This sermon, based on Matthew 24:13-21, was given by Pastor Jim Kniseley on July 31, 2011, the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today’s story about Jesus miraculously feeding the 5,000 prompts a question: How big is your God? Do you believe that “out of nothing” Jesus created food enough for that vast multitude, or, do you believe that there is another explanation about how all those people were fed?
I ask because your answer may reveal how much space you allow in your life and thinking for God to work. This miracle story is recorded in all four of the gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke and John). Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that Jesus took fish and bread, after praying, multiplied the amount so that all were fed. It is the gospel writer John, writing later than the other three gospel writers who adds the details about a young boy with a lunch that he shared, that was the basis for the multiplying of the food by sharing.
Preachers in the last century picked up on the idea of sharing and made it the key explanation for the miracle. It wasn’t that Jesus multiplied out of nothing, but that the young boy either shamed or encouraged the people who also had food hidden away to share with others. I’ve preached that sermon. You’ve heard it from me. But today I want to have us consider the original explanation. The explanation that says that Jesus, the divine Son of God, actually did create out of nothing food that fed 5,000 men plus the women and children.
To understand that Jesus did it that way would say that Jesus was more than a man. It would say that Jesus is God. It would say that God who created the heaven and the earth out of nothing more than just his word, was present that day in Jesus. Does your faith today allow for this understanding of Jesus?
I want to push a little more about our faith today. Lots of folks believe that Jesus could do miracles back then, but think that miracles are quite limited today, if they happen at all. That creates a problem, for it diminishes God in our lives and thinking. To reduce God and the powers that God possesses to a size that we can understand and explain is a most human temptation. Some have called this temptation “putting God in a box”. In order to justify ourselves and to keep control, we make God fit our concept of who God should be and how we want to understand God.
That, dear friends, is a serious mistake. A long time ago the angel Gabriel said to young Mary, “With God all things are possible.” It was Martin Luther who observed that it was also a miracle that Mary believed that she would become the mother of the Son of God…In the book of Genesis, in the story of Creation we are told, God said “Let there be light, and there was light”… In Matthew 7 we hear the story of Jesus healing a man with leprosy: Jesus said, “be clean” and immediately he was cured.
Have you ever trusted in God to do a miracle? Were you ever at a place in your life where you were completely dependent on God and not yourself? The call process for pastors in the church is often such a time. I remember 11 years ago when Pastor Carol and I were serving in Southern California and we sensed that it was time to move on. The most natural thing would have been to seek a call somewhere in California and we did look at a congregation in Santa Barbara and another just north of San Francisco. But each wanted one pastor and could not afford two. We widened our search and looked at Reno, Nevada. Again, they were looking for one pastor. Then we prayed that God would reveal to us where He wanted us to be. We sent our paperwork to synods near Knoxville where Carol’s family is located. The bishop in that area wanted us to interview at a congregation in Knoxville, but we sensed that was not a good idea. Then the bishop here contacted us and asked us to consider 3 congregations in this synod. You who were on the call committee will remember that St. Stephen in Williamsburg and Resurrection were willing to share the cost of flying us here for interviews. We purchased our airline tickets and were all set to fly. Then we heard from St. Stephen that the Council was worried that they could not afford two pastors. But the call committee here, who had never considered having two pastors, were willing to explore the idea, especially since we were used to working ¾ time each. I will always marvel at the trust this congregation had that God would provide the resources to call two pastors. And as I think back, I am amazed that Pastor Carol and I were able to place our trust in God that all this would work out and that God would take care of us in a new place and in the midst of people we did not know.
We adopted some Guiding Principles last year as a congregation. These principles might seem to be a new direction for some folks, but I think that this congregation has been living under these principles from the very beginning, only it wasn’t formalized in words. These principles were shared by the folks who were sitting in the crowd that day with Jesus. These principles were shared by the charter members of this congregation when this congregation was started 22 years ago. These principles were shared by people and pastors when the call was issued almost 11 years ago to Pastor Carol and me. These principles have been shared by this congregation over the past 18 months when we have been confronted with change and reduction in membership and offerings.
We have 7 Guiding Principles that we adopted in January. Here are the ones that seem so apropos for today as we ask “How big is your God?”
I Jesus is Lord and Savior – In all that we say and do we serve Jesus, for by His grace we are
saved through faith.
II Trust in the Lord – through God all things are possible.
V Share God’s blessings generously as we are generously blessed
Could Jesus have worked that day through inspiring generosity in the hearts of the people? Could people have decided to share what they had with others? Of course Jesus can and does work that way. Could Jesus have simply spoken the words and multiplied the fish and bread to create enough to feed thousands of people. The again is of course Jesus can and does work that way.
Here’s the challenge for you and me now as people of faith. When God does do a miracle, when God does provide, name it and proclaim it. Be a witness! Further, when someone is talking scarcity, when someone be it a family member or a member of the church community talks and acts like there just isn’t enough resources, gently guide them to understand that God doesn’t think that way. With God, all things are possible!
Thanks be to God. Amen!