This last weekend I preached in church on the Feeding of the Five Thousand.
The Gospel reading was the Matthew 14 version of this story. It's a great story, and slightly unusual in that it's one of the few that comes in all four Gospels.
And as I preached, one of my very favourite things happened:
I preached to myself.
I suddenly realised that what I was saying, I was saying to me. The words coming out of my mouth spoke to me.
Now, honestly, it'd be great if every time I preached the power of the word challenged my heart and changed me. But - honestly - this isn't always true. I do try to apply what I say to myself. I do try to think how what I am teaching will help me. But it doesn't always hit me between the eyes and go - Wow! This is God's word to you today!
But this week this happened.
I was carefully working through the text, and explaining how Jesus' disciples weren't quite as filled with endless stores of compassion as Jesus. First, they complain; and second they top the complaint with a problem which they reckon will sort out the issue to their liking.
Jesus is busy healing, having compassion on the crowd, when the disciples have had enough. They want a break. So they suggest it's time to stop. This is the complaint. "Can't we go home now?" "Haven't we done enough already?" Or, in the words of the text: "Send them away to buy their own food. It's late."
Jesus smiles. Concerned about them being hungry? I'm delighted you're learning, and still showing concern. Why don't you feed them?
So the disciples add the deciding problem to the complaint in order to finish the matter off:
"But we have here only five bits of bread and two scraps of fish. Not enough for so many people. End of."
And Jesus lifts his face to God, and says - "Good point. Send 'em home"
No - Jesus does something glorious.
Something so counter-intuitive it changes the world.
Something unthinkably, ridiculously and perfectly Godly.
He picks up the problem. The bread, the fish. The not enough food. And he thanks God for it.
He thanks God for the problem.
Then he breaks the bread. Gives it to the complaining disciples. And the complaining disciples find themselves feeding the massive crowd.
I have a confession to make: as a rector, there are times when people complain to me. I know, this may come as a surprise. And, sometimes, to top off the complaint, people will add a problem which really does finish things off.
Or it's meant to.
Know what I mean?
"And on top of that, he voted Brexit."
"And you'll remember she let us down last year as well."
"Well, we've never done it this way before."
But Jesus takes the very thing that is presented as the deciding problem and gives thanks for it. And the giving thanks leads to the problem being broken. And to the disciples stopping complaining and the crowd being fed.
When was the last time you gave thanks for a problem, a difficulty, something that you didn't like?
I can tell you when it happened to me. Sunday morning. As I preached.
I've got a meeting this week. With some people I'm finding really hard at the moment. It's their fault things are tricky, obviously. Clearly I'm beyond reproach, in this as in all things.
But I have been dreading this meeting.
Yet as I spoke about this moment, this thanksgiving, this transformational thing that Jesus does, this grabbing the problem that tops the complaint and thanking God for it -
I suddenly realised I had to stop my internal monologue of complaint and lift up my upcoming meeting, and all the people involved, the issues around it, the whole darn thing and thank God for every part of it.
We've not got there yet.
The week is young.
I have no idea how this will play out.
But what I do know is that I have been changed by an act of thanksgiving. I am in a different place. I am no longer dreading something ahead. It may well not work out as I'd like! I am however thanking God for his love, his kindness, his provision and his Lordship. However this time goes, he will still be Lord. He will still love everyone involved. He will still kindly bring good and provide a way through. I don't have to fight this battle - nor, I suspect, many of the battles I attempt - right now I just have to lift up the thing to God and be grateful.
And perhaps the thankfulness rather than the struggle will mean I am able to find the compassion and care that he is already working out for more people than I can yet begin to number.
So yes, God used the preacher in church this Sunday to say something that really hit me. And the preacher was me. We really do live in an age of miracles.