Sunday 15th August 2021
Let God use the Little you have!:
John 6:1-21, (read in normal place)
2 Kings 4:42-44 (read just before hymn before sermon)
We’ve listened to 2 texts today >
Obvious parallels between JESUS’ feeding of 5000,
…..and ELISHA's feeding of the 100
And all modern writers agree -
= the crowds who witnessed Jesus feeding the 5000
…….will have thought ‘ wow - this is just like Elisha all those years ago’
Because it was a famous and much loved story
Important connection for folks to make,
…..as JESUS was gradually laying down his credentials,
………..so that folks would BELIEVE IN HIM
……………..and thus encounter GOD through him
But his early years,
…..was all about putting in the ground work,
……….so that folks (with ears to hear)
…………..could recognize him for who he really was -
If i HAD cold called PISGAH back in 2009 (and you didn’t know me from Adam then-
…..perhaps GATE CRASHED A DEACONS MEETING
….and said let me be your pastor - I AM GOD'S choice of Pastor FOR YOU
…...YOU WOULDN’T HAVE CALLED ME
Can you imagine the expression on Maurice’s face!?
But when I DID meet the Deacons back in 2009 -
…..they didn’t meet me based on my claims -
They met me because MARC OWEN introduced me,
….because JOHNSTON commended me for future ministry,
.because 3 churches and various ministerial boards - HEARD and WATCHED ME
……... agreed that GOD SEEMED to be calling me to ministry
IF Jesus had turned up at the age of 30,
...and said ‘believe I am God’s man because I am saying that I am
= nobody would have paid any attention to him
(He wouldn’t even have entered the historical record)
But they SAW the evidence -
..the MIRACLES, the AUTHORITY, ….
But there was something else that was just as persuasive…..
= the HISTORICAL CONNECTION
ELISHA was KNOWN as God’s man
(BIG HISTORICAL HERO FIGURE FOR THE JEWS)
…….and his miracles - including the feeding of 100, = well known and loved
…. - and JESUS was not simply EMULATING him,
……….but actually EXCEEDING him
Elisha was known as a MAN OF GOD, (famous historical figure)
(and clear parallels with the nations past in passages like today)
………..make it clear that Jesus is GOD'S MAN TOO
So the passage we’re looking at today - Elisha’s feeding of 100,
(NOT SIMPLY AN ENCAPSULATED STORY IN IT’S OWN TIME)
…..was part of the groundwork for Jesus who would come in many 100’s of years time
The other thing that links them is the TRUTH behind it -
And it’s the central point I want you to go away with today from this talk:
“GOD CAN DO A LOT WITH OUR LITTLE” x2
Today’s readings = Great passages for folks who feel a bit impotent,
...not good enough,
…...or under-resourced or talented
Starting in the future,
…..and working backwards in time
We read in John 6,
…..that Jesus Christ takes what little we have (a simple lunch)
= and feeds over 5,000 people with it.
The story of the loaves and fishes is a very familiar one to most Christians.
How can we feed that many cries poor old Phillip -
….we have 200 denari but it wouldn’t even buy enough bread for a mouthful each!!
IN THE Elisha feeding,
…..the servant - Phillip’s ancient equivalent, looks at the 20 loaves of barley,
…….and say’s “how can I set this tiny amount before a 100 men?!”
Q - can you relate to the sentiment behind the cry of both Phillip and Elisha’s servant?
…..I’M just a shy little Christian,
…….in a world that’s getting worse and worse,
………...WHAT DIFFERENCE CAN I MAKE!!!
I SUPPOSE I’M JUMPING AHEAD A BIT TO THE CONCLUSION
...but I believe that we are supposed to see both stories,
…..and conclude that it’s not about how well equipped and resourced either person is
= but rather see that God takes the LITTLE WE HAVE - EFFORTS OR STUFF
(if we hand it over)
…….breaks and blesses it … THEN MAKES IT MORE THAN IT IS
THAT’S THE BIG POINT -
…..another point (my 2nd today) -
…………is the effect on the people actually BEING FED
The pastor MARIANNE UNGER,
…..spoke about the visit she received from a Pastor from LIBERIA
………one that shaped her view of mission
We talked in my office for a while.
