Monday, October 26, 2015

Gratitude's Gift, Sermon for Oct 25, 2015; Luke 17:11-19

Rev. George Miller
Oct 25, 2015
Luke 17:11-19

It’s been a blessed week. Last Saturday I attended the ZENON Awards at Highlands Little Theater; a chance for everyone to get dressed up, to celebrate the best of the season, and cheer on those who won.

All my life I’ve watched award shows: Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, wondering what it would be like to give an acceptance speech.

Last Saturday, I got to find out. I was up for a Board Service Award, given to volunteers.

When my name was called- it was magic. I could hear the entire auditorium break out in cheers and applause, and when I stood on stage, was handed the award, and given a chance to speak, it was a moment.

I was able to open my heart in gratitude, to dedicate it to my father, to say his name out loud, and to thank him for sharing with me his love of theater.

Then, I got to say “thank you” to those who were present, to share what HLT has meant to me, and to let them know how meaningful the moments are that they have created.

It felt amazing to have the opportunity to publicly show gratitude.

Later, I went home and stood on the dock. A crescent moon was out, the stars were shining. Bugs, frogs and gators sang their songs of praise to God their Creator.

I couldn’t help but to feel blessed, and to offer my praise as well.

Everyone should have a moment in their life in which they are given an award.

It feels so good to know you are appreciated. It feels so good to show gratitude to those who have blessed your life.

It’s healing, affirming and peace-creating.

On Monday, we at Emmanuel had a chance to experience gratitude from our Shepherd’s Pantry clients.

Over 100 people passed through our Fellowship Hall; over 1,200 items were passed out.

By 12:30, with our cupboards basically bare, we had three more people show up. We apologized for being nearly out of food and invited them to take whatever they liked.

One of the men said “I’ll leave some cans just in case someone else comes in.”

We had next to zero, he was receiving next to zero, and still he was offering to leave a little for someone else just in case.

Breaking all my boundaries based in years of social services, the volunteers made 3 envelopes with a small amount of cash and a letter from our church so our 3 guests could buy some food.

They were in the parking lot about to leave, when we approached one of the people, and said “We’re so sorry we don’t have any more food, but here’s a little something to help you out.”

Immediately she began to cry. Immediately, tears of gratitude filled her eyes.

Monday we were, once again, church; we were most definitely Emmanuel - “God with us” to a community of folk who were hungry, to those who were enslaved to their situations, and to those who were living with spirits that were crippling them.

They were grateful. Even though we had next to nothing to give them, they were full of gratitude which they shared with us.

God is good.

This ties into today’s story. 10 men living with leprosy have an encounter with Jesus in which they are set free from the bondage they are in.

By law, these men were not allowed to live in town, but near the dumps. By law, these men were required to wear ripped clothes, have uncombed hair and to stay as far away from everyone else as possible.

In other words, they were not just physically crippled by their disease, they were socially crippled by the laws that forced them to live alone and in squalid conditions.

But provocative, compassionate Jesus will have none of that. Upon hearing and seeing them, Jesus speaks a word that makes them clean; he says a word that sets them free to resume living in town and amongst the living.

Freedom- how great a gift, grace upon grace.

But only one man turns back and offers Jesus his gratitude; only one man turns around and gives praise to God.

And good for him, because due to his act of gratitude, Jesus says to him “Go, you faith has made you well.”

It is one thing to be made clean. It’s another to be set free. But there is something more about being made well.

His spirit, his life story, has been rebooted, washed clean and given a chance to be so much more than he ever thought possible.

Winning a ZENON touched me; today’s scripture touches me; the ministry that took place at the Shepherd’s Pantry touched me.

I have also realized something: I am grateful to be right here, right now, in this town, at this church. And I don’t know if I’ve ever taken the time to publicly say that to you in the same way I was able to at the theater.

It’s been 5 ½ years since you called me here, and I am thankful.

I am thankful for the opportunity to be your pastor. I am thankful for the salary you provide me and how it’s allowed me to buy a car and purchase a house.

I am thankful for the ways you have shown your loving welcome and care for my Little Brother, Cornelius and that you still ask me how he is doing up in Georgia.

