SERMON 31 JULY 2011 - “Bring your nothing to me” By Rev. Fei Taule’ale’ausumai
Prayer: May the words…
There have been times during my ministry here at St. Andrew’s when I have felt absolutely empty and depleted of all energy and resources and I have stepped faithfully out of my front door on a Sunday morning completely reliant on God to inspire me and give me the words to preach to you from the pulpit. These times are when I am at my most vulnerable and I think I have nothing to say and nothing to offer. There have been times when even during the offering I’m thinking God what are we going to do? I have never said “God what am I going to do?” I have always felt a dual responsibility to provide inspiration for God’s people. “God you put me here, so you better perform a miracle or your people are not going to be fed. Do you want them to go home still hungry?” And the amazing thing is that those are the fullest times of my ministry, I pray the prayer of illumination “May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight Oh God our strength and our Redeemer, Amen.” And it is at that point that the miracle occurs and the words begin to flow. In my emptiness and my vulnerability the Holy Spirit always steps in and fills me to overflowing and strengthens my confidence. It’s scary stuff; there is doubt and uncertainty because that’s just human nature at its best. I remember sharing with Bruce afterwards about this vulnerability and Bruce you have said to me, Fei you should have more of these sorts of times because this is when you are at your best (or words to that effect).
There have been times when I have been called on to pray and preach in the Samoan language with absolutely no notice at all and my Samoan language is not that good at these sorts of times. I remember gulping at the shock of having to offer a pastoral prayer to a family whose mother had just died at our family home, this was about 20 years ago. I was also traumatized by the event as it had all happened in my bedroom and she had died on my bed. At the request of our family minister
for me to pray I stood to my feet numbed by the experience but performing my duty to do what was required of me at the time. I opened my mouth and I said in Samoan “Agaga Paia e, fesoasoani mai…” and that is all I remember. I sat down at the end of my prayer feeling that something amazing had just happened. My minister and my father said to me, that was a beautiful prayer, and even to this very day I can’t remember what I said or how long I prayed for. All I do remember is that God filled my emptiness and used me to minister to a family in need at that particular time. I have to admit its horrible feeling vulnerable and uncertain, but God remains faithful to us especially at these times and waits to perform miracles when we least expect it.
“We have nothing—only five loaves and two fish.” said the disciples. Jesus says,“Bring your nothing to me.”
This story reminds me that sometimes Jesus is asking me to simply give my nothing—my little loaves and fishes—and then to stand back and watch Jesus teach a different kind of economy, an economy grown by God’s abundance. You know this story. After the news of the murder of his friend John, Jesus retreats to a lonely place; I imagine to mourn. The locals get wind that Jesus has come. The crowd is overwhelming and needy. Jesus heals with compassion. The crowd stays late, and the disciples want to send the people away so they can get something to eat. Jesus wants to teach his disciples something fundamental about the nature of God. Jesus says, “You feed them.” The disciples look puzzled. They have nothing. No food. No reserves. They stare out at a hungry mass of people that looks more and more like a hungry mob. The disciples respond, “We have nothing—only five loaves and two fish.” Jesus says, “Bring your nothing to me.” He blesses the fish and bread and proceeds to distribute food to the masses. As Matthew tells the story, “All were filled” (Johnson, Jul 28, 2008)1 from the five barley loaves and two fish. With that gift Jesus gives thanks and begins to distribute the food. Miraculously, all have plenty to eat. The crowds of people are in need. Not only are they hungry; the food supply is limited, and there does not appear to be enough to satisfy the hunger of all. Obviously, some will be sent away with little or nothing. Those responsible for controlling the crowds wonder how this precious food should be distributed. Then, in the midst of this need, something extraordinary happens. Not only is food provided, but more is available than is required. How did this happen? What are we to make of it?
