7th Sunday after Pentecost
Elizabeth M. Deibert
God can do some great stuff, if we only make a little effort, because God multiplies our small offerings into amazing gifts. But we don’t give what we are capable of giving. Why? It is an issue of trust. First, we do not trust God’s ability to turn our meager offering into something great. It’s only five loaves and two fish. It’s kind of embarrassing to offer that. Secondly, we do not trust God’s ability to take care of us when we give away what we have. It’s only five loaves and two fish. What will I eat if I share the little I have? We operate on an economy of scarcity while God operates with abundance.
Jesus was feeling overwhelmed and maybe even experiencing a scarcity of peace when our story begins. He had just been told devastating news – John the Baptist, his cousin, his friend, his forerunner had just been killed. You don’t want to hear the details about his head.
So Jesus withdrew from the needy crowd, probably to pray and be reminded that God’s abundance is his abundance, that with God he has everything he needs. Because you see, when he returns, he immediately starts giving again. He has compassion and heals people, and when the disciples operate with a mindset of scarcity, he reminds them of God’s abundance. Jesus tells the disciples, “You feed them.” And they think there’s not enough, but he proves them wrong by working the miracle – turning their scarcity of food into abundance. Jesus does what God does. He is God. He shows us all that God can do.
Hear the word of the Lord from Matthew:
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there
in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd;
and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said,
"This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away
so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves."
16 Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."
17 They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish."
18 And he said, "Bring them here to me."
19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven,
and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples,
and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
20 And all ate and were filled;
and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.
21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Let’s get back to that issue of trust. Some people don’t give their time and talent to God through the church because they assume the people who do are really talented and know what they are doing. Those church elders on the session, those ministry team leaders -- they must be really impressive church-goers, really spiritual people with great leaderships gifts.
Not really. They are ordinary people like you and me, who said “I only have five loaves and two fish” but maybe God can use me. I don’t know much Bible and theology. I don’t know much about praying, but the Spirit will help me. I’ve only been in the Presbyterian Church for two years, but God maybe could use my fresh perspective.
I’m not very good at leading, but I’m willing to help out. I can’t stand in front of people but I’ll work hard behind the scenes. I can’t teach adults but I’ll teach kids. I don’t have much time because I’m busy at work, but I’ll give what I can. I’m not this. I don’t have that. I only have five hours free time each week and two talents, but if you think God can use that, well, I’ll try.
That issue of trust. I started seminary saying I would never be involved in preaching ministry. I would never lead a church. I was interested in Christian education and pastoral care. I would be a counselor and run the education program of a church. And my professors said, “Why don’t you just give the preaching class a chance? You probably have five loaves writing ability and two fish of confidence. I didn’t have two fish of confidence about preaching. I had one little minnow. But after a few years, I developed two fish of confidence and God usually takes my offering and multiplies it. And I don’t feel like I’m going to throw up from nervousness on Sunday mornings any more. Can God take one little minnow of confidence in you and use it? Yes!
It’s an issue of trust. If I give away the little bit I have, there will not be enough left for me. It is hard to trust that God will provide. When Richard lost his job two years ago and we had two kids in college and two at home, logic told us to cut our pledge to church. If ever there was a time to stop giving $200 a week to God through our church, this was it. Cut our giving in half -- that would have been logical. Nobody would argue with that. But we decided to keep giving at the same rate and dared to trust in God while trimming some other areas of spending. Do you know we ended up with six cars? Six cars – no car payments! Three of them we already had, but God doubled that into six in these two years.
Six gifts. And with one of them sold this week, we will catch up today on the pledge which got a little behind in the last several months. And with Richard’s new job we will begin to pay off college loans, and God will continue to provide in ways we can only imagine.. Trust and be generous when you think you only have a little. God will work miracles when we are faithful with our little.
Can’t give all five loaves? Well, then give two of them and keep giving every week until you can trust God a little more. Morgan Roberts tells the story of a couple who kept increasing their percentage giving, until they were living on 10% and giving away 90%. They lived simply, and chose not to buy everything they wanted, but to keep giving, so others could have enough.
