On August 6th Rev Christine Gillespie led our communion service at Wesley Chapel. Worship began when we sang, ‘I sing the almighty power of God’. Christine led the prayers and the Lord’s Prayer, before we sang, ‘From heaven you come helpless babe.’ The Gospel reading was the feeding of the 5000 as described by Matthew 14.13-23, after which we sang, ‘God grant us words to speak,’
Christine preached. She reminded us of the party game of Consequences, where different people put down a woman or man’s name, the place and event and the consequence of it. In real life there can be unexpected consequences and when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been killed he withdrew to a solitary place by boat. John the Baptist had been criticising King Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife, even though his brother was still alive. John had been imprisoned for challenging King Herod about that marriage. King Herod had been celebrating his birthday with a meal and had too much to drink and his wife’s daughter had danced inappropriately in front of him. He was so impressed that he rashly promised to give Salome, anything, up to half his kingdom, but at her mother’s instigation she demanded the head of John the Baptist on a plate. That resulted in John’s violent death after the excesses of the party.
Jesus had heard of the execution from the disciples of John the Baptist, so it was right for him to withdraw from the people and grieve for the loss of his cousin. It gave him the chance to reflect on what John had preached, the Baptism of repentance. That reminded him that things might end in the same way for him.
That time of prayer and reflection was cut short, when crowds arrived before him. He felt compassion on the crowd even though he needed space; he healed the sick being generous with his time. Even at the end of the day came, he did not send them away, as he saw their need of food. He fed them from a little bread and fish, so that they were all satisfied and there was even enough over to spare and be collected in baskets. We are the Body of Christ and we are called to have compassion on the needy and stand against injustice.
When we consider how many actions of compassion began in churches like food banks, the homeless hostel and earlier hospitals. When we are called to care in our discipleship; that care has consequences. We may find we have less money, or we may be more tired and doing what we don’t want to do. John’s honest challenges led to his death and Jesus knew he would be facing a similar fate and needed time to be quiet, rest and pray. Although Jesus needed time to pray and rest, he met the needs of the crowd and finally dismissed the crowds, sent the disciples off and then he prayed alone. We as Methodists tend to be doers but we also need time to pray. The Methodist Conference had called for a day of prayer and fasting to begin the new Church’s year, which would be a time to withdraw to pray and find strength from God.
Christine led the prayers of intercession before we sang, ‘Lord we have come at your own invitation’. She then led the preparation to receive communion and we received his body and blood. Worship concluded when we sang, ‘Give me the faith, which can remove.’