before it can do us any good. Indeed yeast eaten while still ‘alive’ will continue to prove inside our bellies and can be quite dangerous. I had a dog once who tried this out and was really rather poorly.

We are beginning to piece together some allegories in the making of bread and Jesus’ claim to be the bread of life.

The life inside the yeast grows and gathers the other ingredients to grow with it. Once in the oven the yeast is killed so that the bread is ready to be eaten and to bring health and goodness to the consumer rather than do damage.

Jesus is the living he bread, he brings those around him to grow with him, but it is only through his death on the cross that we are truly nourished. When we come together to eat of the bread and wine at the Lord’s Table we are receiving this living bread that has first been put to death.

Sour dough is more interesting in that it needs attention in order to grow, as do we. It is not the quick fix of dried yeast that can easily be activated by adding a little warm water or milk. Sour dough requires a starter that is fed and nurtured for 7 days before it is ready to do its work.

We too need to be fed and nurtured. So often we fall into a trap of thinking that we are good to go whenever we feel like it. A quick burst of worship, perhaps at Easter or Christmas, and we are ready to grow into the most wonderful spiritual bread, just like that! The reality is that we are much more like sour dough, we need regular time and attention to grow.

Daily reading of the Bible and times of prayer, time spent with other Christians whom we can trust and who can keep our faith in check, all feed our ‘starter’. When the sour dough starter is ready it begins to smell sweet. We too, when we spend more time with Jesus become more pleasant to be around. Although the sour dough starter, just like other yeasts, dies as the bread is baked, the starter itself can be shared to make new starters.

Can our faith also be like that?

Can we allow ourselves to be nurtured and discipled so that we can grow and enable growth in others too? It takes time and dedication and a willingness to be fed, but with sour dough starters, unlike dried yeast, there is no ‘end product’. The starter grows as it shares. So too does God’s kingdom.

Something to do: Create your own starter and bake bread for others.

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2998683/sourdough-

Something to think about:

  • What is the tastiest loaf you have ever eaten – what made it so special?
  • What experiences do you have of baking bread?
  • What do you find attractive about bread?
  • How can we allow Jesus to become living bread to us?
  • How can we become living bread to others?

Something to watch:

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Trinity 10: Heavenly Bakers

Paul Hollywood may claim the crown when it comes to baking bread and having a ‘good rise’, but he is nothing compared with Jesus. Hundreds and thousands may tune in to find out what he is up to when the next series of ‘Bake Off’ airs later this month, but in comparison with Jesus’ followers who run miles to find him and hang on his every word, it really is nothing more than a lazy flick of a switch. Following Bake Off is an easy and quite lazy comparison with those who dropped everything to follow Jesus, even though many GBBO fans have also taken to their kitchens and fresh bread and cup cakes seem to be the new ‘rock and roll’ (move over gardening, it’s all about the crumb now).

Jesus has given his followers the most amazing day. They have had their absolute spiritual fill from his teachings, only to be followed by having their stomachs filled with the best bread – food from heaven – and now they want more. Read about the perfect picnic here.

Once more the crowds follow Jesus and as he sets out across the lake to spend time with the disciples, they too set out to meet him there. They are hungry for more. However, in the meantime Jesus and his disciples have a little adventure of their own which involves Jesus walking on water, and the crowds get to the other side before Jesus and his disciples do: read it here.

Jesus is quick to question his ‘fans’ motives: do they want him or do they want bread? Are they seeking to have their spiritual hunger fed, or just their bellies? Have they come to draw closer to heaven or for a magic show?

If they have come for the food, well that will only fill them for a little while, bread cannot be stored or saved, it will go mouldy, it will perish. Food that will sustain for eternity can only be found in Jesus. This sounds great, no more dry crusts or daily baking or trips to the market, Jesus is providing free food for ever! Perhaps they think that Jesus will teach them the holy magic trick because they ask him,

What must we do to perform the works of God? (John 6:28)

The thing is, Jesus love and grace and even loaves don’t depend upon anything we can do, they depend upon us having faith in what Jesus can do. The only thing that we have to do is believe.