Lots of us are feeling like money is scarce these days. The whole country has an attitude of scarcity, like there’s not enough money or food to go around. Not true. There’s just not enough trust in God to make the food go around. Deepening trust in God means not needing as much to consume -- as much food, as much entertainment, as many clothes. Deepening trust in God, means not needing as many certificates of deposit or a much stock or as many bonds. Save yes, but give away more. It’s an issue of trust. You will be liberated when you trust God for the future instead of your savings account. You can buy a bunch of frivolous stuff, which will land at Goodwill or Beth-El in five years or you can invest in a church where God will be worshiped for generations to come. You can buy a new car or boat, for the temporary joy, or you can invest in the ministries of a church that feeds hungry people and helps people understand how much they are loved. Long-term satisfaction.
Do you trust in God? Do you know that what’s left when you give generously will be more than enough? That’s the way it is in God’s economy. If a spirit of generosity would prevail in Washington, DC, such that Republicans gave away some of what they wanted while Democrats gave away some of what they wanted in these complicated economic battles, then we might get somewhere as a country. There are only five loaves and two fish, but they could be so much more if only a spirit of generosity would rule our attitudes and decisions.
Our dear friend and music director, Gia, only had a couple of hours left before a heart attack overtook her, but do you know what she was doing? Mind you, she did not know she was having a heart attack. She only knew she felt terrible, but what was she doing, between lying down on the couch? She was providing us a CD for worship. When I chastised her for taking such a chance with her life, she said, “What better way for me to go than while playing for God?”
I could not argue with that, but I thank the Lord for protecting her while she went to such great lengths to provide music for us today. And I encourage you to sing your hearts out in response to this great act of generosity.
You may arrive here some Sundays and feel you have nothing to give – spiritually, emotionally, or financially, but if you just tenaciously give away what you have to others and to God, you will get a multiplied return on your giving. Maybe there are times when we have to withdraw from the crowd as Jesus did, to regain our perspective and strength, but we are called return from our time away -- full of compassion and generous toward others. We are not sufficient in and of ourselves to give endlessly, but with God’s help, with the blessing Christ gives to our offering, when we offer as guided by the Spirit, then our offering multiplies into more than we ever thought it could be.
Mark Shoemaker of the Presbyterian Foundation can tell you the miraculous story of one faithful Presbyterian elder who thought maybe he should challenge his church to consider deferred charitable giving. That church in Charlotte, NC now has 1.5 million promised by just 15 families who stepped up to make that commitment. Let’s see – 1.5 million. We could almost build a new church building on Lorraine Road with that. Five loaves and two fish. Fifteen or maybe fifty families who can just as easily put the church in their will as they can let the government and their children end up with what’s left.
Five loaves and two fish can be more than they seem. Now some of you will get more excited if you think you understand how the miracle took place. Some of you will say the miracle of so many being fed from so little was not mystical, but it was the miracle of generosity leading to more generosity. In other words, when one person gave their whole meal away, others who had brought food pulled out theirs too. I do not deny this possibility. I have seen how the generosity of one family inspires another in the church.
But I also do not deny that the God who raised Jesus from the dead, who created human beings each one of us so beautiful and so different and so gifted, who created so many species of animals and plants and fish with so many fascinating shapes and colors and habits… can make a picnic feast for thousands of people. God is a miracle worker. Study how your cells in your body multiply. Watch how quickly a little acorn becomes a tree. Consider quickly an eating and sleeping infant becomes a responsive walking and talking toddler, and tell me it is not a miracle every time.
Think about how six years ago, there was no PC(USA) church in Lakewood Ranch – only the idea that there could be one. Five volunteers and two supporting churches and God did the multiplication.
Let’s talk dollars again. In addition to supporting our own staff and ministries with giving of about 1.5 million dollars over six years, we’ve given away each year, anywhere from a tithe of 10% to a triple tithe of 30% of our quarter million dollar annual budget. How can a little group of 150 people do that?
Only by believing that God is in the business of turning our little offerings into a miraculous bountiful abundance. If we will trust God enough to share boldly what little we have, God can accomplish great things.