8th Sunday after Trinity
your Son left the riches of heaven
and became poor for our sake:
when we prosper save us from pride, when we are needy save us from despair, that we may trust in you alone;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
Romans 9 1-5
1 I am speaking the truth in Christ-I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit – 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.4 They are Israelites and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises: to them belong the patriarchs, and from them according to the flesh, comes the Messiah who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
13 Now when Jesus heard this, 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. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 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.’ 16 Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ 17 They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ 18 And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ 19 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. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
I want you to take your minds back almost 20 years to 1991 – not to any of the major political or social events of the day – but to share a little of our family history.
In the summer of that year, our elder son was waiting for his first-degree results and to know whether he had won a research scholarship. Our younger son was waiting for his ‘A’ level results and to know whether he had a place at the University of his choice. My husband, Rob, had been offered a job in France and was considering taking very early retirement from a safe and secure job in London to live and work abroad. I was suddenly faced with living alone, at least in the short term, surprisingly something I had never done before.
It was potentially a time of total change and there were no absolutes. We had no idea what the autumn would bring and yet I remember being totally happy and confident that all would be well. Now this was unusual because I am a cautious individual and not fond of change – I like to feel secure and to know what is going to happen. Somehow, I had been able to let go and to trust in God – in the words of Mother Julian of Norwich to know
‘That all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.’
Paul in today’s extract from the letter to the Romans was finding things less easy. In the previous part of his letter he had been full of joy and confidence, asserting that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Here he is not so sure. Was he right to abandon his Jewish faith, the faith of his ancestors? All the promises of the Israelite tradition that he Paul, as Saul, the persecutor of Christians had defended so loyally throughout the years of his childhood and early manhood, until his conversion on the road to Damascus. Was Jesus really the Christ, the longed-for Messiah, or had Paul made a horrible mistake? All the great gifts and signs that had been given to the Israelites should have prepared them to recognize the Messiah but somehow the people mistook the signs for the reality. Jesus wasn’t remotely what the Jews were expecting, and the problem was they just couldn’t let go of their preconceived ideas – on this occasion Paul couldn’t let go of what he thought God should be and do.
And the same problem exists today – we try to tie God down, to limit Him and predict what ought to happen – even to try to organize events for Him. Take the disciples in the Gospel for today – they were trying to help – first to help Jesus by suggesting that the crowds should be sent away to give Him some space. Then to help the crowds by suggesting that they should be sent to buy food before it was too late. They just didn’t get it – God could solve all these problems – if they just relaxed and let Him do it. Jesus says to the disciple – ‘You feed the people’ – an enormous and daunting task by any standards – but it is enormous and daunting only if they cannot let go and trust in the goodness, the mercy and the generosity of God.
Isaiah shouts ‘come and buy’ – come and buy something that costs nothing, that is a totally free gift. Open your hearts and lives to the amazing generosity of God – cast all your cares and doubts and anxieties on Him – let go and He will provide – just as he did when he fed the crowd with the loaves and fishes.
God’s love and generosity towards His creation is boundless – it is only blocked by the suspicious lack of trust of most of us to whom it is offered. Perhaps that is the real challenge of the present moment, when it is hard for us to see and understand what is God’s plan for the world. Or is it rather that we are once again blocking God’s love and care for the world because we think we know best? Or because some of us are doing what we want and what suits us, rather than listening carefully to what may be sound advice? After all, as Paul and the early followers of Jesus found, God is unexpected and He speaks to us in a many different ways and guises. Humankind in general is not very good at letting go and trusting in God. Even the great Christian Paul had difficulty in letting go and trusting all the time so that he could receive what he knew God offered through Christ.
I think the summer of 1991 was so momentous for me because in that brief moment I could do no other than relax and trust in the graciousness of God – and I can still remember the joyful sense of freedom and peace that I experienced then. And, of course, the reality is that God did provide for us – as he wants to provide for all his children, all of the time. For Rob, France was a huge success – for me living alone was a great learning curve – both boys achieved what they needed to move on – and in the process met the two delightful girls whom they later married and who have given us five dear grandchildren.
Of course, it doesn’t always work out that neatly. God will always provide, but not always in the way we expect – and that is the real challenge of our faith – and certainly the real challenge of the present moment when God seems to come in so many different disguises – and all with different advice!
But as one of the grandsons never tired of singing when he was a little boy,
‘Alleluia, alleluia, ‘listen to Jesus, do what he tells you, open your hearts today.’