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Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources

Ordinary 18 Year A


Introduction

Eularia Clarke was inspired to produce this picture while eating fish and chips at Canvey Island in 1962.  The picture delightfully shows how each person painted is important, they are all shown with great clarity, none disappearing through perspective. We see lovely pictures of children being held, a man with his stove for the picnic, the bicycles and bags.

What has Canvey Island to do with the feeding of the 5,000? This modern scene of ordinary people with their cares and woes is little different from the hillside upon which Jesus sat down and held his own giant picnic. He was with the ordinary folks who gathered together and sat on the grass. At the time of that original miracle we are told they were all upset at the murder of John the Baptist. Jesus was upset too at the death of his cousin, yet his action was to sit down and bless the shared food. What worries do we bring to the table today? Jesus offers the same shared compassion, if one has eyes to see.

Opening Verses of Scripture Psalm 145:3

Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works.

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Gracious God, your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry with the bread of life and the word of your Kingdom. Renew your people with your heavenly grace, and in all our weakness sustain us by your true and living bread, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Lord and giver of life, you alone nourish and sustain your people, through Christ, the bread of life. Feed our hunger and quench our thirst, that we may no longer work for what fails to satisfy,
but do what you require, in obedience and faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen Methodist Worship

Almighty God, your Son has opened for us a new and living way into your presence. Give us new hearts and constant wills to worship you in Spirit and in truth; throgh Jesus Christ our Lord Amen. Methodist Worship

First Bible Reading Isaiah 55: 1-5

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples. Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendour."

Second Reading Romans Chapter 9:1-5

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

Gospel Reading Matthew 14: 13-21

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food." Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." "We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered. "Bring them here to me," he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
 

Post Communion Sentence

God of our pilgrimage, you have willed that the gate of mercy should stand open for those who trust in you: look upon us with your favour that we who follow the path of your will may never wander from the way of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Commentary

The reading today begins with the phrase, ‘when Jesus head what had happened.’ This is the context for the passage, and it casts a shadow over events. Herod had thrown a feast, it was a truly dreadful meal, for the only thing mentioned as being on a platter was the head of John the Baptist. We do not know who attended, but we can be certain it was the privileged few, the rich and the famous. Consider then this meal of the narrow invitation list, the presence of the powerful and the overwhelming mood of hate and bitterness, eventually bringing an outcome of the death of a righteous man. Then reflect upon the contrasting meal of Jesus which now occurs in the passage today. Unlike Herod, Jesus opens up the invitation list to all. We are told that the meal is held not in a palace but in a ‘remote place.’ The guests of Jesus do not incline on couches, Jesus invites them to sit on the grass. Now which meal would you have wanted to attend? The feast of Herod surrounded by hatred, or the feast of Jesus filled with compassion? The feast of Jesus is not a sumptuous feast, but "all ate and were filled."

Let’s look deeper at this feeding of the 5,000, we know it is important because every Gospel writers tells us about Jesus performing a miraculous feeding. There is a feeding of the Five Thousand in Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:32-44, Luke 9:12-17 and John 6:1-14. There some variations in details in the accounts, for example in John we read that the food used belonged to a boy. Then there is the Feeding of the Four Thousand in Matthew 15:32-39 and Mark 8:1-10. There are also separate accounts in Matthew and Mark of another feeding miracle. It seems reasonable to assume that there must have been more than one miracle if the same person recorded it twice. Remember though that numbers are not important, indeed in our story we can see that the 5,000 referred only to the men, so there might have been over 10,000 fed!

It is important to note the feeling which Jesus had for the crowd, it was one of compassion. Everybody would have heard of the death of John the Baptist at that dreadful feast. Jesus and those around him were upset and understandably Jesus in his grief takes time to go to a solitary place to be alone in his grief and the sense of loss following the death of his cousin. Yet when he sees the need of others around he offers his help freely. He thinks of others before himself. Perhaps there is a lesson for how we should expect to respond to adversity ourselves. We too are most blessed when we care for others, perhaps even especially when we place our own woes to one side and concentrate on how we can give rather than receive.

