Wylde Green URC
Thoughts for the week commencing 26th July 2021
This week's thoughts are written by Mark Miles and are based on
2 Kings 4: 42-44; John 6: 1-21 and Ephesians 3: 14-21
2 Kings 4: 42-44
42 Another time, a man came from Baal Shalishah, bringing Elisha twenty loaves of bread made from the first barley harvested that year, and some freshly-cut heads of grain. Elisha told his servant to feed the group of prophets with this, 43 but he answered, “Do you think this is enough for a hundred men?” Elisha replied, “Give it to them to eat, because the Lord says that they will eat and still have some left over.” 44 So the servant set the food before them, and as the Lord had said, they all ate, and there was still some left over.
Todays verses are centred on Elisha, and he introduces us to the underlying theme of many of our verses this week – that of food! Elisha was a farmer who received a message from God, via Elijah whom he had followed for many years, that he was to be a prophet. In a sign of his commitment to this calling from God Elisha sets fire to his plough so that he could cook his oxen and no longer be a farmer! You can just imagine the reaction of his family as he did this. Elisha stuck by Elijah right to the end and by doing so took over his mantle and committed himself into following God. Elisha was not only a prophet, but he was also a miracle worker. Amongst many miracles performed he purified his community’s water, made a widow’s oil supply endless and as we read today, shared his personal rations with 100 friends – with enough left over for seconds.
This last 15 months or so have seen many people come together to share many things, including food, to help those around them. I personally find it hard to believe that food poverty exists in today’s society, in fact it is probably as bad now than it ever has been in living memory. There are many examples of people “doing their bit” including ourselves in our continuous support of the foodbank, however one well known example of someone who has made a difference is Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United and England footballer. He campaigned, and still does, to ensure that no school child went hungry during lockdown. His campaign reached such levels of publicity that he managed to change government policy, helping ensure no child went hungry. There was, and still is, more than enough food for everyone – it just needs to be shared around, just as Elisha did, with still some left over. We just have to share.
Reflection for today:
Please watch the following video clip – https://youtu.be/zFTspq_nzG4 (You may need to skip the ads) How simple is this? If a child knows what to do why is it so difficult for adults to do? What can you do to “do your bit”?
John 6: 1-15
After this, Jesus went across Lake Galilee (or, Lake Tiberias, as it is also called). 2 A large crowd followed him, because they had seen his miracles of healing the sick. 3 Jesus went up a hill and sat down with his disciples. 4 The time for the Passover Festival was near. 5 Jesus looked around and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, so he asked Philip, “Where can we buy enough food to feed all these people?” (6 He said this to test Philip; actually he already knew what he would do.)7 Philip answered, “For everyone to have even a little, it would take more than two hundred silver coins to buy enough bread.” 8 Another one of his disciples, Andrew, who was Simon Peter's brother, said, 9 “There is a boy here who has five loaves of barley bread and two fish. But they will certainly not be enough for all these people.”
10 “Make the people sit down,” Jesus told them. (There was a lot of grass there.) So all the people sat down; there were about five thousand men. 11 Jesus took the bread, gave thanks to God, and distributed it to the people who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, and they all had as much as they wanted. 12 When they were all full, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces left over; let us not waste a bit.” 13 So they gathered them all and filled twelve baskets with the pieces left over from the five barley loaves which the people had eaten.
14 Seeing this miracle that Jesus had performed, the people there said, “Surely this is the Prophet who was to come into the world!” 15 Jesus knew that they were about to come and seize him in order to make him king by force; so he went off again to the hills by himself.
How odd does it feel today to read in verse 2 about “a large crowd”? Do you remember what one of those was? At present they seem things of the past and yet hopefully, as restrictions begin to ease, we can once again be part of a crowd – a crowd (or maybe just a congregation to start with) of people following and telling others about the love of Jesus.
The feeding of the five thousand is one of just two miracle stories that appear in all four of the gospels. Any idea what the other one is? It is in fact the resurrection of Jesus – well done if you were correct. Despite being in all four gospels, there are some differences in the accounts (more on that tomorrow), however today I would briefly like to explore the crowd a bit more. Jesus had heard that John the Baptist had been killed, and feared that Herod Antipas, who had had John killed, would be after him next. So he went to Bethsaida, on the Sea of Galilee. Bethsaida was in Iturea rather than Galilee, and so was outside of the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas, but not that of his followers who flocked to see Jesus, wanting to hear of his teachings. And so we get the gathering of a large crowd.
