Uniting together, Caring for all, Seeking God

Service Sheet 26.07.20

Uniting Church Sketty and Wesley Church, Clydach, ‘Worship from Home’ 26 July 2020

This ‘Worship from Home’ has been prepared by the Revd Leslie Noon.

Today we will be sharing together (though apart) a Love Feast (or Agape Meal).  You will need for this something to eat and drink – of your choice.  Cake and water (traditional), biscuit and tea.  Anything you have is fine.

Prepare for worship

Wherever you are sitting, with whatever emotions you are currently carrying, take a few moments to become aware of God’s presence

Opening Prayer

O God, you look deep inside me, seeing not only my outer but my inner needs.  Have compassion on me I pray.  I am full of amazement that you care so greatly for the needs of your people.  I worship and adore you for your limitless mercy, generosity and love.

But sometimes Lord, I know I don’t listen properly to you.  I’m easily distracted.  Or I listen, but still go my own way; putting myself first.  Help me now, in this place and time to hear your words of forgiveness, and to know that I can start anew.  Amen

Introduction – The REAL miracle is God’s mercy

Last week Rev Pam helped us to think about the meaning of the Parable of the Sower.  It’s a well-known story – but one thing she said that particularly struck me was this.  She said, ‘Apparently tares look quite like wheat….this speaks of a need to be careful in our weeding.  In fact the instruction is to NOT weed at all’.  I’ve thought about that phrase, ‘the instruction is to not weed at all’ for it speaks so powerfully of God’s mercy.  And it is God’s mercy that our readings today focus on. 

Reading:  Isaiah 55: 1-5

Whilst we are unable to meet together physically, it means we are unable to share together in Holy Communion.  But today we will share in a Love Feast, an alternative to communion.  And our Old Testament reading invites us to feast on God’s grace – not simply of course with food, but with God’s mercy and grace.  The food is merely a reminder!

Hymn:  There’s a wideness in God’s mercy (StF 416)

Sing or read or pray these words which remind us that God’s mercy is wider than we can possibly ever imagine:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy

like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in God’s justice,

which is more than liberty.

For the love of God is broader

than the measures of the mind;

and the heart of the Eternal

is most wonderfully kind.

But we make his love too narrow

by false limits of our own;

and we magnify his strictness

with a zeal he will not own.

If our love were but more simple

we should take him at his word;

and our lives would be illumined

by the presence of our Lord.

Reading:  Matthew 14: 13-21

Often we call Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 a miracle. – and when we do, we might be thinking of the wondrous act of transforming little into much, or perhaps the encouragement to share what we have with others so that there is enough to go round.  Today I want us to think about the REAL miracle that takes place in this reading

Reflection

So here’s the thing.  We can discuss whether the miracle in this story was that Jesus suspended the natural order of things to feed the 5,000 or whether his example merely prompted the crowd to share what it already had.  However today I don’t want us to be tempted to reduce this story to either of those options – because in fact these weren’t the concerns of the earliest Christians, for whom this story was told.  In fact, Jesus wasn’t the only person living in the first century that people claimed was working miracles.  Nor was he the only one to claim to be the son of God (most Caesars did that!).  Neither Jesus nor his early followers imagined that stories about wondrous acts would convince people of Jesus’ divine origins. 

Instead, the wonders that Jesus performed were about the signs of the character of God, whose presence Jesus bears.  For the early Christians, the point was that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.  This is what we are told at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel.  And therefore, what is of greatest importance here is not what Jesus does, but why.  And the why is that the character of God, as shown to us in Jesus is that God is full of compassion, mercy and grace.

Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw the great crowd that had followed him, he had compassion on them.  And so he healed their sick, tended their needs and shared with them his presence.  And when, at the end of the day, they found themselves without food, he fed them. 

Here we see how Jesus fulfils the consistent call of the God of Israel to feed the hungry.  And he does it by using the disciples, even when, as we read, they did not know what to do!

And that, I want to suggest, is the real miracle in this story.  That is the real wonder in this story.  That God still cares deeply and passionately for those who are most vulnerable – the poor, the immigrant, the hungry – and God continues to use us to care for them.

And that miracle continues, for God is still at work performing miracles through disciples today.  Through us – whether we are eager or reluctant or somewhere in between, God uses us to show his mercy, grace and compassion.

Each week we come to church – or in more recent times, we sit in our own homes and read this sheet or zoom in online with our computers and ipads.  And what is the point of doing that?  Surely the point is for us, as individuals and as a church family to draw closer to God, to become more aware of God’s presence in our lives.  But that is not an end in itself!  For if, having been touched by God, we go away and live the same selfish lives that we always have, then in fact we haven’t connected with God.

But if, as in this story, we allow God’s compassion, mercy and grace to work through us, then this is how the Gospel is spread.  This is the real miracle both then and now.  The question for us is:  have we met with God today, and if so, how will we share God’s compassion, mercy and grace with others.  And so I ask you:  is a miracle taking place in your life?

Love Feast / Agape Meal (the Greek word for ‘love’) In the early church, some celebrations of the Agape meal and the Lord’s Supper seemed to overlap, but this gradually changed as they eventually became quite

distinct, with the Agape dying out in the 4th century.  The modern history of the Love Feast began in Germany with the Moravians in 1727.  It became an important part of early Methodism, due to the lack of ordained ministers.  We should note that what we share today is NOT communion, but for many of us it may have a similar feel of ‘increasing a sense of all God’s mercies’ (a quote from John Wesley). 

So in our own homes, we come together in God’s Spirit to share in God’s mercy.  We come together as sister and brother Christians, recognising that God is present with us in this Love Feast.

So, my dear friends, taste and see that God is good (in your own time I invite you to eat and drink what you have brought to this ‘feast’).  Then give thanks for God’s presence with you and a sense of God’s mercy.

Prayer and Lord’s Prayer

Think of an image of abundance.  What do you see?

  • Pray for people who have little or nothing and can’t see any tiny glimmer of light in their lives.
  • Pray for a just and equal sharing in our world.
  • Pray that we might do what we can to share the miracle of God’s compassion, mercy and grace.

Sending out

You have fed us this morning Lord, as you fed that crowd.  May we go out to live the lives you call us to, and may we share your blessings with others.  Amen