The chosen hymns for this week, For Everyone Born and Restore O Lord can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
What are you giving?
Matthew 14: 13-21
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday for 2nd August.
Do you ever get the feeling there is one rule for the powerful and another for the rest of us?
I was involved with a case of fraud while I was the minister of Castlemilk West.
Some of my money got stolen out of a bank account. Not much, but enough. Others lost everything out of their account. The person who stole the money did so to feed her horse. That is what she gave as her excuse.
She was already well off and lived in a very well off neighbourhood, the type of neighbourhood where you can afford horses. She could afford a really good lawyer. And she got off with paying the money back and probation.
Maybe that was the right verdict.
Maybe putting her in prison wouldn’t have served her or society.
But I do wonder that if instead of being someone with power and influence, she had been one of the women who lived in Castlemilk rather than one of the women from Castlemilk she had stolen from, I wonder if she would have been treated the same way.
The powerful seem to have a different set of rules that they follow.
We have to strictly be in lockdown, the powerful can go on long car journeys to test their eyesight.
And today we have people wondering how we should confront the powerful.
John the Baptist had confronted the wrongs of King Herod. Herod had him killed.
Herod slept at night because he convinced himself that he didn’t really want John dead, it wasn’t his fault, he had made a promise and he had to keep his promises.
The only problem with that was that Herod homself one who had ordered the beheading.
If Herod could arrange the death of John, he could arrange the death of Jesus.
Both John and Jesus preached of a kingdom that was more powerful that the ones on earth.
Well you challenge a kingdom on earth and that kingdom fights back.
You kill a prince of a kingdom on earth then the country of the prince goes to war.
Jesus goes off to mourn the death of his cousin. The crowd want to see what he is going to do, what his response will be to Herod’s threats?
We will see Jesus’ response after our reading and prayer from Gil
You may be watching this, you may be listening to it, or you may be reading it, but whatever method you are using, and wherever in the world you are, you are invited to join with us in prayer. Let us all pray.
Heavenly Father, we worship you, because you are the one true god, the creator and sustainer of all things. When we try to think about all that you have done, we realise that your power, wisdom and might are far beyond the limits of our human minds. We thank you for your continuing care for all creation, and especially for your care and concern for us. There is no limit to your generosity, and our thanks can never be enough for all that you do for us.
In all his dealings, and in his teaching, Jesus clearly showed us how we should treat other people. He always had time for those whom society had rejected, and He showed His concern and compassion by healing, feeding, teaching, and serving. We know that we should do our best to follow His example, and show our concern and compassion for all people everywhere, but too often we fail to do so.
Lord, forgive us for the times when we did not heed His word, or follow His example; for the times that we could not be bothered; for the times when we looked to our own comfort first, and forgot that your command is to love one another. Forgive us for our past failures, and help us, and guide us to do better in the future. In Jesus you gave us a perfect example. May we keep on learning from Him, and may we follow His example, so that we become people who show through our words and actions, that we are His true followers.
Father, the world seems to be full of difficulties and disasters with reports of conflicts, wars, civil unrest, and natural disasters. For some months now we have been seeing, and hearing, reports about the physical and mental impact of the Covid-19 virus, and indeed it has affected the lives of many people.
We remember before you all who have suffered bereavement, and those who are worried about their health, or the health of family members or friends. There are those who are suffering from the effects of loneliness and lack of contact with other people, while many have financial difficulties, or worries over employment.
Lord, you have sent your Spirit to help and support us in many ways, and often your help and support comes through the words and actions of other people. Not only from our family and friends, but also from strangers. We thank you for putting all these people into our lives, and we ask that you will bless and strengthen them. We particularly thank you for all those who have continued working through difficult and frightening circumstances to keep all our essential services operating.
Compassionate God, you know all those who are in need or in difficulty, and we ask that you will bring comfort and peace to them. May we be willing to be your hands on earth; to do our best to show your care and compassion to others.
We thank you that you are willing to listen to us, to forgive us for all our shortcomings, and to let us have a fresh start.
