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Sunday 8 February 2015 – Feeding of the Five Thousand

Reading Matthew 14: 13 ― 21

Sermon by Bill Davey ― Elder at B.B.P

Overview of the message today:

We will:

  •  highlight a key principle from the teaching of Jesus;
  •  review the background to this creative miracle ― where and when it  occurred;
  •  seek to learn from this miracle [Feeding the 5,000];
  •  recognise the links between this miracle and the Jewish history [Exodus];
  •  identify some links with other New Testament themes.

A Principle from the teaching of Jesus:

In Matt. 5: 17 ― Jesus taught: “I did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets  but to fulfill them.”  (NIV)

This week The Narrative Lectionary highlights one of the best known miracles of Jesus ― our Messiah ― when He feeds 5,000 people near Lake Galilee.

When Pastor Robin invited me to present this material he tasked me to give real thought to the writings and work of retired Bishop N. T. Wright, renowned New Testament theologian, something which I have done:

Tom Wright recommended that when we read the Gospels we always consider: “….. the activities of Jesus should always be viewed as the climax of the story of God and His dealings with His People Israel [the Jewish people].”(N. T. Wright)

The story so far ….. (Background)

John the Baptist, the cousin of our Lord was executed by king Herod in the fortress prison of Machareus on East side of the river Jordan, after the king was tricked into making a promise to his step-daughter, Salome.

Jesus was grieving and needed time to be alone for prayer.

Timing and the setting to this miracle.

 In the early weeks of April, A.D. 29, the twelve disciples returned to Capernaum; where Jesus was waiting for them. They were in need of a holiday break, after a month of strenuous ministry.

They would take Peter’s boat, and cross to the Eastern shore of the lake, as they had done before.

However the enthusiastic crowd would not let them escape as easily as that. As their boat was headed towards the north-east; the crowd could keep it in sight, and walk along the shore. It was only two miles to the Jordan, from the north end of the lake; another three miles across the plain of Bataiha.

The people gathered in the foot-hills on the Eastern shore. By boat it would be about four miles, direct from Capernaum. Once again, the twelve missed their holiday break.

This is probably the largest crowd ever addressed by our Lord.

Pilgrim groups from northern Galilee, from the Decapolis, and from regions to the north of Palestine usually camped by the lake for a few days before the last lap of their journey down the Jordan valley and up to Jerusalem for the paschal feast.

Our Lord began his teaching, probably before midday, from a hillock a few hundred yards from the lake. About seven hours later, when the sun was sinking behind the Galilean hills, some of the apostles raised the question of feeding the people, with Jesus. The few provisions some had brought had been eaten long since. (Adapted from writings of R. Cox)

Jesus gave priority to the needs of the people.

He taught and ministered to them for many hours. He healed all who were sick or unwell, and He liberated others who were deeply troubled in spirit.

As evening approached one, or two of the disciples, made a helpful suggestion ― “Wouldn’t it be good to send the people away to buy food”. But Jesus responds, “If you care for them ― why don’t you give them something to eat?”

Think of the likely excuses that would have been offered in response to His challenge.

I / we couldn’t feed them ― there are too many people;

I / we don’t have enough energy / know-how / money /

skills / time, etc.

Jesus then rescues the situation by taking what they do have available to them:

[5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish ― a little boy’s lunch.]

We are probably familiar with how the story unfolds:

Jesus gives instructions for the people to sit in orderly groups;

Jesus takes what they do have (the bread and the fish);  and looking up to heaven,  gave thanks, for what they have;  and broke the bread (and divides the fish);  and gave the food to His disciples to distribute.  Everyone has more than enough to eat, and 12 baskets, filled with left-over pieces are collected.

A lesson to be learned from this example:

When we are doing what Jesus requires of us, we can be sure that Jesus will always accept what little we have, and then, giving thanks, He will cause our contribution to be made more than adequate for His purposes.

Our offerings, in this day and age might relate to:

  •  our energy and time;
  •  our art and craft skills;
  •  our other natural skills and talents;
  •  any spiritual gift we have received.

Now returning briefly to our Gospel account:

Jesus had been mindful of the needs of His disciples for a time of rest, and so directed them to go to the other side of the lake.

He then sent the crowds home, and finally, went to a quiet place, for the personal prayer He so desperately needed.

Jesus still needed prayer-time to deal with His own grief ― regarding the death of His  cousin ― John the Baptist.

What happened after that ― Well that’s another story for another day!  

Amen.

 

Sunday sermon 1 Feb 2015 – Kingdom matters

The Sermon on the Mount (continued)

Reading: Matthew 6:7-21

Last week we looked briefly at the Beatitudes, and then focussed on what it means to be salt and light. In short, we are called to be people of influence. We watched a movie this week about a gifted man who influenced the duration of the Second World War by cracking the German enigma codes. Like Churchill, one man made a huge difference.

I must admit that it left me with more than a lump in my throat. How much influence will I have? What difference will I make?  – These were the thoughts that travelled home with me. The main character in the movie was treated badly and his life ended too early. It made me wonder how much people remember us for at the end of the day. Watch “The Imitation Game” – before or after the Oscars. This man was worth his salt. It is estimated that his work reduced the length of the war by some two years.

The Sermon on the Mount is a challenge to everything that undergirds modern life and society. The beatitudes of Matthew 5 are part of that challenge. The question is – are they a standard set for us to follow? Or all statements of fact? For example, tell me that the meek are inheriting the earth, and I’ll give you plenty of examples of where that is not true.

