“What’s in your hand?” (Enough series 1/3)

“What’s in your hand?” (Enough series 1/3)

Exodus 4:1-5

Sometimes having a lot of friends who are also pastors
is a real double edged sword.

On one hand it is wonderful
to be able to unwind with people who get it.
Who understand that the job doesn’t stop.
That wherever we go we take our vocation with us
because the title of pastor is not about what we do,
but about who we are.
And as you all know, wherever you go, there you are.

The other side of that sword
is something we all have to work at ignoring
and that is the green demon of church envy.

Any appointment to any church has its challenges,
but when friends get new appointments
you cannot help but look at their new churches websites
or their facilities or the sheer number of volunteers
that are doing wonderful things, without getting a little envious.

And I know you do it too.
When you visit another church when you are on vacation
or for a special community event.
And you see that they have a full choir,
or a rocking praise band,
or giant screens up about a stage
in an auditorium that seats a thousand people.

When you walk in the door and there is a coffee shop in the lobby
and an honest to goodness Christian bookstore.
It is hard to avoid that thought,
that nagging, niggling, thought of
“if only we had this…” “if only we had that…” “if only, if only, if only”

But it isn’t just jealousy that we feel
when we walk through the doors of a bigger church
or a more busy church.
Deep down it gives us a tremendous feeling
of inadequacy and abandonment.

We think, since we do not have what others do,
then we are not worthy of it,
and God isn’t hanging around here much anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, though, it goes both ways!
When I tell my friends about
the wonderful community dinner gatherings we have
and our ComicCon and the Neighborhood watch…
I see the wheels spinning.
I see, and sometimes hear them wondering
if and how they could do what we have done!

Likewise when I hear about a friends church
planning a mission trip to build schools in Haiti,
or making sack lunches every day to bring to the homeless,
or holding pig roasts,
or regionally famous fried chicken dinners,
the wheels turn in my head. And I begin to wonder.

These days I don’t wonder too long
because in all of that envy,
and inadequacy, and abandonment
there is a truth that I know: and that is that
no two churches are alike.

A church exactly this size,
with the same attendance numbers
but on the other side of town
is going to have different challenges
and issues than does ours.

And what works there most likely won’t work here.
And what works here may not be able to translate
to another context.
Like I’ve said before, context is the key to understanding.

Thankfully, we have been following Moses and the Israelites
for the last month or so
and we should have a good chunk of the context
of todays passage already.
But lets do a quick review just to make sure,
with the understanding that our passage for this morning,
jumps all the way back to the beginning of the Exodus.

The family of Jacob,
escaped famine in the promised land
by seeking shelter in Egypt where,
through an amazing journey and transformation,
Jacob’s son Joseph,
who had been sold into slavery decades earlier,
has risen to be second only to Pharaoh in the land of Egypt.

He makes a place for his family and they prosper.
They grow from a few dozen
to thousands to millions of Hebrew people.
Indeed they grow from a family
into a nation in the space of 400 years (give or take).

Sometime after Joseph passed a way
a new Pharaoh came to power
who had no clue who Joseph was
and this Pharaoh saw the Hebrew people
as a threat to his power
and so he forced them into slavery for hundreds of years.

The whole time the people cry out to the God of their ancestors,
the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Hoping to be delivered from Egypt
and to have God’s promise to Abraham fulfilled.

Then enters Moses.
Born a slave, sentenced to death,
spared that death at infancy,
he is sent down the Nile River in a little basket boat
and is found by none other than the daughter of Pharaoh.
She adopts Moses who is then raised for 40 years
in the house of Pharaoh.

Moses messes up and kills a guard
who was beating some of the Hebrew slaves
and he flees Egypt.
He ends up in the land of Midian,
gets married and tends sheep for 40 years
until one day, one day,
he sees a bush burning and not being consumed.

And we know the rest right?
Take off your sandals, this is holy ground.
I have heard the cry of my people,
and you will deliver then from Pharaoh’s hand,.
When the Israelites ask you my name tell them I am, that I am. YHWH.
Plagues and parting of seas and heavenly bread right? Right?

But in our journey through Exodus,
try as we might, we just couldn’t hit everything.

There is so much,
but there was more to that burning bush conversation.
It wasn’t just Holy ground, set my people free,
I am that I am, and then Moses lit out to do what God commanded.

Moses was more stubborn than that.
God had to do a lot of reassuring Moses
that God would break the will of Pharaoh
and that the people would believe what Moses said.

Today, the passage we have just read,
is the second stubborn excuse of Moses.
There are more, but those we will save for another time.

Moses himself can hardly believe
that the God of the ancestors is visiting him
and he is standing there seeing this whole miraculous fire bush thing.

So his excuse is that the Israelites will never believe him.
They will never believe that this 80 year old shepherd
has seen the God of the ancestors
(who hasn’t been heard from in centuries).
And Moses wants to know,
just what is it that he possesses
that could possibly make this nation of slaves believe him.

And God responds with a question
“What do you have in your hand?”

Moses may feel like he’s got nothing to offer,
but God invites him – commands him, really –
to look at what he DOES have.
In other words God says,
“I don’t know. You tell me what you have, and I’ll work with that.”

Moses responds that what is in his hand is his staff.
And God tells Moses to toss it on the ground
and instantly it becomes a snake.
And then he is told to pick it up and it is a staff again.

And while the staff turning into a snake
becomes important later on in Exodus,
for now, for us, the question is
“What do you have in your hand?”

It’s very easy for us to feel
like we don’t have anything to offer.
Moses felt that way, too.
And so we have to start, friends,
by taking a good and honest look
at the resources and skills we do have.
What is it that’s in your hand?

What do you possess?
What is your gift?
What is your talent?
What is your passion?