He told me he is a missionary from Africa and he wants to build a relationship with us.
…..He also told me about how he is trying to reach souls for Christ in Africa.
We talked about the problems there>>> with the civil war and starvation.
…..I was curious to know how he could reach people for Jesus,
…………when they are starving.
= The answer HE BLUNTLY REPLIED = is, you cannot.
…You cannot tell people that Jesus will provide for you when they don’t have food to eat.
JESUS ALWAYS BACKED HIS WORDS WITH ACTIONS
Jesus is teaching about the wonderful miracles of God.
But if people are starving,
…...they’re going to find it hard to believe that God will provide for them.
As a part of Jesus’ ministry to the people,
………...he feeds their souls and then their tummies.
Food is such an integral part of our daily lives,
………...because obviously, without it, we cannot survive.
But as with his other miracles,
…..the ULTIMATE healing power is at the spirit level
Fed bodies - will BE WELL for a few more years
Fed souls - will BE WELL for all eternity
Which is why the text in JOHN - feeding of 5000,
…...has become associated with our COMMUNION
Jesus is referred to as the bread of life,
…….. because Jesus provides our very basic sustenance for eternal life,
……………... which is salvation.
When I was reading around this feeding 5000 text a while ago,
…..I realised there were potentially more associations between it and communion,
……….than I had realised
BIBLICAL NUMEROLOGISTS for ie -
= Five loaves and two fish>>>> add up to seven (which is a heavenly number)
The number of baskets left after everyone had enough to eat was 12,
……...was the number of disciples at the LORD’S SUPPER
Even Jesus’ actions were a foretaste of what would happen at the last supper:
……...Before Jesus distributed the bread, he broke it and gave thanks.
And the original GREEK WORD for ‘giving thanks’
There are a number of words that could be used to ‘give thanks’
….but JESUS chose to use the same one here,
…….as he used later in the LAST SUPPER when he broke bread with his disciples
The details of the feeding of the 5,000 are very significant,
………..even the fact that the bread was barley.
If we go back to ELISHA’S TEXT -
we read the similar story of God providing more than enough for all,
……. using simple barley bread
(brought by a man called a man from Baal-shalishah)
“A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God; twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.”
But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?”
So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, “They shall eat and have some left.”
He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.”
God provides so much for us if we just trust him.
(And of course I’m not talking about iPhones, excess cash or immunity from unwise decisions -
…IM TALKING ABOUT NEEDS)
The servant in this story didn’t trust God, but Elisha did…
……..And out of Elisha’s trust in God -
…………..came God’s provisions and God’s miracles.
I cannot help but imagine what would have happened if Elisha had not trusted God.
……...Could Elisha have kept God from performing God’s miracles out of disbelief?
God can do anything -
But as we pointed out recently in the text where Jesus visited his hometown of Nazareth
…...HE LIKES TO WORK IN PARTNERSHIP
A well known author of prayer writes -
……………. “God is just waiting for us to pray.”
“God wants to act, but God is waiting for us to act first….
…...out of love, out of faith, out of belief, out of trust”
SHE CONCLUDES -
“That’s what God wants from us….God wants us to trust, and God will do the rest.
And when we have belief and trust in God, look what God can do with us”
- Look at what God did with Elisha and a man from Baal-shalishah.
- Look at what Jesus did with a simple little boy at Tabgha.
I believe deeply,
…..that God passionately wants to use us
…………….., if we only we let Him and trust Him.
We hand over our LITTLE -
…….and leave him to do the rest
There’s a article I read some years ago from a Christian heavily involved in mission,
…..to homeless and mentally ill people,
……...in a town in Pennsylvania
She said that she had always believed that many of God’s miracles,
….are commonly delivered through the hands of normal people in normal way’s.
