Notes from the sermon by Dr Jan Betts 16 January 2020 – Calling (Part 3)
If you could spend your week doing anything you like what would it be? Watching your favourite box sets? Climbing mountains? Sleeping..I wonder..
I’ve just had a lovely holiday and when I got back what did I find? Two kinds of jobs to be done. One set was lovely, contacting friends, and family, gently pottering in my garden. The other set were not so nice – tough emails to answer, bills to pay, the hoover has packed up, the car needs its MOT, the last light bulb has gone in the bathroom… lots and lots of jobs need doing and they have to be done or there will be consequences.
One of my solutions to getting jobs done is to get someone else in to do stuff which I really can’t do. We have jolly chats, and I go about what I can do cheerfully while someone else does what I can’t do or haven’t time to do properly. I feel so much better for the company and the sense of parallel working which it gives me.
I have slowly come to recognise that I can’t do it all in my life at home and am comfortable with that. But what I struggle with and have struggled with all my life is how I find a balance in my ‘working’ life with God.
I know God is not interested in how much I ‘do’. I’m not ‘paid’ with eternal life for being a good worker, thank God. I have a relationship with Jesus which asks me to be wholehearted and utterly committed, as he asked the rich young ruler to be, as he asked Nicodemus to be. Despite that I have struggled with a feeling that I need to be constantly saving the world on all fronts! As if I could!
But in a recent sermon on the reading we have today of the five loaves and two fishes I began to join up the dots a bit differently.
What hit me between the eyes was that ALL there was in the basket which fed everyone was five loaves and two fishes. That was all.
I thought about this little lad. He was probably running about half listening to Jesus, being with his mates and his family, looking forward to lunch and his little pack up. They would taste so good and he was hungry. And maybe he was standing close to Jesus when Jesus felt sorry for this hungry crowd.
Jesus says to Philip ’where can we buy some bread’? Not where can they buy bread but where can we buy bread? The disciples were knackered and in fact Jesus had brought them to this place to rest but hey ho, the people just wouldn’t leave him alone and he felt sorry for them.
So Andrew takes the hint and goes round asking if anyone had any food with them? There wasn’t much response that we hear of. I imagine the boy is puzzled. Is he the only one who has a pack-up? But he looks at Jesus and he looks at the crowd and he says honestly and simply ‘I’ve got some food’.
The straightforwardness of children is delightful. You’re asking if anyone has any food to share -well yes he has and maybe he could spare some of it. What were his feelings if no one else was willing to share?
So he offers Jesus his basket thinking Jesus might take a roll and be grateful. And Jesus takes the lot!!! No half measures. He just picks up the whole basket. Hey that’s my lunch says the boy. And watches with amazement while Jesus feeds everybody with it. Did other people bring out their loaves in shame? It really doesn’t matter at one level but I hope so!
Jesus asks us for all of our five loaves and two fishes. We hear this over and over again. If you want a relationship with me you have to be all in. Be born again, be willing to sell those worldly goods which you feel so responsible for, leave your fishing career, stop worrying about impressing your neighbours, or filling your barns full of corn. Come and be part of my Kingdom totally whole heartedly.
What really really struck me was Jesus wants my five loaves and two fishes but I can’t offer more than that. I don’t have olives or cheese or cake. I truly believe that Jesus would never ever ask me to be a treasurer because spreadsheets are not in my basket. But he does ask for the things I have got such as they are, because they are part of our relationship. I can use them to feed others as well as feeding you, he says. Give me your ability to write or to organise and you will get joy out of it and so will others. And if you give me those and others give me their gifts, their financial skill, their large hospitality, their love for children, why then you’ll get that too because it will be share around for you.
Jesus wants the lot, and he wants the lot the lot from all of us but he wants only what we’ve got. I am thrilled that others care so passionately about climate change that I can hear from them and do small actions. This church punches way above its weight in terms of loving actions in the world. I am thrilled that Hannah and others love children so much that I can share in the delight of seeing them grow as young Christians and young people. I am thrilled that people do so much for asylum seekers here and I can contribute what I can to their work. I love the way we affirm people of every sexual orientation. I share in the loaves and fishes which other people have in their baskets to do this caring work, and we are very committed to it as a church community.
Our community is first and foremost this Gospel-shaped caring. But is it more than that?
We hear in these passages about the way in which the early church worked together, in humility, sharing the love of Jesus among themselves, being Gospel shaped caring. But they also shared their resources. They fed each other and they took care of the widows and orphans. Lucky people they didn’t have buildings to look after or minutes to take at meetings but we do! What they did do was to give what they had and to support the community of believers.
So I am equally and perhaps even more thrilled that there are people here who share their five loaves and two fishes of talent and energy with us all when they do the chores which need doing or there will be consequences! I am thrilled that there are people who put the bins out, clean out the chapel, work so hard and with such frustration to find a way of getting us a new roof, write policy documents to keep us in good standing with the Diocese, who check that the fire alarms are serviced, who notice when there is litter and pick it up, who write contracts for our staff and serve with cheerfulness on PCC and do Health and Safety checks. When I was on PCC we used to say that changing a lightbulb was a holy act of service and it is – it’s a loaf or a fish, and we need to see that as cause for celebration as much as anything else we do. It’s something we do together, and we get joy out of doing it together and feeding each other. Buddying up to do stuff is so much more fun than doing it on your own. No one can do it alone.
So now I want to give you the challenge which I find so hard, and which reduces me to tears sometimes.
At least 10 years ago we looked at our small community here and our leaky church and our tired faces and we had a whole church discussion and then a vote, praying and thinking through whether we stayed in this building or moved out into a school or joined with the Methodists or whatever. We committed ourselves to staying, which was a momentous decision, and we have worked and prayed to that end ever since. We turned down quite a lucrative contract because it would mean the building wasn’t available for the community during the week. We were trying to live the Kingdom and to live for the love of God together in this community. Those years since have been a long time to be working this through and we still have leaks in the roof, but we’ve done an awful lot else as well, by the grace of God. We also – and Heston told me to put this bit in – have some tired people who have been working for that long time and need rest. Giving your lunch, your little bit which grows to feed everyone is not a one day event, but neither is it a life sentence and what we do this year may not be what God asks of us next year.
What he didn’t tell me to put in is to share with you how many people have said they are worried about him when he goes green with tiredness. He also has five loaves and two fishes and while he gets paid it doesn’t give the rest of us leave to not share ours.
So what might be the bit of the loaves and fishes which you could offer in the next five to ten years to keep the vision of our community alive? Every little bit of offering can be transformed when we do it together in the love and praise of God as the early church did. If we all do it together we get to have a great picnic all the time, others see how much we love each other and no one feels overloaded.
At home as I said I employ someone when I can’t do things. Do we need to think about that? Life has been transformed by having our administrator and thank God for the money that has let us employ lovely Dee to do that role. Some of our loaves and fishes may be more money rather than time, or skills.
Thinking about my five loaves and two fishes has left me so much more thankful for what I can actually offer, willing to give God back what I have been given and to share it with the saints around me but also clear that I don’t have to offer what isn’t there. Someone else will share their oranges – in other words do the spreadsheets. I offer what I have to my relationship with God and rest in the hope that we all share together in the harvesting of the Kingdom.