Sunday, July 26, 2015

Famine or Feast?

First Scripture Reading:     John 6:1-15 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.  A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.  Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.  Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.  When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."  One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?"  Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.  When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost."  So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.  When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."  When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

Second Scripture Reading:    2 Kings 4:42-44 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God (Elisha): twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, "Give it to the people and let them eat."  But his servant said, "How can I set this before a hundred people?" So he repeated, "Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, 'They shall eat and have some left.'"  He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD.

Sermon:  “Famine or Feast?"
We’ve just read two example of how bread was miraculously multiplied.
But what do you think?  Are these stories really about bread?
No, of course not!  These are really examples of God’s economics!  Just look.

Do you remember a couple weeks back I recounted the story of David and Goliath?  These stories are similar to the story of David and Goliath.  In the Goliath story, people saw too big of a problem (Goliath) and too little of a solution (David).  In these stories about Elisha and Jesus, the people see too big of problem (a crowd) and to little of a solution (food).  But in each of these stories God is the answer.  Everyone thought there was a scarcity.  But where we see scarcity, God see abundance.

What is it about God and bread?  There are so many examples linking God and bread.  What is it about bread?   Maybe it is because we all know bread, we have it every day.  The earliest archaeological evidence for an unleavened bread, dates to around 30,000 years ago. 

Did you know that every human culture has some form of bread?  It doesn’t make any difference how primitive and remote a people may live, they bake bread.  All it takes is some form of starch, and water.  I just watched a YouTube video where a guy made bread out of cattail roots.  However, it is still recognizable as bread.  With or without salt, with or without leavening (yeast or soda), it is still bread.  It is everywhere … just like God.

In today’s Gospel reading, both Philip and Andrew were given the opportunity to feed the multitude. They took widely different approaches. 

Philip did a quick count.  “Let’s see, one, two, three!  No better count by tens; ten, twenty … Nope that’ll take too long.  Alright, about a hundred there, and there, and there and …  Hmm, looks like about 5000 men!   And roughly the same number of woman and kids.  So let’s say ten thousand.”  “Okay, now figuring in the current price of bread … multiply by ten thousand, carry the one … and … looking in the communal purse and Nope!  Ain’t gonna happen!  Not if we had a half-year’s wages.  And we don’t.  Sorry, Master, guess we’d better send ‘em home before it gets dark!”

I can imagine Jesus taking a deep breath and thinking about just how to explain to Philip what he has in mind.

Just then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother interrupts, “Um, while you were doing your counting heads and jiggling coins in the purse, I went through the crowd to see who had food.”

Jesus nods and smiles at Andy’s taking the initiative.  “So, what did you find?”

“A bunch of tired and hungry people.”

Jesus smiles and asked, “Didn’t anyone bring any food?”

Andrew answered, “Well there was this one kid who offered his lunch.”

“Great!  How much does he have?”

“Um, a couple fish and five rolls.  But, you know, that just isn’t …”

Jesus interrupts, “Wonderful!  Just enough!  Bring ‘em here!  We’re gonna have a picnic!  Everybody sit.  Sit.  Eat your fill and enjoy.”  Jesus then gave thanks to God for his unsurpassed bounty and broke the bread into chunks and distributed them with the fish to the crowd.

Well, we know what happened!  Everybody ate, burped their approval (really! that was considered polite in that culture!) and then they gathered up the twelve baskets of leftovers.

In our Hebrew Scriptures we read where a farmer brings some of his produce to the prophet.  
“Mister Elisha, sir, here is my tithe of the first fruits of my crops.  Enjoy!” 

Elisha said, “Well done, I love the smell of fresh baked bread.  Bless you!  But there are one hundred hungry men here, give it to them instead.”  

The farmer replies, that’s mighty nice of you but there are only twenty loaves.  That’s not going to be enough … and I don’t have any more.”

Elisha smiles and nods and said, “Just give what you have and see what God can do.  Everyone will be filled and there’ll be leftovers.”

The farmer “sacrificed” a tithe of his produce as a gift to the man of God.  And Elisha sacrificed it all for the well being of others.  Both of them planted a seed from which God could produce a bounty.

Do you remember the story of Ruth from the old testament?  Naomi was living with her married sons in a foreign land.  Both men died and left their widowed wives, Orpah and Ruth, with their mother.  Naomi desires to go home to Israel

Before she leaves she, like a good Jewish mother-in-law, tells the widows, "You girls, such pretty young things, go home.  Find a husband, he should be so lucky to have you.  May the Lord bless.  Marry rich, you should be secure.". Then they hugged and kissed.  But the girls said that they'd rather go with her.

"Whaddaya nuts?  Do ya think this old lady is gonna give birth to some new sons for you?  God forbid!" was Naomi's reaction.  Orpah (not Oprah) took the advice and left.  But Ruth said, "Where you go, I go.  Where you live, I'll live.  Your people and your God will be my people and my God."