Like the miracle of the drs skills in healing a patient,
….or the miracle of volunteers turning up day in and day out,
………………...to serve and chat to people in a soup kitchen
She DID believe in more overt SUPERNATURAL miracles,
…..but had only heard of them 3rd hand,
……..and never expected to witness one herself
On this one occasion the soup kitchen where she helped at,
….had experienced a unprecedented and unanticipated volume of clients
DUE TO A CHANGE IN WELFARE PAYMENTS TO SICK AND UNEMPLOYED
This extra need also coincided,
….with a stock crisis
(donations had been poor recently,
…..and their food and money was barely enough for normal volume)
On the 3rd day of this high demand,
….they calculated that their huge chuck in pot would be empty by mid-afternoon
(It was another busy day
they served until 11pm,
….and the nighttime was the busiest)
They anxiously served, and served,
………..as they prayed and prayed,
…………..as the ladle kept coming up full again and again
When the centre closed ===>>>>
….everybody had had their fill
…….and there was still some left over
Whether it’s Pennsylvania -
= the TRUTH REMAINS -
….we bring our LITTLE,
……..we obediently give it God,
………...he blesses it
………...….and then he hands it back to us
I want to finish with a quote I read,
………….that I think fits perfectly here
God does not call the equipped.
He equips the called.
HE’S CALLING YOU AND I -
…DO WE WANT HIM TO EQUIP YOU?
…………ARE YOU WILLING TO ASK HIM?
Jacob holds on: 8th August 2021
(Part 3/3 in the ‘Jacob: Little Git series’)
We have been spending a few weeks in the company of JACOB and his kin,
...at least when I haven’t been gallivanting around preaching elsewhere,
And I suppose I haven’t been painting him in the most flattering light
… selfish/deceitful/arrogant - a misogynist even
WELL - no one’s perfect!
= which has been the whole point -
...we have seen in GOD’S grace towards HIM,
…...the incredible depth of grace he has for US
-we FELLOW FLAWED HUMAN BEINGS.
But you may have been left wondering - NEVERTHELESS,
….just why it was that GOD CHOSE HIM to be an important servant.
If I were forced to choose between ESAU and JACOB (the two twins),
…. I would probably have plumped for EASU!
(thank God he never consults me about his decisions!!)
...but it’s certainly true that God has a track record of choosing,
…….the unlikeliest looking servants
But this text this morning,
...forces me to review my typically hasty judgement of JACOB
Sometimes it’s the MOST DIFFICULT YOUNGSTERS,
…..that grow up into some of the most IMPRESSIVE HUMAN BEINGS
And the VERY TRAITS that make some folk a royal pain in the bum,
…..turn out to be POSITIVE CHARACTERISTICS later in life
I remember my JACOB going into a new school a few years back,
….and ending up in the class of a TEACHER who was known as being extra strict
A number of parents muttered ominously about her,
….it seems she didn’t court POPULARITY,
…..and had ruffled a number of FEATHERS - staff and parents
Strict - legalistic - pedantic, outspoken, insensitive etc, etc….
JACOB found her to be one of the best teachers he’s ever had -
...he liked knowing where he stood
...he enjoyed clear boundaries
...he liked the fairness and consistency she brought
...and he actually enjoyed working in a class,
where attention seeking kids weren’t allowed to ruin it for everybody else
The very things some people complained about,
...were the things that made her his favourite teacher!
So - back to the BIBLICAL JACOB -
...what were his redeeming features?
Well let's catch up with the narrative a bit first…
….because we’ve skipped a bit as we come to this weeks readings
We saw that JACOB married LEAH and then RACHEL -
...it cost him 14 years of working for his father in law - uncle Laban
The bit we missed between today,
…….and my reading a fortnight ago -
= saw RACHEL and LEAH engaging in a bit of sisterly competition
….. Who can produce the most babies for hubby
(and it was FIERCE and EMOTIONAL)
So fierce that they even ENLISTED THEIR MAIDSERVANTS,
...to help out a bit,
…..when their own OUTPUT SLOWED!!
By the time we come to today's passage,
….the CURRENT TALLY is 11 son’s and 1 daughter
Jacob eventually got permission from Laban,
……..to take his FAMILY (which was also Laban's family),
………...back to JACOB'S family home
And after a BIT MORE TRICKERY,
….between these well-matched men (we wouldn’t expect any less)
= they are finally DEPARTING FOR HOME
Now JACOB AND HIS FLOCKS/HERDS AND FAMILY,
….are getting much closer to home,
…...but he’s worried
= he hears that brother ESAU is heading his way with 400 men
And of course JACOB IS ALL TOO AWARE,
...that ESAU’S last statement regarding JACOB,
….WAS A DEATH THREAT! (For nicking his inheritance and fathers blessing)
JACOB divides his relatives and property up,
...so that IF Esau is looking to wreak VENGEANCE,
= some may escape death
@in actual fact,
...Esau is conciliatory mood,
…..but JACOB doesn’t know this yet
SO - the family are split up into different travelling companies,
….and JACOB finds himself on the far side of the JABBOK RIVER -
…….ALONE with his fears.
