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Have those words at the end of an infomercial
ever made you feel like reaching for the phone?
Because you just don’t know
how it is that you have survived
without having a kitchen knife
that can cut through a tin can
and still be sharp enough to slice tomatoes.
I spent a number of years when I was younger
working third shift jobs
and so I got to see a lot of infomercials and QVC.
And it is amazing how in the span of a few, sleep deprived, minutes
you can be convinced
that you will never know true happiness
unless you and your poodle
get a matching collar and bracelet set.
Forget about the fact that you don’t even have a poodle.
The success of infomercials and QVC,
I think, is in the story they are telling.
They are painting a picture we want to see.
A picture that brings a completeness to our lives.
A picture that will fill the void that we feel in our souls.
We get lured when they start slashing the initial price of the item,
and then throwing in additional items and accessories,
and then telling you that it can be spread out
to 12 “easy” payments, but the coup de gras,
the moment the hook is set, is with the words
“while supplies last.”
Three little words that pack a massive punch.
“While supplies last”,
well that means there is a limited number of sham-wows
and if I don’t order, well, someone else is going to
and I might not get it, and I will never be complete without it.
They end the story they are selling you
by creating a feeling of scarcity,
that there is not enough to go around
and so if you want it, you need to order NOW!
(Operators are standing by.)
It’s not just infomercials telling the story of there not being enough, everything around us is telling us a version of that story.
And it is always a story about us
and what we are lacking.
Magazines push airbrushed models
as a standard for beauty.
Television commercials have us thinking
that for a man to be bald
is something to be ashamed of or to hide.
Friends, I’ll tell you now, I LOVE being bald.
I don’t have to worry about bed head when I wake up.
It keeps me cool in the summer
and affords me the opportunity to wear interesting hats
the rest of the year.
No spray on hair for me. No thank you.
We are constantly pushed at work or school
to be better, to do better.
Even when we do well on a test or on a project
we only enjoy that for a moment
before we start agonizing over the next thing.
Every week when Bri and I exchange sermons for proofreading
the email that they come with usually says some version of
“this sermon is junk. HELP!”
Even though, most of the time, it is a solid sermon,
or just needs a little polish.
We come home after church each week
and we ask each other how it went
and we always seem to be surprised
that the sermon actually preached well.
It seems that every where we look
we are being told that we are not enough.
We are not good enough. We are not smart enough.
And gosh darn it people don’t like us.
The story that God tells about us is much different.
Genesis chapter 1 ends with the creation of humanity
and God looking over all of creation
and declaring it to be “very good”.
In Psalm 139 we are told
that that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
In Isaiah we are told
that a nursing mother would sooner forget her child
than God would stop caring for us.
And of course the ultimate seal of God upon humanity is Jesus,
God made human, walking with us, talking with us,
eating and drinking and laughing with us.
It is indeed a different story from the one the world is telling.
While the world continually screams at us
that we are not enough
God whispers, “I knit you together in your mother’s womb,
I know your heart and its evil desires,
but I still love you, come home child, come home, you are enough.”
Today is pledge Sunday,
the day when we will turn in those little slips of paper
that we have prayed over and about.
But before we do that there is one more story we need to consider.
The story of the loaves and the fish.
Not counting the resurrection of Jesus himself
this is the only miracle recorded in all four of the gospels.
So we can be sure it is an important story
in the life and ministry of Jesus.
And an important story for us.
Jesus was getting to be a pretty popular guy.
When he came to town the crowds flocked to him
and we can understand why.
When Jesus comes to town the lame walk,
the blind see, demons are sent packing,
and water becomes wine.
There were a lot of people with a lot of ailments and needs.
So much so that people were lowered on mats through the roof
and some just wanted to touch Jesus’ robe.
That’s why it’s not uncommon
to read about Jesus and the 12 going to a deserted place.
At one point, just before our story for this morning,
Jesus sent the 12 disciples out in pairs to the towns and villages with the authority to cast out demons and heal the sick.
The way Jesus sent out the disciples was interesting
in light of our discussions about Moses and Elijah lately.
The disciples are told to go but to only bring their staff,
which is what Moses had in his hands at the burning bush.
