July 26, 2015 – The 9th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12B
© 2015 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon can be heard here (link corrected on 7/27).
Over the last two weeks, I’ve almost forgotten how to cook. Our family has been inundated with delicious meals, brought to our house by you—people who love us and care for us. Thank you. Y’all have done such a wonderful job that neither of us has needed or wanted to cook. Usually, though, when we’re not dealing with a newborn, Elizabeth and I enjoy splitting that responsibility at our house. If I get home in time to make dinner, I delight in preparing a meal for our family. Often, however, I’m not there in time to help, and Elizabeth prepares a wonderful meal. But, on those occasions when both of us have been too busy to cook, we rely on an old, familiar dish to get us through the evening meal: leftovers.
If I call Elizabeth on my way home from work and ask her what is for dinner and the answer is “leftovers,” it takes me a minute to figure out whether that is good news or bad news. “What have we already eaten this week?” I think to myself. “Oh, that sounds good,” I might say, recalling that we had had a family-favorite a few days earlier. Or, I might say, “Oh, that sounds good,” realizing that reheating a so-so dish isn’t going to make it any better. For the most part, though, I like leftovers. Both of us are pretty good cooks, and, if we stick it in the fridge and not the trash can, it’s probably worth eating again.
Some of us, though, look upon leftovers with disdain. My grandfather refused to eat them. He came from another generation—one that started without refrigeration—and to him leftovers were a sign that the household cook had not done her job. But my grandmother was clever and persistent, and she knew that if she was going to recycle a Sunday roast, she had to disguise it as beef stew. Everyone around the table knew where that stew had come from, but somehow casting it in a new form was good enough for my grandfather. Maybe you’re like that, too. Maybe in your house leftovers represent a defeat instead of an economic victory. But, in God’s house, leftovers, it seems, are always a sign of God’s blessing.
I chose to add a verse to the beginning of today’s first lesson because I wanted all of us to hear that miracle story for what it really was: a sign of abundance in a climate of scarcity. “Elisha the prophet came to Gilgal during the time of a great famine.” For an agricultural community like ancient Israel, a persistent drought could mean the deaths of thousands. In times of famine, people lived literally day to day. They hoped and prayed that their crops would yield even enough to keep their family alive. No one could predict exactly when the rains would return, so everyone lived cautiously—as frugally as possible.
Yet, in this climate of scarcity, a man from Baal-shalishah brought to Elisha a sack full of bread and ears of grain—the firstfruits of his harvest—to support the work and ministry of this holy man of God. Think about that for a moment. The bible tells us that this offering was of his firstfruits—the very first cut of grain that was taken from his field. He did not wait to fill up his barn. He did not stop to be sure that his family would have enough. He did not hold back some of the bread in case he needed it. He did not know whether the rest of harvest would be fruitful. Someone could catch his field on fire. A sudden storm could blow and wash his crop away. Through his offering, this man trusted that God would provide. In a climate in which every single grain was precious, this man gave it away, and his faithful offering, though small, became enough to feed a multitude.
Without hesitation, Elisha told his servant to set the bread and grain out for the people to eat. “But master,” the servant objected, “How can I possibly feed a hundred people with so little?” And the prophet declared, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” Some left over, Elisha declared, enough even for leftovers. With God, we discover that even our scarcest offering is an opportunity for abundance.
The sun rises and sets. The rain falls from the sky. The seed sprouts and grows and bears fruit. Children are born. They grow up and have children of their own. We study and learn and work. Our work bears fruit, and we support our families and one another. And we smile, and we laugh, and we breathe, and we grow old, and eventually we die. And, in both life and death, God will always provide. God is giving us an unfathomable abundance. Our lives are a testament to his blessings. There is always enough—enough even for leftovers. Signs of God’s abundance echo all around us. They resound throughout the generations. The invitation to believe that God will always provide is a gentle, easy call. So why, then, do we let an attitude of scarcity choke our faith until it is dead?
So what if there is a famine? Is God not bigger than a drought? So what if there are wars or rumors of wars? Is God’s reign threatened by the affairs of humanity? So what if our country is politically divided? So what if our people are killing one another in the name of hate? So what if there are terrorists who seek to do us harm? Is God held hostage by any of that? So what if the stock market tanks? So what if inflation flies through the roof? So what if everything we have been saving evaporates overnight? Will God abandon us because we are poor? No. God’s abundance is always—always—bigger than our scarcity. And the problems of this world will not be solved until we learn to trust in God. The challenges we face cannot be overcome until we recognize that God himself is the only way those challenges can ever be defeated.
Are you holding back your life, your heart, your treasure, your ego because you are worried that you might be left empty-handed? Are you budgeting your relationship with God because you want to be sure that you’ll have enough for yourself and your family and the life you’ve always dreamt of? As you plan for the future, is your first priority making sure that you won’t outlive your fortune or is your financial plan a recognition that God’s abundance can never be exhausted? If you think it’s up to you to have enough, you’ve missed the point of being a Christian. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has shown the world that what we have and what we do doesn’t matter—that the only way to true, abundant life is through God.
Stop holding back. Stop living in fear. Stop filling your barn first. Open up your whole life to God—your heart, your mind, and your wallet. Let faith in God and God’s abundance be the rule for your life. Let him take your attitude of scarcity and transform it into a confidence in his abundance. Let God show you that there will always be enough—even enough for leftovers.