I am thankful for the support and concern you give for my Mom as she continues to deal with her health-related issues.

I am thankful for your excitement and support as I’ve explored the possibility of adopting.

I am thankful for your excitement, support, and listening ears as I go through the home-owning process.

I am thankful that you have created a spirit in which I’ve felt more willing to share my story, speak about my imperfections and allow you more into my world.

I am thankful because I know that 5 ½ years ago you did not have to take a chance with me.

I am thankful because I know I have not always been the best I can be. Lets’ face it: I can be loud, overly emotional, illogical, and run around like the White Rabbit.

You can’t tell me anything before service and expect me to remember it, and you have about a 50/50 chance that any date or time I put in an e-mail is going to be wrong.

But I am thankful, because you, as members and friends of Emmanuel UCC have given me a call, a purpose, a ministry, a community, and a home.

For that I say “Thanks” and for that I give all praises and glory unto God.

And in my thanks, my hopes and prayers are that we continue to serve together.

We continue to create and offer ministry to those who are hungry,
those who thirst,
those who are living with a crippling spirit, those who are on the outskirts,
those who are in bondage,
and those longing to be free.

And in my thanks and gratitude, I hope that in Jesus Christ, we continue to have all those wonderful moments in which

we get to speak, we get to say and do, to share and to show all the many, many things that are healing, affirming and peace-creating.

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Free from Spirits that Cripple; Oct 18, 2015 Sermon; Luke 13:10-17

Rev. George Miller
Oct 18, 2015
Luke 13:10-17

Today’s scripture is one of those that sound easy to hear, yet can be difficult to preach upon. It’s a miraculous healing story that goes against all logic, and yet miracles happen every day.

It’s a story that wrapped within great hope, yet it can also create extreme hurt for those longing to be healed from a chronic condition, and never are.

“If this woman can be healed, why not me?” one may ask with great sadness.

In today’s reading we are told of a woman with a spirit that has crippled her for 18 years. Jesus lays hands upon her, says “Woman you are set free from your ailment,” and immediately, kapooya!, she stands up straight and praises God.

Again, someone can ask “If her, why not me? Why am I living with a bad back? Why am I wheelchair bound? Why am I living with cancer? Doesn’t Jesus care about me too?”

A pastoral preacher can not overlook how this scripture has the ability to hurt, and it has the ability to heal.

So, today we are going to explore an alternative understanding of this story.

First- a question. When you hear this story, how do you picture this woman? What does her posture look like to you? Is she slightly hunched; is she like an upside L?

What age do you think she is? Luke tells us a spirit had crippled her for 18 years. Does that mean she was born this way and she’s a teenager with her life ahead of her?

Is she 36? Or 54? Or 72? Either way, we can all agree that 18 years is a long time to live crippled with anything.

But one thing is clear- after an encounter with the living Lord, she is set free from her crippling bondage. She is no longer enslaved by whatever was ailing her.

But how much do you think that changed her life? Sure, she experienced a major miracle, but she most likely still had to go home and contend with maintaining her house, wonder what she was going to eat for dinner, how she was going to pay her taxes, and worry about world events.

I doubt this woman lived the rest of her life care free, but because of the freedom she found in Jesus, she was at least able to go and live the rest of her life, as long as that might be, with at least one less thing to be burdened by; one less thing to be enslaved to.

Did you also notice something else? The Gospel writer uses very specific words. The delight is in the details. We are not told that she is crippled. We are told she had a spirit that had crippled here.

The spirit is what was crippling her. What can that mean? Was she demon possessed? Was a ghost riding her back?

While pondering this, I thought of my own story. This notion of a crippling spirit hits home. It’s no secret that I’m a big guy; growing up, I was the kid with the big red cheeks wearing Husky-size jeans.

Needless to say, body image was an issue for me, always trying to get to the right size.

Then in my 20’s I discovered something wonderful- there were people who found it attractive when a man was a bit bigger. Instead of husky, some called it healthy, some thought I was a linebacker. Others just appreciated that I liked to eat.

That was cool, but when I was 31 something happened. I began to develop a slight hump on my back. It has something to do with genetics, with the way my body processes sugar, and with sitting for hours at the computer.

