9th Sunday after Pentecost
A podcast of this service can be heard by going to Podcast page of the webite - or simply by clicking HERE.
Call to Worship.
Our call to worship is from the Book of Revelation, Chapter 7, verses 16 and 17: “Never again shall they feel hunger or thirst; because the Lamb who is at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd and will guide them to springs of the water of life”
Hymn – 184 – Sing to the Lord a joyful song
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
Our Father, who is Creator and Maker and Shaper; dear Son, who is teacher, healer and Saviour; blessed Spirit, who is Councillor, Consoler and Conscience; we approach you in veneration and in wonder. In these straitened days we have been offered the chance to look closely and deeply at what You granted and what we have taken for granted: we see the flowers blossom and bloom; we see the return of swallows and bumblebees; we see the ever changing palette of the sky. When You saw what you had fashioned you saw that it was good, and we are privileged to share in the merest fragment of that. We have seen the small acts of kindness, the big examples of generosity and the resurgence of fellow-feeling., and for this we give thanks.
You saw the world and you saw that it was good. You see us and see how far below expectations we have fallen. Lord Jesus, you left a simple set of instructions for us, and we have failed abysmally in all of them. Have we fed the hungry? No. Have we given something to drink to the thirsty? No. Have we invited in the stranger? No. Have we clothed those who have none? No. Have we tended the sick? No. Have we visited the prisoner? No. Do we love our neighbours? Only if we’ve known them for thirty years. Do not let us confuse occasional and intermittent acts of charity with having a truly loving heart. We have not done these things, especially for the least of your brothers and sisters. In a moment of silence, we will confess what you already know; the manifold sins within us and listen for You to tell us how to rectify them.
God, you promised never to turn your back on a repentant sinner. In the hope of us living up to your faithfulness we are now emboldened to say the family prayer that you taught us, saying:
Our Father, who art in Heaven,
hallowed be Thy name;
Thy Kingdom come;
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil;
for Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
Readings: Genesis 32:22-31; St Matthew 14:13-21.
Hymn – 348, Praise the One who breaks the darkness.
When I was a schoolboy, one of my favourite television programmes was I, Claudius, with that ghastly snake slithering over the mosaic floor. As you can all see, my legs are not the least shoogly in the world, and never have been, and so the limping Claudius was something of an inspiration even then. (I also had a stammer in those days). Claudius is seen as weak by Tiberius, by Sejanus, by Caligula, and their interpretation of him as a hirpling fool means they underestimate him. But it did start me thinking about what limps mean. There are plenty of others – Oedipus, who solved the puzzle of the plague only to realise it was himself; Pellehan, the Fisher King of Arthurian myth tasked with protecting the Grail; Amfortas in Wagner’s Parsifal, lamed by the very spear that pierced Jesus. And then there is Jacob. As Colin has shown over the past few weeks, Jacob is something of a scoundrel, cheating his brother, his father and his father-in-law. In today’s passage we hear of him wrestling with what he thinks is an angel. After the night long struggle, his hip is put out and he walks away limping. He also has a new name: Israel. Jacob has deceived and wheedled and disguised all his life thus far, but the thing about a limp is you can’t conceal it. It also means you have to learn to walk through pain. Israel is a different person after this encounter, and although we see him make misjudgements in the later chapters, there is none of the old wiliness. The idea of him being renewed by a combat, a struggle, a wrestling with God is important; because who of us here, in our heart of hearts, could say they have never struggled with God? It might be through loss, or grief, or apathy, or not feeling good enough, or sickness, or unfairness but all surely have sometimes struggled with God. The good news is that in his love he gives us the capacity to change. But it is a public change, not just crossed fingers about promising to be good.
I thought long and hard about how the passage from Genesis relates to the passage from Matthew, and I think in part it is about the very public nature of both Israel’s impediment and the open, un-ignorable ministry of Christ. The feeding of the 5000 is a story we all think we know. It is obviously of central importance as it appears in all four Gospels – not even the Nativity gets that! But it’s useful to go through it a bit slowly and compare the versions.
In Matthew the first thing we learn is that Jesus is wanting to go away, to withdraw, to a deserted place on his own. Why? He has just learned that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been murdered in a particularly gruesome fashion. But his desire for peace and prayer is not going be fulfilled. When the crowds catch up, what does he do first? He heals many of them. How many were there? 5000 we all learn, though Matthew says “about 5000”, “besides women and children”. To put that in context, that’s more than double the capacity of the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. It’s more than ten times the population of Yetholm. We get other details in the other Gospels. Mark adds in the detail of the disciples’ exasperation, that it would take eight months of wages to pay for all the food, and that it would be best if the crowd were to disperse. Luke mentions they were to all sit in groups of fifty, more importantly he says Jesus first directs the disciples “you give them something to eat”. John picks up on this, with Philip being the most frustrated of the twelve: in a way Jesus always challenged the disciples. If they had believed – just as when Peter tries to walk on the water – they could have performed the miracle themselves. John also has the detail that the five loaves and two fishes are given by “a boy”. I have often wondered what became of that boy. Did he cheer along on Palm Sunday? Did he find a mission? What did he learn? Maybe he learned from that phrase when Jesus says “let nothing be wasted”.
It must have been some spectacle. Just as Jacob / Israel is now not able to dissimulate after his encounter with God, Jesus has made a huge demonstration of his power and his love. John reports that many “wanted to make him king by force” – and he goes away again by himself. Let’s not forget that Christ, being wholly God and wholly human, takes on himself our weaknesses. Like Jacob / Israel, he struggled with God, asking that the cup be taken from him, imploring “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But what will persist? Compassion, generosity and most of all love will outlast the long dark night of the soul. The time will come when we too can break bread together again.
Prayers of Intercession.
We pray for the world, a world where many are hungry and where many hunger for something better to come into being. We pray for all those engaged in healing, in curing, in feeding, in sustaining, in simply being there for others. We pray for all those who have taken up the challenge of leaving a world for future generations that is less damaged and polluted. We pray above all for a world where the boundaries we put between ourselves crumble away.
We pray for the Church, the Universal Church, in all its forms. We thank you for the ministry we have from Colin, and wish him well-earned rest and respite during this time. We pray for a church that can once again inspire more than 5000 people in a single day, and has the courage, even the audacity, to do so.
We pray for all those in all forms of power and influence. Just as Jesus retreated from populist acclaim, let us have leaders who do not want power for its own sake, or for selfish reasons. Grant wisdom, sensitivity and a sense of true duty to those who wield power, and the patience to make decisions in a considered and considerate manner.
We pray for all those who are in need. For all those who are anxious, all those who are fearful, all those who are uncertain, give peace and consolation. We pray especially for those who are struggling with the conditions we now live under; for those who are worried about employment, whether their home is safe, where the next meal might be coming from, what will happen next. We pray for those who are sick, not just from the current pandemic, but for all those who ache, who are in pain and who suffer. Grant your mercy to them and make us messengers of mercy. We name now all those of whom we have a particular concern or care.
We pray for the dying and the dead. You, Lord, suffered it and knew it as suffering. For all those who have gone before we give thanks, and rejoice that they are in your more glorious presence.
Hymn – 513 – Courage, brother! Do not stumble.
Go now in peace to love and serve the Lord and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Spirit, rest with us and remain with us now and forevermore. Amen
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