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1st August 2021

Tearing Up The Plan

Passage: Mark 6;35-44

In more than one religion, producing food in desert places is the mark of a true God. In the earlier books of our Bible, there are stories and hymns about the God who creates the natural world and sustains it to produce food at all the right times and in all the right places. There are also passages celebrating the God who can provide food even where you do not expect to find it. Take the Exodus story: the slaves escape from Egypt, travel across this desolate wilderness and God miraculously provides them with food and water. Centuries later, when their homeland was ravaged by enemy action, prophets like Ezekiel and Isaiah promised that this same God would produce food and water for them even in the lands which had become desert. This is the kind of God people want and when Jesus miraculously provides food for five thousand hungry people stranded in a remote place, they say, “Yes. There is certainly something of God about this man.”
Fair enough, but don’t you remember how, right at the start of his ministry, Jesus hears this voice telling him to turn stones into bread? He was in a desert with no food; as he travelled the country he would meet more hungry people. So, if you are the Son of God, says the voice, just turn the stones into bread. And Jesus refuses. Why? He always seemed to enjoy his own food and now he is creating a meal for a multitude. Jesus did not say that food was bad. What Jesus said was that we do not live “by bread alone.” Physical satisfaction is not the be all and end all of life. And he was right. Over and over again, the natural world has produced more than enough food but greedy people take more than their share; irresponsible people exploit fruitful land and turn it into a desert. Without God’s living Word of love, justice, wisdom, responsibility, we end up turning the places of plenty God has created back into desert wastes. It is not just bread we need from God but “bread of life”-His life.
In this story, did you notice that Jesus does not produce food magically out of thin air? He asks his disciples “Bring to me what you have got.” The disciples thought he was crazy- we have precisely five small loaves and two small fish. There is nothing like enough here. But they gave it to Jesus and he worked with what they had given.
A few years ago, I had a discussion with a Cambridge Professor whose scientific work was all about growing food in desert places. He and his team were identifying ways of producing food for starving people in Third World countries and making land which had become waste fruitful again. “You are gods,” says Psalm 82, “sons of the most high.” We can do incredible things, like cultivate food in the desert. But, says that Psalm, “how long will you show partiality to the wicked and unjust? Defend the cause of the weak and vulnerable. Uphold the rights of the poor and oppressed. “ We can learn how to produce food but we also need to learn how to care and how to share. Or, warns the Psalm, “you will perish like mere mortals. You will fall like every other ruler.” Oppression, injustice, ethnic cleansing, genocide have brought down one empire after another. And now greed and irresponsible treatment of our planet are threatening us all with extinction. Three thousand years ago the Psalmist had this sussed out. It is not just about bread but about the bread of heaven.
I read a drama sketch about two ladies in charge of a mobile sandwich bar, parked at the edge of the field where Jesus is preaching to the 5000. These ladies are watching excitedly- all those people, no other food for miles, even their sandwich bar has limited supplies so they are going to get rich by squeezing every penny out of those hungry people, fighting over the food. Yes! Brilliant business plan! Then Jesus goes ahead, feeds the crowd himself and the ladies are left with 400 sandwiches and sixteen gallons of tea. Fancy a cuppa? God’s ways can demand that we tear up our own plans.
Today some of us are celebrating Holy Communion together in this place for the first time in eighteen months. Quite possibly, over the period when we have had to celebrate Communion in separate places and in different ways, we have wondered what IS it all about? It is about bread and wine- sharing physical food and drink. It is about Jesus’ body being broken and his lifeblood poured out. He told us to do this in remembrance of him but did not fully explain why, possibly because we need to work it out for ourselves where we are.
St Paul was perhaps the earliest Christian writer to share his understanding of Holy Communion. Paul had made a bad start in life. Partly due to his upbringing and partly to his own nature, he had made some huge mistakes and done some bad things. Then, in Jesus Christ he had found a miraculous power of forgiveness and renewal. Paul found that that same power which could make bread appear in the desert, could make a new man out of this life from which all love and compassion had been drained. Paul brought to Jesus what he was, no matter how inadequate he felt himself to be, and he saw Jesus use what he had offered to bring a whole new church to life. It was a miracle.
Jesus himself had lived as a physical body in the physical world and had used this physical existence to bring the reality of God right into human life. He was rejected and his body was broken. But his life could not be destroyed because his life was the eternal life and love of God. The broken bread and the poured out wine were about victory over the evil and death which destroy us. So, wrote Paul, I now carry in my own body the body of Christ and the death of Christ. Paul’s physical body, his daily living would also become a channel of God’s grace to the world. And, even if his own body were to perish, the life of God which had made him into a new being, would never die. Because Christ had died. Christ had risen. And in Christ all would be made alive. This was what the celebration of Communion said to Paul.
Paul had to tear up the plan he had created for his own life; the plan to gain satisfaction through pride in himself; through arrogance that he knew all the answers; through the use of physical and mental violence to gain power over people; through total rejection of anyone he believed unworthy of life or love. He had to look humbly at God’s plan and even though he never fully understood it, trust that this was true and offer what he was and what he had to the work of God.
Holy Communion is, if you like, a setting out of God’s plan for us and for the world: 1. It is a celebration of physical existence as a gift of God, set out in bread and wine. 2. It is a celebration of community, as God’s people come together to share, demonstrating their belief that this is how God intends the world to be- a place of sharing, with all welcomed and given their place. 3. It is a celebration of Jesus Christ- bringing the eternal God into our time and space. 4. It is a remembrance of his body broken and his blood poured out because of the sin and evil in which we all have a part. But 5. it is also an offering to us of salvation- of God’s saving grace which is greater than all the sin and destructive forces in us. So 6. It is a mighty hope and trust that, through God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ the whole world might yet be saved. And finally 7. it is an invitation to us to become part of this plan. “Bring what you have got,” says Jesus. No matter how inadequate we feel ourselves to be, whatever we offer to Jesus will be used and maybe used in greater ways than we can even begin to imagine. And the God who can miraculously produce bread in the desert will bring renewal and hope to our lives, and through our lives, to the world. Amen.