Early in the service, ask people to estimate to the nearest 10,000 their annual income on slips of paper. Add up the numbers and expand the number to match the congregation size.
Today's gospel text of Jesus feeding the multitude is one of our favorite stories about Jesus. It is in all four Gospels, so people have loved this story for two thousand years. Notable in this version are two things. There is no little boy who shares his lunch; the bread and fish is simply what is available. And the disciples are sent out to distribute the food to everyone. With a crowd of perhaps 20,000, the distributors must have been more than just the twelve disciples, perhaps a hundred or more followers, each sent with a never-empty basket to feed a portion of the people.
Bread and fish was the usual meager fare of poor people. It didn't offer good nutrition, which is why so many people were sick and needed to be healed. In this story, Jesus gives hungry people enough to eat and then some. There are twelve baskets of left-overs! There was more than enough for the people to eat that day, for perhaps the first time in their lives.
We can also note that no one in this huge assembly questioned whether this food was kosher, or if Jesus had washed his hands in the proper manner before he offered it to them. Hungry people, especially chronically hungry people, do not question if the food is appropriately prepared. They eat what is available!
What do you suppose happened to the left-overs?They were out in the wilderness, so there was no food pantry to deliver it to. Was the food kept by the disciples so they could eat later that day? Shared with some of the folks close by? What else?
Some folks like to say that the real miracle in this story was that all the people gathered that day took out the bit of food they had with them and shared it with those who had none. They believe that this was an impromptu pot luck dinner.
Personally, I don't believe that. I think that Jesus has all the power he needs to multiply our finite resources -- in this case, a bit of bread and fish -- and make them stretch to infinity and beyond. (Thank you, Buzz Lightyear!)
Earlier, I asked you to write the approximate household income for a year on a slip of paper. I asked Diane to add up the numbers. They represent the approximate gross income of Hope's members. Diane, what number did you come up with? ___________ Allowing for two services, and snowbirds, we can estimate a total gross income of +/- ___________ .
Our normal congregational giving each year is about $125,000. While some people tithe, giving 10% or more, the average giving percentage in the ELCA is less than 2%. If we use the estimated __________ gross income, 2% would be ____________ . How much would 10% of that we would be? __________ What could we at Hope do with that amount of offering?
To start, we could give 10% to the Synod instead of 5%.
We could give a significant gift to SOS, the food pantry.
We could keep the Blessings bags for the kids filled with peanut butter and jelly all year.
We could spend it on some things we need here, like an updated sound system.
We could offer a free meal to the neighbors each week.
We could start a neighborhood garden.
Anything else we could do?
I know many of you are on fixed incomes, and believe in your souls that you can't give any more than you are already giving. So, when I tell you I want you to join me in giving ten percent of your annual income to the church, you are shaking your heads and thinking it is impossible. You do the math each week, each month, and know that 5 + 2 = 7. Money is finite, unless you have so much you don't know how much you have.
But I tell you that with Jesus 5 + 2 = 8, and that gives you left-overs. When we add Jesus into any equation, the numbers always add up to more than we think they will. I call this the Jesus Factor.
I'm sure you don't believe me yet, that you can afford to give more than you do now. So let me ask another question. Do you believe that Jesus fed at least 5,000 people from a fishy lunch? Why do you believe that? Scripture, apostolic witness, people who were fed
Do you believe that Jesus loves you and wants the best for you? Do you have enough of what you need? Do you have more than you need? Why do you suppose you have so much? Because Jesus wants you to have an abundance! Because Jesus wants you to share your abundance with those who live a lot closer to the edge than most, if not all, of us do! Because with the Jesus Factor, the abundance keeps coming.
Because, at heart, God knows that the best way to learn to trust God is to go ahead and do it. I challenge you to trust in the Jesus Factor. I challenge you to try giving more. If you can't give a full tithe, at least double your percentage, so you are giving 2 or 5 or 7%. If you are already giving 10%, give more; give 2, or 5, or 10% more.
Try it for a month, and watch to discover that you really do have enough. Your bills are paid, you can still go to the movies or Disney or the golf course, and enjoy dining at restaurants. It is only when we dare to trust God with our checkbooks that we learn to truly trust God to provide us with whatever we need and then some.
Our God is a God of abundance. Do you believe it?
Our God is a God of infinite possibilities. Do you believe it?
Our God wants you to have the experience of trusting in God so completely, you are willing to put your checkbook in God's hands. Will you try it?
Will you put yourself, your whole self -- time, talent, and treasure -- into God's hands? Will you allow the Jesus Factor to multiply what you have, what you give, and use it to glorify God?
Please pray with me. God of abundance, you give us so much. Help us to discover the Jesus Factor. Help us trust in you so much that we are willing to give to others by giving generously to you. Amen