sermon gill barnett

How big is God?

‘How big is God?’ was preached by Gill Barnett at the Joint Benefice Service on 29th July 2018. It’s based on John 6:1-21, Ephesians 3:14-21 and 2 Kings 4:42-44.

What happened?

So what really happened on that hillside at the end of a long, hot day?   What do you think happened?  Because apart from the resurrection, the story of the feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle recorded in all 4 gospels – so it must have some special significance in the gospel writers’ eyes.

Let’s take it logically.  What could have happened?

  • It was a miracle that people’s hearts were softened, they overcame their selfishness and learned to share. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?  Something we could all learn from and an example we could certainly use in today’s world.
  • Maybe it was just a sacramental meal, a symbolic event, a pre-echo of our Eucharist where everyone just gets a taste of what is to come.
  • Or truly Jesus performed a physical miracle; the impossible happened and 5,000 people were well and truly, abundantly fed from this boy’s packed lunch.

How big is God?

What do you think happened?  What you think matters – because it reflects what you think of God.  It reflects how big God is in your mind.

Miracles are hard to believe, hard to understand and impossible to explain rationally.  We can’t explain them because, well because they are miracles and by their very nature defy natural and physical laws and go beyond our understanding: ‘far more than all we can ask or imagine’ – remember that phrase from the reading from Ephesians?

Yes, we can try to explain them away – in this case by overcoming selfishness or sharing simply in a symbolic meal.  And if we’re willing to do that, we might as well try to explain away God, our Creator and reduce our belief system to a set of rational thought processes that help to raise humankind to a consciousness level a little higher and more sophisticated than apes or chimpanzees or dogs or dolphins.  How big is the God you believe in?

Abundant provision

Read the account carefully, “11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.”  This wasn’t a meagre snack, a little something to tide the people over, this wasn’t just a symbolic act.  There was the evidence of the leftovers, 12 basketsful – God’s abundant provision, His generosity – which was recognised by the people on the hillside, “14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’”  It is the same generosity that God showed through Elisha in our Old Testament reading – “they shall eat and have some left.”

And I believe it is wrong to try to reduce God to a size which you or I can understand or explain away.  It is wrong to deny that God can act towards his own creation as He chooses.  Our discomfort and inability to understand should not put limits on God, what He did and what He continues to do.  God cannot be limited by our ability to explain.  How big is the God you believe in?

Do not be afraid

The world in which we live and which we have been given custody of, is God’s creation.  He made it out of nothing and it is wonderful in its greatness, its vastness and its minutiae.  God the Creator is not limited by the created – by space, by time, by our attempts to explain Him.  God does not grow weary.  What controls you doesn’t control Him.  What troubles you doesn’t trouble Him.  A hungry army, 5,000 hungry people or a storm on a lake are not problems in God’s eyes.

Humanly speaking, what we can offer is always going to be insufficient; we are always going to be living with insurmountable problems but “the love of Christ surpasses knowledge (and) … he is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.

How big is the God you believe in?  Abundantly bigger than we can express or even imagine.  And this is the God who loves you and says to you, “It is I; do not be afraid.

God is bigger than we can imagine

We might only be able to offer the equivalent of 5 loaves and 2 small fish but as one commentator wrote, “Little is much when God is in it.”  The solutions to the worries and problems of the world don’t, thankfully lie in our hands – those solutions are ‘far beyond human ability to accomplish but they are routine for the Lord of the impossible.’

Give what you have, however small and insignificant and God will bless, “abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”  Because God is bigger, way bigger than we can imagine.  “To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever.  Amen.”

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