If we were to put ourselves into the position of the crowd themselves, then they would very much have appreciated this compassion. They had lost a leader and they would have felt bereaved, afraid and lacking in hope for the future. We feel the same from time to time, perhaps we are fearful of the future, or grieving over lost opportunities. It may be that we wonder how we can cope with the relationships we have with our families or others, our job, or indeed the Christian witness to which we feel called. Perhaps we are frightened by the challenge of life which God has laid before us? We should do well to remember that this is a feeling which the disciples shared- many times, and Jesus looks with compassion.

Jesus clearly wants to feed the crowd and cares for their physical needs. However a call upon the available resources reveals only five loaves and two fish. Clearly there would need to be much more to feed those present. The action of Jesus is to bless the resources which are brought to him and then to send them out. This is an interesting visual demonstration of how Jesus uses his disciples. We bring our meagre resources and we offer them to him, he blesses what we have, however inadequate for the task and then sends us out to do his work. When we offer our meagre resources to God and he blesses them we can know that God will change the value of them and increase their worth. It doesn't matter how small or insignificant we think our gift is, when Jesus blesses what we offer it becomes a powerful tool in his hands.

The result is miraculous. Now in spite of the old commentaries which suggested that this was a miracle of sharing, or a holy communion in which they were spiritually not physically fed, we cannot escape the fact that the story is presented as a miracle of growth. We know this because we are told clearly that there were twelve baskets left over. We should remember that twelve was an important number. The gospel writer would have wanted to make the point that there were enough baskets to have one for each disciple, one for each tribe of Israel.

The message is clear that when we trust in the mercy of God there is enough and more to go around, there are indeed leftovers. The abundance of God’s mercy does not disappoint, he fulfils his promises. We can know that there will always be sufficient for us if we trust in God. God is generous with us. This may be a difficult message for us to grasp. Why does Jesus make more wine than they actually need, did he have to make so many jars of wine? Why did the woman have to lavish perfume on Jesus, and would half a bottle not have been sufficient? The answer is no, Jesus is generous and we are called not to be resentful of such abundance but to do the same. Charles Royden
 

Meditation

Today we learn about the sharing of food. In the midst of their need, Jesus leads the disciples and the people in an unexpected and wonderful sharing of abundance. In this sharing, God is encountered. “Eucharist” is experienced. This spirit of abundance and sharing is a challenge to the greed, selfishness and profit seeking which dominate parts of our culture. The spirit behind the gospel challenges us and challenges the worst parts of our way of doing things. Food and water are more than just products to be bought and sold. The gospel is about more than just giving out food. Jesus does more than just “magically” create food. He calls a community into life. He calls the disciples into reflection and action on their situation in solidarity with everyone who is gathered. On behalf of the community, Jesus expresses gratitude and faith in God. He gets people to sit down and share. Food is passed from person to person. Everyone partakes of the abundance. Everyone has enough to eat. Instead of the hoarding of the leftovers, the people gather up what remains. Our gospel is a gospel of solidarity and empowerment. We are called to put this gospel into practice by creating a community of charity and justice for all. In the last year food prices have gone up all over the world, especially in places where people are the poorest. Not everyone is getting enough to eat. What would Jesus do in that situation? What would Jesus call us to do in our global situation?

At a time of world food shortage, of financial turmoil, of old and new forms of poverty, of disturbing climate change, of violence and deprivation which force many to leave their homelands in search of a less precarious form of existence, of the ever-present threat of terrorism, of growing fears over the future, it is urgent to rediscover grounds for hope. Let no one draw back from this peaceful battle that has been launched by Christ's Resurrection. For as I said earlier, Christ is looking for men and women who will help him to affirm his victory using his own weapons: the weapons of justice and truth, mercy, forgiveness and love. Pope Benedict XVI said, in Urbi et Orbi , Easter 2009:

For not only bread, but all things necessary for sustenance in this life are given on loan to us with others and because of others and for others, to others through us. Meister Eckhart c.1260-c.1327

 

Hymns

  1. Be still for the presence of the LORD
  2. O happy day!
  3. Tell out my soul
  4. Dear Lord and father of mankind
  5. Praise my soul the King of Heaven



Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian,
if it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected,

it will wither and die.


