Reflection ~ Rev Dr Phil Wall
Picnics and Potential
Back on 25th April this year, we were in alert level 4, cafes and restaurants were yet to open, and many of us – myself included – were still waiting for our first vaccination. It was on that Sunday that we asked the first of seven searching questions for the Church today and though much has changed since then, I believe the questions – which we complete this morning – remain key ones for the wider Church today. After all, the book which inspired them in the first place – ‘Canoeing the Mountains’ – was written back in 2015, way before we locked down, zoomed, and broke out the quarantines – and yet it still convincingly argued that the Western Church needs to embrace adventure and change to avoid obsolescence and, in some areas, extinction!
Thus, since the 25th April, we’ve been asking seven of the questions posed in the book by pairing them up with just some of the over three hundred questions that Jesus asks in the gospel accounts in order to explore our identity, purpose, and passions today. Before we ask the final question, then, a quick recap –
We began by considering ‘Why do we exist as congregations?’, and suggested that it might be to shine with God’s light before we asked ‘What would be lost in our community if we ceased to be?’ and answered ‘unconditional welcome’. We then came to the question ‘What purposes and principles must we protect as central to our identity?’ and wondered if the answer was simply, for once, ‘Jesus’ before proposing that our answer to the question ‘What are we willing to let go of so the mission will continue?’ could well be ‘everything else’. When then wondered ‘What are we passionate about?’, proposing that the answer was revealed in the issues that dominate our conversations, before we came to the tricky topic of finances and the question ‘What pays the bills?’ and wrestled with the perfect storm of increasing outgoings, falling income, and God’s upside-down economy. Today, we complete the set with the question ‘What do we have the potential to do better than anyone else’, and if all those questions are bringing on a headache, then let’s take a seat and have a rest with another group of tired people who were also faced with tricky questions as Jesus and his friends enjoy a marvellous picnic…
Reading: ‘The Marvellous Picnic’ ~ Lion Storyteller Bible
based on the accounts of the story best known as ‘the feeding of the five thousand’ –
Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:1-14
It doesn’t take too much work to see a comparison between the situation that Jesus’ friends were in and the one we face today. An exhausted group of disciples, a seemingly impossible task, an uncertain helper called Phil…and yet we’re told that Jesus smiled as his disciples fed thousands of hungry people with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.
“It’s just as I told you,” said Jesus. “God can do the most amazing things. All we have to do is trust him.”
And perhaps that’s where we have to start when it comes to our potential to do good, better, or best…by trusting that God can do amazing things. Over the past few months, as we’ve asked tough questions and identified our challenging contexts; as we’ve dealt with faltering technology, anxieties about re-entry to society, an acceptance that our experience of Church might be forever changed, it has been easy to become despondent or cynical. I have done so myself. I have echoed my namesake in the story, looked at the needs all round us and thought there’s no way we can meet them. And yet, through his trust in God – God’s provision, God’s care, God’s world of abundant blessing – Jesus and his friends did feed the hungry hoards. The same can be true of us. God can do the most amazing things through us when we trust in God. Even during the last 18 months, God has! Constant connection and care during an unprecedented lockdown; joyful, unique celebrations of Christmas, Easter and other festivals even when we couldn’t physically gather together; over ten thousand pounds raised for Christian Aid…just incredible.
Of course, trusting in God isn’t a naïve form of optimism. For Jesus, on that day by the lake, trusting in God meant sharing a boy’s packed lunch. Sometime later, on a day on a hill, trusting in God meant dying on a cross. We have great feasts of plenty ahead of us. We will have a number of deaths too. But, trusting in God, amazing things can come from both.
Secondly, unlike Philip, let’s not look at what we don’t have but what we do! When faced with hungry crowds, Philip was quick to point out that they didn’t have the means to feed them all. We don’t have the means to keep going in the same way we have been for many years. And, accepting that, we could quite easily give up! For in years gone by, Castle Square put on great shows, Church House was packed with over a hundred kids, and all our buildings echoed with praise at the annual gymanfa ganus. Today, it’s a very different story, and it’s only likely to become more so. But let’s look at the loaves and fish in our midst right now. Let’s look at our faithful elders, gifted members, advanced technology and plentiful resources. Let’s look at our refugee work, schools visits, guilds; our card-makers & cake-bakers; our artists, musicians, secretaries, welcomers, phone callers, lift-givers, couriers, flower-arrangers, safeguarding officers, treasurers…our generally and genuinely spectacular congregations. Let’s look at God’s promise of amazing grace, extravagant love, and a kingdom of joy in the now. We may indeed have to see ourselves as smaller churches but if the twelve fed thousands with what they had, just imagine what God can still do in, through, even in spite of, us!
And perhaps that’s where the answer to the question comes in. What do we have the potential to do better than anyone else? Be who God’s called us to be. Offer what we have. Shine as only we can shine.
For God created every one of us and blessed each of us with a unique array of gifts and graces. We could, of course, choose to ignore or squander them. We could focus instead on what we don’t have or bang on about what used to be. Or we can offer what we have today – offer our very selves – for the healing of the world. We can’t keep our lights under buckets. We can’t hark back to previous years; can’t cling on to power, control, possessions for that way God is not trusted, blessings are not shared, the hungry are not fed. Instead, let us follow Christ’s example at the picnic, taking our provisions and blessing them; thanking God for what we have and making them holy by giving them away in love.
“It’s just as I told you,” said Jesus. “God can do the most amazing things. All we have to do is trust him”. Then he smiled at his helpers, popped a chunk of bread into his mouth and started off for home. Amen.