The feeding can be taken as a nature miracle; Jesus producing food for the hungry crowd as a sign that he is the Son of God. At the opposite end of the scale it can be taken as a "miracle of sharing”. We notice that Jesus did not start with empty hands. Were there many people present who had food hidden away in their lunch boxes? We have no way of telling. In a sense it does not matter.
It is clear that even the disciples do not expect Jesus to feed the people in the way he does. He also makes the excessive generosity of Jesus very clear. Jesus instructs the disciples to gather up the scraps. What started with five loaves and two fish ends up with a satisfied crowd and twelve baskets. One can only assume that the twelve represents the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. In other words, there is in Jesus enough to satisfy the religious needs of all.
The miracle asks the church the question, "Doyou believe God will provide what you need to do the ministry God wants done?" Note the essential qualifiers -- what we need, not want, and the ministry God wants, not necessarily the ministry we’ve planned. Another way to ask the question: Do we operate according to a mind-set of abundance or of scarcity?
There is much hunger in the world today. Millions of people go to sleep with empty stomachs. We see the current crisis in Somalia; children are bloated from malnutrition and too hungry to cry. More than twelve million people facing starvation in the worst drought to hit East Africa in 60 years. 37.4% of children are suffering from acute malnutrition, the highest rate ever. Severe drought, soaring food prices and conflict have left millions at risk of starvation and disease in Somalia, Kenyaand Ethiopia. Pastures are barren, livestock are dying, water sources are dry and children are starving. It has been described as a “human tragedy of unimaginable proportions” by the UN.
When some hear the Gospel message they respond I don’t want life after death I want it now before death. What do we do? What can we do? Why can’t God perform a miracle for these people now, today? There is much about man-made barriers preventing aid from getting through to those in need, monetary aide form the USA decreased because of its own debt crisis. I’m afraid I have no answers or solutions to these age old questions either. We can only pray and hope that all agencies will work together to relieve this world crisis.
God is ever faithful in our times of crisis and emptiness, Paul often talked about when I am empty then I am full. Sometimes it is good to bring our vulnerability and emptiness to the foot of the cross and wait for God to work his miracle in and through us when we least expect it. “We have nothing—only five loaves and two fish,” said the disciples. Jesus says,“Bring your nothing to me.”
1. Johnson, T. D. (Jul 28, 2008). The God of abundance
CENTENNIAL SERMON TO CELEBRATE 100 YEARS OF ST. ANDREW’S PRESENCE IN HENDERSON 17TH JULY 2011 - By Rev. Fei Taule’ale’ausumai Davis
Psalm 100:8 “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
Ephesians 3:7-21, 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.
How do you condense 100 years into a 15 minute sermon? Easy, you don’t. Most of you have a copy of the Centenary booklet full of the wonderful memories of St. Andrew’s from its very first years as a church categorized as “an aided charge”, too small to support itself financially, which even then couldn’t sustain itself so had to revert to the status of being a “Home Mission Station”. St. Andrew’s has survived 2 world wars and a depression and, even now today, emerging from the recession we have survived. And how have we managed to survive for 100 years? “By the grace of God.” We have come thus far by the grace of God. “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
On one of my visits back to Auckland in 1994 I remember driving past the St. Andrew’s sign on Great North Road and thinking at the time “hmmm, that would be a good Parish to work in. There was not any special reason, it was just a feeling I had; I believe it was my first sense of call to St. Andrew’s. I knew absolutely nothing about this congregation or the crazy people that worshipped here. The only compelling feeling I had at the time was the fact that this was West Auckland, my home turf. I did not know that the minister at time Rev. Karel Lorier was leaving that year. I had just accepted the call to St. Andrew’s College in Birmingham, England so it remained just a passing thought at the time. Seven years later that sense of call was confirmed after Rev. Tino Scanlan took up the call to St. Paul’s, Manurewa. God alone knows the plans laid out for us long before we do.
