Category Archives: News

Sermon – Trinity 8: Feeding of the 5,000

Trinity 8 – 2 August 2020 – Feeding of the 5000 by Francesca Vernon

Jesus hears about his cousin John the Baptist’s death. He gets into a boat and sails off alone, perhaps looking to find some space in solitude… to process.

On coming ashore, however, Jesus is suddenly faced with this stadium size crowd of people standing before him, following him, waiting for him. I don’t know about you, but I feel that faced with this on top of the grief, I’d have been at the very end of my emotional tether.

But, Jesus’ response is not frustration, not even a slight sigh of weariness. He responds with a full, open-hearted compassion. Amidst his deep personal grief, the only response he has to these people is love, a deep love that strikes him to his guts: in the original Greek text, the word for having compassion here is made from the word used to describe a person’s deepest guts, their heart, stomach, liver, their insides. So, Jesus’ compassion for the people overflows out of the very core of his self, out of his inmost being. This is the God who faces us here.

Then, out of this compassion, Jesus feeds the people. He sees their hunger, their need, and he responds. The disciples on their part want to send them off to town to buy their own dinner, as there is barely enough food for them! But Jesus does not want to drive anyone away. And so, his compassion within him creates, gives birth to, a spontaneous miracle in this place of wilderness. He multiplies bread.

One comparison that struck me here is with the other place of wilderness that involved Jesus contemplating making extra bread…then, it was bread from stones. A number of chapters earlier in Matthew’s gospel, the devil says to Jesus as he is fasting in the wilderness, ‘if you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread’. And of course Jesus can, he has the ability to, as he has demonstrated here!

But back then, Jesus does not give in and make bread. He does not give in to using his status as Son of God for selfish reasons. As St Paul says in the letter to the Philippians, “Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but he emptied himself.” Here, in the feeding of the 5000, this miracle of bread-making comes not out of selfishness, which is I think an opposite of compassion, but it comes out of a completely spontaneous selfless giving, a wish to give to others and to respond to their immediate need. And this of course foreshadows both the breaking of Jesus’ body on the cross, and his offering of himself to us all through the bread of the Eucharist.

Another fun detail from the original Greek text – is to do with the place where Jesus invites the crowd of people to sit down, before he breaks the bread and feeds them. This place in Greek is called the χορτος (chortos), and this χορτος is normally just translated into English as ‘grass’, just plain grass. But in Greek it actually has a strong link with the idea of a specific place where a flock of animals, such as sheep, is fed; it is pasture-ground or a specific enclosure where animals are brought for feeding. So this use of language directly invites us to see Jesus as a shepherd, a caring, compassionate shepherd who is inviting his flock to sit down in his pasture-ground to be fed.

We are Jesus’ flock. When we find ourselves in places of wilderness in our own lives, Jesus does not drive us away from him, but invites us towards him, to commune with him in his pasture-ground. We are invited to eat with him, to eat his bread, and to drink of his living water that we may never thirst.

We are also Jesus’ disciples. We are called to share Jesus’ compassion, and his selfless gift, as he asked the disciples to share the bread. Everything we have and everything that we are is a gift from our God; food, friendship, our very life. And whether we are called to feed 5 or 5000 people with our gifts, it is God who calls us, and it is God who multiplies in extravagant abundance whatever little it is that we can offer.

So, may we live our lives in the light of Christ, sharing with others God’s love and compassion for us, God’s gifts to us, God’s grace that we receive spiritually, even when we can’t gather for the broken bread of Holy Communion. May we shine the light of God’s compassion in the lives of others, as much as we possibly can. For: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it’.

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Amen.

Francesca Vernon

Sermon – Trinity 7

Sunday 26 July 2020 – 1 Kings 3: 5-12; Matthew 13: 31- 33, 44- 52 by Rev Paul White

“The Wisdom or the Judgment of Solomon ” – if you mentioned that to most people then, if they had any idea what you were talking about at all, they would probably think of the story of Solomon having to decide between two women which of them was the real mother of a baby – as you doubtless know Solomon’s judgement was that the baby should be cut in half but the real mother loved it so much that she would rather hand the baby over to the other woman rather than see it die, thus proving her identity. (1 Kings 3:16- end).

DNA tests hadn’t been invented then. Although the King Solomon method would have made the Jeremy Kyle show more interesting.

What may be less commonly known about Solomon’s wisdom is that it is not a characteristic which appeared by accident, more DNA if you will, rather it was a gift that he expressly asked God to give him.

In our first reading we heard that God appeared to Solomon in a dream. I have often thought about the way God communicates to people in dreams in the bible, and I think it is a somewhat neglected subject. But today I want to touch on the question that God asks Solomon in his dream:

‘Ask what I should give you.’