The followers begin to make some connections …. bread from heaven for those who believe …. didn’t something similar happen to their ancestors? Way back in the beginning, when the people of Israel were set free from captivity and enslavement by the Egyptians, Moses kept the faithful fed with bread from heaven. Can Jesus give them a sign similar to this?

The connections are good, but they are only sign posts. Moses didn’t provide the bread, Father God sent that bread, and it is the Father who is sending this bread which Jesus is sharing. The bread that was shared at the picnic was blessed by the Father as Jesus gave thanks for it and enabled it to multiply in the hands and bellies and even hearts of those who ate. The bread however, is only a sign. The bread may feel and taste real, probably the best bread ever eaten, but it is only a pointer to the true bread, and this is where it gets metaphysical and complicated for simple minds like mine, because Jesus says that he is the true bread.

For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. (John 6:33)

No longer are we speaking about stomachs. Jesus is indicating that the hope they felt when eating the bread comes not from the food, but from being in the presence of the one who gives it. To be nourished on a daily basis, we don’t just need to eat our breakfast, we need to break spiritual bread with Jesus spending time in prayer with him being nourished and re-fuelled. This is the true bread from heaven. This is what it means never to go hungry, not that our bodies are kept well stocked, but that our hearts and souls are.

How do we make sure that we are well fed? Never skip breakfast! Refuel our bodies and wake up our metabolism. Take to our Bibles first thing in the morning, bring our thoughts into line with Jesus’ and our hearts into rhythm with the beat of his heart. Pray ‘Give us our daily bread’ and don’t limit it to the physical food on our tables. Meet with others at regular times for prayer and praise – not rely on a Sunday banquet to keep us fed throughout the week. Value and put a priority on meeting together for the family meal when we break bread together and draw near to the kingdom of heaven.

Something to do:

  • Read through today’s gospel passage and the passage from the wilderness and see what connections and differences you can find.
  • Try making bread together, and discuss the following questions as it proves and bakes.

Something to think about:

  • What is the best bread that you have eaten?
  • What do you think heavenly bread tastes of?
  • Why were the crowds chasing Jesus?
  • How do you think the disciples responded?
  • What do you think Jesus meant when he said that he is the bread of heaven?
  • How can we ensure that we eat heavenly bread regularly?

 

Something to pray:

 

 

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Trinity 9: Perfect Picnicking

Welcome to the picnic!

This Sunday is our bi-annual outdoor service. Britain is in the heart of a heatwave so how better to start Sunday worship than with breakfast by the brook? Bacon butties and other breakfast delicacies are served and when we have shared in our holy meal of bread and wine, there will be celebratory tea and cake. What are the good folk of Nether Wallop celebrating, you may ask, why nothing more nothing less, than God’s goodness and provision, and the whole Portway and Danebury group of churches are gathering together to share in the provisions. In God’s goodness even the gospel reading provided for this day centres around a most spectacular picnic, and our patron saint, Saint Andrew, is at the heart of it, read it here.

This is the story that was missing from last week‘s gospel passage, and although it is recorded in all 4 accounts, for some reason we have been sent to John’s for consideration.

Jesus is at  the peak of his popularity, his celebrity status is shooting through the stars, and wherever he goes crowds follow him. On this occasion in excess of 5000 people have gathered to sit at this teacher’s feet and glean whatever wisdom, whatever inspiration, whatever insights into the kingdom of God they can. The people are emotionally and perhaps even spiritually stirred, but they aren’t practically prepared, and have left home without anything to eat. Perhaps their faith is such that they expect Jesus to provide whatever they might need, perhaps they were just caught up in the crazy fandom and didn’t think….

