Sunday, July 29, 2018

What if there is an abundance?

2 Kings 4:42-44; John 6:1-21

The reading from 2 Kings and the Gospel reading from John present us with stories that seem miraculous, wonderful, amazing, awesome. From next to nothing, God feeds a multitude. Not only is there enough, there are leftovers!

In the story from 2 Kings, a man has come to Elisha with his tithe, twenty loaves of inexpensive bread and some unmilled ears of grain. The story says it is the first fruits, the best of the best, an offering to God. When compared to what it will take to feed the hundred people gathered there, it is nothing. Yet Elisha says to offer it to the people, and they all have enough to eat, with some bread left over.

In John’s story of the feeding of five thousand people, the same thing happens. There are a lot of people, there is a tiny amount of food, yet Jesus says, give it to the people. They all have enough to eat and there are leftovers.

We logical people of the 21st Century like to think we know enough to understand that such small amounts of food are not enough to feed thousands. We rationalize the story: there weren’t really that many people there; there was more food than they thought; there was enough because those who had food shared it. We refuse to believe God can multiply what we have and make it enough and more than enough, with leftovers.

Next week we’ll talk about the source of the food. This week, let’s just marvel at the wonder of God who can feed hungry people so well.

… Most people in this country believe that what we have is finite, and there is never going to be enough for everyone; we hoard the resources we have; we tell some people they can’t have what we have; we tell some people they are not welcome here because we might feel crowded. Because some people hoard what is available, many people never have enough.

I am still learning how we handle finances here. I know there a budget, there is income and outgo, there is a pastor’s discretionary fund, and some other pots of designated money. Here’s how I see money. God gives us money, in greater and lesser amounts. It’s up to us to decide how to use it. If we believe what God gives us is finite, then we must be careful and watch every penny. But, if we believe God can take what we have and multiply it, we can afford to be generous.  

In other congregations I frequently have asked folks to donate to special causes: to Luther Springs, to the food pantry, for gas cards, to pay shipping on quilts or shoeboxes, to help a family in need. I believe that when we give little amounts all year, we realize our money does stretch farther than we thought it would, and we learn to be generous. After all, it’s God’s money, not ours. Why not be generous with it?!

When we are careful with our individual or congregational budgets, watching our pennies and our dollars, we are being good stewards. We want to pay our bills on time. And, we need to have some funds set aside for what-ifs. For example, at home I just had to purchase a new range. Almost $800 – poof! The computer in Arlene’s office needed some attention. A few hundred dollars – poof! Budgetary what-ifs abound.

… Yet, if we always focus on the day-to-day finite income and outgo, we never allow ourselves to dream, to allow for God’s what-ifs, and we miss out on true possibilities. Pastors, interim pastors especially, are trained to explore the building, to poke around in corners of congregational habits, and look for things that could be better. At the same time, we are taught to help congregations look for God’s what-ifs.

I have heard of the desire to repave and paint the parking lot, refinish the doors, paint the church, and bring the signs up to date. These projects require lots of funds, and they will require a special fundraiser or two to make them happen. Yes, focusing on curb appeal and necessary maintenance is necessary. Buildings need care or things get worse.

But there is more to a congregation than the building from which they serve God’s people. I look forward to experiencing the drive for school supplies, and other projects that happen in the fall. Someone (Cindy?) heard of the needs of the Ocali Charter School and saw God’s what-if right there, waiting to be noticed. It is always fun to see packets of paper and pencils and backpacks come in the door, knowing they will go to needy children. It is as if God multiplied the few pieces into many.

I believe Ascension needs a vision, some big thing you are passionate about, something you can all easily do, something that is bigger than the building and its needs, bigger than a finite budget, big enough to discover God’s what-ifs.

The newsletter is out, and my article is on giving thanks and about paying attention to the little and big things in our lives that deserve thanks. It is about noticing everything! When we go to a restaurant, we can be grateful for the roads that take us to the restaurant, the car that starts so we can drive there, the server who took excellent care of us, the chef who got our special order just right. When we get home, we can be grateful for the garage door opener, the lights that dispel the dark, the air conditioner that handles the Florida heat and humidity.

Rather than waiting for the new pastor, whoever that will be, whenever that will happen, and allowing the new pastor to decide what the vision will be, what if we try something right now? What-if we work on being passionate about being grateful? It doesn’t cost a penny, yet it can create a lot of enthusiasm in a group. I have noticed that when one person expresses thanks for some little thing, it leads to another and another and another. It leads to an abundance of thanksgiving, with plenty of leftovers.

As I promised in my newsletter article, I am going to start asking for thanksgivings on some Sundays. It is telling your faith stories, with what I hope will be a helpful focus. Some days, your first and only thanksgiving may be that God woke you up. On other days, you may see hundreds of things to be grateful for. What if you look for at least five things a day to be grateful for? This was Oprah’s recommendation many years ago, and she said on some days we may need to list “still breathing” as one of those things we are thankful for.

Today, I will mention that I am thankful for the fun we had at Bunco last week. Gail heard my what-if we had Bunco here and ran with the idea. We didn’t get a lot of money, but we did get some, to give to the Ocali School. Thank you to Gail for starting the planning, thank you to the quilters who showed up with food, thank you to the people who invited others and who came for the fun, and thank you to Jane and Karen and others who stayed and cleaned up after the fun.

Please pray with me. Teach us to pay attention, to notice your abundance in so many ways and places. Help us to be thankful for all that you give to us, things, time, financial wealth, and each other. Amen