May God give us ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts open to the Spirit’s word to us today.
Can I have some volunteers? Can you step through this piece of paper? [Hold up A4 paper] No? Why not? It’s impossible! Of course. To step through you’d need a hole. [Cut slit in centre of paper, hold it up again] Now can you climb through? No? It’s still impossible.
[While delivering the next section, cut paper so that it makes a loop a person can step through, but don’t unfold it yet.] Jesus did something in our bible reading today that people thought was impossible. There they were, 5,000 people who’d come to listen to Jesus. Imagine them: thousands of them, standing or sitting on the ground, as far as the eye could see. And nothing to eat. Except one little boy offered his packed lunch: just five loaves of bread and two fish. Nothing like enough to feed all these people. But Jesus took the food, prayed over it, and gave it to them. And there was more than enough to go round.
[Unfold paper loop.] Now can you step through it? Yes! [Volunteers step through.] It wasn’t impossible after all. What I’ve done with the paper is just a clever trick. I’ll show you how to do it later if you like. But what Jesus did, making those few loaves and fish feed all those people wasn’t a trick. It was something real. It was a miracle.
What is a miracle? [Invite suggestions.] The very best definition of a miracle I’ve come across was told to me by a seven year old: “a miracle is something impossible that God does”. Something impossible that God does. Because with God, nothing is impossible.
It is impossible to feed 5,000 people with a little bit of bread and fish. It would be like trying to feed all of us here with just this biscuit [Hold up biscuit.] I couldn’t do it, you couldn’t do it. We could share it out, [break off tiny pieces and give to volunteers] but we wouldn’t be satisfied. But when Jesus feeds people, they are satisfied. Even when he feeds them using almost nothing.
Almost nothing, but not quite nothing. For the feeding of the 5,000 to happen, someone had to offer something. The little boy had to offer his little bit of bread and fish for Jesus to use. I wonder how that little boy felt? I wonder if he was nervous about offering what little he had to Jesus. He must have known it couldn’t possibly be enough to feed all those people. I wonder if he felt a little bit silly even offering it?
Like all miracles in the Bible, this story tells us something about God. It tells us that God can do the impossible. And it tells us that God can take the tiniest offering and multiply it.
Miracles don’t stop with the Bible. God is still working miracles, things which seem impossible, but somehow God makes them happen. As many of you will know, Lighthouse is happening this week. I’m part of the group that organises Lighthouse in High Wycombe, and every year there comes a meeting where we say to each other “this just won’t work, it’s impossible”. And yet, every year, by God’s grace, it does work. So I always think of Lighthouse as a bit of a miracle.
Miracles happen when we, like the little boy in our story, offer something to God, and God gives it back a thousand times over. Offering can be risky. Maybe we offer something precious to us, or something we treasure, or – most risky of all – we offer ourselves.
Or maybe we offer prayer for a situation that seems impossible. Prayer can be risky too. But it does change things. Some of you will remember the years, the decades of prayer for an end to apartheid, or to the troubles in Northern Ireland. Situations which seemed at the time impossible to resolve, but they did come to an end, thanks in no small part to the faithful prayer of many millions of ordinary people. There are other situations now which seem impossible, and we must go on praying for those.
Miracles begin when we offer ourselves, all that we have and all that we are, to God in prayer and in worship and in service. Even if you feel like what you have to offer is too small, offer it anyway. God will take whatever we offer, even the smallest scrap of bread, and use and multiply it beyond what we could ever do or even imagine.
God, as we heard in our first reading, “by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” So offer yourselves. Offer yourselves to God, to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, to become the means by which God works miracles. And don’t be surprised if you get more than you bargained for.