The Scriptures remind us that we are all made in God’s image.
You are welcome, I am welcome, let us discover afresh today who God is and what that image can be.
Light has come, in Christ, the Light of the world.
Darkness has met its match. Light is stronger than darkness.
Praise be to God’s great loving power.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF COUNTRY
As Jacob was surprised to discover that surely God was in this wilderness place and he did not know it. So today we come seeking the sacred places where God is at work. For our Indigenous brothers and sisters, such places are everywhere. We acknowledge their stewardship of God’s Creation since time immemorial and pledge ourselves to work together for justice & reconciliation.
SONG ‘Come to the Wilderness’ by Helen Wiltshire Tune: Was Lebet (TIS 454 ‘Worship the Lord’)
Come to the wilderness, come seek a clarity
Stand on a landscape that’s shaped by the sea
Touch painted rocks that tell stories of long ago
Find space and stillness as desert sands blow.
Come to the wilderness, come to a testing time
Feel arid silence as moon shadows climb
Hear inner voices that speak of an easy way
Ponder life’s choices and take time to pray.
Come to the wilderness, come to a sunlit day
See white owls fly as the starts fade away
Drink deep from rare springs and breathe in earth’s mystery
Welcome new wisdom to live and to be.
Come to the wilderness, come to a sacred place
Meet dreamtime angels as new paths we trace
Rise with love’s blessing and wholeness anew we share
Journey with courage to do and to dare.
CALL TO WORSHIP
Today as we prepare to engage with the parable of the feeding of the 5,000 we have come to sit and listen, just like the thousands who gathered on a Galilean hillside millennia ago, knowing there was something important afoot, something that would change the way of the world, something that would satisfy their hunger, change their minds and open their hearts. May this be so with us, too.
Let us Pray. Spirit of Grace, breathe on this crowd, on us, gathered here and in our homes, that we might encounter the Word of life, may we be fed by Him, and have our lives transformed.
May we encounter you, our living God, as we come to worship you. Amen.
OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE READING
Genesis 32:22 - 31 (NRSV)
The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of mercy, God of loving kindness, come wrestle with us we pray.
Let us hold nothing back for the life issues we face are important to who and whose we are.
Forgive us if we are too polite to argue, too afraid to raise our voice, too fearful of who we might become if we shared everything with you. Come wrestle with us we pray.
Help us to ask the difficult, sleep depriving questions free from all that confuses our sense of who and whose we are. Help us to send across the ford of our Jabbok all that we possess, hold dear or cling to so that we can stand before you with just our very self.
Where all we have is our relationship with you. Come wrestle with us we pray.
You gave Jacob a new name, Israel, which literally means ‘God-wrestler’ help us to wrestle often with you with all that we are in body, mind, spirit and heart no question or conversation off limits for it is our very identity, our death and life, our purpose and being which is at stake.
Come wrestle with us often Lord, in Jesus’ name who wrestled with you for 40 days in the Wilderness, in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross. And feed us with pieces of bread and dried fish it will be sufficient for us too. Amen.
WORDS OF ASSURANCE
God’s mercy is boundless. It is forever offered to those who seek God’s grace.
There is never a time when we are turned away.
Let us open our hearts to be fed and live our lives as forgiven people.
HYMN – TIS 604 ‘Make me a captive Lord’ Tune Leominster (MHB 542)
Make me a captive Lord, and then I shall be free
Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conqueror be.
I sink in life’s alarms, when by myself I stand
Imprison me within your arms, and strong shall be my hand.
My heart is weak and poor, until it master find
It has no spring of action sure, it varies with the wind.
It cannot freely move, till you has wrought its chain
Enslave it with your matchless love, and deathless it shall reign.
My will is not my own, till you have made it yours
If it would reach a monarch’s throne, it must its crown resign.
It only stands unbent, amid the clashing strife
When on your bosom it has leant, and found in you its life.
Public Domain. George Matheson 1842 - 1906
Matthew 14:13-21 (NRSV) Feeding of the Five Thousand
Now when Jesus heard this (the death of John the Baptist) , he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. In this is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!
MESSAGE ‘We have nothing but…’
There is a great Cadbury chocolate ad on TV that’s been around for a year or so that has a young girl coming into a shop while her mum waits outside. She says ‘I’d like a bar of chocolate please, it’s for my mum’. The store owner sees her mum waiting outside and gives the little girl the large chocolate bar and she, bit by bit places all she has on the counter. A small coin, two buttons, a special pink ring and a small rainbow coloured horse with its long tail. And she is given change!
