Monday, August 01, 2011

Pentecost Proper 13A Our Gifts Can Do Great Things!

(ed:  The cat barfed on a copy of this sermon.  I guess she didn't like it!)

I think one of my least favorite things in the world we live in today is advertising. I know, it runs our world, but it is everywhere. And I also know that it pays for most of the things we watch, we read, or we see on line. But what is the cost of all of this advertising? Have we ever thought about this?  What have we, personally, paid for advertising? What in our lives have we given to advertising? That may sound like an odd question to be coming from the pulpit, but I think it is a valid question. What has become of our lives due to advertising?
The object of most advertising is to make us want to buy things. And the best way to make us want to buy someting is to make us feel like we are somehow lacking if we do not have that specific something. And what is even more, better than just having that specific something, in many cases we are lead to believe that we need to be the FIRST person to have that specific something. So the whole aim of advertising is to make us feel like we are in some manner inadequate if we do not have a specific item, or what we may already have is just not good enough.
Now if we really stopped to think about this, it is kind of silly. Are we any more special because we have Nike shoes over Adidas shoes? Are we any more important because we have an iPhone 4G as opposed to the Android phone? Are we more special because we have a smart phone as opposed to those who may only have a plain flip phone?  Are we just so much more special because we have clothes that say “Pink” on them or “Hollister” of “Levi”? And one of my biggest questions of all: Why would anyone need to spend $300, $400, $500 or more for a purse? It just baffles me.
During my life, I have seen many trends come and go. For a while, we all needed designer jeans. Then we all needed Member’s Only jackets. At one time people were literally fighting over Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. And how many people thought they were going to be able to retire on the profits they would make when they sold their Princess Bear Beanie Baby?
Stuff. Our society wants us to believe we are only as good as our stuff. But having the stuff is never good enough. The bar HAS to move. At one point, driving a Cadillac was the epitome of luxury. Then we all had to drive Leuxuses or is that Lexusi? I don’t know.  For a while it was Hummers and now it seems to be anything that is a Hybrid. To keep the economy moving, new things have to be placed out there as the “it” thing to have. To keep the economy moving, we need to be convinced that if we do not have that “it” thing, then we are not good enough.
But what does this whole lesson in economy and psychology have to do with us here a church? Actually, quite a lot. The disciples in our reading exactly exemplify the type of thought that we see here in America.
The disciples present Jesus with a monumental problem; how to feed over 5000 people. But instead of Jesus either sending the people away or doing some kind of miracle that would feed all the people, he tosses the request back to the disciples and tell them to feed the people. At which point I am sure the disciples must have though Jesus was totally insane. All they had were five loaves and two fish. Jesus was asking them to feed well over 5000 people with that food. 
If we think about it, five loaves and two fish is not very much. If you have ever given a party, you know that people can eat a lot! The disciples were faced with thousands of hungry people and a very small amount of food. If I were them, I would be afraid of a riot or something breaking out as they all fought to get the limited amount of food.
Unfortunately, I think our world teaches us that what we have is inadequate. No matter WHAT we have, if we look, we can always find something that is bigger, better, more stylish, or more impressive. We may feel that whatever we can offer is not going to be good enough. But if we believe this, we are not believing the teaching of Jesus.  This is not a teaching of Jesus, this is a teaching of the world.
I cannot think of one place in the Bible where someone offers their gifts up for Jesus and Jesus says, “Well, I guess that will do. I really wanted Long John Silver’s fish and fries, but I guess your fish and loaves will have to do.
We may laugh at this because we see the absurdity of it. But still, as a kid, I remember feeling like I was not as good as the other kids because my family could not afford the Nike shoes that everyone else was wearing. It is not that my shoes were not good enough, they we just fine, it was that they were not the status symbol shoes that were being proclaimed on the commercials. The absurdity of being judged by one’s shoes should be obvious, but it and similar kinds of judgments that happen everyday.
So, since we are daily being bombarded with messages that tell us that what we have or what we are is not good enough, is it any wonder that so many of us go through life feeling like we are victims?  But Jesus is showing us a different way to go through life. What we have, no matter how small it may seem, is very important and of great worth. We each have been given a multitude of gifts and these are what Jesus asks us to bring to him. 
The disciples assumed that their loaves and fish are not enough. They assumed that they needed something that was more or better or both. They did not think that their meager offering could be enough for this impossible task that was set before them. But they found out that they are wrong! In the hands of Jesus, the gifts of the disciples became more than they could have ever comprehend.
There have been many arguments over the whether the fish and the loaves miraculously multiplies or whether sitting with someone who is hungry, while you have food, brought out the altruism in the members of the crowd. Personally, I think don’t think it profits us to follow this argument. The writer of the gospel did not give us the details. All we know is that these five loaves and two fish were enough to feed the multitudes.
But what we CAN learn is that when we bring our gifts to Jesus, Jesus will lift our gifts up to heaven and bless them. When we trust what we have been given and, in faith, give it to Christ, we will find that our efforts will NOT be in vein.
Our world tells us that we are not good enough and the gifts we have are not adequate. But those are the lies of our world. The wheels of commerce are not kept greased by people who are joyful and content with the gifts God gave them. Commerce keeps going through our discontent with our lives. The more discontented the world can keep us, the more we will spend.

But Jesus has a different message for us. We all have been given wonderful gifts and we can freely give of these gifts. When we give in faith, our gifts are multiplied and the results are greater than we could ever imagine. Even those who would appear to have nothing to give can still be part of Christ’s plan. In one of my former congregations, there was a wonderful woman who was unable to come to church and was not able to get out of her house except for dr. appts. But she still gave her gifts to Christ who blessed them and used them. This woman would send birthday cards to everyone in the congregation. Not a huge task, but one that touched many lives. Through her faith and willingness to give, her gift was multiplied throughout the community.
It is Jesus himself who gives us the ultimate example: He gave himself as a gift for us all. We are all called to the table and receive the gift of Christ’s own body and blood. Although he may seem like one small person, through faith and blessing, love and forgiveness is brought to the whole world! And as Christ’s followers, we are called to present our gifts, our lives, our selves, in the certain faith that Christ will use our gifts and multiply our gifts.
The world tells us that we are continuously in need; but in the economy of God, we are greatly blessed. Unfortunately, so often the words of the world are so loud that the words of Christ, “Bring them here to me,” are drowned out. But Christ continues to call us, continues to ask us to reach out in faith. And when we do, the results are unimaginable!

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