Holy Trinity Church

Anglican worship in Geneva

Sunday 25 July 2021 8th Sunday after Trinity 9.00am Service

Sermon for Holy Trinity Geneva   

Texts: 2 Kings 4: 42-end; Psalm 145: 10-19; Ephesians 3: 16-end; John 6:1-21

It’s the growing season and I have been busy on my balcony. Unfortunately, not everything has worked. This plant, for example, has struggled because I didn’t realise, until it was too late, that the pot is was in was far too small. As a result, it hasn’t been able to get enough nutrients, it hasn’t had enough room to stretch its roots down into the soil and it hasn’t been able to grow.

But look at this one in contrast. This tomato plant is flourishing at present and with any luck, I will get a good crop of tomatoes this year. And looking at in comparison with its sad companion here.  I can see the reason why. The pot is bigger, it has been able to strength its roots right down, it has been able to absorb enough rain and nutrients to grow and as a result, it has produced pretty healthy looking tomatoes which are ripening now.

Now this isn’t just a session on top tips on gardening (which I am not equipped to provide!) but the growing examples are helpful because today, in our Bible texts, we are looking at what it means for us to grow as Christians.  We also looking at how God longs to feed and nourish us so that we can flourish. And there are definite parallels between how plants grow and our growth as Christians.

St Paul describes this process when he writes to the Ephesians. He prays that they may be rooted in the really rich deep soil which is Christ. His passionate desire is that they, being rooted and grounded in Christ’s love, will grow and flourish through the power of the Holy Spirit coursing through them.

And St Paul goes on to show them (and us) that the reservoir of God’s love in which we root ourselves and draw our life and growth is far greater and more amazing than we could ever imagine.  It’s as if all we can imagine is available to us in terms of spiritual water, is a miserly little jug, like the one I used on my first poor plant which has fared so badly.

But God’s love, is immense.  Instead of tiny jug, think of a swimming pool, and then instead of a swimming pool, think of a mighty ocean whose waters we could never count. This is rich source of life in which God’s invites us to root ourselves so that we may truly grow in Him and flourish, and in growing, we create room for Christ to dwell within us.

In the Gospel today, we have the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand. As with so much of St John’s gospel, every detail in the story is full of significance, reminding the those who heard it or those who read it, of God’s relationship with His people from the start of time, and how Jesus’s miracle links into this history.

So at the very heart of St John’s account of this miracle, he tells us that it was the time of the Passover. There is a direct link here between the Exodus when God led his people out of slavery in Egypt and the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.  For what characterised the Exodus was God’s desire for his people to be set free from slavery so that they could grow and flourish and God’s care and protection for them in their long journey to the Promised Land.

Part of God’s care for his chosen people was shown in the ways in which he provided for them on their journey. It was not only a long physical journey, but a psychological and spiritual journey for the Israelites in which they had to let go of the mind set of being slaves and instead open their hearts and minds to the reality that God really did love them and wanted their liberty.

But it’s very hard making that mental and spiritual transition and as we see in the Exodus story, many, many times, they get it wrong. Their vison of God was too small, too petty, like my poor withered plant in its tiny pot. So when they were hungry they cried out in anger and when they were thirsty, they cried out in fear. Yet, as we see in the Exodus story, God does provide for them at every step of the way, giving them manna from heaven to eat and water, which he brings forth gushing from the rock to quench their thirst. He pours down quails on them to eat and finally, he leads them via Moses and then Joshua, to the Promised Land – a land flowing with milk and honey – symbols of life, nourishment and well-being.

And in the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus, in taking, blessing, breaking and sharing the bread and the fish, shows to the crowd and the disciples the truth that God indeed does provide for us.  What is more, he provides abundantly – there is always abundance over with God – as we saw also in the story of Elisha today when he too shared out a limited amount of food amongst many in a time of famine.

Jesus also, in this miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, points ahead to the ultimate gift of feeding and nurture he will give. As he blesses and breaks the food, we glimpse the sacrifice which he will make on the Cross when he offers his body to be broken and his blood to be shed which will nourish us not once but for all eternity.

So, if you ever wonder how much God loves you, look at the Cross.  Look at the Cross and you will see there that overwhelming ocean of God’s love for us offered freely for us in Jesus and to which this miracle today points us.

But we need to open ourselves up to the immensity of that love.  We need to be able to stand back, to look at our lives and to see where we are dried up and shrivelling like my poor plant. We need to be able to open ourselves to the living water and bread of life which God offers us. And we need to stretch our imaginations so that we see beyond our present circumstances to envisage a far greater future with all that God can achieve in us.

There is a most wonderful expression of this in St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians which we’ve heard today. For St Paul reminds them that God can perform in them infinitely more than they can even imagine.  Listen to his words:

“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 glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, now and for ever”. (Ephesians 1:14-end)

The problem we face, just like the Israelites as they first started their journey to freedom, is that our imagination of what God can work in us is too small. Like the man who was given one talent in Jesus’ parable, we simply cannot grasp the overwhelming reality and scale of God’s love and just how much He can achieve in us if we will only open ourselves to Him, draw upon that love and allow ourselves to stretch, grow and change in that love.

This is where holidays are important. For they liberate us from what can sometimes feel like the treadmill of daily life.  They give us time and space to stand back, to dream, to do things differently, to listen, sometimes, for the first time, to the deep desires of our heart. And in this time, space and freedom, we can be really open to God’s love.

So whether you are fortunate enough to have a proper holiday this year, or if you are at home, I really encourage you to try to create space and time this summer to rest, to reflect, to dream and to pray. And pray that God will water the roots of our hearts and imaginations so that we can grow and flourish both as individuals and as a church community.

There is a wonderful image of this in the Bible of widening our tent pegs.  That means not being content to stay in too small and restricted place in our present reality or dwelling in the past, but instead, let ourselves dare to glimpse a far wider future which God can help us to bring about if we root ourselves on Him and draw on the great well of His love.

It’s also important that we learn to notice. One of the really significant things about the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, is that Andrew actually found the boy who had the five barley loaves and two fish. From what we know of both Philip and Andrew in the gospels, we get the impression that they were the disciples who were particularly good at building up relations with those who followed Jesus – they noticed, they listened and they built up relationships of trust.

And this is clearly what has happened here. Andrew has noticed, listened to and spoken to the boy and it is clear that the boy is offering this as a gift.

I think there is a very powerful message for us here too. Just as we need to ask God to deepen our trust in Him and to widen our imagination to all He can do in us, so we also need to notice the gifts He has given to each one of us to share.  Often we may not realise the nature of that gift in us or may be nervous that it is not enough to offer (a sort of one fish or one barley loaf gift).

But shared together and blessed by God, our apparently little and insignificant gifts can be used by God to transform us and to transform what we can offer as Christian community here in Geneva. So let’s be sure to look out for and encourage each other to celebrate and use their gifts.

Lord, please open our hearts and minds to the overwhelming abundance of your love for us. Give us grace to root ourselves deeply in your love by faith and in prayer. Free us where we have become dry and stuck in our lives. Help us to glimpse just how much you can bring about in us and in our church if we open ourselves to you and let you water our roots, feed us with your living bread and widen the tent pegs of our hearts and minds. And grant us Lord to notice, affirm and celebrate together those gifts you have given each one of us so we may use them to help and nourish others. In your Name we pray.