The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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11am Holy Communion      18th July 2021
Feeding the 5000 - church planting?
Jan Rushton

Readings:  Eph 2.11-22;   Mark 6.30-34, 53-56
One week on from Sunday, 11th July - day of the EURO final - 
and a night indelibly etched on English hearts!
Those eager hordes on the train with me - all dressed in red and white - whole families, all ages,
restless children grinning from ear to ear in excited anticipation!
Last Sunday just after six, I was on the train from Uxbridge - passing through Wembly! 
Returning from watching the Wimbledon final!  Can’t compete of course!  
I was rooting for the Italian - among other things, if Berrettini could win, 
then the Italians needn’t feel quite so bad about losing later!
So back home, 8.00 o’clock last Sunday evening! 
Score within two minutes!  Oh the ecstasy!  What a first half!
And - and then the agony .. First an Italian goal - an equaliser .....
Then, oh no, a penalty shoot-out .....
I was also praying there would be no booing among those 60,000 spectators 
as the Italian national anthem was played - or as the players, of both teams, 
took the knee, declaring their commitment to racial equality.
For human beings it seems, are tribal creatures. Fiercely tribal.
We have a deep need to belong.  Belonging which enables our becoming! 
For it is together that we become the people God has made us! 
Where do we find the belonging we so need?
Many do find that place in uniting behind the English football team!
So, is booing your opponents also part of feeling that belonging?
Insiders - and outsiders!  Some it seems, think so!  Fortunately perhaps, I am slightly deaf!  - 
To know we belong is essential to our well-being and personal growth.
We, everyone here, belongs in the Body of Christ, and our readings this morning 
ask us to think a little more about what this actually means. 
Jesus has been out and about teaching and healing.
He has healed on the Sabbath - to wild enthusiasm - and, to loud protests,  
name-calling from the Pharisees, for breaking the purity laws.
He has been rejected by his home town - and his family!
We heard about this two weeks ago.
Then he sent his disciples out round the villages in pairs - 
take nothing with you, trust in the hospitality of strangers! 
Sent them that his message of God’s abundant love 
may be carried far and wide!   Now they have returned, 
no doubt exhausted, but successful in their endeavours.
Late in the afternoon, they are tired and hungry. With the crowds still pressing hard upon them.
Jesus calls them away, as was his habit, away from the crowd 
that they may rest and pray, takes them across the lake to a deserted place, 
time alone together with Jesus, time for recreation and restoration.  
But, but, the crowds will not wait!  The thrilling news they are hearing,
the dramatic changes this man is able to achieve in their lives,
the place before God and the dignity he gives them:
no, they must find him, hear more of all he has to tell them,
experience the healing of heart and body which his presence brings.
They have come to know his habits - where he will likely go,
and they get there first!   Seeing them, Jesus has compassion on them.  
He engages with them, way into the evening. ....
It’s not hard to imagine how Jesus’ disciples must have felt at this point!
This was meant to be their time - their time alone with Jesus!
They know just what they will do.   It’s getting late now, 
and this lot will have to go, go back to their villages, their homes,! 
It’s night and they need to find food!  
Jesus thinks differently!  He already knows exactly what he will do - 
the needs of the people are paramount to him, 
and no exhaustion, nor hunger, or any other matters on Jesus’ mind, 
will change his passionate love for them, his desire for their well-being.
And we all know the story of the feeding of the five thousand -
with five loaves and two fishes, loaves and fish which become a veritable banquet!
Jesus bursts that private bubble his disciples are so desirous of creating!
He may have chosen them, the Twelve, but they are not, 
and are not to become, any sort of exclusive club.  Everyone belongs!
The needs of these people, who have nothing but their hearts 
to give in return, these people nevertheless matter - and they are welcome!
Indeed it is their well-being which is Jesus’ mission - and so also, the mission of his disciples.
There was another gathering last weekend, that of the members 
of the Church of England’s governing body, General Synod.
In anticipation, reports, and news of reports, the Vision and Strategy Report, 
and fierce responses to it were flying through the ether of social media!
Indeed, some rather strange things were reported and said!
Vision and strategy.   What are the key limiting factors to church growth? 
No 1. Expensively educated clergy!  Sorry Graham!   
No 2. All those expensive ancient church buildings!
So, what to do?  Well, how about the ‘Church’ 
gathers in private homes - with lay leaders, unpaid free lay leaders!
Just think what could the Church do with all the money it saves!
Vision and Strategy No 3. Under this new lay-led regime, 
there will be no ‘passengers’ in our new house churches!
This last statement is for me, utterly wrong-headed, 
precisely lacking the love and respect, lacking the good news 
those in this new movement are wanting to share!   
Not too far from those disciples wanting to send the crowds away, 
guard their space and their time together, insiders only!  But this is not Jesus’ way.  
Out in the wilderness these thousands of people of every sort do belong!   
In Hebrew lifestyle, the signal above all else that you belonged was that you ate together!
Maybe some of that expensive theological education could help here!
Remind us that in this story, Jesus is teaching provision for every kind of need 
is the role of his disciples. They will provide the food for all these people to eat together.
As we also shall shortly eat together at Christ’s table!  
We all belong!   We all belong - and we are all of us - 
passengers in that boat which is the Church!   
Precisely the concept of the ‘nave’.
Word which has its roots in the concept of a boat or ark.   
Who belongs in Christ’s ark?  Everyone!  Every one.
We are all in a process of becoming, becoming the people God calls us to be.
A few of us are called into ministry within the Church - lay ministry and ordained ministry.
The majority of us, are called to be that salt and light out in God’s world.
The Light of Christ we are commissioned at our baptisms 
to carry forward in the manner of our being and living, our everyday lives. 
  
The Church as community vitally carries the story of the gospel, 
the story of Jesus, from generation to generation.
A story kept faithful and true for each new generation 
precisely by those who are deeply - and prayerfully, examining together the Scriptures.  
Precisely the biblical pattern of keeping Scripture alive,
as scribes and scholars of the Hebrew people study and pray, pray and study 
to capture the meaning of God’s Word for this new generation today.
Then those expensive ancient buildings, built to the glory of God?
They become, through the centuries of the love and the prayer they hold, 
those buildings become sacred liminal spaces 
where finite human may reach out and touch infinite God.
Sacred spaces we have come to deeply appreciate through this pandemic.
Sacred spaces which belong to everyone - every one, 
anyone who cares to come, welcome to come in, and stay awhile.
Our mission is to be building the Kingdom of God on earth - 
as we pray week by week, day by day.
A complex concept which involves social justice, 
our own spiritual growth and worship.  All of these things!
The Church is the means to this end.  It does not exist for its own sake - 
its communities and its buildings are all part of achieving these goals:
a prophetic voice, and a new way of being which prioritises love and mercy over purity.
Of course every vicar is rightly passionate to grow their church!
Important question: are we motivated primarily 
by visible success for the isntitution - and this does matter, or, 
are we passionate about enabling our friends and neighbours 
to come to know, to experience the liberating love of God, 
find the confidence and power to become everything they are born to be?!
Come in and receive, welcome as a beloved and precious 
sisters and brothers. 

For this is who we are. 

Amen

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