I did my very first preach as TLT development worker last week, at St Luke’s in Brinnington. It was great to be there, and the people are unbelievably welcoming – they actually made me feel comfortable as I led worship and presided at communion. This is not easily done as I find leading in unfamiliar situations slightly nerve wracking, not just because I’m prone to making silly mistakes like forgetting to say the creed (which I did) and walking the wrong way in a procession (which I also did). But the lovely people of Brinnington welcomed me in and laughed along with me as we looped back in a very non-liturgical fashion to crowbar the creed in, and it was a great experience. My sermon could definitely have been better, and I’ll be trying again this Sunday so watch this space, but I did like the string illustration I used. Everyone had a bit of string and they made knots in it to remind them of the main points, and to give them something to do during the boring bits. I had cut 35 lengths of string and as I stood at the door saying hello to people on their way in, I realised we were running out. Argh, what to do?! Well, I said a little prayer, something along the lines of:
“Dear Lord, if you love me please multiply this string so that I don’t look like an idiot. I already know I’m going to forget something important during the service, probably the creed. Get my back on this one Jesus. Pretty please?”
Ah, but the ways of the Lord are mysterious indeed, and the people just kept coming – some of them ending up string-less.
“Never mind God, I know you still love me right?”
So I bumbled my way through the service, I preached about the awesome transformative power of God, and I stood once again in that privileged place behind the table to speak Jesus words of grace and redemption and God’s salvation plan. “Ah-ha”, thought I. “We ran out of string, maybe it’s a bumper numbers sort of service – I’ll consecrate spare bread just in case, I’ll leave myself till last.” I administered the bread (in the right order, huzzah!) And then as I went along the row I realised that unbelievably we were running out of bread too. Seriously?! How can I run out of string and bread in the same service?!
“Ok Jesus, this is how it is. I know you had a reason for the string thing, but please please don’t let us run out of bread. The symbolism is terrible – it can say you don’t cater for everyone, your grace isn’t enough, not everyone’s welcome…plus I have no idea where the supplementary consecration bit is in common worship. I have a little post-it note in my own copy but I had to bring Andrew’s because I didn’t know where it was this morning and the baby was screaming and I needed to hug him instead of look for it. Was that wrong? He was already screaming because I had to get my robes together rather than watch that episode of ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ for the 16th time. Please Jesus, help me out?”
I could see the end of the row getting nearer as my blood pressure rose…
“Yes! A blessing, rather than bread. Excellent. Just a few more to go, unless they just keep on coming, like with the string. Yes, here they are, those extra few I missed because they were kneeling to pray. Come on, Jesus, if you want to you can do this…”
That’s what I said, ‘if you want you can do this’. But the point of my story is this – sometimes God doesn’t step up and multiply string so that visiting preachers don’t look foolish. Sometimes God does not magic food out of the air in order to feed the hungry. Sometimes God does not allow a solution to fall out of the heavens and hit us over the head.
Surely God always wants to include us in the process of healing. When we see a hungry person, Jesus says to us to feed and clothe and care for them in his stead. When we see conflict and strife, Jesus says to us to be his peacemakers. He brings about the Kingdom through us, using us as his hands and his feet, his eyes and his ears, his compassion and his heart. Of course Jesus could have multiplied the string if he wanted to: he is the God of the entire universe. And indeed when the disciples where faced with the need to feed thousands of people Jesus could have just made the food from thin air. Instead he asked them first to gather together all that they had. He told them to share, to be generous, to go out among the people explaining that the grace of Jesus is and will be sufficient if we are just willing to let go of our selfish ideas of ownership and trust him who loves us more than life itself. Trust him that he is in control and that he has our best interests at heart. Jesus wants to make us part of the solution, and he is waiting to provide the rest. His grace is absolutely sufficient for us as we seek to do his work, as we seek to live in his will and touch the lives of our neighbours. He will grow the seed, he will make the bread rise – our job is to scatter and to mix.
The disciples brought the five loaves and two fishes to Jesus. He blessed the food and asked God to make it sufficient to feed all the people gathered there. And He did. God took that tiny offering of food and willing hearts, and with his grace turned it into enough - with overflowing baskets and fish to spare.
What do you think happened in my story? Well, it turned out that there was enough bread to feed God’s people and when I got back to the table there was one wafer left. For me.
“Thank you Lord”, I said.
Author: Rev Jenny Mayo-Lythall
Date: 17 June 2014
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