So what did I do? I fixated on it. Checked my hump in the mirror every chance I got. Tried to massage it away, stopped wearing shirts that showed any sign of it.

Though the hump’s not huge, in my mind’s eye it was gi-normous and destined to consume my whole body. I worried about it. Let it affect my sense of self. Thought it made me less than.

I had allowed it to affect my spirit.

Then one day, I had an epiphany- no one else but I noticed it, and if they did, no one said anything or could care less.

When I walked down the street no one yelled “Oh my God, he has a hump!” When I wore tank-tops no one asked “Hey, what’s that thing on your back?”

Cornelius never noticed it all the times we went to the beach, and no one at Highlands Little Theater have said a thing when we do a wardrobe change.

I still have a hump, yes. And it does affect the way my shirts, suits and ties fit. But it is nowhere as debilitating, horrid or shameful as I originally viewed it. In fact, I now realize it is forever a part of me.

I guess you can say in a way I experienced a sense of healing. The physical aspect of my hump is not gone, but the spirit, the energy, the emotion I put around it is gone.

A huge part of today’s story is about the freedom that is found in Christ when a crippling spirit is set free.

Freedom, as we realize, is the underlying theme of most of the Bible, remembering that once we were slaves in Egypt.

For the Jewish people they had experienced slavery and bondage throughout history, and today we encounter a Jewish woman who is experiencing her own captivity, her own bondage, in which for 18 years she has been bound by a spirit that has crippled and weighed her down.

Has anyone here ever felt weighed down? Anyone ever feel crippled, overwhelmed, that things are just too much to bear?

Sometimes that spirit is a direct result of what’s happening in our lives. Sometimes that spirit is directly related to a health issue. Sometimes that spirit is the result of worries about the future and regrets about the past.

When that spirit occurs, when worries weigh us down, what happens? The head hangs low, the back slouches, you feel like you have to drag yourself through the day.

Perhaps this story is speaking about that, of how the things that weigh on our mind, on our spirit, have a way of manifesting in our body, of slowing us down, making it feel as if we’re crippled, bent, broken and fractured.

If that is the case, then this story speaks of how Jesus is able to set us free. How Jesus is able to release what binds us. How Jesus can loosen the leashes around our neck.

This particular woman with this particular spirit has an experience with Jesus, and it allows her to unbend, to be free, to raise her head and shoulders high and tall and to say “Thank you, Lord!”

Besides our flesh and blood bodies, there are other bodies that can be in bondage or crippled by a spirit.

There is the family body. We all know what it is like to be part of family in which there are secrets to be hid, realities of illness and disease, feelings of shame about some event.

Families where people are worried about their parents, their spouse, their child. Are they OK? Where are they? What can I do? When will this end?

All those things create a spirit, and if not one’s not careful, that spirit can cripple, enslave, hold down that entire family, until they are able to seek healing.

Organizations can also be crippled by a spirit. Whenever there is too much drama, too much controversy, issues with leadership, difficult decisions to be made.

Just like a human or a family body, an organizational body can also feel as though they are weighed down with heavy burden.

Sometimes the crippling spirit can come from church growth. People who leave when plans are made to build a new building. Those who don’t approve of a new program. Those who don’t like the choice made about the color of the carpet.

I share this, because on Monday we had a productive Council Meeting; the kind that gets a lot done. One of those things we discussed was the Safe Policy that we’ve been working on for over a year.

It is a policy that has not yet been accepted or set in stone, but here is the good news: if accepted, it is a policy that will help to protect our children, youth and our vulnerable adults from being hurt or abused.

That is a good thing, right? We should all want to ensure that our children and our elderly or vulnerable members are kept safe.

That’s healing; that’s healthy.

Here’s the thing, this policy will also create the need for new rules and regulations, new policies, the need to do background checks and the time to properly cross our t's and dot our i's.

All this to ensure that we have left no opportunity for anyone to ever be hurt on church property.

For some people this may feel like an extra burden; it may seem like an extra chore.

Some of you may be thinking “Wow- that sounds like a lot of work; it sounds like too much to bear. Could it cripple us, could it slow us down, could it scare folk away?”

