St Mary’s Lewisham.
30th July 2006.
2 Kings 2: 42–44;
Ephesians 4: 1–6;
John 6: 1–15.
Year B Week 17
The Many and the Few
‘… but what are they among so many?’, the anxious Apostle Andrew asked Jesus about the loaves and fishes.
One theme which comes over and over again in the Bible is that of The Many and the Few.
Let me give you some examples. There is the miracle of the loaves and fishes which we heard this morning, and which the four evangelists, Matthew Mark, Luke and John evidently considered so important that it is the only event outside Passiontide recorded by all of them; there is Gideon in the book of Judges whom God ordered to cut down the numbers of his army before going into a battle so that the few hundred troops under him routed an entire army; there is Jonathan, Saul’s son who said to his armour-bearer, ‘nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few’, and the two of them promptly attacked and killed twenty Philistines between them. As a result that the entire opposing army was thrown into confusion and defeated; and Paul and Silas, whose opponents complained to the authorities at Thessalonica, ‘these are the men that have turned the world upside down’.
These examples, and many others, are God’s way of telling us that the Few, acting in God’s Name, can overcome the Many – but only if the Few understand that ‘The Lord says, ‘Do not be afraid or daunted by this vast horde; this battle is not yours but God’s’, as Benaiah the prophet reminded King Jehoshaphat at another critical moment .
Remembering that fact is critically important.. Every miracle, for that’s what those examples are, where the Few triumph over the Many, owes everything to the grace and power of God, and little or nothing to the skills and strengths of the human beings whom He invites to take part in it with Him. So important, in fact, that I shall mention it again in a moment.
Jesus allowed Andrew, Philip, James and John and indeed the young man with the loaves and fishes, to take part in this miracle not because they were experts in mass-catering, or in the art of making a little go a long way, but simply that they were the people who trusted Jesus Christ sufficiently to do what he said. Jesu told them to hand over the bread and fish to Him, and then to hand them out – and they trusted and obeyed Him. Not one person in a thousand in the crowd had the faintest idea of where their food had come from: St John tells us later in the same chapter that the crowd were more interested having come across a source of free food – and simply wanted to find out how to get more of it.
God’s wonderful works (or miracles) aren’t nearly so uncommon as people think, and in a minute you’ll hear about two miracles which takes place regularly not a hundred yards from this very spot. One of course, is the Eucharist where Bread and Wine become the Body and Blood of Christ on which we shall be feeding this morning. But there is a smaller, though still quite remarkable, miracle is one which regularly happens in Lewisham High Street in the middle of the night most week-ends. In fact the last time it happened was the night before last, Friday, and my interest in it is that it personally involved me and a Few others who have trained to be Street Pastors..
But before we go into it in detail let me remind you about those two things about miracles involving the Few and the Many which were mentioned earlier::
Whenever a miracle happens it is entirely due to the power of God Himself – it has little or nothing to do with the skills or the learning or the strength of any of those people whom He may choose to involve in its performance. It’s their willingness to do what He tells them that really counts.
Those people for whose benefit the miracle is performed probably haven’t the faintest idea or interest that it has happened under their very noses – or would even want to find out more about it if they were aware.
Now, what is this local mini-miracle?
People often say that they are afraid to go out in the evening in Lewisham for fear of being the victim of street crime – being mugged, assaulted, having their handbag stolen. And equally often well-meaning people with a concern for their neighbours just shrug their shoulders and say ‘but what can we do about it: there are so few of ‘us’ and so many of ‘them’
Well if the Lewisham police announced that street crime regularly goes down by seventy per cent between 10 o’clock and four in the morning on certain nights of the month, it would be a remarkable statement. And if the police went on to admit that this sudden reduction coincided with the presence of a handful of Street Pastors being on duty, usually no more than half a dozen at a time, you might wonder if you were hearing aright. But the fact is that country-wide, this is what police forces have been saying for several years. Not just in Lewisham, New Cross and Sydenham locally, but also in Manchester, Leicester, Southend-on-Sea, Bromley, Sutton and all the other places where Street Pastors operate. In fact a few weeks back Chief Superintendent Torrance who is the head of Lewisham Division got out of his car when he saw us walking outside the Hospital and thanked us personally for the job we were doing.
Doesn’t it sound, though, suspiciously like being yet another case of what the Few can do for the Many?
Street Pastors are a wholly Christian organisation. We agree to be available one night every month between those hours to walk through local streets in pairs. We wear a uniform with the words STREET PASTOR prominently emblazoned on it. Everything we do is with the approval and encouragement of the local police force, though we are in no other respect connected with them.
One thing Street Pastors don’t do is preach or evangelise the people we find ourselves talking to. In fact we usually wait for them to talk to us. There are times of course when it goes further than talk and we find ourselves escorting some tipsy young girl to the bus-stop to help her get home safely; or paying her fare to the driver if she has lost her purse. We make a point of chatting with the shopkeepers who keep late hours. It’s astonishing how many hairdressers and corner shops are open till well after midnight,. They are often on their own and bored to tears and a chat with a Street Pastor makes a welcome diversion.
What surprises me most of all personally is the positive attitude of the young people who do start chatting with us. At that hour there are thousands of twenty- to thirty-year-olds on their way to or from one of the local Night Clubs (like The Venue at New Cross, but there are several more in Lewisham High Street itself). The sort of people one meets are totally different from those who go to any church, so one is continually meeting and getting into conversation with people whom one wouldn’t meet in any other way.
Street Pastors is a totally Christian Organisation, open to men and women from 18 years-old and upwards. The Minister or Priest or Elder of your church has to provide written evidence that you are a regular attender. As we walk around we occasionally withdraw to some quiet backstreet and pray for those whom we have just encountered.
‘…but what are they among so many?’, said Andrew to Jesus as he looked at the five thousand hungry people surrounding them. Little did he realise that he and his fellow-apostles were going to find themselves taking part, albeit a very minor one, in yet another example of what the Few can achieve amongst the Many if they are only prepared to do what Jesus Christ tells them.
So if you would like to be actively involved in a little miracle, why not apply to join us as a Street Pastor?
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