The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

s051g11  Sunday 18  31/7/2011


'you give them something to eat'  Matthew 14.16


We, as disciples, have the five loaves and two fish that are sufficient to feed the multitude who would come if they thought that the church was a place of sustenance.  But the church has fretted over the multitude and the paucity of her provisions, and so restricted those who might come.   We have put moral, racial, gender, sexual and theological conditions on those who might approach and be fed.   It was not a generation ago that women who left their husbands for whatever reason were denied the sacrament of Holy Communion.   Again it is not a generation ago when it was considered sinful to enter a church building of another denomination.   The church still seems to make a requirement of belief in a particular orthodox doctrinal statement a requirement for coming to communion.   Our Anglican Church requires people to be baptised and confirmed.    Many clergy would deny communion to openly gay and lesbian persons.  


So should we be surprised that people are leaving churches that do this in droves?   Actually we should be glad, for the 'god' that this reflects is not worth worship.


Eating together signifies acceptance.   So our Holy Communion signifies that we and others are accepted on identical terms.   But as I demonstrated above our 'holy communion' is actually perceived as an unholy ex-communication.   Despite the lovely words of Dom Gregory Dix, the command to give the multitude something to eat has been the most disobeyed command in the whole of history, precisely by those who claim to be followers of Jesus and led by the Spirit.   We have been like those first disciples who, in a show of concern for others, want Jesus to send others away.


Instead of acceding to this request to send others away – so that the disciples could feel secure in their holy huddle – Jesus collects the bread and the fish and gives them to the disciples.   He makes them feed the others – they are not to sit idly by while Jesus does the work.   They have to get their hands dirty.   They have a part to play in the acceptance of others.   There is no point in Jesus accepting others but us demurring!   Jesus forces the disciples to feed others.


I was bemused recently to read this explanation of ordination in the internet edition of 'Church Times' from England: 'The boring bureaucracy of accrediting training courses, testing vocations, and granting licences — sometimes thought to be the tools of the hierarchy — are, in fact, the protections of a sceptical laity: who is this person you propose as our minister?   Has he or she been properly selected and trained?   Are they humble enough to continue their training with our help?   Thanks to the well defined structures in the Church of England, these questions can be answered with confidence.'   Ordination has often been thought of as sacred permission to do magical things like change bread into flesh and wine into blood.   Actually it is the Church restricting what clergy can do, stopping them giving communion to others who are 'unworthy', or those who simply are not in the holy huddle around the 'real Jesus'.


And it seems to me that clergy who are just allowed to do what the well-to-do parishioners think – is a recipe for an incestuous church with an incestuous theology.


One of the ways clergy can be successful is if they direct others.   The disciples wanted Jesus to send the others away.   Often parishioners want the minister to get other people to support this or that.   Other people are to be used or discarded as they aid a particular ministry or campaign or not.   This is hardly love.  The command to feed others is given to us too.  Jesus says that we are to give others something to eat.   For there is precious little point in telling others that Jesus loves them – but that he is the only one!   The rest of the congregation have a part to play in the acceptance of others.   I have sometimes wondered if I would invite someone whose friendship I really cared about to a congregation where I was the minister, to be subjected to the scrutiny, expectations, and obstruction of any novel ministry or contribution, by the existing congregation.


And I begin to perceive that this is a theme in Matthew, the rejection of the devout and the orthodox at Nazareth because Jesus said that the kingdom was not necessarily found in their sacred space, through their mediation, then the disciples trying the same trick, getting Jesus to acknowledge their special status with Jesus and feed only them, and then next week Jesus sending the disciples away before he dismissed the crowds.   I take it that the rejection by the orthodox and the devout is not at all dissimilar to the disciples' need to similarly want to mediate the access others have to Jesus and the kingdom.


To return to that oft repeated statement: 'no one comes to the Father but by me' which is most frequently used to suggest that others cannot come to the Father except through 'their' mediation of the 'real' Jesus.   Nothing could be further from the truth.   Last week we found that the kingdom is found as a labourer chances across it digging in a field.   It is found in the life-long searching of a merchant.   Today we see the kingdom comes to the crowds despite the efforts of the disciples to send them away.   And next week we find Jesus sending the disciples away, so that he can dismiss the crowds personally, completely dispelling any impression that he is mediated through the disciples. 


And the storm on the lake becomes the storm of the realisation that the disciples have no power over Jesus.   They do not 'have' Jesus in a way denied to others – they too are beset by the storms of life – they too are not immune from danger.   I begin to see how angry Jesus was with the disciples for I note that in Mark's parallel account, he says of Jesus walking on the lake that: 'he intended to pass them by' while they were floundering, helpless and hapless in the boat.  (Mark 6.48)   I suspect that he intended to show them in no uncertain terms that he was not their puppet – someone who they could use to manipulate others.
At the end of John's gospel, three times the risen Jesus says to Peter: 'Feed my sheep'.  I am not sure that the church has got the message!   Sadly I think the Church has spent its time defining who is and who isn't one of Jesus' flock rather than feeding anyone.   By doing so the church has used the scriptures to avoid doing what Jesus commands.   And it must be said that the Holy Communion is rarely a supper amongst equals signifying acceptance on equal terms to the priest.  The ministers are up front in their peculiar dress, the altar rail delineating clearly who is in charge and who are subservient.  
If we think lay people are getting too much power, we have only to blame ourselves, for the desire for spiritual power comes trying to imitate clergy.   People have learned the 'real' lessons too well.
But also those who have left the church and have found a ministry in the world – helping others indiscriminately – have also learned the lesson well and praise the Lord for that!  They have realized that Jesus did not tell people to read the Bible constantly or spend their time on their knees berating themselves.   These deserve to be fed also, though I suspect that they find their sustenance in the good that they are able to do, with or without the church's recognition.   There is so many scraps left over after the feeding for all these people too, though they deserve a place at the table and not the scraps left over.
I ask the question, had Jesus not been there and one of the disciples blessed, broke and distributed the five loaves and two fish, would not the miracle have occurred just as surely.   And wouldn't it be miraculous if the church of today actually tried to?



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