Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
The contrast could be scarcely be starker. The winning athletes on their podiums with their medals and ribbons and general acclamation; and the starving and desiccated survivors of the Jihadist assaults on their villages and homes, fleeing slavery, beheading and even crucifixion.
In the eyes of the media it is the sportsfolk who are the winners and the refugees are, well, refugees. People deserving pity and compassion, to be supported as far as the national will and convenience will allow.
Then there was Elijah, also on the run before the fury and vengeance of Queen Jezebel. If found he would definitely be killed, preferably slowly and with the utmost of brutality.
So who was on the winning side? Of the athletes, I can say little of their collective disciplines of life and values, and I expect them to be as varied as anything else in the Commonwealth.
But Elijah, breaking his heart and pouring out his grief before God, was reduced to an emotional wreck. The first thing that had happened in the desert journey to Horeb or Sinai, was that he lay down and slept, was awakened to a jug of water and some cakes, and then slept again.
Now he was at Horeb and again he poured out his sorrows, and this time the Lord said: “Go out and stand there.” Here Elijah saw the tempests and earthquakes sent by the Lord, but not indwelt by Him.
Finally, a small, calm voice, probing and challenging but also comforting and renewing him. Whatever Elijah’s woes and misgivings, God was not defeated. His voice would not be silenced and He would not be lacking in servants who were faithful to Him, and who would not deny Him in their lives or relationships or contacts.
Whatever Elijah may have felt, the Lord reassured him that there were still 7000 servants who did not and would not deny their Lord or bow before the false gods of their age.
Even when the political climate was at its harshest, the threats of imprisonment or death were at their most acute, their willing and even sacrificial service of God would still continue.
When we look at the aftermath of the feeding of the 5000, the scene is of course quite different. There was as yet no direct threat to Jesus although John the Baptist had been beheaded by King Herod.
But in feeding the people Jesus had just done something that would mark Him out as the expected Messiah, for this was one of the signs of the expected Anointed One of God.
The disciples who were also probably quite high on the exhilaration of the miracle of feeding the people which had just taken place in their own hands, were sent ahead in the boat. A night sail should be just the thing to calm them down, and they had some experienced sailors among them.
But this was a time when they faced a different kind of test, at the hands of the wind and waves. An open boat amid short, nasty breaking waves would be no fun, even when the sailors among them had the others either rowing or bailing.
Yet at the time that the conditions looked threatening, Jesus appeared, again over and above the elements, which were not going to overwhelm Him. This time it was Peter who offered himself, and Jesus accepted the offering.
It was an offering that demanded that Peter fix his whole attention on Jesus without distraction or hesitation. To his credit, Peter managed it – well, most of it – until he looked away from Jesus and saw the insane conditions around him. Then he faltered.
But Jesus honoured Peter, and rescued him at the point of need. Even Peter was going to need rescue at his own point of need.
And that brings me to Paul for whom salvation is simple but in its way demanding. It is one thing to receive the gift of salvation in the depths of one’s heart, when conditions are fairly benign. The odd insult at our personal faith and the regular media scorn for the Christian faith are now par for the course but they do not threaten us, even if they leave us feeling exposed.
But it is when times are difficult that the example and the explanation of our faith become central. If our life as a church attracts interest and even inquiry, then we must be able to give an explanation for our faith.
We must be able to point to Jesus within our lives and as the focus of all that gives them meaning. So: it is in more than believing in Jesus, that we are saved. It is also in being willing, despite all hesitations in our speaking and our learning and even our personal failings before the Lord, to speak forth in the simplest and clearest terms.
Yes, there will be clever remarks and even cleverer questions intended to show us up.
But that is the time to put an effective trust in the Lord, who still has many millions who have not bent the knee to any of today’s false gods, even at the hazard of their lives and freedom.