Sermon for 25th July from Nicola Firth

Ephesians 3 14-21, John 6. 1-21

God of Grace and Abundance

May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The feeding of the 5000, is one of the stories in the bible that most of us are very familiar with, it is the only miracle of Jesus (apart from the resurrection) that is found in all four Gospels.

The Cambridge Dictionary says that a miracle is: ‘an unusual and mysterious event that is thought to be caused by a god, because it does not follow the usual laws of nature’ well given that explanation I tend to agree, the feeding of the 5000 certainly comes under the description of a miracle!

How on earth can a small boy’s lunch, of 5 loaves and 2 fish feed 5000? Well actually more than 5000 as the number recorded was only the men, the Jewish laws did not permit women and children to eat with the men in a public place, so they would have been separated (Matthews Gospel briefly mentions the women and children, so we know they were there) John does not use the word miracle anywhere; he uses the word sign, and he uses this word 17 times throughout his Gospel. A sign is something that points to a reality beyond itself, in both the old and New Testament we can read about signs and wonders, events that crack heaven open just a bit, to give earthbound people a glimpse of Gods truths. I love this, it is not the miracle alone we should look for, but what it reveals about God

This is a story about God’s ability to transform too little, into more than enough!

Verse four tells us that the festival of the Passover was near, there are 3 Passovers mentioned in the Gospels – the first was when Jesus went into the temple and turned over the tables just after performing His first sign (turning water into wine) and spoke of the destruction of the temple, the feeding of the 5000 is the second and the third we know as the last supper.
3 years of ministry, 3 Passovers, each marked with significant events! John’s writing is rich with symbolism, drawing out the events of Exodus and Moses in turn pointing towards who Jesus is. In fact there is probably a whole other sermon just looking at links with the exodus, but I will save those for another day!

This is the only Gospel that mentions the boy, a child does not sound like someone who we would expect to save the day. The loaves and fish where a pitiful offering and completely inadequate, we read how Andrew vocalises to Jesus just how pitiful this offering is, he saw what the boy had to offer and knew it was not enough!

When God fed the people with Manna in Exodus, the emphasis is on God’s faithfulness to provide, but the emphasis here is on the abundance of God’s provision. This is a story about scarcity into abundance, barley bread was the food of the poor. This boy had little to offer, but he offers the little that he has – and Jesus transforms that little bit into more than enough. Just wow!

I recently heard about a 5-year-old boy. When he lost one of his teeth, he placed it under his pillow and woke to find £5. Now this boy could have gone straight to the shops and spent the money on sweets or toys, but not him, he had a much better idea. This child had noticed the amount of people who were living on the streets and was moved with compassion to make a difference. He took his money to the salvation army along with a note, asking them to buy a house for the homeless. You must admire children; can you imagine believing that a house could be bought for just £5?

Now that boys name is Malachi Justin and the £5, he donated along with the note, was the beginning of a pioneering outreach project, providing shelter to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. Project Malachi started in Ilford with humble beginnings, and the model is being used in other areas, providing accommodation for many, many people – it is amazing that Malachi’s money was even able to make a difference to 1 person, yet already it has touched the lives, of many – I can’t help but wonder where it will go, and if just like the small boy’s lunch, this offering will also reach out to 5000 too!

This story of abundance and transformation reminds me of how the disciples collected the leftovers after the crowd had eaten, showing them and those around there that Jesus had done so much more than they could have imagined or believed. When listening to the radio earlier this week I caught the tail end of a talk from Gavin Calver, from the evangelical alliance. He was speaking about evangelism and how it hangs on the 3 W’s – Words, Works and Wonders. He spoke of how churches can be so good at studying and speaking God’s word and how we can easily busy ourselves in the works – just glancing at my own diary most weeks, I know that this is something that I can easily slip into – BUT what can happen when we do this is we can end up not leaving room for God’s wonders, we either don’t notice them, or we get so busy doing things in our own strength that we do not give God the space he needs for the wonders or signs to take place and be revealed in the world – we can end up exhausted and feeling like we either have nothing to give, or what we do have is not enough. If it was down to humans, this would absolutely be true – however we have a great God of abundance, who can and will take what we have and transform it into so much more!

Back in March 2020 as we stood on the edge of a global pandemic, our news streams were talking about lockdowns. We had seen these happening in other places, who can forget the scenes of people singing from the balconies in Wuhan trying to raise spirits and connect with other people?
We had no idea what stay at home would look like, would we be able to leave our homes? would our church building be completely out of bounds? This threw so many questions into the air, one of these being if we would be able to continue with the distribution of food through Restore. The shops had empty shelves, if you had more than 2 rolls of toilet paper you were either rich, greedy or both! The world seemed to be in chaos, all familiarity was gone, and everything was uncertain.

 After much prayer, the Restore team felt that God was saying instead of holding back for an emergency and storing in our barn, well, music vestry what we had, to instead send everything – every can, packet and tin into the community. Every family that was receiving weekly deliveries from Restore was given a much larger parcel than normal, they also received a letter explaining that we did not know when or if we would be able to deliver again, to use what they could and to share with friends and neighbours anything they did not need. In a time of scarcity, fear and unknown, God moved the Restore team to give abundantly and to bless the community – however our store was empty, we had nothing left to give!

But our God is a God of grace and abundance, the food donations started coming in, church & community members dropped items on Jane’s doorstep, anonymous cash donations were posted through front doors, applications for grant funding were approved. We found that instead of the empty cupboards, we now had food coming in regularly and abundantly. Not only could the weekly deliveries continue, but there was enough to respond to emergencies. The situation also provided opportunities for other members of the church family and community to join the team of volunteers and the Restore we see today is refreshed, renewed and revitalised from what it was 18 months ago – with yet more to come!

As we look beyond the feeding of the 5000, we see how the disciples went off in the boat, leaving Jesus behind. The wind was strong, the waters rough and they were scared – they looked out and saw Jesus coming towards them but did not recognise Him at first. When they realised who it was, they invited Him into the boat and immediately they reached dry land.
Just like them we can often find ourselves going off on our own, turning away and leaving Jesus behind, forgetting what He has done. But just as He walked on water to reach them, He also walks towards us – waiting for us to invite Him in!

We hear the word grace used all the time in church, but what does is look and feel like?

Grace is taking a small boy’s lunch and transforming it into more bread and fish than you can possibly imagine, it is a network of shelters for the homeless started from only £5 and a handwritten note, it is storerooms that were empty constantly being replenished, it is Jesus walking towards us when we have gone off on our own and it is oh so many other things – if only we take the time and space to look out, see, recognise and invite Jesus in.

So let us be challenged to invite Jesus into our boat, to offer whatever we have, however small and scarce it may seem – and to watch and wait expectingly to see how God will bless and transform it, into wonders we could never have imagined.

As we go out from this place today, let us remember the words of Paul: Now to Him who by the power at work within us, is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever –


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