And he told them not to bring any bread,
perhaps expecting divine provision like Elijah and the widow.
And they went out.
And our scripture begins this morning with their return,
their reunion if you will with Jesus
and they are wanting to tell him about their experiences
and they try to go to a deserted place.
So they jump in a boat and push out on the lake,
trying to go to the other side where they can be alone for a while. But the crowds weren’t having any of that.
They set on foot to the other side of the lake,
arriving before the boat with Jesus and the disciples
could get there.
And Jesus’ response
is having compassion for the people
because they were in desperate need of care and direction.
I imagine that Jesus could have had the disciples
turn the boat around and lay anchor in the middle of the lake
and have their down time, but that isn’t what happens.
Jesus sees the crowd,
rolls up his sleeves and goes to work.
Teaching them “many things.”
We can be certain
that the disciples are getting a bit impatient at this point.
They needed some Jesus time.
They needed to talk about what they had done
with the power and authority that Jesus had given them.
And they couldn’t with such a huge crowd
pressing in and Jesus taking care of them.
Like an older child getting a little jealous
of a new baby monopolizing mom’s time and energy.
Or maybe like a pastor’s kids
waiting impatiently after church
waiting for Mom or Dad to stop talking to everybody
and pay some attention to their needs.
So they say to Jesus,
“You know, uh, it’s getting kind of late.
We should send them away so they can find something to eat.”
Jesus is on a roll though,
he doesn’t want to stop, he knows his time is limited,
and the people need him, so he tells the disciples
“You give them something to eat!”
And this is the part we tend to skip over.
We skip over it because we know what’s coming.
We want to jump straight to the miracle.
But this command of Jesus is something we need to think about.
This is not Jesus being flippant.
This is not Jesus making a joke.
This is Jesus telling his disciples that they can do this too,
they can heal people, they can cast out demons,
they can feed this great crowd
with what they have because they are enough.
Jesus asks them, what they have in their hands?
How many loaves do you have?
They bring him a sack lunch of
some bread and some fish
and Jesus demonstrates for them
and for us that enough is, indeed, abundance,
that if you give God a little thing, God can do anything.
A friend of mine, Zack Dunlap,
preached on this passage at Annual Conference this year,
and it was that message that inspired the series
and theme for our Stewardship time this year.
He breaks the process of turning “enough” into “abundance”
into three steps.
Step one: You have to give God something to work with.
In each of the stories we have looked at
over the last few weeks
the miracles didn’t come from out of nowhere.
The people in the stories had something to offer.
Even if they didn’t think so at the outset.
They took what they had and put it in God’s hands
and God got to work.
Moses had his staff,
the widow, a little oil and flour,
and the disciples a few loaves and some fish.
In the hands of God,
these offerings did far more than they would have done
in the hands of Moses, and Elijah,
and the impatient and uncertain disciples.
We need to give God something,
and God can do some pretty amazing things with anything,
so why not give God our best.
If God can make a little oil and flour outlast a severe drought,
if God can take a few loaves and some fish
and multiply it to feed thousands of people,
we have to believe that this God of multiplication
can take what we give and multiply that too.
So why not give God our best?
Give God all we can spare,
prioritize our time for the work of building community
and offering Jesus Christ to the world .
Everything we have and everything we are is a gift from God.
Our time, our talents, our treasure, all of it,
comes from our great creator.
And what God asks is that we give some of it back,
only so God can use it to create more blessing for us.
When we hoard it,
when we believe that the blessings of God
are a scarce commodity that once spent,
can never be replaced,
we close ourselves off from the all that God has to offer.
And this isn’t just about money.
Of all the things that God is looking for us to give
money is the easiest.
While it can do a lot of good,
money alone cannot build the church,
the community of Christ followers.
God needs you to be generous
not only with your finances but with your time.
With the time that you devote to study,
with the time that you devote to working
in the different programs and outreaches of the church.
And these days, it may mean starting something completely new.
And change is hard,
being creative is hard,
but that doesn’t mean
that we shouldn’t give God our best
and work our hearts out.
Building community and making disciples is hard work.
As my friend Pastor Zack says
those things are hard but
“it isn’t hard to (suck) be horrible.”