And we now read on of the intriguing lines in scripture -
***Read GENESIS 32:24***
Later - it will be referred to as ‘Jacob wrestling with God’
GOD in person? ---- Angel? ---- A mortal man sent on behalf of GOD?
I’ve all 3 explanations ARGUED FOR,
…...and DEBATED ABOUT,
…….. = we don’t know for sure
= I don’t think it’s important to know for sure
….whether it’s God himself or his emissary,
…...but I believe that it is the STRUGGLE ITSELF,
…….. that is the KEY part of this passage
The IDENTITY of the man is AMBIGUOUS,
….but the INJURY he inflicts ISN’T:
Read GENESIS 32:25
TRADITION tells us he was wounded for life -
….but the BIBLE DOESN’T
This isn’t an important point - SO FORGIVE me for making it!,
...but this is one of those minor points that mildly annoys me (my silly foible)
I have heard it preached A NUMBER OF TIMES,
...that JACOB lived out his day’s walking with a limp,
….. to remind him of his encounter with GOD
Maybe he did - but if he did = it is only a lucky guess
There is a reference later in GENESIS and again in HEBREWS,
...to JACOB many years later (when he’s 147)
…..leaning on his staff in his dying days as he blesses his GRANDCHILDREN
But most frail and dying extremely elderly people,
...probably need the support of a stick (if they can stand at all)
= and besides biblical elders,
….were often described as carrying staffs as a sign of authority (MOSES/ELISHA etc)
BUT I DIGRESS!
Temporary or lifelong -
….JACOB DOES LIMP AWAY from this encounter
…….with a post-wrestle limp
I guess we sometimes look back at extraordinary EVENTS IN OUR LIVES,
...and almost need TO PINCH OURSELVES,
…..DID THAT REALLY JUST HAPPEN?!
Well - as JACOB reflected in amazement,
….he had PROOF that the the encounter had not been a figment of his imagination
THE FIGHT itself was a strange incident -
...but what JUMPS OUT AT ME AS SIGNIFICANT for us today,
….. = IS JACOB’S RESPONSE TO IT -
AND - our first real insight ,
………..into WHY God chose such an unlikely seeming person(in Jacob) in the 1st place
(selfish and difficult as he has shown himself to be)
= JACOB SHOWED REAL TENACITY
He WON the match (if that’s the right word)
...by REFUSING to let go.
Life’s like that sometimes
Sometimes there are clever and elegant solutions to problems -
And all those terms and buzzwords to describe them:
LATERAL THINKING - BLUE SKY THINKING - THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX etc
My DAD sought to inspire me to higher things in my early teens,
...when instead of the usual xmas fiction book in my stocking,
…...I received EDWARD DE BONO’S ‘the use of lateral thinking’
Although I confess,
..I had been hoping for something from the SCIENCE FICTION section of the book shop!
(and SADLY my thinking remains as non-lateral and orthodox as ever!)
But while CLEVER SOLUTIONS are hugely impressive-
...that ‘SHERLOCK REVEALS ALL MOMENT’,
= there are times when pure BLOODY MINDEDNESS -
…..SHEER STUBBORNNESS and a REFUSAL TO GIVE UP
= is the best response!
(especially if a situation refuses to be rationalised or understood)
…(not EVERY effective solution is intellectually elegant)
Take THERESA for instance
(not her real name,
….and she doesn’t come from this community,
…….so I’m not breaking a confidence)
A committed CHRISTIAN,
….whose husband died,
…...and she found herself living alone for the 1st time in her fairly long life.
She had a strong, intellectually engaged and valued faith,
..but life had suddenly become an intense struggle.