But here they are, their minds full but their bellies empty. Philip estimates that it would take 6 months wages to send for takeout, but Andrew, ‘the master of introductions’ discovers a child has food on him. For some the miracle is that the one who had food was willing to share, and in doing so others were encouraged to share as well, but I don’t think this is what John had in mind.

The description of the miracle has a very ‘Eucharistic’ feel to it. The bread is offered to Jesus, who then gives thanks before distributing it to everyone present. The magic may be in the multiplication of food, but the miracle is in Jesus’ presence and, through his actions, identification as the Messiah. For those at the picnic connections would have been made with Moses and the heavenly bread, the manna, which God provided in his day, and of the promise of Moses that one day a prophet would come in his image. For the early Christians hearing the story read back to them it would remind them of the Last Supper and the continued sharing of bread in memoriam, for us it keeps Jesus present even in our busy and confusing lives.

 

Mark’s account reminds us that Jesus has now turned towards Jerusalem and his death, but John’s account, this account reminds us of another occasion. For me, it is the detail of the child with a lunch that raises questions: I am imagining a scene where a child, a son, has something nobody else has, and his mother pushes him forward to offer it. That offering becomes a blessing and a small lunch of fish and bread feeds everyone. Flashback to the beginning of John’s gospel and a mother pushes her son forward when there is nothing to drink, and he too blesses others. First it was wine that was blessed and shared, now it is bread. What Jesus began with his first miracle turning water into wine is now nearing completion with the distribution of bread.

For Jesus the feeding of the 5000 may not have simply been an impulsive gesture towards a hungry gathering, but a chosen moment enacted with thought and care. In Mark’s account we are reminded that this picnic takes place on the way to Jerusalem for the last time, and Jesus is viewed,

not as a Messiah meeting hunger, but as a king bringing victory

Andrew Knowles

The time is not yet right for Jesus to be enthroned, so he retreats on his own, but just like Hansel and Gretel he leaves a trail of crumbs for us to follow. In the leftovers there is also significance: Jesus urges his disciples to gather up the leftover fragments ‘so that nothing may be lost’ (6:12), and when they do, they discover twelve full baskets of leftovers, double the amount of wine jars.

Twelve is a highly significant number in Jewish culture: twelve tribes make up Israel God’s holy people. Everybody has eaten well – the 5,000 men, the women, the children, even the boy who sacrificed his lunch, have all been included in this most unexpected heavenly banquet. God is doing something new and amazing and everyone is welcome to join in, there is to be no separation or distinction in value of male or female, old or young – everybody is welcome and everyone is fed. Something new and inclusive is happening, and this is to be celebrated, but perhaps others, the more established members of the Jewish community feel left behind, feel excluded. Jesus takes care that they are not left to feel like discarded crumbs. Elsewhere Jesus promises that he has not come to  destroy the law but to fulfil it. The old ways are not wrong, but neither are they yet complete.

We live in a world of ‘new’. Fashionistas would be horrified to be caught wearing anything from last season, techies amongst us would be beside themselves with excitement at the news of the latest iphone launch, and is there anyone who has entered the wizarding world of Harry Potter who hasn’t ‘pre-ordered’ the next instalment? Jesus himself often urged his disciples to look for the new thing that was coming, and John the Baptist’s famous cry from the wilderness was to ‘prepare the way’ for that something (or someone)!

And yet Jesus takes care that nothing, that no-one, is lost. All that might otherwise be discarded is gathered up in the baskets, the crumbs are not left behind but valued and kept safe. I wonder who, or what, are the crumbs of our faith built society that otherwise might be lost?

Something to do:

Light a candle and read through both John and Mark‘s account. What similarities and differences can you find?

Something to think about:

  • What is the most surprising picnic you have attended?
  • What surprises you most about this story from the gospels?
  • Why do you think it was so important for the child to make his offering?
  • What offering do you have to make?
  • How can God use what we have to give?

 

Something to pray:

Posted in Mark, Read and Inwardly Digest, Sunday Sermons | Tagged , | 1 Comment