Her deep love for her mum, led her to believe that what she had, though ‘nothing but…’ was sufficient. How do you respond to this ad? ‘Does it warm your heart? Or does the world you have experienced mean that realism or cynicism swamps this story with a ‘there’s no way he’s going to give her a bar of chocolate if that’s all she has to pay for it!’ Live in the real world!
We could do worse than watch and re-watch that ad again this morning and then unpack all the ways it touches our lives, the gifts we’ve tried to bring, rejection, acceptance and the mum’s we’ve wanted to buy a present for, then we’d be here all day. It can be used as a modern day parable.
Let us pray. Lord by your Spirit, ever faithful, ever present, speak to us afresh through the words of Scripture, through the songs we sing, the prayers we share and through the lives we live. Amen
Once again, Jesus is hard pressed with many things competing for his attention. Like in the story of the woman at the well of Sychar when Jesus was taking a short cut through Samaria to flee the heat of political and religious intrigue in Jerusalem. So in today’s story, Jesus has just heard the news that his cousin, John the Baptist has been beheaded. Jesus withdraws to gather his thoughts, to a deserted place, but the crowds follow and on seeing them Jesus has compassion on them and heals their sick.
There are three primary ways healing in the NT is expressed. When people of deep faith come to Jesus directly, when people of deep faith come to Jesus on behalf of another person whose faith is unknown and when Jesus, himself just out of great love and compassion, offers healing & wholeness.
Some Christians say that only people of faith will see Jesus. But this story, and it isn’t the only time Jesus responds with compassion, shows us that at the last when we stand before God it is Christ’s compassion for us which may carry the day. Let us not be so black and white re who is in and who isn’t, with who can receive access to healing and who may be excluded. God’s compassion plays a part.
There is also a salutary lesson here about being pre-occupied with weighty matters to the exclusion of all else. In some of those pre-occupied occasions which we face, as Jesus did with his cousin’s death, Jesus could have said ‘don’t bother me, this is the worst possible time for you to ring my front door bell, there’s been a death in the family, I’ve more important things to focus on at present.’ He didn’t!
The mystery and genius of this encounter between Jesus and the crowd isn’t that Jesus just can’t say no, for he does go off on his own, often, but he isn’t so fixated with his own needs that he doesn’t also see that in responding through compassion to another’s needs that he might also find a way forward in his own journey. It was similarly with the Samaritan woman of Sychar, her robust engagement with Jesus, opened his eyes to the possibility that Samaritans might also be receptive to His good news. In other words, when you lose your preoccupation with self (Matt 16:25) however important the decisions to be made, you just might find what you’re looking for in and through your care of others.
Now, back to this story of the feeding of the 5,000.
The crowd have come unprepared for a meal, their focus was just on keeping in sight of Jesus!
The disciples wanting to protect Jesus and, or they were not that concerned about the crowd, they just wanted to send them away to get their own food. The disciples didn’t ‘see’ any resources that they might have to feed the crowd. You feed them, says Jesus!
What! That’s impossible Lord, we have nothing…just 5 loaves and two (dried sardine like) fish!
Jesus says ‘give me what you have’ and the rest is history…
This parable doesn’t answer all the questions of human life. It isn’t meant to.
This parable isn’t primarily about human responsibility for their situation in life.
This parable doesn’t address the starving and also the hoarding we see every day in the world.
But this parable does show us that when we bring ‘all we have to Jesus’ the results can be miraculous.
We also too often look at what we have, believing either that it is ‘not enough’ or that what we have/are is of little or no interest or use/value to Jesus. We make those decisions through our own eyes, through our own experience of life and not through what He can do with all that we are.
We also, like the disciples in this story, may look first for fault in another’s actions for the situation they’re now in as justification for our doing nothing. Jesus reminds the disciples that another person’s hunger or need is not just the other person’s concern, but is their concern too.
We ARE our brother’s keeper to quote that famous interchange (Gen 4:9) between God and Cain.
But above all, this parable points to Christ who is ever willing to heal and to feed us on our journey wherever it takes us, whenever we find ourselves ‘on our desolate hillsides without food’ however prepared or unprepared we may be. For he is food for our journey!
