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Mistaken blessings

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sermon for the Sunday next before Advent
How fond are you of taking exams?
Clearly, it depends on the type of exam you have to sit. You might be spending three hours scribbling at a desk in the school gym, or you might be trying to manoeuvre the car around a corner, or you might be standing in front of a few academics trying to defend what you have written.
Some people love an exam. Some people hate them.
But we only take exams for a reason.
What if you weren’t aware you were taking an exam?
Surely, that would be rather unfair. You don’t want to be pootling your merry way down the high street with your shopping only to be confronted by a man with a clipboard telling you that you failed Life when you weren’t able to tell that bloke where Market Street was.
Is Jesus being unfair when He tests Philip by asking him where enough bread to feed five thousand can be found?
A test has to have a purpose. When we are tested, we find out what we know and what we do not know. We find out what we can do and what we cannot do. If we get 65% in an exam, we might pass because we know 65% of the material, but we know that we do not understand 35% of the material. If we can take the test again, then we know how we can improve.
So why does the Lord want to test Philip, especially as it seems it’s without his knowledge?
We have to look at the test itself. What is the Lord trying to test in Philip?
Philip is faced with the problem of knowing how to feed five thousand people. Immediately, he thinks about the economic cost. However, that is the wrong answer. To challenge that whole culture of buying and selling, Our Lord produces vast quantities of loaves and fish out of the little that he has. He might as well be buying five thousand fish and chip suppers for a penny.
Philip was wrong.
Well, so what? Does this mean that Philip has failed Life? Has he gone to Hell for not getting the answer correct?
Absolutely not!
Look at the lengths that the Lord goes to in order to rescue us from Hell. If only a simple verbal exam is necessary, then what is the point of the Cross? Our lives mean so much to God that an exam to get into Heaven misses the point spectacularly.
The fact is that Humanity is broken and God wants us fixed which He does through the Life and Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing to test here. All God wants us to do is to trust Him , to forge a relationship with Him, to be part of His Church, to receive what He gives us to keep us well in our spirits and in our bodies, and finally to be part of His Kingdom. This is why He gives us the gift of Faith and opportunities to strengthen that Faith so that we may learn to trust Him more.
Let’s look at Philip again. He makes a mistake, but look what happens. There is the great miracle to show that not only can Our Lord do great things, but that He can be trusted to look after us and feed us. This is a remarkable strengthening of our Faith. Philip’s wrong answer shows us, two thousand years later, what’s going on. Philip’s mistake blesses us because we learn not to treat our Salvation as a matter of Economics or Examination. And in making the mistake, Philip is also blessed in the strengthening of his faith. See how astonished he is at the feeding of the Five Thousand. See how much he gains from Our Lord’s work. See how glad he is to be wrong. And this strengthening of his faith will propel him to preach the Gospel to Greece, Syria and Phrygia and end his life crucified like Our Lord.
We remember that, in His role as our Saviour, Our Lord is a teacher. Teachers don’t just teach to test, they teach that students may learn and grow and develop using the knowledge that they have. Of course we make mistakes, and we sin sometimes truly horrifically. However, in God we have the opportunity for our errors to become our blessings if we truly learn, repent, and trust God. Life is not an exam to pass, it is a gift to be lived in God. Of course, this isn’t easy, but we know that every effort to know and love God will be rewarded, and rewarded abundantly, even more than five thousand loaves and fishes.

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