Let’s be honest, some won’t be too happy with it at first, asking “Why are we even doing this?”

But let me share this with you: the trick will be not to let it cripple us or to slow us down, not to approach this as a burden or a chore.

The secret is to embrace it with the spirit it was intended- to create a safe, healthy and happy place for all to worship God, enjoy the bounty of Fellowship, and to do the ministry we’ve been blessed to do.

How can we do this? We can embrace the spirit of today’s scripture. We can listen to the voice of Christ calling us.
We can turn to the signs of grace found in the baptismal font and Communion table.

We can turn to the teachings of Christ and the stories of how God delivered God’s people.

We can recall that just a touch from Jesus can make the burden that much lighter,

A touch that can help us to stand tall and exclaim “In Christ we did what’s right. We are doing the work of the Kingdom. In Christ we are ensuring safety to all.”

In closing, today’s story continues the theme of remembering: that once we were captives in Egypt, once we were weighed down by our burdens, but we no longer need to be.

In Jesus Christ exists the spirit of healing, the spirit of freedom, and the assurance that God is doing something new.

We don’t have to be held captive by a crippling spirit because the Good News tells us that God can loose us from the bondage that tethers us to one place.

God can lighten the weight of the world we’ve been carrying on our backs, our necks, our souls.

When we remember this, we are free to experience new possibilities, free to join the crowds in rejoicing, and free to celebrate all the astounding things God through Christ is doing.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

HELPED Are Those who Know; Oct 11 2015 sermon on Luke 10:21-24

Rev. George Miller
Oct 11, 2015
Luke 10:21-24

Years ago I met a guy named Sebastian. He was a Life Coach from Britain.

For some reason that I can’t recall, I shared with him one of my favorite passages of literature. It’s by Alice Walker and titled “The Gospel According to Shug.”

It’s a modern spin on the Beatitudes of Jesus. It’s all very touchy-feely, new-agey stuff and says things like:

“HELPED are those who find something in Creation to admire each and every hour. Their days will overflow with beauty and the deepest dungeon will offer gifts.”

Or “HELPED are those who lose their fear of death; theirs is the power to envision the future in a blade of grass.”

The final line is my favorite: “HELPED are those who know.”

I shared this with Sebastian in my own smug way that a twenty-something year-old does when she or he thinks they’ve discovered the Secret of Life, and immediately Sebastian said “Knows what?”

“They just know,” I responded.

“Knows what?” Sebastian asked again.

“They just know,” I replied. For me, the concept of knowing was so simple and natural.

“Well,” said Sebastian, “That’s just the stupidest thing I’ve heard. It makes no sense.”

At that moment I realized that Sebastian and I were not going to be friends. He was clearly all about facts and I was about feelings…of course he was living in an apartment in Manhattan and I was living with my Momma, so who’s to say…

Still to this day, I love this last line. “HELPED are those who know.”

It reminds me of when you’re with your best friend and you can just look at each other and go “Hmm-mmm” because you know what the other’s thinking.

It’s like the opening line from The Tale of Two Cities that states “It was the best of times and the worst of times” and although it appears to be a paradox, you understand it.

This is how I approach today’s Scripture.

Jesus is thanking God and talking about the Father and the Son. He celebrates knowledge that goes beyond wisdom and books, study and research and talks about eyes that can see.

See what?

Is Jesus talking about the physical eyes in our head, or is he speaking of something more. The eyes of the heart? The eyes of the soul? The eyes of a child?

Jesus mentions the wise and intelligent, prophets and kings, yet it’s the infants who appear to be held in esteem.

This does not surprise me; I’ve spent years working with children. Though kids can be cruel and can cause a lot of heartbreak, there is at the heart of most children the sense of unspoiled smarts.

Not street smarts, not book smarts, but the kind of smarts that is willing to believe in possibilities.

The kind of smarts that is willing to engage in magical thinking, that has not been fully molded to accept another’s views and is willing to see the world beyond logic, sexism, racism and ruthless greed.

For example, there was the time in 2004 when I was the director for a summer camp
called Kidz Klub in MO. We received our lunches from a government assistance program.