It isn’t hard to do nothing or the same old same old.
If the church wants to be irrelevant
and inconsequential in the community, well, that is easy to do.
Just show up to church on Sunday, sing the songs,
put the money in the plate,
and we’ll see you next week. Same time, same channel.
But if you, the Church, wants to be relevant,
wants to make an impact in the community,
then come to worship,
and then come and do a bible study,
and then come and work a community dinner,
and then come and begin a new thing.
A prayer ministry. A quilting ministry.
A young adult ministry. Do something more. Do one thing more.
Consider whatever it is you are doing now,
and commit to do one more thing.
If what you do now is worship,
then commit to worship and youth ministry.
Or worship and adult Sunday school.
Or worship and Bible Study.
And if you are already doing two add a third.
Some of you are doing 8
its time to let go
and find someone else to carry it for a while.
So you can get some variety and do something else.
But we need to commit, not just our finances, or our time,
but our very lives to the cause of Christ,
to reaching people with the good news of God’s love,
and mercy, and grace.
So the first thing we need to do
is give God something to work with and it might as well be our best.
Step two (and this one is harder than it seems):
Pray. Pray with passion.
Pray with reckless abandon.
Pray like you expect God
to do wonderful and amazing things
through you and through this church.
Maybe you are physically unable,
or maybe you are so bogged down
with caring for family,
that you cannot possibly add another activity to your week.
Then pray. Make prayer that which you devote to your church.
Spend time every day asking for God’s blessing
on our neighbors and on the people
we are coming across in our ministry together.
Pray for me, dear God, pray for me. Pray for those who are in leadership,
many of whom have been in place for a long, long time,
and keep doing it
because they don’t think anyone else will be there to pick it up. Pray for them, talk to them,
maybe you can pick something up and carry it for a while.
Lastly Pastor Zack says, trust,
“trust that the God who has begun a good work in you
will complete it.”
Trust that even though you may feel tired and weary,
trust that even though you may feel like your faith is lacking,
like when you look into the well of your faith
all you see is a few loaves and some fish, trust that the God who began a work in you
is going to complete it, is going to multiply that faith,
is going to take that little sack lunch of faith
that you have left and multiply it.
God loves multiplication.
In the beginning humanity was told to go forth and multiply
to fill the earth with human beings.
God blessed the family of Abraham
and made from one barren couple a nation.
God took a little oil and flour,
and fed a family throughout a drought,
God took some loaves and few fish,
and fed thousands.
When we give God one,
God turns it into ten.
We give God ten,
God turns it into a hundred.
God is big on multiplication.
When we give God a little thing,
God can do anything.
And God can multiply what we have here,
but we have to offer it.
We have to put it on the table.
The money, the time,
the commitment to making disciples of Jesus Christ.
If we don’t, if that is not our goal,
our passion, our desire,
then we might as well close the doors,
because God is not just an idea,
and being the Church is not just something that good,
upstanding citizens go to on Sunday morning.
The Church has a mission and a purpose
and all to often we forget that.
We forget that when Jesus looks at the disciples and says
“You give them something to eat”
that Jesus is also talking to us. It is up to us.
The people around us are starving
for the spiritual food that only God supplies through Jesus Christ. And Jesus is looking at us,
looking at our stockpiles of spiritual food going to waste,
and telling us to give them something to eat.
Today is pledge Sunday.
If you didn’t bring your pledge card and you need one
there are some available in the back.
When you come forward for communion
you can place your pledge card in the fishing creel with the loaves,
then receive communion.
On your way back to your seat pick up one of these bracelets.
They are a gift and a reminder.
That you are enough.
That what you have in your hands is enough.
That even when you feel like you have nothing to offer.
You. Are. Enough.
God could have called anybody,
but God is calling you.
God trusts you,
and God will give you what you need
to see your calling through.
Remember that through the strength Christ supplies
we can do all things.
We have the power and the authority to work wonders.
To multiply and fill the world with the infinite grace of God.
You are enough. Amen? Amen.
Quotations from Rev. Zack Dunlap are from his message at the 2017 Michigan Area Annual Conference and are used with permission.
Special thanks to Rev. Tom Waller for his ideas and inspiration for the series.