I wonder if you know anyone who's a bit obsessive; who keeps going on and on about a particular topic or issue?Well, in some ways I am that person, for today, I do want to talk, once more, about our the three H’s, our aspirations: hospitality, healing and holiness. I want to do so because I am totally convinced that they are our keys to mission and evangelism. I also think that today’s gospel reading speaks to all three of our H’s.
Let’s start with hospitality. John tells us that Jesus that Jesus saw a ‘great multitude coming towards him’ and that Jesus’ first instinct to feed them. Surely, the first instinct of the church should also be to feed people? After all Jesus also, later on, repeatedly told Peter, the rock on which the church was to be built, to ‘feed my flock.’
But, we should also note, that Jesus is indiscriminate in his hospitality: he doesn’t rank, categorize, or, indeed, make any prior judgements about people’s worthiness or righteousness. Neither should we, for the thing about Christian hospitality is that it really is wild, extravagant, and totally inclusive.
The really good news is that if our hospitality is wild, extravagant, and all inclusive it will be blessed and the effects will be multiplied. Jesus you see hasn’t given up on the idea of feeding the multitudes, he just expects us to play our part. In fact, if I had to define holiness I would suggest that it might be reducible to the three words I have just used ‘play our part.’
In the story of the feeding of the 5000 two seemingly minor characters do just this: they play their part. The young lad and Andrew. The young lad encouraged by Andrew offers his meagre rations to Jesus. In fact he offers all that he has; it might not be much, but it is in fact everything. He does what he can do, and doesn’t worry about what he can’t do. He also doesn’t seem to worry about what will happen to his loaves and fish. He, like Andrew, seems to have a naive level of trust about him. Can we develop such holy naivety and the confidence to simply offer to God, for blessing, our own meagre rations? I would want to suggest that if we develop the holy arts of trust and generosity we can legitimately leave the rest up to God in the full expectation that he brings abundance out of scarcity. Abundance from scarcity is God’s particular skill.
So what of healing? Well to understand what this might mean for us we need to consider the second part of the gospel story where Jesus walks on the water to meet his disciples. Let’s listen again to Jesus’ opening words: ‘It is I, do not fear.’ Fear is, I suspect, one of the great diseases of our time. Many people are paralysed by ‘what if syndrome.’ What if syndrome always projects the worst into any situation, it plays on our fears; it takes them and extrapolates them. What if syndrome plays on our fears that we aren’t quite worth it, or that we aren’t good enough. What if syndrome invites us to build inauthentic lives, it invites us to believe that happiness comes through wealth and status. What if syndrome isn’t real. The secular world seeks to help us manage the symptoms of what if syndrome but never gets to the cause. The cause is of course our sense of insecurity and fear. This sense of insecurity and fear, for many of us, me included, can be at its worst when life is stormy, and when all around us seems dark. It is when we experience insecurity and fear that we are most in need of healing: God’s healing. Like Jesus’ disciples we too need to hear Jesus saying to us ‘it is I, do not fear.’ But, how do we do this? How do we open ourselves up to Jesus’ healing touch? Well, once more, and sorry for banging on, well I am not sorry really, the only way I know is prayer, the simple act of coming before God and talking to God, telling him your fears and letting him speak back to you.
As an aside I am so concerned about fear (as well as depression and anxiety – the diseases of our time) that I am currently writing a short liturgy which I hope will allow people to live with, through and beyond anxiety, depression and fear. I hope to introduce it in the autumn. I think that if we are to take seriously our aspiration to be a healing church we must take fear, insecurity, anxiety and depression seriously.
So there you have it, I have been banging on again about hospitality, holiness and healing. I hope that over the next few years we will grow into a deeper understanding of what these might mean for us. Can I ask you to think about this and pray about this? Can I also ask you to take home with you today’s gospel reading and let it penetrate your very soul, let it teach you more and more about hospitality, holiness, and healing,