One particular afternoon we had 26 children and 2 adults present. But we only had 23 boxed meals. As if the shortage of food wasn’t bad enough, that day was everyone’s favorite lunch: chicken nuggets.

With nothing else to do, we told the children the truth-there was not enough food for all.

Then we asked them to remember the story of the loaves and fishes, and just in case they couldn’t remember it, we retold them about how Jesus had only 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread, and how Jesus gave thanks to God, broke the bread and it turned out to be enough for all.

So, that’s what we did. We said a prayer, we asked God to make the food stretch to feed all the children.

…then the miracle happened. The kids opened their boxed meals. They shared their chicken nuggets. They passed around their packages of grapes, celery and carrot sticks, they broke their chocolate chip cookies in half.

They were all so well behaved, so calm. So wise and in the moment.

Although I had declined to eat, one of the kids offered me some of her food, as did another child, and another. It was as if they sensed it was a privilege to be feeding me.

By meal’s end we had left-overs, and not just of the carrots or celery, but the nuggets too.

With my own eyes I got to see the loaves and fishes story come true.

Would adults have been so quick to trust there’d be enough for all?

Would 28 college professors or 28 presidential nominees have done such a wonderful job of sharing 23 meals without complaint and have food left-over?

I have no doubt the miracle happened because we were dealing with the faith of children.

There were no adults to tell them that it wouldn’t work or that in times of scarcity they should hoard all they had.

They simply trusted in God and behold, there was enough.

Recently, during our Vacation Bible School in August, we had the opportunity to celebrate Communion with our children.

We shared with them one of the theories about why Jesus used bread and juice for the Last Supper- that they were ordinary items that would’ve been found in anyone’s home.

We said that no matter how rich or poor someone was, they would have had bread and juice at their house, so therefore anyone could celebrate Communion.

We didn’t talk about the complex scriptural symbolism of bread and wine, we talked of them matter of fact…and the kids got it.

We then asked the kids what they thought Jesus would’ve used today for Communion.

The answers they gave included soda, crackers, potato chips, Kool Aide.

Then, to share this theological expression, we celebrated the Lord’s Supper using Gold Fish Crackers and Hi-C.

And the kids got it. They were so reverent, so polite, so in the moment.

The kids weren’t arguing over the theology of Transubstantiation or the writings of Luther of Calvin or the correct procedure according to the UCC.

They just were, and it was holy and it was a joy.

These are just two stories I thought of when I read this weeks’ Scripture. The idea that Jesus doesn’t seem so hung up on formality.

That Jesus is thankful for those who can see the ways of heaven not through brains or books or even their eyeballs, but they can see the Good News in the ways of a child; like eyes that were once blind, but now through amazing grace can see…

…How often is faith actually so simple, but we muddy it up?

How often is faith so illogical, but we try to logic it up?

How often is faith about being in the moment, but we get lost because we’re worried about the past, the future and the tasks that lay at hand?

How often is faith so tied to “What’s in it for me?” that we end up denying ourselves the joy of reaching out and caring for another?

How often is faith chained to answers, facts and things we can find in a book that we fail to embrace the questions and mystery, truths and beauty of personal experiences?

In closing, another story that I don’t think Sebastian would like, but perhaps you’ll enjoy:

Mother Theresa was once asked about her prayer life. The interviewer asked, “When you pray, what do you say to God?”

Mother Teresa replied, “I don’t talk, I simply listen.”

Believing he understood what she had just said, the interviewer asked, “Ah, then what is it that God says to you when you pray?”

Mother Teresa replied, “He also doesn’t talk. He also simply listens.”

There was a long silence. The interviewer seeming a bit confused, not knowing what to ask next.

Finally Mother Teresa broke the silence by saying, “If you can’t understand the meaning of what I’ve just said, I’m sorry but there’s no way I can explain it any better.”

In other words: “HELPED are those who know” and “Blessed are the eyes that see.”

Amen and amen.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Speaking about the "S" Word; Oct 4, 2015 sermon on Luke 9:10-17

Rev. George Miller
Luke 9:10-17
Oct. 4, 2015

This week I had a chance to go through my office files; to thin things out, to get rid of outdated information, rearrange papers in a more orderly manner and to reacquaint myself with things I have forgotten about.

