New sermon: “I couldn’t but God could. I wouldn’t but God did.”

 

Dear Friends,

Right now in the halls of power in this country, the future of our nation’s economy is being determined. Our leaders are looking at the way money is spent by the government and the way taxes are paid by both corporations and average citizens. In looking at the way people live, both the poor and vulnerable and the rich and reasonably secure, our leaders think they can determine what’s right for our future. There is very little agreement among lawmakers right now it would seem. But what all seem to have is a confidence that with the right amount of money and the right plan, anything is possible. They will decide our future, because they are sure they know what is right for us.

That kind of self assurance doesn’t necessarily bring about good results, especially where the lives of hundreds of millions of people are concerned. We live in an age of wild hubris and excellent propaganda. The craziest lie can be made very appealing with the right PR campaign. And along with Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor under whom Jesus Christ was crucified, this age asks, “What is truth?” If knowledge is power than why do empowered people remain so ignorant? Why do empowered people, both rich and poor, make self-defeating choices?

Many years ago these words were set to music and taught to a nation of people by the highest authority in thelandofIsrael:

”Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.” (Ps. 62:9, 11-12 NRSV)

Those of low estate (without money, power, and influence) are but a breath. That includes everyone in this room. We will all pass away and will be remembered by a relatively few number of people, who will themselves pass away. Some might ask “What were they striving for? What did they care about?” My prayer for you is that you are striving for Jesus. That all you really care about is Jesus. And the next words follow: “those of high estate are a delusion.” We may not number among the rich here, but many of us want to be.

Some of you might say: “If wealth is a disease, God, curse me with it again and again!” A delusion is a lie, plain and simple. When you have a lot of credit to buy something but you really have no money to pay for it and the money is always spent before you make it, that is a delusion. And that is exactly where many people we call successful find themselves today. They are not really powerful in any lasting sense, they are delusional. Verse 11 says: “Power belongs to God”. But along with that power in God comes steadfast love.

In this country we think we know a thing or two about power. We have the world’s most powerful military. We have the world’s strongest credit system. But we do not have God’s steadfast love. Power without steadfast love is a frightening thing indeed. As an adult I can demonstrate great power to my child. I can show her how angry I am that she does not pick up her things. I can storm from room to room showing her what she has not done. But with all that power I have not demonstrated steadfast love. It is steadfast love that creates the real security in our home. The kind of home where a child can be herself and know that her daddy loves her for who she is.

I appeal to you today in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Why spend your money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” (Is. 55:2) Jesus knew that when everything else is stripped away, all of our income and expenses, all of our education and social status, our physical needs come down to just a few things.  And so when he preached he used bread to illustrate the hunger that drives us. The gospel of Mark tells us about a time when Jesus wanted to be alone to rest with his disciples, but was instead faced with a large crowd of people in need.

“The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’

They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.” (Mk 6:30-44, NRSV)

What does this story teach us about Jesus? First, that he was committed to the well-being of these people, in the midst of a crisis. What was the crisis? It was getting very late and there was no food for all of these people. The disciples’ solution was very reasonable, send them away. Give them time to get to their homes. But Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.” They immediately thought of how much that would cost. But Jesus said, “Go see what you have.” We learn from Jesus here that when our hearts are open to the impossible—-when we are ready to give, God provides.

In serving the poor day in and day out, the constant temptation is to say, “Send them away because we don’t have enough.” We can easily do “needs assessments” and reason that people are better off fending for themselves. But Jesus is there saying to us, “It was me hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and in prison.” (Matt. 25:35) I’m sure the disciples were tired that day, especially since from the time the crowd first found them they were seeking rest and privacy. But we can learn from them that it is in these moments where we are exhausted physically and financially, that God turns our testing into a testimony.

Let’s not leave this story here, however. The gospel of John shows us another side to the crowd gathered here. After Jesus fed them the people said to themselves, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (Jn. 6:14, NIV) Next the people would want to make Jesus a king. So Jesus got out and found a quiet place in the mountains by himself. But even after that, the next day the people found Jesus and said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’

For the bread of God is that whichcomes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’  They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. (Jn. 6:26-27,:33-36, NRSV)

Let us not miss what is going on here. The people want Jesus for king because he is their eternal meal ticket. They saw bread and fish appear out of nowhere and now they’ll do anything Jesus says. Jesus tells them the truth though. Their hunger was misplaced. Where the Samaritan woman (Jn. 4:1-42) at the well embraced the gift of living water without actually tasting it because it meant a new life, the people simply wanted full bellies. They were unable to connect the sign of God’s provision with the true Bread, Jesus Christ.

We certainly cannot pretend that we never miss the signs of God’s love that he sends us every day. I know that I certainly have been guilty of expecting provision without prayer and feeling entitled to joy without worship. Miracles cannot be appreciated without faith. And faith is nothing of itself. Jesus Christ, the true Messiah who will restore all things, is our living bread from heaven. He is our true sustenance,  and when you connect the good you have received to the Giver you will know life in all its fullness.

I hope that from the testimonies you’ve been hearing today, you’re getting glimpses of the way God has been working in all of us. Our testimonies have the power to remind us of who we are, and the story we now inhabit. This world is full of so many stories where the hero or heroine travels great distances over perilous terrain seeking an answer, only to lose the question in the struggle. Many people are robbed of any eternal imagination by their fixation with things that only serve to pacify in the moment.

The theme of our testimonies this evening has been personal powerlessness met with God’s power. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” (Ps. 115:1) This is a simple theme, but it is powerful. In every situation, we can come to remember to strive less and pray more. We can come to know that God is for us, that He knows what’s best for us, and we simply have to surrender our pride and ego and accept that all will be well.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you.” (Titus 2:11-15, NRSV)

Today in the middle of other things I was asked if I had anything that a group of volunteers could do who were arriving in a few hours. My brainstorming quickly turned into frustration with the idea that we could not involve all these people in something like patching and painting the walls. I made a phone call and spoke some hasty words in a rude manner to someone I deeply appreciate and respect. Now bear in mind, no one was asking me for a yearly plan, just for some ideas. Instead of ideas, I came up with complaints. It took me a while to come around, but when I was ready the answer was really in prayer. Prayer that God would provide us a man and a woman who could coordinate patching and painting in our building.

Don’t spend another moment frustrated with what you can’t do. Don’t stay in your head today worried about things outside your control. Turn it over to Jesus. God’s grace is here and Jesus wants to turn your whole life around if you will let him. He’s not going to lay some ethical system on you that you know you can’t accomplish. He’s not going to manipulate you with guilt to do the right thing. Jesus will teach you His ways by His Spirit because He loves you.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Chris L. Rice

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