 From the Covid Coping Cookbook, 3 Peaks fundraiser, and proportion of funeral fees.
Prayers of Intercession – Deborah Jones
We are able to gather together as Christians on a hilltop, share food and fellowship.
The five loaves and two fishes has great meaning in the church. In communion the bread is divided into thousands of pieces one loaf feeds many, whether in a church or on a hillside, the bread is plentiful. Very often at Easter we will have fishes at a time of the resurrection.
The Kingdom Of Heaven is like this, a woman takes some yeast and mixes it with forty litres of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.
They all had as much as they wanted, when they were all full he said to his disciples, gather the pieces left over, let us not waste any.
We have seen this during the pandemic where large amounts of food were prepared and passed to hospitals, where NHS workers were saving lives.
During the pandemic where shelves were emptier it was important for households to use left over food sparingly for other meals.
Food was not rationed, God provided for his people.
As a church we must keep filling the baskets as the twelve baskets were filled of what was left over.
Lord we give Thanks
Food is the bread of life
Yeast is like the Kingdom of Heaven
As Manna fell from heaven
Lord we thank you for our daily bread.
We thank you for chefs and cooks preparing meals for countries during disasters.
We give thanks for the fishermen, the farmers and the bakers.
We give thanks for the barley fields.
For baskets of bread and fish.
As a church, food has been donated to food banks and distributed to those in need.
We give thanks for Harvest.
We pray for the food chain.
We thank you food is recycled to prevent waste.
We thank you that five loaves and two fishes became a feast.
We thank you for church picnics.
Let us show compassion to the needy.
We pray for care in communities.
We thank you for the food of different cultures throughout the world.
We thank you that food can bring unity.
A Marvellous Picnic With God
Come one, come all.
Come you who are hungry for fish and bread, and you who are vegan and gluten intolerant!
Come you donning masks in this building, and you in pyjamas at home.
Come you who have been to church since birth; and you who have somehow stumbled here today.
Come you who can recite the creeds and you who know every word to Dirty Dancing!
Come you who like tradition and ritual and ceremony and you who struggle with them.
Come you who like noise and laughter and holy chaos, and you who struggle with them.
Come the woke and the sleepy; the laughing, the weepy, the sprightly, the creaky; the dull and the freaky –
Whoever we are. From wherever we have some. Whatever our story – come to the feast where there’s always a space for you.
This morning, we have remembered the tale of a marvellous picnic, where Jesus fed thousands with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread, revealing God’s provision, abundance, solidarity and love. Jesus delighted in sharing meals like this with all sorts of people. With outcast men and forgotten women, he ate and drank and lived out an alternate world where all are welcome, worthy and wanted – God’s kingdom of justice and joy where lost children would be found, mustard seeds could become great trees, and the likes of you and me can shine with the light of God!
But some aren’t keen on mustard trees and others aren’t good with bright lights, so they pointed to these meals of plenty and called Jesus a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! Some got so angry with Jesus’ life of love that they wanted him gone forever!
When his arrest seemed near, Jesus ate another meal in an upper room with his friends. As he had done at that marvellous picnic and so many other times before, Jesus took bread and after having given thanks to God he broke it and gave it to his friends, this time saying, “This is my body broken for you. Do this to remember me.” After the meal he shared wine, gave thanks, and said, “I will not drink from this cup again until I drink it with you in the Kingdom of God.” The next day, Jesus was put on a cross to die. To his frightened disciples it like injustice and violence killed Jesus and his message. But the resurrection provided a new hope. There were many more picnics to be enjoyed with Jesus! That last supper wasn’t the last meal – or the last word!
The Kingdom persisted – and persists today – through the many women and men who seek to be the resurrection community. Despite the sadness, violence, and injustice in the world, God continually brings forth renewed hope for love, justice, and grace to and through each of us.
And so, remembering that Jesus died, was raised to new life and is alive forever, we can all share that life and live in him. Let us give our thanks to God our Father.
Let us pray…
Living God of all the things you have created we take the simplest food and find you among us as we eat together. In the great story of Jesus we hear your love for us being retold and we remember all Jesus has done for us because of that love. We praise you that Jesus lived to show us the true path of love and he died, to pull aside the curtain of death; that Jesus was raised, to reveal the promise of new life and he will come again, to show us your face. This morning, we thank you for your invitation to feast again with him. Send your Holy Spirit upon this bread, this wine and upon your people that Christ may be with us and we may be ready to live for you today, and every day. We make this prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord, who taught us the pattern of prayer we remember now as, in a multitude of different languages and versions we pray – “Our Father in heaven…”
The body of Christ, broken for all. We do this in remembrance of him.
The bread of life. Thanks be to God.
The blood of Christ, given for all. We do this in remembrance of him.
Though we are scattered, we are made one in God.
Prayer after Communion:
We thank and praise you God for your gifts beyond words.
May the hands that have taken holy things be strengthened for your service.
May the eyes that have witnessed your blessing shine with the light of hope.
And may the people who have shared this meal, go to share what we have with others,
that all may taste God’s goodness and know of God’s love.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
May God’s extravagant love consume you,
Christ’s life and passion inspire you,
And the Spirit compel you to do ordinary things
with extraordinary love.
And the blessing of God, Father, Son and
Spirit be upon us and remain with us always. Amen
- The Church is wherever God’s people are praising
- Let us talents and tongues employ
- ‘Where is bread?’, the great crowd murmured Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. © 2000