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Preacher: The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Title of sermon: Nothing is ever wasted.
Date/time/service: Sunday 2nd August 2020 8th after Trinity
Passage of scripture: Matthew 14.13-21
A lot goes through your mind when you are training to be a priest. I remember talking with friends at college about how we would cope when we had to take the funeral of a child. The prospect of having to do just that was one of the many things that gave us trainee priests sleepless nights.
When I was ordained and in my first job as a curate, I can remember my boss, the rector of the parish, telling me that a funeral had come in for a family whose baby had died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. He said he would take the funeral but that I should attend, in the congregation. He was well aware that I was nervous about dealing with such a scenario.
I can still remember the full church and the baby’s family huddled together in inconsolable grief. The service began, my boss hitting just the right tone of compassion, humanity and authority. Quite soon we came to the bible reading. I was expecting John 14 – ‘in my father’s house there are many rooms’, or Romans 8 – ‘nothing can separate us from the love of God’ or Matthew 19 – ‘let the children come to me’. But we did not have any of those readings, instead we had Matthew 14 – The Feeding of the 5,000’. To be honest, I thought my boss had gone mad or made a mistake. What had the story of that miracle to do with the gut wrenching agony of the death of a child? I waited anxiously to see what he would make of it. He was a wonderful, holy, faithful and hard-working parish priest but preaching wasn’t his greatest gift. Then he began to speak and I have never forgotten what he said. Referring to the bible story he spoke about the fact that once the people had eaten their fill of the loaves and the fish, the disciples ‘picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces’. The important point being that nothing was wasted. Everything was gathered up. He spoke about how the baby’s short life had been lived in love and that that love would never die and just as the baby would never be forgotten by the family, so God would never forget the baby – I remember him saying that, with God, even that tiny little scrap of a life was gathered up.
We do have a tendency to think that God is really only in good and holy things but we have heard one or two sermons recently which have reminded us that God is at work, should we have the perception and the patience to notice, in the difficult and challenging aspects of life. A few weeks ago, Abi, preached about her calling to be a Deacon and how she understood that as being about discovering God on the fringes of things, in unlikely places and unlikely people, I think the phrase she used was ‘God is in the muck of things’. Then, a couple of weeks ago, Canon Emeritus Chris, on the Sunday he retired, preached about the parable of the wheat and the weeds, reminding us that Jesus taught that in our work for the kingdom we should not pull up and discard what we consider to be weeds in order to try and nurture a pure crop of wheat – it is not for us to judge what are the weeds and what is the wheat in God’s eyes. God can be discovered in the muck, in the weeds and in the scraps.
Winston Churchill said, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’. In other words, with some careful thought we can learn something from every crisis that assails us. Reflecting on the last four or five months there has been much that has been very painful and for many there has been, and continues to be, much suffering, but there has also been much to learn about the way we live our lives, much to learn about relationships, the way we work, the way we worship, the way we care for one another.
The more I have thought about this, the more I have come to believe that the gathering up of the scraps in the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand tells us something that is at the heart of our faith, something that is integral to the very being of God. On the cross, the last vestige of life left Jesus in his agonising last breath and the broken scrap of his body laid and sealed in a tomb, but that was gathered up by God and, in God’s power, in God’s love, new life emerged.
Sometimes it feels as though our lives are overwhelmed with darkness. Illness, death or some other crisis assail us and we feel isolated, alone and God seems to have departed, but what we have to try and remember is that somewhere in the darkness the faint glimmer of God’s light will be shining ….. in time, all will be gathered up. Jesus teaches us in the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and as he walks from the tomb with the wounds of crucifixion still visible in his hands and feet to greet Mary in the garden, that nothing, with God, is ever wasted.
It is easy to say that nothing with God is ever wasted, but when you are in the midst of a crisis or a trauma, it is hard to believe. I never cease to be amazed, however, at the number of people who come to faith, not through wonderful holy experiences, but through painful and difficult experiences. The gathering up of the scraps in the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand is a source of encouragement and hope to us all – God holds you and me and every tiny scrap of our lives, every tiny scrap of creation in the palm of his hand – and he never let go.
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