For my fellow A-Type, Right Shark, German heritage sisters and brothers, y’all know how satisfying such a thing can be.

The alphabet letter I was on? “S” which meant I got to go through all the fun, racy files, like the ones titled “Sin,” “Sex” and most shocking of all- “Stewardship.”

Yes, of all the topics one can talk about in church: politics, terrorists, Planned Parenthood, none are more controversial, likely to make people uncomfortable, get the pastor in trouble than stewardship: talking about money, what to give to the church and why.

I was going through the file with info about the last 7 Stewardship Campaigns, when I came across a bulletin insert from 2009, which stated that we were expecting an $8,000 deficit, our reserves were being depleted fast and were going to run out.

It reminded me of the 2014 Budget Meeting when we created a bare-bones budget and anticipated that we’d receive $8,000 below what was needed to do the ministry of Emmanuel UCC.

2009 and 2014 seemed to bookend one another, except here’s the good news- our reserves have not run out, we built a new kitchen, started the successful Vacation Bible School and Shepherd’s Pantry programs, made our Administrative Assistant full-time and have not touched our savings in 5 years.

We should be celebrating and ever-thankful, but instead we worry. Why?

Because we are logical creatures dealing with the chronicity of life and the reality that eventually almost all things come to an end, unless if you’re a rock, or an ocean, or Cher.

The Stewardship File had other articles. Inspiring ones that shed light on the joy of giving, and the reality that Jesus talked about money all the time.

One article was from Guideposts magazine, about a woman named Oseola McCarty.

Miss McCarty was born in Mississippi, 1908 to a family of independent black women who raised peas, potatoes and corn and washed the clothes of white folks.

Oseola’s skill was ironing. At 10 she was ironing clothes for folk, earning a dime here, a quarter there. She kept her money stashed in the lining of her doll’s stroller.

At 12 she took her coins to the local bank, about $5 worth, and opened a checking account. Every month that’s where all her money went, except what she put in the offering plate at Friendship Baptist Church.

The Depression hit, Miss McCarty kept washing and ironing, making extra money working at parties.

“I loved to work,” she said, “I always asked the Lord to give me a portion of health and a portion of strength and some work to do. And over the years He did just that.”

One day the bank teller explained to Miss McCarty that she could put her money into a savings account and collect interest; soon they suggested CDs.

Oseola became a licensed hairdresser and did that for awhile until she went back to washing and ironing, saving her money and giving to Friendship Baptist Church.

Oseola worked until 1994, when she turned 86. The bank asked her what she’d like to do with her money when she died.

The officer laid out 10 dimes on the counter and said each dime represented 10% of her money. She set aside a dime for each of her cousins; she set aside a dime for a church.

Then she took the remaining six dimes and said she always had a dream- “I’m giving the rest of the money to the University of Southern Mississippi, so deserving children can get a good education.”

The bank officer looked at her all funny-like and said “that means you’ll be giving the school $155,000.”

The news of her generosity soon spread. Newspapers and magazines came calling, as did invitations to visit the UN and to meet the President, but none more important than meeting the first recipient of the “Oseola McCarty Scholarship.”

When people ask her why she didn’t spend the money on herself, Miss McCarty smiles, and thinks “Thanks to the Good Lord, I am spending it on myself.”

This is one of my favorite faith-based stories, and the story I think of whenever the topic of tithing and stewardship comes up.

Tithing is the biblical principle that states we are to give 10% of what we receive back to God. It’s spoken about in Leviticus and Deuteronomy; it’s addressed in Matthew, Acts and Hebrews.

It’s a very simple, spiritual notion that for every dollar we receive, we should give a dime back to God.

A dime for every dollar. So easy, so clear cut.

Why does the Bible say we should tithe? It is a way to show God thanks and to rejoice in all the ways the Lord has blessed us.

It is also a way we can serve one another. A way we can do justice and show that we love kindness.

But perhaps another reason why we are called to tithe, to make an offering to the Lord is because we remember.

