Sermon transcript, 26 July 2015
Faith: looking the need straight in the eye by Fr. Dana
II Kings 4:42-44, Psalm 145:10-19, Ephesians 3:20-4:6, John 6:1-12
The readings today all seem to have a very common theme: they talk about need that is great – too great.
God takes a little and makes it enough
A few verses prior to the Old Testament reading, Elisha had returned to Gilgal, there was a famine in the land, and the sons of the prophets were sitting before him (II Kings 4:38). Each of these is significant:
- Gilgal is the very first place that the Israelites came to when they entered the Promised Land – the reason they had been brought out of Egypt, the reason they had made the journey, the reason they went round and round in the wilderness for forty years until all those who had been unfaithful had passed away. Read Joshua 4:19-24: God parted the Jordan as He had the Red Sea, so that they passed through on dry land. In the middle, one person from each of the tribes picked up a stone (not a pebble but a significant stone), then they set these up in a pile in Gilgal. Here they are in a place where God did an amazing thing some 40 years earlier, and the stones were there as a memorial to remind them.
- There was a famine: things looked pretty bleak. There wasn’t enough food for one person to live on, much less many.
- You’re the prophet of the Lord, sitting there with 100 students in front of you who expect you to be the man of the Lord, and no one has anything to eat. That is embarrassing for somebody in charge; but Elisha is not worried. He’s teaching these men to be prophets – an informal school of prophets – and here is an excellent opportunity to teach. His faith and leadership are put to the test.
A man comes with food, twenty loaves and grain, perhaps enough to serve a meal to a few people, but we have 101. Elisha calmly tells them to serve the food. I love the reaction: “What?!” “Serve the food, because the Lord will provide.” It doesn’t look as if He’ll provide: it was one person carrying the food, so it wasn’t that much. No great words, no wave of the hand, nothing showy… but what happened was the miraculous provision of God, who made what wasn’t enough more than enough. (II Kings 4:42-44)
We see something similar in the Gospel: Jesus is in this situation, except that He has a lot more people. He’s been preaching and He’s very popular, and people are following Him, and so He leads them up the side of a mountain and starts teaching them. (John 6:2-3) He finishes, and everybody’s tired and hungry, and He says to His disciples, “We need to feed these people.” They don’t quite respond with “What?!”, but they do respond: “We don’t have anything, and it would take a lot of money just to feed all these people a few French fries.” But then one of the disciples says, “There is this young lad, and he does have five loaves and two fish, so we’ve got something – but what’s that going to do? It might be enough for three people.” (John 6:5-9)
Jesus says the same thing Elisha said: “Feed it to them.” “Are you nuts? Do you want to start a riot?” It would be like going into the O2 filled with people and saying “We have free million dollar bills, but we only have four of them – come and get it!” They sat down, and they realised that there were five thousand men, and uncounted women and children. Jesus gave thanks to God and gave the food to the disciples to distribute. There were five loaves and two fish: ten of the disciples had half a loaf of bread each, and the other two had a fish. They keep on handing out food until they reach the last person, and everyone is fed. Afterwards He said, “We don’t want to waste it; pick up what’s left”, and they gathered up twelve basketsful. God took a little and made it not just enough but more than enough. (John 6:10-13)
Rely on Him, and give Him the little we have
“Jesus said this to test them, because He already knew what he was going to do” (John 6:6). The test wasn’t, “You feed them; if you don’t, you fail”; it was a test of their faith. They had some faith: they could have said “We don’t have anything – no way”. They didn’t have anything, but they looked around and found a young lad was willing to share his lunch. They said, “We have a little bit, but what can we do with this?” That’s all it took. God gives us situations like this to test us – not to see if we can be self-sufficient and fix the problem, but to see if we will rely on Him to fix the problem, and if we will give Him whatever little we have to use to fix it. It’s like the woman in the temple who dropped the two coins in the offering: she could have said “I’ll give You one, God, to do miraculous things with, but I’ll keep the other because I really want to eat today” – but she didn’t: she gave it all. The young man with five loaves and two fish didn’t say, “I’m going to keep one loaf and one fish for myself and then you can have the rest; I’ll make sure I have enough, because I’m not sure what you’re going to do with the other four loaves” – he gave it all. God took it, and made it more than enough.
He’s training His disciples to rely on Him – yes, to look at what you have and admit that it’s not enough. The disciples didn’t say “I believe in Jesus’ name that we have enough food for all these people”; they said, “We’ve got five loaves of bread and two fish; that’s not quite enough”. They weren’t afraid to look at their poverty in the face of a great need: they were honest; and they came to the one Person, Jesus, who could do something about it. It didn’t run out until everyone had had enough – not just a little bit extra, but twelve basketsful. And I’ll bet those baskets were the deep kind that you can carry stuff around in, not the little trays that we use for offerings.