O God, you came to bring peace, to offer reconciliation, to heal the separation between people, and to show how it is possible for men and women to overcome their differences and to celebrate their unity. You revealed your God as a God of all people, a God without resentments or desires for revenge, a God who cares for each one of his children with an infinite love and mercy and who does not hesitate to invite them into his own house.
But our world today does not look like a world that knows you. Our nations are torn by chaos, hatred, violence, and war. In many places, death rules.
O God, do not forget the world into which you came to save your people; do not turn your back on your children who desire to live in harmony but who are constantly entangled in fear, anger, lust, violence, greed, suspicion, jealousy, and hunger for power. Bring your peace to this world, a peace we cannot make ourselves. Awaken the consciousness of all peoples and their leaders; raise up men and women full of love and generosity who can speak and act for peace, and show us new ways in which hatred can be left behind, wounds can be healed, and unity restored.
O God, come to our assistance. O God, make haste to help us. Amen.
Adapted from "A Cry for Mercy," by Henri J.M. Nouwen

God our Father, in the name of him who gave bread to the hungry, we remember all who through our human ignorance, folly, and sin are condemned to live in want. Show us, who have so much, what we can do to help those who have so little; and bless the efforts of those who work to overcome poverty and hunger, that sufficient food may be found for all; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. From the Book of Common Order of the Church of Scotland

O Lord God, in whom we live and move and have our being, open our eyes that we may behold thy presence ever with us. Draw our hearts to thee with the power of thy love. Teach us to be anxious for nothing, and when we have done what thou givest us to do, help us, O God our Saviour, to leave the issue to thy wisdom. Take from us all doubt and mistrust. Lift our hearts up to thee in heaven, and make us to know that all things are possible to us through thy Son our Redeemer. Amen (Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott, 1825-1901)


Jesus, may all that is you flow in me. May your Body and Blood be my food and drink. May your Passion be my strength and my life. Jesus with you by my side enough has been given. May the shelter I seek be the shadow of your Cross. May I not run from the love which you offer, but hold me safe from the forces of evil. On each of my dyings shed your light and your love, and keep calling to me until that day comes when with your saints, I may praise you for ever. Amen (David Fleming, adapted from Anima Christi)

Dear Father God. Our human lives are full of change. We know that life always moves on and nothing stays the same. We find change frightening, sad or difficult. Help us to be brave. Help us to be positive and above all, help us to remember that You alone do not change and will always be with us. Amen

Gracious God, with each returning day may we face our concerns and duties with goodness and grace. Let us be cheerful in our undertakings, faithful in business and able to reach the day's end with contentment and honour; through Christ our Lord. Amen Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-94 Prayer is a great weapon, a rich treasure,
a wealth that is never exhausted, an undisturbed refuge,
a cause of tranquillity, the root of a multitude of blessings
and their source.  St. John Chrysostom

Heavenly Father who loves us, help us to love ourselves, and to love our neighbours as much as ourselves. Amen.

Creator God, we give thanks for the work of the Hospice Movement, and we pray for those who work with the dying and the suffering. We pray that they will be given strength and courage in their work, and inspiration to go forward in Your Name. Amen

O God our dance in whom we live and move and have our being: so direct our strength and inspire our weakness that we may enter with power into the movement of your whole creation through our partner Jesus Christ. Amen

A Nurses Prayer Sometimes Lord, I find it so hard, when people think I am so good,
caring and loving, because I'm a nurse, they think I can cope with anything, anybody,
anywhere, anytime and that my uniform makes me different. But on the inside I'm the same,
I have fears that need your love to deal with them. I see pain and death, am I not meant to feel?
For that's not love. Love feels, and is alongside. If I'm not feeling how can I show I really care.
Help me to show I care in all I do and say Lord, live through me, that I may show Jesus
to my patients and colleagues.  Author Unknown

Additional Material

Introduction

The history of the development of Christianity is filled with many people who thought that God wanted them to be uncomfortable. Some starved themselves, others refused to wash or clean themselves, some even chopped off parts of their own bodies. To be a really good religious person they thought that they would have to deprive themselves physically.

Jesus however was concerned about  the physical needs of people. Whilst he was known to fast, he also made sure that people had food, even if it required a miracle to ensure that there was enough to go round.