Thank God for that notice board. But you know my only bone of contention with this place over the years is the Church buildings’ lack of physical visibility within Henderson. Unless you live on Tara Road or at the North end of Kereru Road you wouldn’t know that we existed. On the day of my induction here on January 23rd 2003 a few of my friends never made it because they couldn’t find the church. I have been told that there used to be a large wooden cross made from railway sleepers that you could see from Great North Road; unfortunately this was stolen some years ago. I’ve often been asked if my church is the Baptist Church or St. Michael’s Anglican Church. I even wondered why we put a house on the main road and the church at the back but anyway, as the saying goes these days, “go figure.” Last week I buried Sheena Mennie who was a member of Massey Presbyterian church until she missed the bus and followed the singing from the bus stop on Great North Road, along Phoenix house walkway to our church. She stayed with us from that day and came when she wasn’t in and out of hospital. I wonder how many more would opt for our type of church if they knew we were here?
I believe that this community of saints is quite unique because it prides itself in its “laid backness” we don’t point the finger or do a roll call every week to see how many Sunday’s you’ve missed in coming to Church. We don’t panic when people need to take a break, and why is that some might say? Because the reality is that almost everyone here is extremely busy, many of you work in the weekends. If you have a look at the photos of yesteryear particularly the Sunday school photo there are a lot of children in those photos, and this would be a similar picture in every church in New Zealand at the same time. Sunday school was the normal place to go on a Sunday. I was surprised when our family first moved to the Presbyterian Church in 1969 that some of the kids in my Sunday school class were dropped off at church by parents who didn’t attend. I didn’t understand why this was so. There used to be a time when children were to be seen and not heard, my how times have changed. When I see young families come to church today I celebrate the fact that you are here at all and think of how hard it must have been just to arrive here this morning. We don’t shush our children anymore; we celebrate their presence and their participation in our service of worship. They are not just the church of tomorrow, but very much the church of today. I am proud of the St. Andrew’s heritage of children taking up the offering on Sundays and all ages and generations participating in the sacrament of Holy Communion - it’s not just for those confirmed but for the whole people of God. Sure, as your minister I wish that the church was this full every Sunday, but as a realist I also understand the demands and expectations that society places on all of us economically.
We are the hands, the feet, and the voice of Christ in the heart of Henderson. By the grace of God we have come thus far and the one thing that remains sure and steadfast (as the Boys Brigade Motto reminds us) is the faithful stream of St. Andrews stalwarts who have remained the pillars of our church community over the years. Ministers have come and gone yet the elders and the families that have been the glue that have held this church together over its one hundred year history remain.
So when Paul wishes for us that we might be filled with God, he knows very well that this cannot happen by our own efforts. Instead it is the power of Christ at work in our hearts through faith. And as the Church, broken, as we are, inexperienced as we are, sometimes frightened as we are, Christ has called us, along with a host of others, to be the bearers of the Good News of God's love. For as we share this love, we learn it, we grow in it, and most importantly it transforms us, converts us, and embraces us in this love God which is Jesus Christ. And this kind of love does not seek to escape from the world, but rather to enter into its suffering that it might know the reconciliation and grace of Christ's love. (Love, 2007)
I love the words of William Loader who describes the church as being “God’s risk of love in history, as mature and immature as the average of its members, but God’s promise of the kingdom for now. Let us rejoice in the freedom of the Spirit that knows no bounds, that leads us beyond our fears and our barriers to the uttermost ends of the world, and that brings us back to the centre, to the Word of God borne witness to by Holy Scripture: God in whom we live and move and have our being and whose family we are.”(Loader)
And so it is with a deep sense of gratitude and thankfulness that I pay tribute to the wonderful men and women, youth and children, many of whom have died who have kept our church faithful and our worshipping community alive.
May God continue to shower us with the many blessings we have been privileged to receive and share over these 100 years. May our church continue to be that beacon of hope in Henderson that invites our local community to come, be, share, and witness the love of God in action at home. Thank you to all of you who without you we would not exist.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.
Love, J. (2007).
April 2011 to June 2012