Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 22 July 2018.
There is a sense in which familiarity breeds contempt – the sense of the same old, same old which becomes routine. It can apply to our homes and relationships, the places where we go out and even the places and pastimes that we enjoy.
Yes, there are times when we really do look for that new thing, or place or taste or experience.
The routine can be both reassuring and suffocating, and yes we need to be careful in the way we approach what is and always has been familiar.
But there is also something else in our lessons as we keep finding that God is taking us out of ourselves and showing us something that is wholly new and beyond our imaginations.
We get an example of this in the OT lesson, where David was now king and was secure in his kingdom. He enjoyed a palace, a house of cedar, and yet he wondered if he was taking God for granted.
God had no palace or temple to be worshipped in and in this David felt unsure, so he explained his plan to Nathan, the court prophet of the time.
Nathan’s first response was to endorse David’s plan, but this was not the word of God, and the Lord corrected Nathan directly and personally. It was not Nathan’s task to endorse every idea or notion that may be put to him but rather he was to wait and enquire of the Lord, speaking when and only when he had been instructed.
If only the ‘prophets’ of our own day were so scrupulous.
But then God said something else: “No David, you are not the man to build the temple.” In the book of Chronicles (1 Chr 22:8) we are told that in the eyes of God, David had spilt too much blood in his campaigns.
But here we are told that God had something more to say – something much richer and more far-reaching. God would endow David with a house – a personal bloodline – which would cover the earth. There would be a kingdom which would last for ever, and a king beyond all reckoning.
David had wanted to build a temple, made or human hands yet God was promising a kingdom, worldwide, eternal and reaching into the heavens themselves.
God had taken a simple offering and multiplied it beyond all counting or measuring. This is the sort of God that He is.
Then there is Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, in which he tells them that having been nothing and nowhere, the church was now glorious and mighty. It was established far beyond the visible boundaries of its membership in the town or the walls of the house where they met.
They were now brought into the very presence of God by the blood of Jesus Christ. They could present their godly prayers to the Throne of Grace and they would surely be heard and answered.
Whereas the pagans around them, no doubt rich and influential, might revel in some temporary standing, the church in Ephesus stood in the presence of God and under the blood of Jesus Christ. This was far more significant than anything that any guild of silversmiths to the fertility cult of Artemis could manage.
And then there is the gospel in which the disciples returned to Jesus and reported on their mission. Successful indeed. The sick healed, exorcisms performed, people taught and hope sowed like a seed in a waiting and fertile field.
So yes, it was time for a rest. Except the people now saw not only Jesus but also the disciples and followed them.
Instead of resting, the disciples had the feeding of the 5000 on their hands, and instead of a restful night sail home they had heavy winds and hard going.
Yet this was when they saw Jesus walking on the water, and so another lesson and another vision of who and what Jesus was.
The disciples’ idea of a rest was possibly much like ours: peace, quiet, sleep, food and gentle conversation and teaching. What they got was something else. They would be intimately engaged in feeding the 5000 and then they would see how out of the pathetically small offering of a few loaves and fish, the provision of God would multiply it: producing a wonder out of the smallness of their offering and not out of its magnificence.
This is where we also have to allow our visions to be enlarged by the glory and exuberance of God. It is not the scale of our offering so much as the whole-heartedness of it that matters.
To offer out of meanness and resentment can only yield a response that is also limited and small-scale.
But to offer the little we have out of enthusiasm and gladness will surely bring forth a reply on the lines of “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” And the Lord surely means it. This is what He does – if only we will give Him the space to do it.