It’s these kinds of provision of God that allows Paul to say, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…” (Ephesians 3:20). That is “redundant” – saying the same thing twice when you don’t need to; he says it multiple times. “…according to the power that works in us…” God didn’t stop doing miracles when Jesus went to heaven. He didn’t stop doing miracles when the canon of the Bible was put together – the goal of Jesus Christ on earth was not to get the Bible finished and solidified and then to leave. The Holy Spirit was sent to live in us, to move around us, to continue doing the works of God. “…to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:21) He does it not so we can get this stamp of approval that says “We’re faithful: we do great things; we know we’re really good, because God does things through us.” He does it for His glory, and our desire is to move out of the way and let Him do His work.
Nothing that we face is too large for Him: He is able to surpass all that we can think, by an amount that is too large to measure. What that should say to us? Don’t give up. Don’t give up when you’re sitting there and have no food. Don’t give up when someone comes past and says, “I’ve got a few loaves and a couple of fish”. Don’t give up when it’s time for them to eat: “I can’t put this on the table – are you crazy?” Don’t give up when it’s time to hand it out: just go, and God will keep extending; God will provide.
Take the first step in faith
Do you watch any Indiana Jones movies? My favourite scene is where he’s getting close to where the Grail is, and he comes out of a cave and looks down a cliff, and there is a huge chasm and the other side is fifteen or twenty feet away. He knows he has to get across, but there’s no way – there’s nothing there. He takes a step, and hits on solid. He took the step when there was nothing there – he didn’t wait to see; he didn’t take some sand and throw it on the path to find out; he took the step first, when there was nothing there. That is what God is asking us to do.
But Indiana Jones didn’t do that at home stepping off the ledge of a second-storey window; he didn’t do it to prove that he could do it – he did it because he was on a mission, allegorically, you could say, a mission sent by God. He didn’t do it so that he could prove he could do anything, but because it was the only way he could get from where he was to where he had to go: there was no alternative. It was the same in the Gospel: there are five thousand men, and the nearest town is ten miles away; we can’t send them walking to get food; they’re hungry and tired: they need something. And God provided. That applies to us as well.
Receive God’s provision
What do we do when we have a problem, when we have problem that is too big to climb? It’s impossible: I can’t even get up this first rock. We look straight at the problem; we don’t deny the problem or minimise it – “It’s not that bad; it’ll be ok” – but we look honestly at the obstacle. We look honestly at ourselves – I haven’t got a thing that will get me over, through, around, or in any way on the other side of this mountain. Then we pray, and we ask God.
And we work with what He gives us: if He sends a boy with five loaves and two fish, that’s what we work with. If He sends us provision to solve this problem in a way that’s really not what we wanted to do, we need to go with Him. Perhaps you’ve heard the story of someone who’s caught in a flood: he’s sitting on his roof in the midst of a swollen river is running past really fast, and he said, “Dear God, please rescue me!” Along comes a man rowing a boat: “Hop on! We’ll take out of here.” “Oh no – God’s going to save me.” Along comes a motor boat with six people who have been rescued. “Come on – hop in!” “No – God’s going to save me.” Along comes a helicopter with a guy on a ladder: “Come in! We’ll save you.” “That’s all right – God’s going to save me.” The house collapses; he falls into the river and dies. He goes to heaven, stands in front of the throne and says, “You didn’t save me! I trusted in You! You let me down!” Jesus looks at him very calmly and says, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter – what do you want?” We have to be prepared to accept what he wants to provide, because His way of getting us over, under or around this obstacle, or healing this problem – this physical problem or this relationship problem – might be a little different than we’re expecting, but we must receive.
The same God is with us
Do not give up on Him; do not give up on each other. There may be someone here who has a word or something for your problem. We are the body of Christ; we have different gifts, functions, talents and abilities, but we are all called to love one another, to help one another. We are also called to minister to those outside our group, to the least, the lonely and the lost. Let us not give up. God will provide what we need to do what we’re called to do.
We can “take that to the bank”; Elisha could take that to the bank, Jesus could take that to the bank, Paul, and Peter and James and John and all the other disciples could take that to the bank; and they did, and we are with them, because as Paul’s letter said, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6) It is the same God who was with Elisha and Elijah and Isaiah and David, with Mary when she was told she was pregnant, with all the disciples, ten of whom were killed for their faith – the same God is with us. The same God will provide for us, the same God has provision; He isn’t saying “He needs more than I’ve got – what am I going to do?” – He is more than enough for us. And I really believe that what He wants to do right now is to provide.