Start by envisaging that you have walked a very long way in the hot sunshine to listen to somebody preaching about God. By this stage I am normally hot bothered and tired and not very in tune with what God may or may not be saying. The disciples certainly were they had spent a month or so going around Judea living off nothing and healing the sick. They needed a rest. This is where Jesus started. Unlike my usual sermon Jesus did not start by haranguing everyone and telling them they should do more. He told them to sit down and rest. He then fed them a full meal and healed their sick. In many Anglican churches we rarely pray for the sick, but Alison and I have been to one where we were told to lay on the floor on comfortable mats and listen to soothing music and people came and prayed for our healing. It is a wonderful experience. God wants to ease our tensions and heal us, if only we will allow him to do so. For some like me we have been brought up that God demands and we must work harder – that is wrong. So, for the rest of this service just sit quietly and relax and allow God to massage away all of those tensions. Start with sitting resting and receiving including healing from all the stresses and strains of living in a Covid 19 age.
We need to learn to rely on God’s provision and healing. Those responsible for my spiritual health keep reminding me that God does not call me to “do” but just to “be”. I am a human “being” not a human “doing”. We are called not to activity but to accept ourselves as we are and have been made.
But like the disciples with the loaves and fishes in our weakness we all have a little something. Sometimes God asks us what have we in our hands. He does not ask us for big things, just what we have in our hand and its is usually small and insignificant. Our part is to ponder what we actually have, whether it is a loaf of bread, to arrange flowers or to talk to one person. You see God does not ask us what we think he wants us to have but to be realistic and what we have. For me, when I pondered this, the answer what I have in my hand is not a license from the Bishop to preach but that I used to work as a project manager. The license to preach is difficult, my life of experience is for me easy. So I think what we have in our hand that God wants us to use should feel easy and natural.
Look at the disciples: they did not have enough to feed 5,000, but 5 loaves.
Only when we are comfortable that we know what is in our hand, then we should offer this to God. I know that the challenges and needs of the world look enormous and the demands that the church asks of each one of us seem huge. How can we feed 5,000 people. And faced by the enormous need, we just want to sit back and listen and watch somebody else – usually the vicar – get on and do all the huge things which need doing.
So back to imagining ourselves there in the wilderness in the sun. Jesus asks what have you in your hands. A few months ago as I said, when God asked me this question I had to answer I am a retired project manager living in rural Wensleydale. That is nothing. God pointed out that I was retired so I had time. I was a project manager so I knew how to write quarterly reports and I was understood rural life. So use your time to write a report on lay ministry in rural life. That is all that I did, the rest is a story for another time and place. So please ponder what do you have in your hand at this moment in time.
I want to just touch on our first reading Jacob the schemer. Jacob had spent all of his life scheming how to get the better of people, whether his father in law Laban, his father Isaac or his brother Esau. This is what Jacob had in his hand, that he was an accomplished schemer. Perhaps nowadays he would have been a politician or businessman. But he used his skills to win by being devious. So part of knowing what we have in our hand is understanding whether we are prepared to work God’s way. Jacob had to wrestle with God to admit that he needed to live by God’s rule and not his own methods of doing things.
We need to understand like Jacob how we have been blessed and how we can use what we have, but instead of using it in our way we have to lay this down and use our skills in God’s way. For me it was learning to be generous rather than penny pinching.
Sometimes we need to realise that to be blessed by God means we have to be prepared to be changed by God, have our hip put out of joint so we are dependent on him and to have our name changed.
This brings me to our second reading. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul who was brought up as Saul and tried to destroy the early church in God’s name had to meet with the living God on the Damascus road and have his name changed and his mission redirected. When you read Paul’s letters you can see that he wrestled with God about the problems he faced. We read of his wrestling with God why none of his fellow Jews would join God’s new church. Paul learnt to wrestle with God in prayer for those he cared for. I think I want to finish with the idea that we need to be like Paul wrestling in prayer for our church. Why God are we small and elderly, why do young people not come. All of us can pray and so we can learn to ask God the difficult questions. The difficult part is that sometimes the answers mean that like Jacob we need to be changed.