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Worship and Sermons
August 6, 2017

 

“The Divine Multiplier Effect” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, August 6, 2017, Year A / Pentecost 9 – 2 Kings 4:38a, 42-44 (alt)  •  Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 (alt)  •  Romans 9:1-5  •  Matthew 14:13-21

THEME:  Trust that Jesus can multiply the limited resources we bring to him to bless and work miracles through us.

 

          Anybody here have trouble with math? 

          Well, you’re not alone.  A lot of folks have trouble with math, including some very famous people, and even ones who’ve gone on to work in fields that require a lot of math.

          There’s Michael Faraday, the father of modern electromagnetism who built the first electric motor.  Charles Darwin who struggled mightily with math in college.  He hired a tutor and then quickly dismissed him because he found the work “repugnant.”

          Alexander Graham Bell was another one.  Throughout his life math skills were poor, just because it bored him so much. 

          And then there was Thomas Edison.  Edison’s childhood experience of trying to learn math left such a bitter taste in his mouth that, he never developed an aptitude for it.  After he founded the General Electric Company Edison famously said, “I can always hire a mathematician but they can’t hire me.”     

          If doing math seems like a miracle to you, then our gospel story is right up your alley.

          Aside from the resurrection accounts, this story of the feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle story that made it into all four gospels.  Clearly, there’s something important here for us to learn.

          Here’s the background:  Jesus has just gotten word that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been killed on Herod’s command.  Feeling crushed and no doubt threatened, he retreats to a remote area. 

          But the crowds won’t leave him alone.  They follow him into the desert.  After Jesus heals the sick among them, they’re reluctant go home, even as the day fades into evening.  That has the disciples worried.

          Isn’t it striking how they talk to him?  They obviously think he’s so carried away with the miraculous healing that he can’t grasp the concrete reality of the situation. 

          It’s as if they’re saying “Hey boss, in case you didn’t notice, it’s getting dark.  We’re not exactly across the street from the Jerusalem farmers market out here.  It’s the wilderness.  These folks who’ve been following you all day with nothing to eat are hungry.”

          They actually tell Jesus what to do:  “Send the crowds into the village down the way so they can buy something to eat.”

          It’s remarkable how much patience Jesus has with them, isn’t it?  Instead of scolding them, he takes the opportunity to teach them.  “You give them something to eat,” he says. 

          What?!  Can you imagine the looks on their faces?  They must be thinking “Is he crazy?  All we’ve got are these five loaves of stale bread and a couple fish we caught this morning.  How exactly does he expect us to feed all these people?  We don’t have anywhere near enough to do what Jesus is asking.”

          We feel that way sometimes too, don’t we?   

          Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, too.  But, even as faithful as we are, our rational minds say we can make only a small dent in this problem through programs like Downtown Daily Bread.  It’s a wonderful program, but there are just too many hungry folks in this world, and only so many of us.

          Jesus calls us to house the homeless and clothe the poor – but, as much work as we do through outreach programs like ROAR and Rebuild Together, there aren’t anywhere near enough shelters and transitional housing.  Surely, we don’t have the means to house all the homeless poor, do we?

          And what about the prisoners and refugees?  He calls us to minister to them, too, but then we ask ourselves how exactly are we to do that?  It would take a seismic shift in government policies to address their needs fully.  Where do we begin?

          These are major social ills.  They’re not new.  They’ve plagued humanity for millennia.  As we consider how to help these marginalized folks, we confront the same obstacles the disciples did.  And our mindset is the same as theirs. 

          Our first instinct is to focus on practical limitations.  Inevitably, we come face to face with the reality that we have limited resources to help those whom Christ calls us to serve.

          And, in most areas of our lives, we’re right to think that way.  It would be foolish and irresponsible to do otherwise.  

          But friends, when it comes to following Jesus Christ, things are different.  When he calls us to do something, there’s a different calculus at work.  It’s the divine multiplier. 

          Here’s how it works:  Jesus says “give me whatever you’ve got.  I’ll bless it and then use it – and you – to make miraculous ministries happen, things that give us a true picture of what God’s Kingdom is really like.

          “Thousands of hungry people, you say?  No worries.  Sit them all down, I’ll bless the food you bring me and then, together, we’ll feed them, - yes, even out here in this wilderness.  Just trust me.“

          Sure enough, just as God fed the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, and Elisha used the small Temple offering to feed the starving crowds in the midst of a famine, so does Jesus empower the disciples to feed 5,000 families who’ve followed him out into the desert wilderness.

          That’s where we operate, too – in the wilderness.  God’s people are always operating in the wilderness, if only because we’re never quite at home in the world.

          But even in the wilderness, when it seems like we don’t have enough for ourselves, God works miracles with what we offer up to him, no matter how lean those resources seem to be.

          You and I know this because we’ve experienced it.  Exactly one year ago, we were faced with a leaking roof, failing heat pumps and antiquated worship technology. 

          There was no money in the budget to address those needs.  But we got people together, asked God to guide us and bless the work ahead.  Sure enough, God responded by multiplying our resources.  We ended with more than enough to do the work.  It’s the same thing that happened with the Waugh-Wilson House, right?

          The same was true of our workday last fall.  If you remember, we had a huge amount of work to do.  In the weeks leading up to that Saturday, it didn’t seem like we’d have anywhere near enough hands to do it all.  

          But, that morning, God’s multiplier kicked in.  We not only had more than enough people of all ages to do the work – but we had a great time doing it together.

          This past June I saw another example of this divine multiplier effect.  Jay Ledvina and I visited John Kurtz.  John is the pastor of Camp Curtin Memorial-Mitchell Methodist Church in uptown Harrisburg.  Though he’s old enough to be retired, he’s led his congregation in some terrific ministry to meet the needs of families in the Camp Curtin neighborhood. 

          He’s partnered with a nearby church, Wesley Union AME-Zion.  Together, they’ve to open a pre-school in his building.  This preschool serves the children of neighborhood families, most of them would never be able to afford such a critically important program for their kids. 

          John’s congregation also runs a Soup Kitchen out of the basement of his building.  3 days / week, they feed over 100 people who are poor or homeless. 

          And he does all this with a small congregation in a building which, though historic and stunningly beautiful, is decaying badly.  It desperately needs maintenance.

          A while back, John asked his congregation whether they wanted to commit to continuing these ministries.  Though they didn’t have the resources to do it, they responded with an overwhelming and emphatic ‘Yes!’  

          Word of their situation reached some of our folks here at SSPC.  They got together and stepped in to do repairs that enabled John’s congregation to continue these ministries.

          When Jay and I met with him, John couldn’t stop talking about how we had inspired his congregation.

          They decided to trust God, and to offer what limited resources they had to do the work Jesus called them to do.  And God multiplied their efforts.  

          Our unexpected help renewed and rewarded their faith. The best part is, not only were they blessed, along with the kids and their families and others they served, but so were we.  That’s a lot of blessing to go around!

          That’s how God’s math works – it’s not linear, it’s exponential.  It’s not simple addition – it’s divine multiplication.

          So let me ask you, where might God be calling us to step out in faith next, trusting him by offering whatever limited resources we’ve got in order to do Christ’s work? 

          Maybe going back to Camp Curtin to lend a hand and work alongside both those congregations?  I’m hard-pressed to think of a place where there’s any greater need around here than right there. 

          Wherever it is God’s calling us to step out in faith – whomever he’s calling us to help – you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll multiply our resources as we do his work.  That’s the divine multiplier effect.

          For those of you with math-phobia, fear not:  it turns out that, to follow Jesus, that’s all the math you need to know.   May it be so.

Last Published: August 21, 2017 9:22 AM
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