“Generous With Our Possessions”

“Generous With Our Possessions”

fish, bread and wheat photo credit - Jerry Bridges

fish, bread and wheat
photo credit – Jerry Bridges

John 6:12-14 – March 8, 2015

A memorable picture book I dearly remember from my childhood is called “Stone Soup.” I remember reading it to my children, too. This story is about a small village in Europe after the wars, several hundred years ago. The villagers are frightened of strangers. As a result, they are tight-fisted, and keep their precious food to themselves. They hide the food, until coaxed to bring it out; be generous and share it all together. And then, all the village has a wonderful feast.

Our Gospel reading today from John 6 has a similar sort of idea. Someone is generous, and food is shared. Jesus blesses the food, multiplies it, and all the people end up having a wonderful feast.

In today’s Scripture reading—which appears in all four Gospels, by the way—we see Jesus and His disciples traveling far away from town, to pray. Far away from a ready source of food. Yet, here comes a huge crowd of people, pursuing Jesus!

I am not certain why they are coming after Him. Perhaps it’s because the Rabbi Jesus has been healing so many people. Perhaps some of these are disabled, deaf, or sick. Maybe some of them are poor, and want to hear what the great Rabbi has to say. Maybe some are wondering whether this charismatic rabbi could possibly be a Messiah, a political leader!

Can you see the hungry crowd? Can you hear their hungry cries? Can you understand the hunger—yes, immediate and physical, but also spiritual! I suspect that Jesus knew all of these reasons, and all of these expectations. I know He understood the deep hunger of their souls.

Jesus sees the crowd, too! The Gospel has recorded an exchange He had with his disciples Philip and Andrew. Jesus asks Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” I can just see Philip, serious and earnest, rapidly trying to figure out how on earth they are to feed several thousand people on a moment’s notice! I can just hear what he might say: “This feeding thing? Much too expensive! We couldn’t possibly afford it!” Or, perhaps, “This feeding thing? We don’t have enough volunteers! And the budget won’t stretch that far. Not by a long shot!” And what about even, “Not again, Jesus! You are setting a negative precedent with this kind of free hand-outs.” I don’t want to diminish Philip’s practical concerns, at all! Quite valid, and absolutely understandable.

When you and I are uncertain, anxious, or afraid about practical concerns, what is our response? What would we say if we were asked a similar question? “Where shall we buy bread for this huge crowd of people to eat?” Would we get uncertain or anxious? Are we overwhelmed by the massive size of the crowd? Would we freeze up? Perhaps even get angry, or bluster about? Jesus asked Philip—and us—a great question!

Turning to Andrew, he also responds to Jesus. Andrew has gone outside of the safe constraints of the well-intentioned church budget to uncharted territory. He has found a boy with a bag lunch, and the boy has offered his food to Jesus, to share.

Let’s step back and take a look at our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, from the book of 2 Kings. The prophet Elisha is called upon to perform a miracle of feeding. There are obvious parallels, too. Someone comes up with a small offering of food. A bag lunch, again. Barley loaves—what a poor person might eat—is the bread in question. Even the question from Elisha’s disciple and Jesus’ disciple is similar: “How far will they go among so many?”

How many times are we overwhelmed with the problems we face today? Anxious because of the lack of resources, volunteers, or finances? We see so many today striving to get enough to eat. Unemployed people and their families lining up for food at the food pantries—like Maine Township Food Pantry. We realize God promises us abundance and generosity repeatedly in the Scripture. How on earth will this be accomplished? We ask—what is Jesus going to do?

We can praise God! Jesus knew very well what He was planning to do. He accepted the boy’s gift of the bag lunch. The boy was generous! And he willingly gave his food to Jesus.

Just a minute! Richard Niell Donovan poses the question: “What if the boy were unwilling to share his lunch? What if he were to say, ‘I need this for myself’ – or ‘My little bit won’t make any difference’?” (How many times have we uttered these words to ourselves or to those with whom we serve in ministry? Or, in Church Council? Or in the congregation?)

The unnamed boy here turns his food over to Jesus. I can just see him, giving Jesus the little lunch, perhaps wrapped in a cloth by his mother that morning. He empties the food from his hands into those of Jesus. Jesus turns around, blesses the food, and miraculously multiplies it to feed thousands of people.

What about us? Are we frightened and fearful, like the villagers in the picture book “Stone Soup?” Are we hesitant to share our food, our resources, our money, time and talents with Jesus? Jesus can take what we offer and turn it into such abundance! Just as the boy was generous and turned over his lunch, look at what a marvel Jesus did with that!

We don’t know what happened to this boy afterwards, either. Can you imagine this event becoming the defining event in his life? Imagine, the Rabbi Jesus took his lunch and multiplied it into enough to serve 5000 men! Plus women and children? I suspect that once this boy has seen Jesus work a miracle—perhaps right in front of this boy’s very eyes!—that this boy’s life was never the same.

Jesus transforms the bag lunch, the little bit that was generously offered, into the more-than-enough. Biblical commentator William Barclay writes, “There would have been one great and shining deed fewer in history if that boy had refused to come or if he had withheld his loaves and fishes. The fact of life is that Jesus Christ needs what we can bring Him. We may not have much to bring but He needs what we have.”

As Jesus’ followers today, we are also invited to be generous. To see God’s abundance, and to stretch our hearts, minds, and hands. Not like the disciples, who were constrained by practical problems, economic and logistical drawbacks. They couldn’t see that God wants people to be open to God’s working, and willing to serve. Willing to be generous with whatever they have to offer.

Suppose I took a one dollar bill. Here. ( holds up bill ) Suppose each one of you were to donate one dollar to the food pantry. We would have a pile of ones collected after the service. That’s something. Now, suppose I were to take a five dollar bill. Here. ( holds up bill ) Suppose each one of us were to donate five dollars, and we took a collection for the food pantry. We would have a large pile of fives after the service, and a nice freewill donation for the pantry, besides!

