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Sunday 2 August 2020

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Isaiah 55:1-3; Psalm 145:15-21; Matthew 14:13-21

By Ian Banks

Authorised Lay Minister at Saint John with Saint Mark, Bury

Context: a family service with a mixed age, tech-savvy group

Aim: to suggest that God offers his free gift of abundant life to everyone - but there’s a catch

What if God e-mailed you? Would you open it - or would you assume it was spam and hit ‘delete’?

Would it make a difference if he was offering you a free gift - but you had to press on a link to access it? I had one from Warren Buffet recently (or so it said) where he wanted to give me $2.5m. Perhaps you’ve had one from the Inland Revenue or an overseas prince? Buffet got binned. Would I trust the one from ‘YHWH’ any more than the one from ‘Warren’?

For the most part, we’re suspicious of free gifts and those who offer them. There must be a catch. And we don’t want to appear naive or gullible by going along with it.



All three of our readings say something about the overwhelming, freely given, generosity of God. Perhaps we would write them off as ‘junk’ if they had been written by or to innocent people who had lived sheltered, protected, comfortable lives. But they weren’t.

Our Psalm is credited to David, who experienced more ups and downs in his life than many of us would care for. The same David that had been in a pit in Psalm 40. Yet he wrote this wonderful song to God’s goodness. Walter Brueggemann talks of the ‘glad astonishment’ here at God’s greatness.

Indeed, David’s gaze was high enough and wide enough that it doesn’t focus on himself or even on Israel. He writes this for all, for everyone. It’s universal. As if to emphasise its completeness it’s written as an acrostic, with each verse starting with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It’s an A to Z of praise.

And in Jewish services the psalm is said three times a day as part of the Ashrei prayer. A thanksgiving prayer for the community. A daily reminder that we’re in this together – and that if God cares for the poor and oppressed, then so should we.



Our Isaiah passage was written to a people in exile. Many would never have seen their own land, having been born in captivity. At times they doubted even if God still cared and if they were still chosen. But now they were at the point of coming home.

The prophet speaks to them not just of the basic necessities that God can provide but of so much more - and that it’s available to all nations, not just them. They, and therefore we, must play a part in making sure that the world is aware of what’s on offer.



In our Gospel reading, Jesus shares out the five loaves and two fishes to the thousands who sought him out, with enough for leftovers. There are no pre-conditions on who gets fed or not. No questions about whether they believe in him or not. They are all treated the same. And no-one is on record as refusing the free food!

Matthew sets this story in a wilderness. Jesus had come here to spend time alone with God following the brutal death of his cousin, John. A death done as a piece of entertainment. Yet here we see Jesus, eager for solitude, setting all that to one side and being generous with his time as well as with the food. Ready to give, whatever the circumstances. In John’s Gospel, Jesus later speaks to that crowd about life. The full, rich, eternal life described earlier in Isaiah.



And, of course, there is a catch - though a relatively small one.

These gifts are for everyone, not just for you and for me. There is no selfishness with God and nor should there be with us. The ‘catch’ is that it’s up to us to let everyone else know that they can have these free gifts too. As John 17 says, we are inextricably tied up in exactly this work of the Trinity - and it’s so that ‘the world will know.’

God has found many ways to communicate down the ages. Perhaps if he e-mailed more often, he would become a ‘trusted source’ and we would press on that link! But in the meantime, his most effective method of talking to others is via you and me. Hard experience makes people suspicious. It’s down to us to help people know and recognise the Sender. By drawing people to him, in the way we live our lives and by the way we share that extravagant generosity.

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