Sermon 29 July 2012

John 6.1-21

Andrew said to Jesus “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two small fish but what are they among so many people?”

All through the Old Testament, in the Gospels and in the life of Jesus, the word of God calls out to us, saying “You have to risk everything and trust me”. This is the call to faith in God.

Not trust “now and again”; not “here and there”; not “where it seems reasonable” or “quite possible”. NO – God calls out to us “Trust me when you feel frail, doubtful and aware only of poor resources!”

In today’s Gospel Jesus faces a vast crowd of hungry people. All he has is the picnic of a small boy which would only feed two or three at the most. The resources were totally inadequate.

What Jesus did was not some kind of wizardry. He had declined to turn stones into bread once before. He simply took what was there – the child’s packed lunch – and fed the entire crowd, with plenty to spare. This was not magic but the utter risk of faith, trust in the Father! As Maggie Ross says in a recent book, “Jesus never lost the clarity of his gaze on the Father, the secret exchange of love in faith.

This theme of great things emerging from small beginnings is found throughout Scripture. It is always linked with the complete trust in God; the risk of faith.

The foundation text is, of course, about Abraham – the archetype of faith in God. An old man with a wife who could not bear children trusted that God would give him descendents who would be as myriad as stars in the sky or the sand on the sea-shore. It was that kind of risk which made Sara dare to laugh.

In the Gospel Jesus uses the mustard seed as a symbol of this theme. The smallest seed produces a vast growth among the bushes. Indeed, the existence today of the Christian family throughout the world springs from a carpenter and a bunch of fisherman – as it were!

Surely each of us in the Community knows something of this experience; when we considered coming here it was a risk of faith and our sense of frailty and self-doubt was part of that experience. Having trusted God and entered the Community, we have all known what it is to face demands which in now way seem to match the assessment we have of our own abilities.

When I was a Novice the Novice Guardian called me into his room and said that the Chaplain of University College and Hatfield College of Durham University had requested a Brother to come and do a Teaching Week to the students…would I be willing to do this? I remember the mixture of amazement and terror which overwhelmed me. Standing in what is now Philip’s room, I somehow was given the grace to say “Yes”!

The Brother who gave me the confidence I desperately needed was Fr Gordon Arkell. Gordon was a kind of “mystical scientist”. His cosmologies, plus literature and models,  appeared to most people as rather quaint, if not eccentric (young people were often quite interested). The ideas which obsessed him are, roughly, the baeas now of modern nuclear physics!

With a lot of preparation and Gordon’s help I went off to Durham . During the first talk I was so nervous that my tongue literally stuck to the roof of my mouth. I knew that the students would detect anything phoney a mile away!1 To my surprise, the course was used later as Confirmation preparation in the Colleges. God’s powerful grace overtook all my weakness.

CR itself, in going to South Africa and in opening the College, took a risk of faith with an untried vision and small resources. Of course, we are sitting in what might be said to be the fruits of the same call to risk everything and trust God!

When we were struggling to reach the decisions along the way, we faced a vast scheme involving enormous cost and our resources seemed completely inadequate. All we had was a packed lunch and we were planning a banquet! We are worshipping this morning in the response from God to the faith of our friends and even of ourselves.

The journey is not over! When we think of the overwhelming prospects set out ahead of us, we could lose heart and be afraid that we are looking at a dream that can never become real. As it is, we are stilled called to risk everything and trust, having used all the help we can get and the wisdom of other people alongside us.

The most inspiring part of the last two years has been the help of countless friends, who had sufficient faith to offer their packed lunch towards our appeal. Small amounts of generous giving has given us this beautiful church.

Pray God we will still have the courage and the faith to match the discipleship of our friends for the next stage of our journey together.

            Simon Holden CR