July 26, 2015
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
I want to get to our Gospel lesson this morning, but I want to make a side trip through the prophets first. This is story of Elisha, Elijah’s protégé and successor, and it might sound a little familiar.
A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: 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. (2 Kings 4:42-44)
There are more than a few parallels between Jesus and Elisha, the feeding of many with just a little bread being a part of it.
Elisha is for me something like a guilty pleasure. The stories read like fables, like folk-tales or myths. Some children mock Elisha for his baldness and he calls bears from the woods and they come and eat the children up. No explanation is given for the story. It is certainly not a “go thou and do likewise” kind of lesson. And that story has been used to show the violence of the Bible and of this “man of God,” and therefore God. And it has been quoted to show the ridiculousness of the Bible.
I have no answer to those charges. Personally, I believe it is one of those stories that gets told to say, “You do NOT want to mess around with this guy or his God.”
The church in Dallas had a lovely railing on a lovely cement patio, just off of a circular drive. This meant we had skateboarders. And while I had no problem with them skating in the drive, I was worried about them using the rail and jumping. So I told them that we had had a kid do that and broke his arm and we did not want to see that happen again. I am sure that when I face the judgment seat I will have worse things to answer for than this little judicious duplicity, this little white lie to try and scare kids into not skating the rail at the church. I wonder if the bear story isn’t a bit like that.
So the first fruits of the harvest are to be given to God, which means they are brought to the man of God, Elisha. And Elisha says, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” But what is this, and how is it going to feed so many? And the prophet repeats himself. Have you noticed that when a parent has to repeat something they tell a child to do, the tone of voice often changes, and there is usually a little bit added on to the end?
Give it to the people and let them eat,
for thus says the LORD,
‘They shall eat and have some left.’
The prophet has proclaimed that the Lord will provide leftovers, and when they eat, there are leftovers.
The New Testament, and particularly the Gospels, quote and echo and retell the stories from the First Testament all the time. It occurred to me reading these two stories together that the reason for this is that the church has not changed much over two thousand years, and people of faith have not changed much in three thousand years.
“How can I set this before a hundred people?” asks the man before Elisha.
Jesus tests Philip with the question, “Where are we going to buy bread for these five thousand hungry people?” Philip fails the test. He replies, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”
The reason that the Gospels quote and echo and retell these stories is because people still think it cannot be done. There is not enough food for all the hungry. There are not enough clothes for all the naked. There is not enough fresh water for all the people. There is not enough in the offering plate to do all that God calls us to do. (All together now!:) “We’ve never done that before!!”
Elisha does not care. Jesus does not care. God does not care. Oh, they do care for the feeding of the hungry and the clothing of the naked and the visiting of those who are sick or in prison. But they do not care about excuses that there is not enough bread. Because this is Jesus, and Jesus is in the feeding the hungry business.
Because this is God. And this is God’s embarrassing abundance. Embarrassing, because it is beyond our ability to tally or control or ration or rationalize. Abundance, because when Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks for it, and gives it out, there are leftover. Twelve baskets worth. Enough for the five thousand, and a basket left for each of the tribes of Israel.
Gather up the fragments left over,
so that nothing may be lost.
I do not believe Jesus is only talking about bread now. How often do we feel fragmented? How many families are fragmented now? How fragmented is the body of Christ, the church, over theological arguments, while there are still hungry people all around every church building in Charlotte, in Michigan, in the United States, in the World?
To cap off the embarrassing abundance of God, the disciples are straining against another storm in their boat. You might remember what I said a few sermons ago that the place we gather, the Nave of the church, comes from the same word as Navy. So the people of faith are straining against another problem in the church.
And here comes Jesus, calmly walking over the waters against which we struggle.
It is I; do not be afraid.
And immediately they get where they were going. The question is not where they were going. The question is how we keep our eyes on Jesus. Because Jesus feeds the world with God’s embarrassing abundance. Jesus gathers us in no matter how much we feel like the leftovers. And with Jesus, we are right where we need to be, so that we can get back to feeding people.
Because none of God’s children are leftovers.
Thanks be to God. Amen.