Sunday, July 27, 2003

Changing Your World: Through God's Abundance
John 6:1-13

(Shared with the people of Friendship Church, July 27, 2003)

She was a nun now in her retirement years. Truth be known, she had been an indifferent nun whose prime distinction was her mediocre performance. But, at a time of life when she might be expected to sit back and do nothing, this unremarkable woman was on fire with a crazy idea, one she was pitching to her superiors. “I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage,” she said. They gently chided her. “You can't build an orphanage with three pennies.” The woman smiled and said, “I know. But with God and three pennies I can do anything.” That day, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was given permission to start an orphanage with just three pennies and God...and it was enough!

When Mother Teresa passed away, the whole world mourned. Why? Because she knew that if she offered what little she had and what little she was to God, God would use it and her to share His abundant love and change the world.

You and I have a call from God: In the Name of the crucified and risen Jesus, we're to be agents for positive change in an often-negative world. We’ve been talking about the ways we can do that. Today, I want to talk about how God can change the world by sharing His abundance through us.

We see God sharing His abundance in an unlikely and miraculous way in our Bible lesson for this morning. It tells about one of the most famous incidents in the life and ministry of God-Come-to-Earth, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. Jesus and His followers are being mobbed by crowds wanting to be touched and healed by Him, taught by Him, served by Him. Jesus goes up to the top of a mountain and the whole mess of people follow Him.

Now, whenever Jesus goes to the top of a mountain, you know that He’s about to do some heavy-duty teaching. So, like a good inductive teacher, Jesus turns to one of His disciples, Philip, and asks, “Phil, where will we get the money to pay for the food needed to feed this mass of folks.” Today’s Bible lesson says that there were 5000 people there. The three other accounts we have of this incident, from the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, tell us that there were 5000 men there and probably lots of women and children too. Scholars agree that there were maybe 12-15,000 gathered on that mountain. So, imagine a Shoemaker- or Cintas Center full of people, hungry and hanging on Jesus’ every action and word. So, in response to Jesus’ question, Philip surveys the crowd. He pulls out his calculator and does some figuring. “A half-year’s salary wouldn’t cover the bill for feeding this army!” he tells Jesus.

After this discouraging report, Andrew, the earnest younger brother of Peter, scurries up to Jesus. He’s gone among the crowd and found that a little boy has five pieces of bread and two fish. But he tells Jesus, “Of course, that won’t even begin to feed all these people.”

Now John, the writer of our Bible lesson, makes it clear that Jesus knew what he was going to do all the time, but wanted to test the faith of His followers. So far, they have flunked the test. Although they have seen repeatedly what Jesus can do for those who trust Him, they just can’t imagine that He can solve this. They think that the hungry thousands are too big a problem for Him to handle. But it isn’t. No problem is too big for Jesus Christ and you and I should always remember that! The building in which we are worshiping this morning is testimony to that simple fact.

But Jesus isn’t impatient with His followers. He doesn’t stomp His feet, telling them how stupid they are. He doesn’t pout. He issues a simple command. “Tell the crowds to sit down,” He says.

After offering thanks to God the Father, Jesus takes the five loaves and the two fish offered by the little boy and turns it all into a feast for that huge group of people. There are even leftovers that are gathered into twelve baskets.

I wonder how that little boy felt. When he climbed that mountain after Jesus, he no doubt thought that he had just enough for a lunch and maybe a snack. This little guy may have been hungry. He may have felt skeptical when Jesus or one of His disciples asked him, “Would you be willing to share your food with everybody?” But when he gave the contents of his little bag to Jesus, Jesus was able to use it to bless thousands of people. He saw that with God and a little food, God could feed thousands!”

Now, there are is a huge lesson I draw from this incident. It’s this: God wants to use us to accomplish good things that would be impossible without Him. He wants to use us to share His abundant love with a spiritually-impoverished world.

David Graebel calls himself a “trucker who got a few good loads.” He’s chairman and CEO of Graebel Companies which manages all sorts of a moving and storage jobs throughout America. A few years ago, Graebel Moving was growing when, one day, it got its first million-dollar contract, a move to Dallas for a major company. To fulfill the contract, David Graebel bought six new trucks and hired additional help. The move was to happen on a Monday morning. The Thursday before that, Graebel got a telephone call. It was the president of the company that was to move to Dallas. “David,” he said, “you’ve been straight with us. I have to tell you that on Monday, we’re seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and there is no way we can honor our contract with you.”

Graebel felt that his world was crashing in around him. He could conceivably get rid of the equipment he had bought and let the people go he had hired for this job. But he knew that it would hurt his reputation and hurt a lot of people. “Finally,” he said, "I realized it was time to put my beliefs to the test. I came up with a plan to exercise some faith in my business..."

Graebel gathered his six regional sales managers and told them what an opportunity this setback had presented to them. They had new trucks, new equipment, more personnel. While at first they thought he had gone out of his mind, they eventually caught his enthusiasm and began generating ideas about what they could do.

Finally, they decided that on faith, with no prospect of repayment, they would make the million-dollar move. They figured it might help the bankrupt company and earn them goodwill in the business community and among their employeed. Graebel called the president of the company and asked: “Would it help you get back on your feet if we went ahead with the move and got your headquarters relocated to Dallas?”

The stunned company president said that it would help and that’s exactly what Graebel Movers did. The nearly-bankrupt company did get back on its feet and two years later, even though it wasn’t legally obligated to do so, paid Graebel Movers in full for the move they made as an act of daring faith! God wants to use us to accomplish good things that would be impossible without Him!

There’s a fable told about what happened in heaven after Jesus had died and risen from the dead. He speaks with the angel Gabriel. “Well now,” the angel says, “I had a lot of fun announcing your birth. But tell me, how did things go after that? Did you accomplish all that you set out to do?” “Yes,” Jesus is supposed to say, “I died and rose so that all who believe in Me will live with God forever.” “That’s great,” Gabriel says, “That will really change people’s lives.” The word angel, you know, means messenger. So, perhaps sensing a major new assignment for himself and all the angels in heaven, Gabriel asks Jesus, “How are you planning on spreading this good news in the world?” Jesus tells them, “I’ve given the message to people who believe in Me on earth. They’re going to spread the good news by their lives and their words.” Gabriel is flabbergasted. “But what if they mess up. People haven’t always been very reliable, Lord. Do you have a back-up plan?” “No,” Jesus says, “there is no other plan.”

You and I are Jesus’ plan for sharing His over-abundant love with a world that needs God’s love, forgiveness, hope, and power. There is no other plan. If Jesus believes in you and me that much, maybe we ought to believe in Him enough to, like the little boy with five loaves and two fish, offer the little we have and see what Jesus can make of it...and of us!

Last week, I issued a challenge, asking each of you to prayerfully consider where a large group from our congregation could go for a mission trip in about eighteen months’ time. It seems to have grabbed people’s hearts. Many folks have already made suggestions–Guatemala, Mexico, Jamaica, an Indian reservation in South Dakota. Let’s keep praying and make a decision about where we will go in about six months from now. And if you feel that you or our congregation are too small to dream such dreams, that’s okay. Remember the little boy. Remember Mother Teresa. We may be small. But the God we know in Jesus Christ is big enough to accomplish a world of good through people who follow Him!

[The true story about Mother Teresa comes from The Aladdin Factorby Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. The true story of David Graebel and Graebel Movers comes from The Power Behind Positive Thinking: Unlocking Your Spiritual Potential by Eric Fellman.]

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