Sermon: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Texts: Isaiah 55:1-3; Romans 8:35 37-39; Matthew 14: 13-21
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Returning to the parish this week feels a little like a momentary pause on a whistlestop tour of the world.
As you know, I have just spent the last week standing in the rain in a field in Sussex with two hundred young people, surrounded by all manner of computer, video and public address equipment on the Chichester Diocese Summer Camp.
I don’t know what it is about the names of these camps, but their names often seems to be a portent of the weather we are to expect: I recall that “Hot and Steamy – getting fit for God” was in a heatwave and that “Wind of Change” broke tents and blew away small children. I am fearing the worst when someone suggests a future one should be called “Our God reigns” (r-e-i-g-n-s) lest it be mistaken for “r-a-i-n-s”
Sadly the weather was quite wet, but although sleeping bags may have been dampened, spirits were not, as parishes gathered with their young people to worship God, to learn the good news, and to go deeper in faith. The theme was “we’re all going on a Summer Holiday” and enabled us to consider the needs of the world, extending the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign, even having a Make Poverty History song based on the recent hit song “Show me the way to Amarillo” which if I had enough time to give Miss Warren notice, I was going to get us to sing… maybe later in the Summer!
It would seem therefore appropriate in the light of today’s scriptures, where we hear of the feeding of the five thousand. Just as those who gathered in Christ’s presence to be fed, so we gathered to be fed by Holy Scripture. Challenging Scriptures which call us to a life that deals with difficult issues and does not shy away from them but reflects them through the life and teachings of Our risen Saviour. We heard of South America, of Sri Lanka, of homelessness projects in Worthing, and directly from a group which had returned from an IDWAL link with the Cameroon only 24 hours previously.
Just as those who gathered in Christ’s presence to be fed, so we gathered to be fed by the Eucharist. The capacity of young people to be open to God through sacramental worship is truly invigorating – approaching the altar in awe and wonder. I have very vivid memories this year of a meditation written by one of the young people about being on a desert island and reflecting on the stars and the wonders of God’s creation – everyone was given a squirt of suncream to smell and encouraged to lie flat on the floor of a darkened marquee. We experienced worship that at times was transformative.
Just as those who gathered in Christ’s presence to be fed, so we gathered to be fed by fellowship: waking alongside young people in their journey of faith and seeing them deepen their experience of the divine. We need to recognise that we as adults also need to be fed and to learn and one of the reasons I find work with young people so stimulating is that I learn so much from them: profound insights on faith at times coming from fourteen-year-olds – seeing teenagers engaging with God in ways which adults have had beaten out of them – of meeting the challenge of living the Christian life head-on in School, College or University which we as adults never have to deal with – never think that just because a person may be young in years they might be less of a Christian than you who have been to Church all your life – for sometimes we encounter young people with more of a sense of awe and reverence than I have encountered in many adults. I will never forget the words of one young person “people think that I can’t be a real Christian because I am young”. I wonder if they said the same thing about John Mark, the writer of the second Gospel, or Timothy, the Bishop of Ephesus to whom Paul wrote two letters…
I move this afternoon from one event to another, as I prepare to take part in the National Youth Pilgrimage to Walsingham, to an even bigger event for young people from all across the country, nearly a thousand young Christians in this small Norfolk village. You may feel a twinge of resentment from here, losing your priest for these weekends, when perhaps he should be here in his own parish, but I ask of you for understanding and the need to see the wider picture, for these events provide a wonderful opportunity to reach out to so many young people, in ways and means and using resources which alone we cannot possibly hope to achieve; so I prayerfully ask you to support my work in these areas.
This year, only a small number of our young people have had the opportunity to come on one of these events: Liam, Emma and Laura; but next year I hope that more will be able to come, to share, to be fed by Scripture, by worship, by the sacraments and by the fellowship of being with other young Christians.
It was tremendous fun, it is always tremendous fun, hard work for those leading it, but fun, and it can only be supported by you – by your prayers and your commitment to allowing me to minister to this wider congregation.
Planning is already starting for next year, so let us share in the rich harvest which comes from this, let us sit together, young and old, like the five thousand and be fed by Our Lord Jesus Christ.