This is the text of the message I prepared for email sharing amongst God’s people at Kaniva Shared Ministry for Sunday 2nd August 2020. Still we were in Covid lockdown..
Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21
I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit, (Romans 9:1) Well that’s a good way to begin an address, kind’a wish I’d thought of it actually. Of course Paul isn’t beginning anything here, other than a new paragraph, but since we’re taking up where we left off last week it’s a good place for us to start. This is the truth as confirmed by The Spirit says Paul. It’s not the truth as Paul sees it, it’s not the truth as Paul would like to think the truth to be, it’s the truth that Godself confirms to be true, the truth of the one who says I am The Truth, (John 14:6b) or perhaps I AM, Truth. When I AM speaks, or sends a messenger on God’s behalf to tell the truth of I AM it’s a jolly good idea to pay attention to what I AM is saying. In Romans 9:2 what Paul says, with The Spirit attesting to the truth, is that he (Paul) has great sorrow and unceasing anguish in [his] heart. This cry of grief from a truthful man, we are told in Romans 9:3-5, is Paul’s weeping before the LORD for the lost nation of the Jewish people, his own people. I wonder, how often do we weep with great sorrow and unceasing anguish in heart for our people? Are you gutted by the lack of response by your fellow Australians, Victorians, people of West Wimmera? Does grief stir your bowels at the presence of lost souls in your street, town, district and nation? Or are you a bit disappointed but not much more. Maybe you’re not bothered, because after all if you are saved and the unsaved are…well…unsaved, then that’s their problem and not yours.
I have told the story before so I shan’t share it in full again, but for those of you who have been listening to me for a while you might remember that I used to belong to Hillsong Church London, and specifically to the “New Christians Team”. I’ve told you of the one service where I was “on” and there wasn’t a single hand raised in the congregation during the call to repentance, not one salvation for Christ in a room of 600 people. I’ve told you of the desperation amongst “Team” as we looked for that lost soul; “even if there’s just one, Father, Oh God let there be even one,” but there was not even one. I’ve told you of the desolation amongst “Team” after the service, of hot tears and real wailing that no one had “come to Christ” or even “come back to Christ”. I’ve also told you that that is what, for me, makes Hillsong Church the church that Hillsong is; not for its smoke and mirrors, its loud riffs and even louder drums, its happy-clappy mezzanine and its bouncy-shouty downstairs (no jumping in the balconies!!), but the fact that it gives a rip for the lost of London and is abject in disarray when the gospel is proclaimed to six hundred people and not one responds to grace afresh.
I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people. Do you remember praying like that? “Oh God I’ll give up my own salvation if it means that Australia can be saved.” Do you remember praying like that? Nah, me neither actually, (and not just because I’d rather England be saved instead, not true). But following from last week and last month really this is the groaning of Holy Spirit in us for the world. If Australia were to be entirely saved by God then I would be saved along with it; even if we follow the Abrahamic method in Genesis 18 and only Victoria were saved, or West Wimmera, or Kaniva, or Commercial Street East, or just the odd numbered houses in the 90s, I’d be swept up amongst those I’m praying for – God does not need my salvation back so as to save my neighbours. So if their salvation won’t actually cost me mine, then why can’t I just TELL THEM ABOUT JESUS????
Mea culpa as the Roman Catholics say, it’s my guilty fault. I’ve neglected to “give a rip”: I am no longer being desolated hourly and hourly again that not one, not even one, has been saved by the ministry of Kaniva and Serviceton Churches of Christ and Uniting Church since before 1st October 2018 (the day my contract began).
Phew! Now before we go too far and start bring self-flagellation into the order of worship, (although that could be something new to try after we get back to church in September, and flails are currently 30% off at Koorong), God does not want us desolating ourselves hourly at the condition of Australia’s soul. Some groaning in intercession is required, no doubt; more groaning from more of us in the present is warranted, but we’re not to build a Kingdom out of Romans 9:1-3 as if it were the entirety of scripture or even the complete package for discipleship. We should grieve for the lost, we should seek for the lost, we should comfort the found (who were lost) and we should bring the found home where Jesus waits to meet them (where he wasn’t already with them keeping them company until we arrived). What we should also do is celebrate our own found-ness, delight that we were each once the one and Jesus joined us to the 99; we should work on being the 99 to whom Jesus adds the ones, and twos, (and thousands if you’re a Hillsong franchise).
In today’s reading from the Jesus Traditions, from Matthew 14:13-21, we read of Jesus feeding 5000 men. It’s a well told story, the only miracle performed by Jesus that all four gospels record, so I’m sure you’ve heard it before and from Matthew as well as his mates. So yes, blah-de-blah 5000 men doesn’t include women and children so probably 20,000 mouths in total; blah-de-blah twelve baskets for the twelve tribes of Israel; blah-de-blah fish and loaves because Jesus is lord (LORD) of both sea and land; blah-de-blah leftovers because in Christ there is always more than enough; blah-de-blah a living parable because it actually happened in real life but it carries symbolic and metaphorical meaning as well; blah-de-blah-de blah. Does this sound like the preaching of someone who gives a rip? Well it should, because I do, because here’s how the otherwise blah-de-blah story fits with Paul’s anguish.
In Matthew 14:13a, we are told that when Jesus heard of it, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. Heard of what? Heard of the murder of John the Baptiser, Jesus’ prequel in prophecy and his cousin in flesh. So he’s just heard about this, John is dead because Herod thinks with his pelvis and is an idiot of a king anyway, so Jesus withdraws for some alone time. Maybe Jesus went off to pray so his alone time is also “Quiet Time” where The Son is with The Father, or maybe he went off deliberately so as to be in private when he pulled the wings off some newborn kittens and lined up a few torpedo punts from outside-50 in his grief and anger. More likely the first option, but Matthew doesn’t tell us. What Matthew does tell us is that the news of John’s death was the cause for Jesus to step away, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. Now he’s alone in the boat, the Greek words “by himself” literally mean that no one was with him at all. (Actually I have no idea about Greek words, but it’s clear enough in English isn’t it?) What we do know is that a tradie from inland Nazareth goes out on the sea specifically without his fisherman mates from lakeside Capernaum; duh, maybe he wants to be alone (except for the kittens…). Anyway the crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns, and not only did they do that none of the men (or women for that matter) bought any food with them. So, Jesus is distraught with grief, he’s held it together just long enough to get the boat moving before he breaks his grieving heart out before The Father, and when he gets to the place of solitude he’s met by eleventy thousand people who have walked all day and between them have two sardine sandwiches and a scone. So Jesus (after putting down the kittens) entered the vast crowd and with a heart moved with pity for them…he cured their sick. We haven’t even got to the miraculous picnic yet but we can already see that Jesus gives a rip…about 20,000 actually (give or take an unaccompanied minor).
God’s message to us today is to give a rip, to care for the lost as Jesus himself cared for the lost, (and the hungry, and the wildly inconsiderate). Are you tired? God knows this. Are you grieving? God knows this. Do you have a bag of kittens nearby? God knows this (and soon shall the RSPCA also know). It is Covid season still, and whilst we are (more than) conquerors we are Victorians; where even Bordertown has thumping church-life today we have desolation. I’m missing church so hard today that I don’t even feeling like going to church even if it was on, I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit. God knows this. We cannot emulate Jesus fully: I could not have ministered to that crowd on that day that Jesus did, not with what Jesus had just been told; but Jesus did sustain that crowd and he’ll sustain our crowd too.
In Christ’s strength I am prepared to step up, in grief for Australia and fed-upness for Victoria’s lockdown, to minister where I am called. Are you?
Give a rip, groan in prayer a little, and share your lunch.