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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Pentecost 9 – Year B

He came to honor Elisha, this man from Baal-shalishah. He came bringing his tithe to God, the first fruits of his labors – twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain. It was expected. God gives us everything we have and since time immemorial we have been expected to return a portion of it back to God. Elisha, the great prophet of Israel, Elijah’s successor, tells this man to take his offering and use it to feed a hundred hungry people. But Elisha’s servant, his disciple, protests – you can’t feed a hundred hungry people with only 20 loaves of bread and a few ears of grain. It isn’t enough. But Elisha insists reminding his servant that God can do more with what we have to offer than we might imagine. So the offering given by the man from Baal-shalishah is shared with the crowd and it was more than enough.
“Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine …” (Ephesians 3:20, 21)
The crowds had been following Jesus all over the countryside. His powerful teachings, the way he could heal the sick, amazed everyone who encountered him. He was becoming famous and people followed him everywhere like Tiger Woods at a golf tournament. Even when he got in a boat and rowed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, this didn’t deter the crowds. They simply walked around the long way and met him on the other side. As Jesus saw this mass of people approach him he asked his disciple Philip how would they be able to feed so large a gathering. As he watched the throngs approach draw closer, I imagine that Jesus remembered the story about his ancestor Elisha and the offering made by the man from Baal-shalishah. Jesus knew the great things God could do with the little his people offered. But Philip, ever the pragmatist, saw only the facts before him – it would take more than six months wages to buy enough bread for five thousand people to have even a small taste of something to eat. But a small boy, overhearing this conversation, came forward and offered Jesus his own kind of tithe. It was all that he had – five loaves of bread and two small fish. Andrew scoffed at such a tiny offering. That amount of food wouldn’t even feed the twelve disciples let alone a crowd of five thousand people. But Jesus thanked God for the bread and the fish and passed the food amongst the seated multitude. Everyone had enough to eat and there was enough left over to fill twelve baskets, 12 lunch pails, if you will, lunch pails for the 12 disciples.
“Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine …” (Ephesians 3:20, 21)
The other day I heard a corny story about a minister who was making a home visit to one of the younger families in his parish. A five-year-old boy answered the front door covered from head to toe in finger paint. He invited the minister in and told him his mom would be right down. Quickly the minister tried to make conversation with the child in hopes of distracting the boy who was beginning to finger-paint the living room wall. He asked the little guy what he would like to be when he grows up. As the boy rubbed his paint-smeared hand on the living room wall he answered, “I’d like to be possible.” “What do you mean you’d like to be possible?” the puzzled minister asked. “Well, you see,” the boy said, “just about every day my mom yells at me and says, “Oh Danny you’re impossible!”
“Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine …” (Ephesians 3:20, 21)
Too often we underestimate what is possible and focus instead on what seems impossible. An opportunity comes along to make a difference, an opportunity comes along for ministry and we don’t have the time, we can’t afford it, it will require too much work, the goals are unrealistic. It’s a nice idea but it just isn’t possible. Like Elisha’s servant, like Andrew and Philip, we have good reasons, logical reasons for believing that although we would like to help, although we would like to make a difference, we just don’t have enough – time, money, energy, you name it. But what we forget is that if we are doing God’s work then more often then not – God can make possible something that looks almost impossible.
When I first arrived at St. James’s we used to worry about how we could possibly keep our one mission trip to Honduras going year after year. Already we had been going to Honduras for six years. Mardi Gras raised less than $10,000.00. Could we afford to keep it going? Could we find the people to participate year after year? However, instead of settling for an attitude of scarcity, believing that we didn’t have enough resources, people, commitment, we prayerfully decided to add a second mission trip. Now look at us – we have at least six missions and Mardi Gras raised close to $100,000.00 last year. We didn’t do it; God did it. All we did was have the courage to step out in faith in the belief that if we were doing God’s will, then God would make it possible.
“Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine …” (Ephesians 3:20, 21)
When I first arrived at St. James’s the major outreach ministry of this parish was our love and support for the Children’s Center. That was our big commitment and when we started to talk about new opportunities to be actively engaged in the wider community, many worried that if we took on other ministries we would spread ourselves too thin and the Children’s Center might suffer. Some feared that we didn’t have enough money, volunteers, and commitment to do more than we were already doing. But when you step out in faith to love and serve your neighbor, God will make abundance where you saw only scarcity. Look at us now, with scores of people involved in a dozen different ministries and organizations around our city from Peter Paul Development Center, Caritas, ACTS, The Healing Place, to Richmond Public Schools and McGuire’s Hospital.
I don’t bring these things up so that we can be self-congratulatory, but to illustrate that fact that what God did through Elisha and Jesus all those years ago God is still doing today. The truth is, the little that each of us has to offer can go a long way when our willingness to give of ourselves meets God’s desires for our community and our world. Most of the time it is our fear we have to get over – our fear of failure, our fear of not being enough, our fear of not being able to make a difference. Jesus knew that people, from the day they are born, are slaves to fear. And until we stop being afraid and trust God nothing really works.
So, show up and share what you can to help others carry their burdens. Share the crusts of bread that you have, the fish that you have, through kind deeds and the gift of your time, money, and commitment. Just make the offer and God will take care of the rest and do so abundantly, so that even more is left than when you started: more love, more joy, more care, more hope, more food, more of everything that is good. Because the good news is, as St. Paul says this morning, God working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Amen.

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