This week may each one of us bring to Jesus all the bits and pieces and left overs of our lives, the ‘we have nothing but these “5 loaves and 2 fish”’. It is also interesting that without any Biblical support for the concept, many of the paintings from the middle ages right through to the 20th C paint this parable with a small boy bringing his food to Jesus. Why is that?
Something to make our hearts go ‘ahhh how touching’? If this surprises you, just Google ‘boy with five loaves and two fish’. You might be amazed as to how many such pictures are out there!
And like the picture many people have of Joseph and a heavily pregnant Mary making the journey to Bethlehem, with Mary riding on a donkey, there is no donkey in the Biblical story. Given Joseph and Mary’s humble origins it’s unlikely they could have afforded one. Like 98% of people, they walked!
And the food for this vast crowd? It is almost certainly the food the disciples had with them, that Jesus is referring to as the disciples are the ones who are asked, not the crowd, to feed them!
Now their indignation and puzzlement has a personal focus.
This is OUR food you want us to share Lord.
This interchange then brings to bear a focus on what is really ever ‘ours’ and for whose benefit it is?
Jesus in effect says, share it with them all. Some wrestling at the Jabbok with our Lord around what is ‘ours’ and how it should be used might be worth discussing at another time. Do you object too?
To His name be praise and glory! Amen
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Lord God of all creation, we pray for planet Earth and its teeming life: from giant blue whales to the smallest plankton; from the red dust of remote Australia to the black soil plains of Moree; to those who live in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and on the burj al arab in Dubai; in Aged Care facilities across our land to the homes, shops, restaurants, schools, businesses and factories of Engadine & Heathcote.
Lord of all compassion, hear our prayers.
For all who hunger for food, for shelter, for recognition, for acceptance, meaningful employment, loving relationships and for better health.
Lord of all compassion, hear our prayers.
We pray for your world wide community of faith, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken, mould us, remake us and renew us as your Body the Church amongst the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, the Protestant Church of Timor Leste, the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, the United Churches of Christ in the Philippines, the Catholic Diocese of Newcastle and the Uniting Church in Australia.
Lord of all compassion, hear our prayers.
And we pray Lord, for all whom we know and love by name as we bring them and ourselves before you now in our hearts and spoken before you. These our prayers, these our lives, we bring before you!
OFFERING – of all that we are, for all that you are, in service.
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
We offer you praise, dear God, and hearts lifted high, for in the communion of your love
Christ comes close to us and we come close to Christ.
Therefore with the whole realm of nature around us, with earth, sea, and sky, we sing to you.
With the angels of light who envelop us, with all the saints before and beside us,
with brothers and sisters, east and west, we sing to you.
And with our loved ones, separate from us now, who yet in this mystery are close to us,
we join in the song of your unending greatness:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!
BREAKING OF THE BREAD
He whose table was open to all, is now present in this bread.
He whose word welcomed friend and stranger, offers friendship through this cup.
With people everywhere we affirm, God’s goodness at the heart of humanity
planted more deeply than all that is wrong.
The gifts of God for the people of God!
Thanks be to God.
LAMB OF GOD
Jesus, Lamb of God
Have mercy on us.
Jesus, bearer of our sins
Have mercy on us.
Jesus, redeemer of the world
Grant us peace.
PRAYER OF INVOCATION
The Body of Christ given for you, eat this in remembrance of Him
Spiritual food for our daily life and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet
Prepared for all whom he loves.
HYMN – Community of Christ
Community of Christ
Who makes the Cross your own
Live out your creed and risk your life for God alone:
The God who wears your face
To whom all worlds belong
Whose children are of every race
and every song.
Community of Christ
Look past the Church’s door
And see the refugee, the hungry and the poor.
Take hands with the oppressed
The jobless in your street
Take towel and water, that you wash
your neighbour’s feet.
Community of Christ
So shall God’s will be done -
Cry out for justice and for peace
The whole world round:
Our currency be love
And kindliness our law
Our food and faith be shared as one
Words and music by permission Hope Publishing Co USA
Shirley Erena Murray 1931 – 21 January 2020 in New Zealand
BLESSING & BENEDICTION
There are many things we may wish for in life.
But perhaps one of the most precious is the knowledge of the blessing of Christ upon our lives. Because he is faithful and compassionate, may the blessing of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit rest upon, live within you and delight in who you are and in whom you are becoming. Amen