...she struggled (successfully),
…...to simply get washed and dressed each day
(in fact - just getting out of bed felt like a significant success)
She felt PRETTY ANGRY WITH GOD -
….but she refused to let go of his hand,
Praying honest, pain filled prayers
Struggling each day with the mystery of love, loss, God’s will and grief.
The term WRESTLING - seems apt for her ,
… = because whenever she was asked: ‘how are you today’
……...she’d reply = ‘I’m still fighting’
I think THERESA clung to him - and wrestled with him = IN EQUAL MEASURE
= SHE GOT THROUGH THAT BLEAK SEASON IN HER LIFE WITH HIM
JACOB’S injury may or may not have been permanent,
...but like him = most of us carry past wounds:
Each DEATH OF SOMEONE WE LOVE - leaves its mark on us
Just like JACOB,
...we end up limping away from some life situations
As I suggested previously,
….there are times when we can’t rationalize or neatly solve our way out of something
Sometimes - LIKE JACOB,
...we just have to hang on
To friends, family -
...but most importantly - TO GOD
…...BECAUSE (like JACOB) -
…..….sometimes we will find ourselves alone - and it’s just US and GOD
Those 2am sleepless moments for instance
STRUGGLING - CLINGING > confronting the mysteries OF PAIN together
Day-break - JACOB still clings,
...he REFUSES TO LET GO until he receives a BLESSING
>>>and finally the ‘man’ speaks:
***Read GENESIS 32:27-28***
‘Think about that for a minute….’ P-A-U-S-E
= we think of ISRAEL as a NOUN (a name)
….but it means so much more
And it has AS MUCH meaning for us,
...as it does for JACOB
As the writer - BETH TANNER, in her work on ‘grief and enduring’,
“Sometimes we simply have to grab the mystery of God and hang on, even when we are tired or in pain or have doubts”
When EMMA and I were approaching our wedding day,
...our PASTOR Barry,
…...took us aside once and said that MARRIAGE WON’T ALWAYS BE EASY,
Won’t always be flowers, chocolates and warm fuzzy feelings
= but if you really value it,
…..you’ll sometimes have to fight for it AND NOT GIVE UP
GOD uses the analogy of MARRIAGE,
...in numerous places in scripture,
…...to DESCRIBE our RELATIONSHIP with him
If WE really value that relationship,
...then SURELY we have to fight for that too…
Sometimes it’s hymns, hope, blessings and warm feelings -
...other times it’s clinging and wrestling,
Sharing our Pain, doubts and sometimes even anger with God (in prayer)
...isn’t WEAK FAITH
= that’s a WRESTLING -- VALUING -- GRITTY FAITH -
…..the kind of faith that’s echoed in the book of psalms time and time again
Referring back to the lady I quoted earlier - BETH TANNER,
..she also said that for her - ‘hanging on’
...isn’t simply a sort of spiritual ‘treading water - just about keeping her head above water
But rather =
Times in her life when her faith has GROWN
That clinging and wrestling with God,
….HAS CAUSED HER TO GROW
(= surprised her in retrospect)
The first house Emma and I brought together,
….had awful peeling wood chip wall paper,
….damaged and disgustingly coloured flooring
….and horrible fixtures and ‘features’
But we managed to look past all that superficial yuck -
…and VISUALISED how it could look in time.
…we looked at its POTENTIAL
JACOB was an OBNOXIOUS YOUNG MAN -
…the ‘little git’ I described in my first sermon
...but GOD saw through all that rubbish and recognized a tenacious young man
= … who would grow into an important servant of his
For all of his faults =
This STUBBORN, WRESTLING, CLINGING man,
...is no FAIRWEATHER FICKLE FOLLOWER
Does GOD see the same in us,
..as he peers past OUR character flaws?
A PEOPLE who - despite all the heartbreak and pain on this side of eternity,
….hang on with a determination to be blessed
And as we REFUSE to give up on GOD -
...let’s be encouraged by the knowledge that GOD DOESN’T GIVE UP ON US
He didn’t give up on JACOB - even when he was at his very worst,
….and he won’t on us
It’s taken me 3 sermons in GENESIS,
...to find something positive to say about Jacob
= but I think AT LONG LAST - he can finally become a role model
(as opposed to an object lesson in what NOT to be like!)
The man who wrestled in the night,
….and refused to surrender!