We all know how the story progresses with their feeding and I’m sure the crowd think that these actions prove that Jesus was a prophet, fulfilling the words in Deuteronomy 18.15, where Moses promises to send a prophet “like me”. This promise may well had already been fulfilled many times – not least in Elisha whom we heard about yesterday – but John wants us to ask if it is fulfilled in Jesus. He gives the crowd’s view without comment. But we and the crowd are left to wonder whether this is one who will lead his people out of oppression as Moses did, and to ask ourselves whether the feeding in the wilderness is a sign of that and something we will explore a little further om Thursday.
Reflection for today:
If you were alive in Jesus’ time would you have been part of the crowd? If so what would you have been looking for?
As mentioned yesterday the story of the feeding of the five thousand is covered in all four of the gospels, however, John’s version contains one very different piece of information. He is the only writer that makes reference to the fact that the loaves and fishes came from a human source, and a boy at that. Have you ever wondered why John specifically mentions a boy and what role he specifically plays in this story?
We learn that Andrew presents a boy (referred to as a “little boy” in some translations) to Jesus in what almost appears to be in a tongue in cheek way, almost suggesting that this offering is never going to be enough, let alone food from a child. The fact that there are also children present in the crowd suggests that there were far more than the 5,000 “men” present as indicated in the passage. The boy was likely to be with family members as children did not tend to go to places on their own in those days. Furthermore, the boy also seems to be from a lower class of society as John specifically mentions that the bread was made from Barley (also unique to John). Barley in Jesus’ days was much cheaper than wheat and was commonly ate by the poor. So what does the boy’s presence say to us?
Maybe we should think, not about the loaves and fishes here, but of the boy’s presence and the way Jesus interacted with him. We know that on at least one occasion the disciples rebuked parents who brought children to Jesus only for them to be rebuked themselves by Jesus. I wonder if Jesus was / is inviting us to also place value on the children amongst us and reiterate the role that they can play in the life of the church?
This last week we have celebrated our “last” (for the time being at least) zoom service as we now hopefully start to worship in person again and hopefully we will once again be able to appreciate the children and young people of our church – even if they have grown significantly taller since we last saw some of them! Just as we saw from the video on Monday, children often do the simple things better than us. So, as we return to church, let us give thanks and embrace the children and young people of church, remembering they are just as important in our church family as the adults are.
Verse for today:
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
16 When evening came, Jesus' disciples went down to the lake, 17 got into a boat, and went back across the lake toward Capernaum. Night came on, and Jesus still had not come to them. 18 By then a strong wind was blowing and stirring up the water. 19 The disciples had rowed about three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking on the water, coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 “Don't be afraid,” Jesus told them, “it is I!” 21 Then they willingly took him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached land at the place they were heading for.
And so after the feeding of the 5,000 (and as we now know a lot more) Jesus and the disciples left in opposite directions. The disciples went to the shore to take a boat, whilst Jesus went off into the hills after sensing that the crowd wanted to make him the king that would lead them in a rebellion. I do wonder why they went their separate ways – it wasn’t as if they were likely to have forgotten one another. It appears that there was some urgency to get the group to its next destination, enough so, that Jesus sent the disciples on ahead while he wrapped things up on the shore and then spent some time in prayer, before taking his extraordinary route to rejoin the disciples.
The disciples were well on their way when Jesus, in the night, comes on water and announces his arrival by saying “It is I”. This action takes place at the same time as the Passover and there appears to be a direct link to Moses and the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt and potentially appears to explore Jesus’ identity. When the crowd returns to the opposite shore, as they feel that Jesus had left mid-sentence, they compare this feeding with the manna that Moses gave the Israelites in the wilderness. Jesus’ walking across the water recalls the way God made a path through the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape from the Egyptians.
It is quite possible that the reason for the disciples leaving ahead of Jesus was the demands of the group’s ministry schedule and responsibilities. But in God’s larger plan, maybe the real purpose for them leaving earlier was to reveal more of his identity and glory, seen throughout John’s gospel.
Song for today:
Please listen to a recording made by our band which is entitled “Jesus says I am the bread” and helps us realise who he is. https://vimeo.com/576252836
Ephesians 3: 14-21
14 For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. 16 I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God's people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ's love. 19 Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. 20 To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: 21 to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever! Amen.
The theme of hospitality can clearly be seen in this weeks final verses, however the theme of prayer can also be observed. Paul wants those who hear him to understand the enormity of what God has done for them, but also that this can only be done by working together. Prayer is all about our relationship with God, something that is unique to each and every one of us. God created us all with unique personalities meaning that each one of us has to work out our own relationship with God. No relationship will ever be the same. Relationships are about communication, collaboration, creativity, fun, caring, compassion, being active and reflective, getting the chores done, including many others. Our relationship with God is no different.
Prayer for today:
Lord God, we thank you for making us all different. Help us to use our uniqueness to build a better relationship with you so that we can do you were work here on earth. Amen.