" /> St. Philip's Scotts Valley - Sermon 2012-07-29

Sermon 2012-07-29

Sermon 2012-07-29

God's Gracious Abundance

July 29, 2012
2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145: 10-19; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

Pastor Mary Blessing,
Vicar, St. Philip’s, Scotts Valley CA

 

 “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.” Ephesians 3:20-21

Have you heard of the old pastor who was having trouble keeping everything in order mentally? One Sunday he told the story of Jesus feeding 5 people with 2 loaves and 5000 fish. No one had the heart to correct him. Then, the next Sunday, forgetting what he had preached on the week before, he told a story of Jesus feeding 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish. Little Johnnie jumped up in the back of the church and proudly proclaimed, "That’s not a problem. He had enough left over from last week."

Today we hear TWO Bible stories of God’s Gracious Abundance: TWO prophets, Elisha of the Old Testament, and Jesus in the New Testament—who put their trust in God’s generosity & God delivers ABUNDANTLY!!

Imagine you are tired and hungry after a day (or more) of following Jesus, hearing his good news and witnessing healings.  There you are on a grassy hillside, knowing you must leave to find food for yourself and your family, but your heart is burning within you to remain here, taking in every moment possible with this astonishing teacher.  Thousands of other weary, hungry people gather with you.  No one wants to leave. Everyone has been mesmerized by Jesus’ healing actions. Everyone is after him.  The mob is thick.

To your surprise, Jesus does not chase you and the thousands of people away.  Even though he and his disciples are just as weary—maybe even more tired—they do not attempt to send you away.  Instead, you hear the call from Jesus’ closest friends:  sit down.  You hear murmurings that a small boy has given Jesus ALL THAT HE HAS—five loaves of bread and only 2 fish.  What in the world will Jesus do with a small boy’s picnic basket?

Suddenly, you remember that ancient story, told to you when you were a small child—the one about the prophet Elisha, who followed after Elijah, 800 years ago:  a faithful man of God, a prophet chosen to maintain an impoverished people of Israel—people who suffered severe famine due to war between Syria and Israel.  Hundreds of years ago a man of Israel followed the rules of tithing the first fruits of his crops—and brought 20 loaves of barley and some fresh ears of grain to this priest, Elisha.  But Elisha immediately told the man to place this food not before him, but before 100 hungry people—this was outrageous--you couldn’t possibly feed 100 people with only 20 loaves! Yet not only did the 20 loaves satisfy everyone, they had leftovers.  And now, here is Jesus, telling his disciples to take ALL THAT THE BOY GAVE THEM—ALL 5 Loaves and 2 fish, and place the food before him to feed more than 5 THOUSAND people!

Sure, you had heard that Jesus did such wonders such as turning water into the finest of wines, but feeding thousands upon thousands with only 5 loaves and two fish…?  That quaint story of the prophet Elisha echoes here, but really, how can Jesus match it?

Then it happens:  the crowd begins to quiet down.  Jesus gives thanks to God for the food the boy has given.  Just a small boy, who faithfully, obediently gives ALL.  Jesus trusts in the power of God’s abundant love, giving thanks for the gift of this food, and begins to share the food—everyone who is present who wishes to eat is given enough to eat--every man, woman and child is now satisfied.  And with God’s Gracious Abundance there is not just food ENOUGH—there are leftovers!  12 baskets of food left over—enough for next week!

Just as Elisha trusted that God would provide, so does Jesus.  A faithful person gives an offering, a prophet gives thanks to God, and ALL ARE FED.

“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.” Ephesians 3:20-21


This prayer attributed to St. Paul in the letter to the Ephesians is a witness to the faith early Christians had in a loving, generous God, revealed through the incarnation of Jesus.  This letter is written to call people to a discipleship in which there is harmony between groups that had previously been separated, a discipleship of sharing all that one has with the group as a whole, so that there is no distinction in the Body of Christ between those who have and those who have not.  A discipleship that puts the glory of God’s power, shining in the hearts of those who love Christ Jesus—and with this glory of God’s power within, accomplishes more than any one person could ever imagine.

We live in a time where many are hungry—literally and spiritually.  We who trust in this God of Abundance must learn to give what we have been given, to give OUR “first fruits” to the work of God.  All that we have is God’s any way.  Just as Elisha’s person gave him a thank offering 800 years prior, a young boy gives Jesus a small offering of food, and in partnership with Jesus, becomes an instrument of God’s abundant glory--showing abundant hospitality.  Elisha, Jesus and a small, unnamed boy, prove that when we are faithful sharing God’s Creation, there is always more than enough.

Earlier this month we heard on public media a lot of broo-ha-ha about the work of the National Episcopal Church at our Triennial Convention--mostly concerning the topic of offering an official rite for the blessing of same gender unions.  But how many of you took note of the resolution to “Focus Mission Funding on alleviating Poverty and Injustice”? This is the culmination of work that came out of our Diocese, the Diocese of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and from the National Organization of Deacons regarding addressing our gospel call to care for the poor, feed the hungry, and bring justice to those living in poverty.

Three resolutions on the topic of addressing poverty were presented and supported by our Convention.  I had the eye opening experience of serving on the task force which created the resolution from our Diocese of El Camino Real. Over many months a small group of us worked to research issues of poverty in our local area—not just concern for the obvious extreme poverty in undeveloped countries, but to address the issues of domestic poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth.

Did you know that in the Diocese of El Camino Real—from Palo Alto to San Luis Obispo—there are over 100,000 children who live in poverty?  Of those, 42,000 live in extreme poverty—those are in families whose annual income is $11,056.00 or less.  This is just the children—multiply those numbers by 1 or 2 parents or more for grandparents…and you can see that we have at least a half-million people suffering from hunger, homelessness, and shame. Not only does Jesus’ gospel call us to care for these poor, so does our National Church call us to take action. The Resolution A135 passed at the General Convention encourages “congregations to join local faith-based organizing networks” to work in partnership “to build power and to increase our effectiveness in strengthening our communities” to find the glory in God’s power WITHIN OUR COMMUNITES to do abundantly more than we can ever imagine to transform this situation from poverty to abundance.

Our Food Pantry/2nd Harvest Food Bank coordinator, Sally Sutter, said she very much appreciates the support all of you have been giving toward the ministry of feeding the hungry. Yet she said the reality is she wishes there were a way to help people out of poverty BEFORE they have the need of our generosity this way.  She quoted Brian McClaren, who wrote of what it feels like to help those in severe need:  it is like walking along the river and seeing a drowning person, and so you help get them out, saving them. Then suddenly there is another one coming down the river, and you save that one, and two more…and soon you find yourself asking a friend to help you to “find out who is upstream throwing all these people into the river”? Can we find the systemic reasons for this poverty and work toward a distribution of God’s abundance so that no one goes hungry?

So, how do we work to solve the systemic problems to bring about an alleviation of poverty and injustice? Yesterday quite a large group of us (about 20 in all—not bad for a Saturday in July!) gathered to hear how Episcopal churches in Santa Cruz County have worked together with about 25  faith-based  and community concerned organizations, working together to bring about practical solutions to poverty in our local area.  We heard about how through one-on-one relationship building, and small group prayer and study, these churches have patiently worked to bring about positive change to feed the hungry and create affordable housing.

St. Philip’s is poised to begin this kind of systematic effort, working in partnership with those churches and others, giving glory to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.    Will you work with us?


AMEN

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