We offer our prayer in Jesus’ name, and we further pray in the words that Jesus gave us when one of his followers had asked Him to teach them how to pray.
Our Father, which 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.
And lead us not into temptation.
But deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever.
Our reading is from Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 14, and verses 13 to 21.
Matthew was a Tax Collector who had become one of Jesus’ close companions, and he was one of the 12 who are known as the Apostles. Our reading today comes immediately after the place where Matthew tells us about Herod and John the Baptist. You may remember that John the Baptist had angered Herod because he had said that it was not lawful for Herod to marry Herodias, because she was already married to Herod’s brother.
At a banquet for Herod’s birthday, Herodias’s daughter danced for Herod and his guests. Herod was so pleased that he promised to give her anything that she asked for, and prompted by her mother, she asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. So Herod had John beheaded.
Let us now read from Matthew, Chapter 14, and starting at verse 13.
13 When Jesus heard the news about John, he left there in a boat and went to a lonely place by himself. The people heard about it, and so they left their towns and followed him by land.
14 Jesus got out of the boat, and when he saw the large crowd, his heart was filled with pity for them, and he healed their sick.
15 That evening his disciples came to him and said, "It is already very late, and this is a lonely place. Send the people away and let them go to the villages to buy food for themselves."
16 "They don't have to leave," answered Jesus. "You yourselves give them something to eat!"
17 "All we have here are five loaves and two fish," they replied.
18 "Then bring them here to me," Jesus said.
19 He ordered the people to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God. He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.
20 Everyone ate and had enough. Then the disciples took up twelve baskets full of what was left over.
21 The number of men who ate was about five thousand, not counting the women and children.
Amen, and may God help us to a better understanding of His Word.
How do we react when something has gone wrong?
How do we react when someone has hurt us?
I don’t know about you but I have two go-to reactions.
The first reaction I have is to want to lash out. They have hurt me, I want them to hurt.
I will hold onto that resentment and frustration and I will store it all up till the moment that I can get them back. I want justice.
The weird thing about justice is that more often than not it is really revenge.
Supposedly there is this physiological test that proves this.
You get a couple of test subjects and you tell them that they are going to be in an experiment about fairness.
So you get person A to hit person B. Not hard, just hit them so they know that they have been hit.
Then person B gets to hit person A back, but with just the same amount of force, no more, no less.
Funnily enough when that happens person A thinks person B has hit them more than they hit them.
So they then hit person B back the correct amount.
Funnily enough person B then thinks that person A has exaggerated how much he was hit, so he then hits person A even harder to even it out.
Carry on the experiment for a wee while and the two of them are knocking lumps out of each other.
Human justice always wants just a wee bit more.
The second reaction I have is to give up, to get depressed because there is nothing that I can do about it. This happens when the person or thing that has hurt me is so big that I know that they don’t care and that nothing can be done. A simple example...I was listening to this air stewardess who had been furloughed. Over four months ago she had put in for a new passport as it was running out. Still hasn’t heard anything. After all this time she may loosed her job because she can’t get a passport. She has done everything right, even tried to organize a replacement passport well in advance. But the system is destroying her.
She is angry, frustrated, desperate, but there is no one she can get to do anything. And if all that emotion can’t find a focus out there, then it turns inward and goes to depression and feelings of powerlessness.
I think the crowd were following Jesus because they wanted to see which of these Jesus was going to do.
Herod had unjustly killed his cousin, a messenger from God.
Jesus was now the representative of God on earth. What was he going to do?
They knew Jesus wouldn’t turn inward.
They knew that Jesus wasn’t going to just take it and give in.
That meant he would lash out.
Those are the two options.
But how would he lash out?
Maybe put a curse on Herod. Put a plague on Herod’s house the way Moses had put plagues on Pharaohs’ house when he challenged God.
Maybe he would create an army and destroy the dynasty of Herod, creating a new dynasty. A new Israel independent of the Roman Empire, maybe even a base to conquer the Roman Empire.
Maybe this was the moment Jesus would create God’s kingdom on earth.
I have found lockdown to be very interesting.
It is like we have an invisible enemy that is forcing us to live our lives in ways we wouldn’t want.