Rather than asking for long life or riches or even for love Solomon replied:

“Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people,

able to discern between good and evil;”

This response pleased God so much that he did give him an understanding and discerning mind, as we have heard, but he also gave him all the things he hadn’t asked for – hence also being as rich as Solomon and having a thousand wives, although no one mentioned the thousand mother-in-laws.

So Solomon listened to God in his dream but God also listened to Solomon. The gifting and the calling of Solomon to be a good and wise king was not simply an imposition by God but was the result of a dialogue.

I sometimes wonder whether we are afraid of listening to God or even asking God to speak to us at all because we are afraid of what he might ask us to do – ‘go and become a Vicar!’ or ‘go to Africa!’ I tried, Lord, honestly, I had the tickets and the malaria tablets!

But God doesn’t simply impose his will upon the unwilling – that is not what a truly loving Father does. Part of the process of being someone who seeks to follow God’s will is about identifying and naming our own will, because when our will works in accordance with God’s will then great things can happen.

A number of times Jesus, who is as much God as the God who spoke to Solomon, said to people: “What do you want me to do for you?” (e.g. Matthew 20:21 & Mark 10:51).

Often when I am leading morning or evening prayer I give people a space to bring their deepest prayers and petitions before God. Those deep desires which we may hesitate to name out loud for other people to hear, but which God longs to hear.

‘Ask what I should give you.’

or

‘What do you want me to do for you.’

Imagine if God, Father, Son or Holy Spirit, posed that question to you now, how would you reply?

In this churchy context it is easy to jump straight into the pious answer and say something like ‘end world hunger’ or ‘bring world peace’ but the question posed to Solomon, and the questions posed by Jesus, are expressly personal.

What can God do for you?

It may be equally easy to jump to the selfish answer – a new car and a million pounds would come in handy, thanks God.

But, if we can be like Solomon, even before he became wise, and steer a middle course between the pious but impersonal and the selfish but impious and ask how God can bless us so that we can be the best versions of ourselves and therefore be a blessing to those around us then perhaps there can be growth.

In our gospel reading from this morning we heard how unpromising and tiny beginnings can lead to great things: the tiny mustard seed can become the place of habitat and shelter, the yeast which is almost invisible to the eye can cause a whole batch of dough to rise.

When describing the kingdom of heaven in metaphors or parables Jesus could have spoken about a great king commanding an army to drive out the occupying forces of sin but today, and for the last three weeks, he talks of seeds and tiny beginnings. We have encountered the seed as the word of God planted in the soil of our lives, the good seed and the bad seed growing up together until the harvest and today the kingdom of heaven itself as being something which seems tiny and inconsequential but which turns out to be worth everything – even the pearl of great price which we should be willing to give up everything else for in order to acquire.

How do we plant that seed, grow the kingdom, acquire the pearl of great worth? Perhaps the leaven will land in your life through being willing to listen out for God in all the circumstances of your life, even in your dreams, to be sensitive to the growth to which he may be calling you but also to be willing to enter into dialogue – to tell him what he can do for you.

And if one life can flourish and grow by drawing closer and more attentive to God then it is possible for many lives to flourish and how wonderful it will be when God and the world looks to us and sees not a disparate group of weeds and an unploughed field but a productive harvest or an overflowing net of good fish ready and worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is not simply a place we enter after judgement, God willing, but is a kingdom that can grow and flourish and bear fruit amongst us in the here and now.

What can God do for you?

What can you do for God?

Amen.

Hadlow Parish Assistance Scheme

This scheme will cease to be operational from the 1st June although help can still be given if required. A big thank you to all those who volunteered their time to help others during the lockdown. If help is required, please contact Tonbridge and Malling Community Hub on 01732 876152 or Kent Together on 03000419292.

7th Sunday of Easter Sermon

7th Sunday of Easter 2020Acts 1: 6-14, John 17: 1-11

“…so that they may be one, as we are one”, Jesus prays in verse 11 of our Gospel reading this morning. “…..so that they may be one as we are one”.

On this last Sunday of Easter, we are invited to listen in as Jesus makes a “High Priestly Prayer” to his Father.  The setting for his prayer is the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, and the mood in the room as Jesus talks to God is heavy and poignant.  After all He has just said goodbye to his disciples, and every word, deed, and gesture he has offered them is weighted with grief.  He has washed their feet, fed them bread and wine, promised them the Holy Spirit, and commanded them to love one another.  He has spoken to them with both tenderness and urgency, as if time is running out.  Because it is.

Now, in the last moments before his arrest, he looks up to heaven and speaks of his heart’s deepest desires to God. 