As we talked about last week, memory is an important part of our faith; recalling the acts that the Lord did for God’s people is important to the called community.

What do we remember? That once “we were slaves in Egypt.”

But not just that, we remember how God set them free, redeeming them so they can praise God and not the Pharaoh.

God didn’t just free the people, but God led them into the Promised Land, and God fed them when they were hungry.

In Exodus 16 we remember that when the people were in the wilderness and starving, God responded by raining down bread from heaven, frost-like wafers that were sweet like honey.

We also remember something else: it wasn’t just the Jews that God took care of with miraculous bread.

A few weeks back, Jesus reminded us about a Gentile widow living in Sidon. She was in a lonely place, with only a handful of meal and little bit of oil.

Yet, as 1 Kings, chapter 17 tells us, God sent the prophet Elijah to her and her supplies never ran out and she had bread to eat for days upon days upon days.

So looking back upon the stories of the Old Testament, we have at least two instances in which to remember how God acted to ensure limitless bread; bread to Jews in the wilderness, bread to a lonely Gentile on the outskirts of town.

We remember that when there seemed to be nothing, God gave bread in abundance; God gave bread beyond logic; God gave bread beyond our limited imagination.

Now Jesus reboots and modernizes these Old Testament memories.

As Luke tells us, Jesus and the disciples have come to the end of a day’s ministry. A crowd has gathered and they are hungry, but there’s no Quizno’s or Panera Bread nearby.

What to do? Send them away, into the deserted place, to find their own food? It’s the logical thing to do.

But Jesus has another plan.

He has the people sit. He puts the disciples to work. He gathers their resources: five loaves and two fish.

Instead of worrying about their reserves, instead of thinking it can’t be done, Jesus takes what they do have, says a blessing, and breaks the bread…

…and lo and behold, somehow, someway, through some miracle that’s never truly explained, there is enough for all, and enough to be gathered.

This is a great scripture to talk about stewardship, because it’s a story about utilizing resources, about working together, about trusting in the Lord.

Sometimes the scriptures we read give us hope, remind us that miracles do happen and that God has a way of working things out.

But scriptures also show us how we can be the hope, how we can bring hope to others, how we can do our part to make miracles possible.

For example: do you believe that Jesus is like the green, green grass that people find rest upon in the wilderness?

Then acts of stewardship become an opportunity for us to make those moments of rest possible.

Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life to those who are spiritually starving?

Then our giving can become one of the ways in which we are able to share the Good News and ensure that our neighbors are spiritually fed.

Do we believe that in God’s Kingdom there is enough for all, even when the Pharaohs of the world say it isn’t so?

Then our generosity becomes a way we can show this to be so.

Like Miss Oseola, our ability to give back to God, to give to our church, to give to others, is a way to show that we remember, we recall, that the Lord has given us a portion of health, a portion of strength, and some work to do.

As I wrap us today’s message, I’ll like to extend a challenge.

In 2009 we were worried about running out of reserves. In 2014 we created a bare-bones budget.

Yet we are still here, thriving, growing and we are doing the work of the Lord.

We have 13 Sunday’s left of our calendar year, with about $70,000 to meet our budget.

What if we embrace the story of the loaves and fishes?

What if we remember how God fed the Jews in the wilderness, how God fed the Gentile widow on the outskirts of town and how Jesus fed a multitude of people hanging out in the countryside?

In remembering, what if we decided to raise our individual offering by 2 fish or 5 loaves each week?

Just so there’s no confusion, when I say fish and loaves, I mean dollars. The price for a cup of coffee or a mocha-frappacino.

If that’s all we did, we would see our offering go up an extra $4,000; we’d be that much further away from dipping into reserves or worrying what the future holds.

God is good. Jesus is good. The Holy Spirit is good. That’s what the stories in the Bible tell us; that’s what they invite us to remember.

And by remembering, we are able to act. To do our part, to find a way to bring hope to the hopeless, healing to the lost and lonely, and food to the hungry.

That’s how we make God known. That’s how we make the ways of the Kingdom much more real.

We don’t have to wait for extremes to experience Bread from Heaven; we can do our part to make it rain down and to have it multiply.

Amen and amen.