Everyone has something to offer. If each of us gives our little bit, and we gather it all together, it turns out to be a whole lot! Not only food, but time. Talents. Money, when possible. In addition, what about prayer? Some of us have the gift of praying. too! We can pray for those who are hungry. Pray that they may know God’s abundance—through our generosity, as well!

All life and all good gifts come from God. Jesus comes to open our hearts, our hands and our minds to those around us, especially to those in need. We can do that only because Jesus also comes to open our hearts, minds and eyes to His own presence in our midst. May God increase our generosity! And may God increase our love and caring for all who hunger after the abundance that Jesus offers.

Thanks to the friends at the website “Radical Gratitude,” www.umfnw.org, Stewardship Emphasis, and Tanya Barnett for several ideas that I have interwoven into this message.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. Do Lent generously!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)

Advertisements

Generous With Our Purpose

“Generous With Our Purpose”

John 2:10 – February 22, 2015

Big events can be a big headache. Taking care of the venue, and preparing where the big party is going to be celebrated is one big concern. The entertainment, the decorations are more challenges. So is keeping track of all of the food and drink. How much is too much? And what if I don’t have enough? What happens if I run out?

This is exactly what happened at a wedding at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, in Cana of Galilee. Let’s zoom in, and take a closer look. Jesus was invited to the wedding as a guest. His disciples were invited, and probably many other people He knew. And His mother, too.

In the first century, Jewish custom held that most any wedding would be an event of celebration for several days. Our Scripture passage today shows an affluent Jewish family—with some servants and a household steward. We read that the family provided extravagant feasting for days. In the case of today’s Scripture, if there were any miscalculation or lack in provisions in food or drink, not only the bride and groom but also their families would most likely suffer great humiliation.

What about today? What are some challenges or needs that we might have right now? People all over the world have lack of funds, logistical problems, or miscalculations and find themselves lacking provisions every day. What about lacks or needs due to physical situations? Unemployment, illness, or suffering of other kinds? These things are nothing new, sadly. They can be overwhelming. I’m just one, puny person on this whole planet. Billions of people live today! Who am I to expect that Jesus even knows about my needs for food and drink?

Let’s go back to Cana, in Galilee. A couple of days of partying had already passed. It was the third day of the big wedding celebration, and a few people found out they had run out of wine. They ran to tell the chief steward. Oh, no! What was to be done? With a big crowd like he had in the house, I suspect he couldn’t just send out to the local liquor store for more supplies.

It was then that Mary, the mother of Jesus, got involved. Somehow, Mary heard about the lack of wine, too. She hurried to her son Jesus and told Him about it.

What about us, today? When we have needs or lacks, what do we do? Do we try to be tough, and go it on our own? Are we self-sufficient, not needing or asking for any help? Are we frozen by the need, unwilling or unable to budge? Or are we open and willing, like Mary, ready to trust Jesus, to go to Him for assistance?

Mary asked her son Jesus to help out. “They have no wine,” is what she said. There was some back and forth between mother and son. Jesus says, clearly, “What does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”     (Just wait, I’ll get to that comment, in a minute.)

Here we have Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, God in human form. God the Son, the Logos, the one who spoke at the beginning, and created the universe. Who formed our world and placed the stars in space. Mary, Jesus’ earthly mother, is asking Him to change His mind, to change His plans, to change His timetable.

Mary eventually told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Mary trusts in Jesus. His mother trusts that whatever He will say or do is going to work.

Nearby were some large containers, for ceremonial washing. That’s stone containers, holding about twenty to thirty gallons apiece. With such a crowd of people, a lot of water was needed for everyone to wash before eating. Jesus told the servants to fill the large containers with water. After doing so, Jesus said, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”

What the servants brought to the steward was no longer water. It had miraculously changed to wine. And not any garden-variety wine, no! The good stuff. The best wine to be had!

Here we have Jesus—willing to change His plans, change His timetable. Willing to change His mind—because generosity puts people first!

Our Lord Jesus offers compassion and generosity to the people at the wedding celebration in Cana. And not only to them, Jesus offers a practical, tangible demonstration of compassion, generosity and kindness to all of us, today, as well! Here in this passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus shows Himself to be all this—so that anyone who reads these paragraphs will be able to see that this kind, generous, miracle-working God is the kind of God who is available to them, too!

Jesus caused this superior wine to be made available. I find it interesting that Jesus is sometimes portrayed as the True Bridegroom for the Church, after His resurrection. The True Bridegroom provides the best wine for all the people at the wedding, showing them His rich abundance and generosity.

What about us? When we finally come to Jesus with our need, with our problem, what then? Do we trust in Jesus with all our hearts? True, some are held back by many things. Fear is a big hesitation. Insecurity and doubt are two others. Will we offer what common things we have (the containers of water, in this case)? Jesus miraculously can change them to wine. Jesus can help us wherever or whenever we need it, providing for us out of His abundance!

The assistance can come directly from God, but this help may come from another source, too. Wherever or whomever the kind, generous help comes from, praise God! Jesus is generous to us, comes alongside of us and provides miraculously for our needs, too.

The six large containers held a whole lot of water. So Jesus changed it into a whole lot of wine. The good wine, at that! Jesus provided generously! He provided out of His abundance, His extravagance. Wonderful job, Jesus!

What is going on in your life today? Where do you need a touch from God? Jesus and His abundance, His extravagance, His generosity can come into your life today. Jesus wants to give you and me joy and blessing. Even good times and laughter, in abundance. We can see from the good wine He miraculously provided at the wedding at Cana that He can and will.

What a generous God we serve!

Praise God! Amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. Do Lent generously!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)