The way we shop, the way we meet up with friends and family, the way we do sports, the way we do work or school or even the way we do church...all forced to change.
We have been hurt.
And I see the two ways that we normally react in the way people are living their lives.
There are those that are fighting everything.
We are going to do this, we are going to do that, nothing can stop us.
And there are those that are just giving up.
You make a suggestion about doing something and you get fifteen excuses as to why it can never happen.
I think Jesus is challenging us to try something different.
In this moment of pain and sorrow, in this moment of injustice and violence, I think Jesus is saying, you don’t need to lash out in anger, you don’t need to despair and give up.
What Jesus does is say, “This is what the kingdom of God is like, it is a place where you say to yourself, ‘What good can I do here?’”
Jesus sees the crowd when he gets out of the boat.
He could have been angry with them because all he wanted was to have some peace to mourn the death of his cousin. Instead he has pity for them.
What good can I do here?
Jesus could have had a heart that wanted to kill Herod; instead he had a heart that wanted to heal the ill in the crowd.
What good can I do here?
He could have sent the people home because it was late and they were all tired and a tired crowd can turn very quickly.
Instead he suggests to the disciples that they feed the crowd.
What good can I do here?
Over the years there has been so much speculation over how this miracle was done.
You know the truth is, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that with the small amount that they gave to Jesus, he could do something with that that made a difference.
Over a decade ago we had a speaker from South Africa come to this church and telling us about the struggles he was having.
At the end of the service one person went up to him and said, ‘If we could do one thing to help you, what would it be?’
The result of that was that for the next decade-plus nurses went over to help victims of AIDS, supplying teaching for families to help alleviate the pain, giving medication to help the symptoms, supplying small grants to set up small businesses to help people out of poverty.
What good can I do here?
At another time someone suggested they set up a small group to create a fair trade shop. That led for years and years of not only fair trade goods being sold, but also creating a safe place for people to meet, creating a place where counselling could be trained and take place, it became a sanctuary for people of all ages to meet and feel life get a bit better.
What good can we do here?
Small things that God could use to make the world a bit better.
And we can offer what small thing we have.
It might be just a telephone call, it might be a small donation to the food bank, it might be writing a letter to a friend, it might be just checking up on a neighbour.
It may not end up as important as feeding five thousand folk, but it might be just as important to the one person you do help.
We are living in fluid times, where our life is uncertain and continues to be uncertain.
Where normal, as we knew it, may still be months away or may never return and some new normal will be created.
The temptation is to be angry and dig in trying to hold on to what we had for as long as we can; to lash out at anyone and anything that tries to stop us,
or to just give up and surrender to despair and depression.
Maybe we can do something different.
We can ask of ourselves, ‘What good does God want me to do here and now?’
Maybe that can be the question we let guide our heart.
Let us pray.
Five loaves and two fish, what good could that do?
Well it seems a lot of good if used the right way.
We often feel we don’t have enough to give.
But maybe we have enough time to make a difference in someone’s life...
Maybe we have enough energy to make a difference in someone’s life...
Maybe we have enough commitment to make a difference in someone else’s life...
Maybe we have enough joy to help someone smile for the first time in a long time.
Maybe we have enough peace to help someone feel assured that things will turn out Ok eventually.
Maybe we have enough compassion that someone feels that they are cared for.
Maybe we have enough love to help someone feel that they are meaningful.
Whatever our gift, no matter how small, or how large, we pray that in your hands they can do something wonderful.
This we ask in Jesus name
Until next time...
Remember the church is ppen for prayer on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10am and 4pm
And Sundays between 6-8pm.
During those times we are also open if you want to collect the next lot of UCB Word of Today notes or hand in all those collections you have been saving up you can do.
Also remember to support the food banks. Did you know that if you Google Alva food bank you don’t get the telephone number of the food bank, you get my number?
So I know how many people are struggling out there. On their behalf thank you to all of you who are supporting the Food-banks in Alva and Alloa.
May the generosity of the giving God meet your every need, and inspire your every action,
And through that giving and receiving may you share all of God’s blessings