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July 22, 2018 Sermon
By Steve Drudge
2 Kings 4:1-7, 2 Kings 4: 42-44, John 6:1-15
Hands up those who went to bed hungry last night?
How many worried each day this week that you wouldn’t get enough to eat?
Two weeks ago our TOOLS group met people in Toronto who worry about basics like food and shelter. A tiny apartment in Toronto starts at $900 a month. If you get $1,200 from social services or can only get a part-time minimum wage job, it doesn’t last the month. Some panhandle to get change to buy food. Some go to a mission that serves meals for a loonie or nothing. A few of us will talk more about that in a bit.
At the time of the prophet Elisha some people faced chronic hunger. Part of it had to do with poor governance, like today when economic policies serve the rich better than the poor. King Ahab had been one of the worst kings, notorious for arranging his neighbour Naboth’s death so he could get Naboth’s nice vineyard. He was put up to it by his pagan wife Jezebel. (Last week we heard that Israelites weren’t to marry people from other nations. The reason wasn’t racism or social acceptability but so they didn’t start worshipping their spouse’s false gods.)
King Jehoram was almost as corrupt as his dad Ahab, making it too easy to engage in self-indulgent, self-serving idolatrous worship which doesn’t help the vulnerable.
And there was war with Moab. War drains the treasury.
And other government decisions contributed to a food shortage that continued from the time of Elijah.
When that happens widows, children, the poor are the first to suffer. Some feared starvation.
… like the widow who was broke, “My creditor is about to collect my two kids as slaves.” Elisha asks, “What do you have in your house?” One jar of oil. That oil filled many jars which she sold to pay off her debt. (2 Kings 4:1-7)
…and the man who brought the first fruits of his crop as a tithe offering – 20 loaves of barley bread and some ears of grain. Elisha tells him, “Give it to the people to eat.” How embarrassed would you feel serving a meal when you know ahead of time that it’s not nearly enough for your guests? You might not care for left overs but at least they assure you that everybody got enough to eat. So the poor guy says, “How can I set this out for 100 people?” But Elisha repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat” and then added, “For thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.” And food was leftover.
Part of what was going on here with these and other miracles was demonstrating that Elisha was the successor of the great prophet Elijah, as impossible as it must have seemed to fill those large shoes.
More important, the man was from Baal-shalishah. Baal means “owner, master.” Shalishah means “third” and can stand for the idea of “multiplicity.” But here it is Yahweh who multiplies, not the Baal fertility gods whom the Canaanites worshiped.
God cares even when human leaders and society at large don’t even notice people on the margins who are suffering. God’s prophets care too.
The parallels with Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 – the only miracle that is recorded in all four gospels – are too obvious to miss:
– loaves of bread made from barley.
– too many people for the available food,
yet people all eat their fill and there is food left over.
And in each story someone gives what they have, which by itself is not nearly adequate for the need, yet in the hands of God and God’s servants, it becomes enough, more than enough
– One jar of oil
– 20 loaves of bread and some ears of grain
– 5 loaves and two fish.
God takes what is at hand and transforms it.
This is a good time for some TOOLS stories. 14 of us participated in Mennonite Central Committee’s Toronto Ontario Opportunities for Learning and Service, July 5-8: It helped us to see the “other”, the poor, the marginalized as people, no longer out of sight on city streets. We’ll focus most on ways small beginnings, small budgets, small staff get multiplied to help people.
[Stories by four participants.]
So we ate at the Good Shepherd after a morning of helping and I’m seeing people exit the cafeteria line with plates piled high. I’m thinking this is only lunch, I can’t eat all that. So I ask for a small portion of rice. Scoop –it fills half the plate. I ask for two potato wedges. I get four. I see everyone is getting two pieces of fish so I ask, “Just one please.” The server roots around the warming pan for the biggest piece of fish she can find and plops it on. You walk in the door, you’re getting a full meal. This is all donated food or food bought with people’s donations. Imagine the dignity, the love, the security this gives people, knowing they can have all they can eat. They’re not being scrimped on. It’s an attitude of abundance not scarcity.
Today’s Bible stories begin not with scarcity but generosity. A first fruits offering of 20 loaves and some ears of grain is quite generous. 5 loaves and 2 fish is a big lunch for one boy – must have been a hungry teenager. These anonymous people share their abundance. Clearly, even such generous gifts weren’t enough to feed the number of people gathered. But is that our worry as givers? No. We give what we have and see what God does with it once it’s out of our hands.
I’ve chatted with numerous people over the years who say, I’m too old, I can’t do much. But I can still help make a few comforters, I can spend a half day a week at the Thrift store. And as one by one people help, it adds up to thousands of comforters and millions of dollars to help those in need.
Often God uses what is in our hands – a jar of oil, a lunch. That gets multiplied as an answer to someone’s prayer or need. Whether it involves living God doing a miracle that is beyond human explanation or whether it’s simply a lot of people giving, it’s a miracle to those on the receiving end. It meets their need.
And we get to be part of the miracle, a movement of caring for other people in need.
Can we let these stories move use beyond, “God, please hear my prayers,” to offering what we have as part of God answering other people’s prayers. Like Jesus who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
- Psalm 145:13b - 21
- John 6:1 - 14
- 2 Kings 4:1 - 7
- 2 Kings 4:42 - 44
- Colossians 3:12 - 15