Naomi winks and replied, "For you I've got a fella.  He’s family, rich and not bad on the eyes, name of Boaz.  I'll introduce you."

They return to Israel and Ruth goes to work for Boaz in the field.  He sees her and one thing leads to another. Boaz said to her, "Come over here, and help yourself to some food.  You can dip your bread in the sour wine.”  So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat.  She ate all she wanted and still had some left over.Very loosely from the book of Ruth

Again, bread.  Again, leftovers.

Ruth sacrificed her home, all that she had ever known to follow Naomi.  She gained a husband and had a son, Obed.  Obed was the father of Jesse, the father of David, from who’s line Jesus entered the world.

Are you beginning to make a connection here?

Back to our story of Jesus and the barley loaves and fish.  Have you ever wondered what happened to the leftovers?  God is not just a God of abundance but also of overflowing blessings.Malachi 3:10  I don't have proof, but I believe that, because the little boy gave his lunch into God's service, he received the overflow.  That seems to me the way God’s economy works.  To those who give, God opens the windows of heaven and pours out an overflowing blessing.

In each of these stories God required some seed.  Someone had to give something to get the whole blessing thing going.  Yes, sometimes God just gives.  But more often than not, someone has to step up and make a sacrifice first.

I remember working with my kids to make rock candy.  It is a simple process.  You take a container of hot water and then you dissolve as much sugar in it as you possible can.  Now you take a piece of string and dip it into sugar and suspend it in the jar.  Then you wait. And wait.  And D-A-D!  when is going to be candy?  And wait!  And then something begins to grow on the string.  Crystal by crystal it begins to grow on that string.  Now I’m telling you this because If you don’t add some sugar to that string, that jar of sugary water can sit there for a long long extremely long time without anything happening … eventually, the water evaporates and leaves a sold chunk of sugar on the bottom of the jar.  You have to provide the seed sugar for the candy to form.

The same principle applies to rain and snow.  There has to be some dust or pollen in that cloud for the rain or snow to adhere to.

Farmers and gardeners understand this seeding principle.  You have to sacrifice a seed to produce more seed.

This is God’s economy.

Where are the scarcities in your life? 

I grew up poor.  I didn’t know that we were poor.  Some things might have been a clue:  My mother and I lived in a converted chicken house for several years.  I remember taking lard and sugar sandwiches for my school lunches.  Does that sound like scarcity to you?

Now let me tell you the rest of the story.  The reason Mom and I lived in that building, which had most recently been my Father’s sewing machine shop, was because my brother, his wife, and three or four kids needed a place to stay.  Mom and I lived in a small five room house on an acreage.  When my brother and family needed a place to live, Mom didn’t see the scarcity.  She saw the chance to have her son and grandkids close to her. 

That chicken house had been moved next to the house and converted into a sewing machine shop when, due to failing health, my father needed to move his business from downtown Des Moines.  He had been dead for several years and the shop was no longer used.  A little rearranging and it became suitable if not lavish place for us to live so that my brother and family could live in the original house.  Mom “sacrificed” her house to make a home for my brother and we gained a larger, tighter family group. What had been a small five room house now came to be called, “the Big House.”  The house hadn’t changed size, just our perspective was changed. 

As for food, we had an acreage full of fruit and vegetables, we raised chickens for eggs and meat, the cellar was stocked with home canned goods, thanks to Mom’s hard work.  We ate healthy, home grown food.  Yes, money was scarce after my Father died, but we owned the home and had few expenses.  The Lord provided.  And I never knew we were poor.

Many years ago, Ella and I sat down and imagined our dream home.  It would be on many acres of wooded land outside the city far enough but not so far to make travel difficult.  It would have a large house with a huge kitchen for preparing meals for our family and friends.  And of course the house would have a view of the private lake where we could fish with our grandkids.  We said that it would be nice to have some places for friends with RVs to come and stay with full hook ups.  Sounds nice, huh?

That dream vanished when we got rid or our big old Victorian four bedroom house and moved into our first RV to live fulltime.  We went through some MAJOR downsizing.  We sold, gave and donated a lot of our “stuff” that we’d accumulated and still had to trash a lot of it.  We created our own scarcity.

Several years ago after a communal meal at Cutty’s Campground, we were looking out the window at the beautiful lake, when Ella got this surprised expression on her face and said, “This is my dream home!”  A quick look around and I realized she was right.  God had given us everything that we had dreamed of … just not in the way we had imagined.  Again, a change of perspective.  By sacrificing our house, we gained everything that we had dreamed of!

God is constantly surprising me with the way He answers prayer.  Seldom does the answer come in the say I’d expected it.  I think He does that on purpose so that I’ll recognize the answer when it comes.

Maybe God has a bounty available to us that we are just not seeing.

Sometimes when we focus on that last crumb of bread we see starvation.  However, God replies, “They shall eat their fill and have leftovers.”  


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