As I prepared my sermon for today around the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, I was prayerfully transported back to Cuddesdon. Only months earlier we had used this passage for a Eucharist with children. They had designed, or at least had a say in, most of the service; they had chosen to focus on the abundance of God. All week I have been pondering God’s abundance, and signs of that abundance, across the parish.
If we’re considering material abundance, then perhaps the parish in which I serve does not offer a life of plenty. This week Church Times have included a few articles on the need for the Church of England to become more relevant to people who live in parishes just like mine. Whilst I absolutely support the sentiment behind this thinking, I would also question whether people in more deprived areas are withdrawing from church, or just withdrawing from organised church services. In a little over a month I have encountered so many people who wish to share deep aspects of their lives with me and be prayed for. Material abundance is something that they may be able to see but is completely out of reach, much like these blackberries which grow behind bars, impossible for anyone to reach and benefit from.
A life of plenty is something in the distance that many will fail to see because they are too busy or too preoccupied with the here and now.
And yet even in these places where hope is difficult to find, there are small reminders of this abundance springing up in very unlikely places and flourishing on very little nourishment.
I am inclined to believe that it is not material abundance which God offers, neither is it an abundance which we can see but is far out of reach. Instead God offers a rich abundance which may at first be difficult to identify or describe.
As Isaiah 55:1 says, “You that have no money, come, buy and eat…without money and without price.” Isaiah and the feeding of the five thousand offer an invitation from God to this abundant life where, in sharing the little that we have, what we have grows beyond all recognition.
What we have to share may not be material; it might be our time, hospitality, friendship, care and prayers. As small as these may seem, when we offer them out they grow in our hearts and the hearts of others.
When we don’t offer out the gifts that we have, or share what we have, the imagery of “The Old Shopping Bag” can soon become a reality.
The Old Shopping Bag
Do you remember the time when we met
I was new, vibrant and perfect without blemish
You were much younger then
You hadn’t yet met your man
And the children were mere stars in the sky
Those were the good old days
You would meet your friends and take me too
We would go to all kinds of places
You would give me items for safe keeping
Far more than I could carry – I didn’t mind though
I was just happy to be by your side
Sharing in the joy feeling alive
Do you remember the day the pennies ran out
You had met your man by now
I could see how much you loved him and he you
But things were different
We didn’t go out together so much
You didn’t see your friends often
Giving me items for safe keeping
Almost never led to a day out
It tended to result in a visit to one place
The same place again and again
My sides were rarely bulging when we left
And I was beginning to show signs of neglect
That debt came shortly after your first child
How beautiful she was and so very placid
You spent your days loving and mothering
And he would bring home the bacon
Your man the bringer of happiness and laughter
Came home in the middle of the day
He slung his boots hard on top of me
It was miserable and wet anyway
Yet his return seemed to bring
More anguish and distress
I had never seen you like that before
Little did I know it was to become the new normal
The trips out became fewer and fewer
I was now looking positively shabby
With threads dangling and my once vibrant print
Now scuffed and barely recognisable
To add insult to injury one of my straps hung loose
Even the lighter loads that you now entrusted
Into my care were too much to bear
I was tired but that was nothing
In light of your sheer exhaustion
Desperation and insatiable hunger
You asked and you received but never enough
Kind as people were…it was never enough