Moses is learning an important lesson here,
and it is one we need to learn and remember as well:
“If we give God a little thing, God can do anything.”

“Oh, you have a staff…. poof now its a snake.”

The problem is we tend to think that we are not enough.
We look at other churches
and see all the different and good things they are doing 
 and we feel inadequate.
And so we don’t want to try.
But the reality is with God, enough is abundance.

Abundance is not having more than you need.
It is having enough and offering that to God
and then watching to see what amazing thing God does with it.

Last spring Danielle, from our St. Matthew’s congregation, said
we need to have something more for youth,
and what she had in her hand was time and experience.
And she gave those to God
and we wound up with a fantastic Vacation Bible School.
And we got to meet some great kids from the neighborhood
some of whom have been coming to church faithfully ever since.

Carolyn Manning looked into her hands
and recognized that she has the gift of nurture.
And when she decided to put that gift to work,
amazing things happened.
I know I was humbled and encouraged
when I received one of her cards.
I am sure many of you have received that encouragement as well.

Or consider Roxie, from Cherry Hill.
Now, I have not gotten to know her very well yet,
but that is because she has looked in her hands
and seen a love for children
and has seen that she possess time
(and by some accounts the ability to add more hours to the day) and is making sure our kids have a great Sunday School experience.

I think of Laura, Laura is an encourager,
Laura sees lemons and makes lemonade,
no one, no one, has asked me for more
“God Loves You and There’s Nothing You Can Do About It” bracelets than she has,
because when she sees someone down,
someone needing encouragement
she looks at her hands, quit literally at times I am sure,
and she sees that bracelet, and that message,
and she gives it away with the hope
that it will lift up the spirits of people who are in desperate need.

And we could go on,
there are more of you I could mention I know.
But I think you get the idea.

Now I don’t really think that they looked at their hands.
That’s a metaphor.
What they and others have done is seen a need,
considered the issue, and asked themselves, “what do I have?”

And even if all they had was a little bit.
A staff, some spare time,
the ability to move things around and make time,
a bit of passion for this or that,
when you bring that little bit of whatever to God
God can do anything. The impossible becomes possible.

In your bulletins this morning was something unusual,
and I am sure some of you have been scratching your heads
over why its in there, well now you are going to find out.

I want you to take a couple of minutes,
and I want you to think about what is in your hand,
what it is that you are passionate about,
what it is that you want to offer to God this year,
and then see what God can do with it.

Then with whatever writing apparatus you can find,
pencil, pen, or one of these magic markers,
I want you to write your name
and what it is that is in your hand,
what it is that you are willing to give to God.
And then hang on to it and I’ll give you some more instructions.

I know pastors for whom
a season of focusing on Stewardship
is an awkward thing because no one likes to talk about money
and a lot of people have in the back of their mind
that the church only wants them for their money.

But for me, the financial piece is only part of the picture.

Sometimes the biggest difference
from one of those churches that we look at and say
“if only we had that…”
the biggest difference is that more people
are using the gifts and graces and talents
that God has given them.
More people are responding to the call of God on their lives
to a specific ministry within the church.

I firmly believe that we have all that we need,
that we, indeed, are enough.
I believe that if we connect all our cards together
we will discover a plethora of options and opportunities
to create new spaces for new faces.
To be able to figure out how to do effective outreach
in this time and in this place.

For me the biggest issue in churches that seem to be struggling
is that somewhere along the line we get it in our heads
that we are not enough
that what we have in our hand is not enough.
That what we have is something that God cannot use.
So we make the excuses like Moses.

But the reality is friends,
God just wants you to offer what is in your hand,
whatever it is that you have.
For some that is money for others time,
and still others starting a new ministry.

Maybe what you wrote down
is that you are great at baking yummy treats.
I know for a fact, that is something God can use
and turn into something amazing.

Are you a quilter or a knitter,
are those the passions of your heart? Fantastic.

Why not look for space here to start a quilting or knitting group
or a space out in the community
where you can meet new people
and engage in each others live and invite them to worship with us.

Or maybe you are a closet prayer warrior.
You pray for the church all of the time
but you don’t make it public knowledge.
Well, maybe you need to open up that closet door
and step outside and invite others to pray with you
for the church and its ministries for your pastor and your leadership. For the denomination as a whole.

My friend Pastor Jeff Nelson
is one of those guys whose ministry I often find myself thinking
my “if only we had that…” statements.
Because it seems wherever he is appointed,
poor neighborhoods or affluent communities, ministry flourishes.

But as a friend and mentor he has told me the secret.
And it has nothing to do with worship style or music types,
or even location.

This is his formula, write it down if you want and remember it.

Figure out what it is your church does well.
Do more of it.
Give it away.

And today, hopefully,
we have cards full of ideas about what we are good at,
what we can do more of and
what we can give away to our neighbors and our communities.

Now this is going to take a little bit of cooperation from everyone.
I want you to link up your card
with the card of the person next to you using the pipe cleaner,
like we are making a big chain of these cards,
because we are going to make a big change of these cards.
And then connect each smaller section into an even bigger one.
Then lets hold it up.

Look at all of those ideas and talents and gifts we have.
We don’t have to have what others have,
we don’t have to make excuses,
God gifts the church with what it needs to flourish.
We are a church full of wonderful,
fantastic people who are called to use what is in our hands,
be good stewards of what is in our hands, give it to God,
whatever it is, and watch God take a little and make it a lot.
Watch God use your gift to make the impossible possible.

It can happen. It will happen.
If we are good stewards,
if we use the resources that God has given us,
however small they may be,
we will see amazing results.
We will find that we have been enough all along,
and with God enough is abundance. Amen? Amen.

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