Tom Wright puts it like this:  In our world, still, most people think that wonderful news consists of success, wealth, long life, victory in battle. Jesus is offering wonderful news for the humble, the poor, the mourners, the peacemakers. Wright, Tom (2014-03-20). Matthew for Everyone: Chapter 1-15, Part 1.

The beatitudes are not about happiness. They are about promises which are real now for Jesus’ followers – not just in “heaven” at the end if our lives. They are a taste of things to come. Jesus ushers in the upside-down Kingdom which is ultimately the right way around. The individual beatitudes require a lot more attention of course. Perhaps during Lent you could go back to them. In time we will investigate more about where and what heaven is and what the future holds (if we dare).

You have to read the rest of Matthew 5 to see how we are to be like Christ, who is ultimate salt and light, and that we all together are the new Israel who by following Jesus influence the nations (ethnicities?) around us with that flavour and light! All kinds of things crop up in chapter 5, especially reconciliation (which comes first before worship), and truth-telling. And turning the other cheek. And love for enemies. When you pray for those who persecute you, guess what? You are being children of God (“of your father in heaven!” vss 44-45). And here we read about being perfect (like that same heavenly father – vs 36). Being salt and light has broad implications indeed.

The key to understanding this business of where and what heaven is, is staring us in the face, or shining at us on a screen each Sunday.  It’s in the Lord’s Prayer which the Narrative Lectionary includes in today’s reading.

Matthew chapter 6 starts with a general discussion on prayer and acts of righteousness (or piety). “When you pray” is about public and private prayer. Private prayer should not be showy. It’s not about impressing people or long repetitive prayers. After all, says Jesus, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Of course persistence seems okay under certain circumstances, as illustrated in the story of the widow and the unjust judge. (See Luke 18:2-8 – although this too has a twist at the end of the account).

And so we come to the Lord’s Prayer. The key to it all is in this directive in verse 9: “This, then, is how you should pray.” I don’t think it actually says: “this is what you should pray” – although I am totally committed to praying the Lord’s Prayer.  In Luke 11:2-4, on the other hand, Jesus gives the same prayer, with some variations. If it is a matter of accurate repetition, we might have a problem choosing one of the two.

The prayer, then, is like a scaffolding to build on, or a framework (both terms come from Tom Wright). Wright says that Jesus may well have intended us to pray the prayer like the Jews did their prayers – three times a day using “short powerful prayers”. But it’s clearly more than that. It is a powerful outline of key issues in our following of Jesus.

Myron Augsburger writing about Matthew puts it like this: “The beauty of this prayer, called the Lord’s Prayer, has been honoured in both spoken word and in music. Across the lines of culture and language, the Lord’s Prayer has served as the model for Christians to approach God. No liturgy is complete without it and no prayer can surpass the scope of meaning contained in its simplicity.” Augsburger gives these as an outline of the key matters in the prayer:

  1. The honour that worship accords to God.
  2. The humility that recognises our dependence upon God.
  3. The hope that the rule of God creates.

Let us pray…

As we spend some reflective time in prayer today, let’s use this broad structure.

PRAYING – ABOUT GOD

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name (v9).

Prayer time:

  • Honour his name always in prayer before you do anything. Focus on God. To reverence His name is worship.
  • He is our Father. Our relationship to Him is key. If you pray “our father” you are claiming John 1: 12 as yours.
  • He is the living God, not an idol. He dwells “in heaven”. We are not to pray using mindless repetition of this prayer – we are to reach out in prayer to the living God who already knows our needs.
  • Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (v10)

Here is the key we mentioned earlier. The kingdom comes here as the will of God is done here. Praying this means focussing on Him – seeking His will – and not just asking Him to bless our ideas and programmes.

 

What does it mean for His Kingdom to come?

  1. In my life? In your life?
  2. In your family
  3. In your suburb, your city, your nation
  4. In the world.

This takes us into a time of intercession for all of these people and places. We are to ask God to reign, to break through into each level of our life. What other areas could we include?

Read Matthew 6:33 as you reflect:  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

So much in chapter 6 challenges us about our priorities.  It ends with this well know verse:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)

And so we proceed to the rest of the prayer which involves our needs.

 

PRAYING – ABOUT OURSELVES

The part of the prayer about us comes afterwards:

Give us today our daily bread. (v11) Here are some possibilities. You can add your own:

  • Now we ask for our needs to be met
  • This is bread sufficient for the day
  • It includes money and whatever else we need for the day
  • It reminds us that God provides – all the people in the supply of these things are working on His behalf (even though they may not recognise this)

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (v12)

Forgiveness is part of our Christian DNA as it were. The verses which follow the Lord’s Prayer spell that out clearly:  For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14-15).

Give some thought this week to the difference between having our debts forgiven by God (as we do the same to others) and having our trespasses forgiven, as we commonly pray (see Matthew 6:12). Whichever translation you prefer or favour, when you pray, asking for forgiveness has got to be there somewhere. It’s not an option. Here are some considerations – again add you own areas which need work when it comes to forgiveness:

  • Have you asked for forgiveness? Or are you usually in the right anyway? (In your view).
  • Have you forgiven all?
  • Have you forgiven yourself?

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (v13)

There is this clear warning that there is a battle on. (The Kingdom of God at hand – and the enemy reacts quite violently in the Gospel accounts). We need help.

  • What persistent temptations do we need help and protection from?
  • Where is evil/the evil one obviously at work?
  • In what way are we seduced by evil?
  • Remember Jesus prays for us in his regard in John 17:15. Read this at home.
  • Remember Ephesians 6:16: In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Also read 1 John 2:14, and 2 Thessalonians 3:3. And of course read 1 Peter 5:8 – Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Amen