Sermon for Proper 12, Year B
July 25, 2021
2 Kings 4:42-44 Psalm 145:10-19 Ephesians 3:14-21 John 6:1-21
I confess, that before I went to seminary, I didn’t pay much attention to the Old Testament. I knew the exciting stories of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden, Noah and the flood, David & Goliath, Moses parting the Red Seas, and the trumpet bringing down the walls of Jericho. But I failed to see how these stories matched the ones of Jesus feeding the 5000, healing the sick and raising people from the dead.
The stories from the Old Testament of the prophets; however, opened my eyes to see what I was missing. In today’s passage from 2nd Kings, the prophet Elisha performs the same miracle Jesus does – albeit on a smaller scale. He takes what someone offers, which is clearly not enough to feed a large crowd, and has the food put before them. The crowd eats and food is left over.
This miracle takes place on the heels of Elisha performing other miracles – he has a widow use a single jar of oil to fill enough other jars for her to sell and pay off her debts, and he raises a child from the dead. It is no wonder that after Jesus feeds the five thousand and has food left over, the people begin to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” The people believe there will be a prophet of great power who will restore the kingdom of Israel. We know Jesus is more than a prophet, but to the people witnessing this miracle it is like witnessing the miracles of the greatest prophets they had grown up hearing about.
One of the most important lessons for us; however, is to see in this Old Testament story a person, who is not the Christ, doing what we believe to be impossible. It is easy, I think, to assume that only Christ, who is God in the flesh, can do these things. Doing so ignores these important stories of the prophet – and the stories of the Apostles who also perform miracles. Doing so enables us to use the limitations of our human nature as an excuse for doing nothing. We think I can’t change the way things are so we don’t even try.
We overlook that Elisha and Jesus started with the gifts that others had offered. A servant offers Elisha the bread and ears of grain. A young boy offers Jesus bread and fish. God uses what we offer to accomplish more than we can imagine possible. God does not, in these stories start by taking what someone has, the miracle begins when God accepts what is offered.
We tend to be like Elisha’s servant who asks, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” and the disciple who asks, “What are they [the five loaves and two fish] among so many people?” Many of us have a tendency to think we don’t have enough time or money to see a project through – so we don’t offer what we do have.
These miracle stories may be told to demonstrate God’s power and that God’s gives more that we need – but they also include these acts of generosity and faith. The passage in Ephesians is a prayer for the people in Ephesus to be filled with faith and “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” The prayer concludes with “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. Amen.”
The miracles demonstrate that God can accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine with what we offer, and this prayer speaks of Christ’s love being greater than we can understand. Common to all these reading is the notion that God can accomplish more, working through us, than we can imagine – let alone know.
Last week I responded to an appeal to contribute money to the construction of a pavilion at Camp Mitchell for small group gatherings. I gave, not only as a memorial for friend who had died, but also because it is a project that I believe will be accomplished. This was not a gift of faith like those given from the first fruits of the man’s harvest or the loaves and fishes given by the boy. Their gifts were given for the greater good – they were given without strings attached.
How much more, than, is it to give to something that is beyond our imaginations. Giving to the church or a mission that we support – without specifying how the money is to be used is an act of faith. Over the past few years, we have been asked to do both here at St. Paul’s. We have been asked to give of our “first fruits” to support the life and ministries of St. Paul’s, and we have been asked to give to support the restoration of our church buildings.
And, despite the fact that we are in a pandemic, we have accomplished more than I hoped or imagined possible. We replace the roof and repaired and sealed the mortar, AND we repaired the plaster and painted the interior. Now, it appears we may even have enough to complete the work on the bell tower – without using the earnings from the Endowment as we had planned.
Over the past several years, the church has borrowed money from the Memorial Fund to pay bills, but at the end of June we received more than we spent. We haven’t paid ourselves back, but we’re moving in the right direction – financially.
During the pandemic; however, one of the greatest challenges for us individually and as a church, has been to give ourselves. At the end of our celebration of the Eucharist we pray together:
Rite I: And we beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in . . .
Rite II: And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
What are these good works we have been given to do? How, in the midst of this pandemic, are we to come together as a church and offer our gifts of time and talent to make a different?
I wish I had the answer to these questions. I wish I knew what St. Paul’s needs to be doing at this time to bear witness to Christ’s love – which is more than we can imagine. For many years St. Paul’s has sought to feed the hungry. We have not abandoned this during the pandemic, but the number of people coming to us has dropped significantly. I want to encourage you, this week, to consider how you and how we, as a parish, might make share God’s love with others – especially now!
Let us pray.
Lord God of love and abundance, we pray that you might strengthen our faith and fill us with your Spirit, that we might be rooted in faith and grounded in love in what we do. Open our eyes to the needs of others and lead us to do the work you have given us to do, that with gladness and singleness of heart we might serve you. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.