In our reflections this week we consider that Jesus is concerned for the whole of our being, 'Body and Soul,'

Commentary

Much of Christian history has been marked by humans struggling with the concept of the importance or lack of importance that should be given to the human body. By far the strongest prevailing trend was for the Church to preach against the body as being unclean and dangerous to spiritual progress. Cultural Commentary. Much of Christian history has been marked by humans struggling with the concept of the importance or lack of importance that should be given to the human body. By far the strongest prevailing trend was for the Church to preach against the body as being unclean and dangerous to spiritual progress. Cultural historians say that this loathing for the body was inherited from Judaism and was a reaction against the frank enjoyment of physicality displayed by the pagan Greeks and Romans. Whatever the root of this disdain for the body, it has had a tragic impact upon Christianity. We will hear in the sermon this morning about the frightening and bizarre lengths that some Christians went to to control and mortify their own bodies. It is one thing to practise self-discipline, but something quite different to use the body- bad/ soul-good argument to justify indifference to the sufferings of others. Human pain has sometimes been regarded callously as being good for the soul and unimportant alongside spiritual matters. We read in history books of people being tortured “to save their souls”.
 

Jesus was certainly self-controlled. He ate and drank normally, he obeyed the fasts kept by Jews at set times and festivals. Although he did fast in the desert, he did so in the most private way. In fact Jesus had stern things to say about people who made a parade of their piety.
 

In regard to the sufferings of others Jesus always displayed the utmost concern and compassion. On many occasions we see the Lord tenderly ministering to the bodily ills of those who begged him for help. He healed the blind; the deaf and the lame and even allowed himself to be touched by a woman who was regarded by everyone else as contaminating and unclean.
 

Jesus shows his loving concern for the welfare of his followers in today’s passage from St Matthew. When considering the need for the crowd to be fed, Jesus does not shrug his shoulders and say that going hungry for a night might be good for their souls. Neither does he say that fasting will help them concentrate. Jesus shows concern and love and gives the crowd what they need, nourishment and refreshment, so that they can get in with feeding their souls though his teachings. This is surely a highly significant parable. It reinforced Jesus’ words that every hair of our heads is precious to God, and provides a challenge to Jesus’ followers in every age: we must nurture and tend the bodies of our sisters and brothers, we must protect and honour their physical selves as will as tend their souls.
 

Dame Cicely Saunders, who died recently, found herself as a nurse, then as a doctor, confronting callousness from the medical profession towards the dying. Saunders recognised God’s call to her to minister to the dying, to alleviate their pain and to tend to the needs of the soul. In doing so, Cicely Saunders was faithful to the spirit of the Gospel of Christ which treasures the people that God has made, body and soul. Joan Crossley

 

Meditation - Love's secret

Love's secret is to be doing things for God, and not to mind because they are such very little ones. Frederick W. Faber

Fund raisers speak, despairingly, of “compassion fatigue”. This term is used to explain why charitable giving drops off after a sustained campaign of fund raising. People, it seems, just grow desensitised and accustomed to the sufferings of others. Perhaps we have grown too used to watching African children dying on the television. Sometimes, people even distort Jesus’ words about “ the poor being always with us” and use it as an excuse to write off suffering as inevitable and thus acceptable. The sufferings of his children are never acceptable to God. They are as painful to Him, as the pain of my children would be to me. We have to keep the idea of God’s outrage at suffering at the forefront of our minds and make sure that we do not let anything else cloud our vision. Joan Crossley

Hymns

  1. Praise to the holiest in the height
  2. Seek ye first
  3. Thy kingdom come O God
  4. Be thou my vision
  5. Immortal invisible God only wise
  6. Praise to the Lord the Almighty  Tune Lobe den Herren
  7. Who took fish and bread Tune Who took fish and bread)
  8. Guide me O thou great  Cwm Rhonnda
  9. Glorious things of thee are spoken Abbots Leigh

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead 

Gracious God, your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry with the bread of life and the word of your kingdom. Renew your people with your heavenly grace, and in all our weakness sustain us by your true and living bread, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

God you poured the Spirit of your Son into our hearts so that we call you Father. give us grace to devote our freedom to your service.

Gracious God, you call each one of us to different types of ministry in your service. We pray for Rowan Williams who has been called to a most difficult ministry. We ask that you would strengthen and encourage him in the days ahead. When he reads hurtful things about himself on the radio or in the newspapers, help him to hear instead your voice. Reassure him of the knowledge of your love and commitment, that as he has been called in your service, so you will sustain and empower him with your strength. Give to him wisdom and patience, and a sense of humour. Amen.