Jesus is praying, and he is praying to his Father. and our Father. He prays for us, and he asks our Father that we would all become one as he and the Father are one.

If Jesus is praying for our oneness, then he is also recognizing and rejecting the boundaries and differences that divide us. There are divisions within ourselves, our families, our neighbours, our churches, our nation. We live in a world full of divisions – male or female; rich or poor; gay or straight; Protestant or Catholic; north or south; conservative or liberal; educated or uneducated; young or old; heaven or earth; divine or human; sinner or saved; orthodox or heretic. I am sure you could all list many more divisions in our world than the ones I’ve just mentioned. We could probably go on and on listing the boundaries that we encounter, and all too often establish or promote. They are not just divisions though, as they have become oppositions. These divisions exist not only out there in the world, but primarily and firstly in the human heart. We project onto the world our fragmented lives.

For every boundary we establish, there is a human being. Ultimately I suggest, boundaries and differences are not about issues. They are about real people, who have names, lives, joys, sorrows, concerns, and needs just like us and I think we sometimes forget or ignore this. It is often easier to deal with an issue than a real person.

Whether or not we admit it, the boundaries we establish and enforce are usually done in such a way as to favour us; to make us feel okay, to reassure us that we are right and in control, chosen and desired, seen and recognized, approved of and accepted. In order for me to win, someone must lose, in order for me to be included, someone must be excluded otherwise winning and being included mean nothing. The divisions of our lives in some way become self-perpetuating.

We often deal with the boundaries and differences that divide us by writing agreements, covenants, treaties, and legislation that govern how we will get along with each other and behave in the midst of our differences towards each other. But that is not Jesus’ prayer. His prayer is “…so that they may be one, as we are one”, (v11)

Jesus does not pray for our tolerance, our getting along, or just being nice to each other. He does not even pray that our differences would be eliminated. Instead he prays for our oneness. He prays that we would be one as he and the Father are one so that our oneness would be the revelation of God’s presence to the world. Oneness in the midst of difference becomes a sacramental presence of God’s life in the world.

That does not mean, however, that we lose our identity or individuality. Jesus does not stop being Jesus and the Father stop being the Father because they are one. Oneness is less about numbers and quantity and more qualitative. Jesus and the Father are one because they love and give themselves to each other. Oneness is a quality of life – God’s life. Jesus’ prayer for oneness is ultimately that we would be and live like God.

Oneness is not about eliminating differences. It is about love. Love is the only thing that can ever overcomes division and over and over again, Jesus tells us that in his teachings.

  • Love God.
  • Love your neighbour.
  • Love yourself.
  • Love your enemy.

Our love for God, neighbour, self, and enemy reveals our oneness. And the measure of our oneness, our God-likeness, is love. In love there may be differences, but there is no division or boundary.

God’s love knows no boundaries. God loves male and female, rich and poor, gay and straight, north and south. God loves Protestant and Catholic, conservative and liberal, educated and uneducated. God loves young and old, heaven and earth, divine and human. God loves sinner and saved, orthodox and heretic.  All are loved fully, completely, and uniquely as each one needs.

God does not even draw boundaries between Jesus and us. If we think God loves Jesus more than anyone else, we have missed the point of the Gospel. God loves you the same as he loves Jesus. God loves your neighbour the same as he loves Jesus. God loves your enemy the same as he loves Jesus. If that is how God loves, how can we do anything less and still call ourselves Christians?

For far too long we have dealt with each other through our boundaries, differences, and divisions. And you can see the situations that has got us into. You need only look at the world, read the newspaper, or watch the news to see it. When we deal with others through our divisions we label, we judge and exclude, we can end up resorting to war and violence, and then take shelter to defend our position. There is no oneness in that.

Although Jesus is praying to the Father, you and I will in the large part, be the ones to answer Jesus’ prayer. That is because we answer his prayer every time we choose how to love, who to love, where to love. It is now time to really answer Jesus’ prayer and deal with one another in love. So, in these coming days, I wonder who are the boundaries, what are the divisions that await our love?

Amen

Sewing for the NHS

A group of people in Hadlow are sewing scrubs – gowns and hats – for use in Maidstone and Pembury Hospitals. This is being co-ordinated by a Facebook Group in Maidstone. Patterns are available on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/549227039361894/permalink/552490582368873/ If you would like to be involved you can join the group or, alternatively, email Janice at office@stmaryshadlow.org.uk for more information. If you do not have access to a sewing machine, you can still help by donating any unwanted or old duvet covers or sheets to be made up into scrubs. You can also sew, knit or crochet hearts: these should be in matching pairs to be given to people suffering with COVID-19 and to their loved ones. Hearts need to be small enough to fit inside an A5 envelope.