Serving–Paralysis Instead of Empowerment: a Reflection on 2 Kings 4:42-44 and John 6:1-21
Belonging to a community is an essential core value. We need one another. And that need is interdependent, where we give to and take from one another. God has wired us that way. Yet, some of us are takers only, because we feel entitled. And others are givers only, because we are insecure with low self-esteem. In 2 Kings 4, we see Elisha pull off the way God intends all of us to live. Stephen Edmondson writes,
Elisha is intimately bound up to the community that surrounds him. Elisha’s story follows that of Elijah, the consummate outsider who attacks the political, religious, and popular establishments of his day. Elisha, on the other hand, is seen in this fourth chapter as one whose life is consistently surrounded by community, whether it be the company of prophets, the regular fellowship that he enjoys at a household in Shunem, or the nameless, and hence assumed, crowd who is fed in today’s story.
The values of Elisha’s life, those being stewardship, hospitality, and an expectation of abundance, guide his experience as one who loved God and others. And, as he lived these values, he shared good news with people, showing them a better way to live. These values are grounded in the very character of God and God’s faithfulness to us.
When we know how to solve something, we’re all good. But when we don’t, we honestly believe it is better to fail than trust God for a miracle.
When Michigan residents Christine Bouwkamp and Kyle Kramer got married in the spring of 2007, they held a wedding reception that was anything but traditional. Instead of hosting a formal dinner, they held a simple reception at their church where guests were invited to help distribute food to people in need. In the weeks leading up to their wedding, Christine and Kyle had decided they wanted to begin their marriage with an act of service to Christ. With that goal in mind, they figured out how much money they would have spent on a more extravagant reception and instead used that money to purchase five thousand pounds of food for those in need. The week of the wedding, the couple spread the word that a truck with free food would be at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. Immediately after they exchanged their vows, Bouwkamp and Kramer put on aprons marked “Bride” and “Groom” and joined their wedding guests in distributing food to 100 neighborhood families. When asked about the charitable act, the happy couple simply said they wanted to “bless God for blessing us with each other.”
Most of what we need to be doing at Geneva right now, we cannot accomplish. Yes, we need one another, God, and faith. What we need the most, however, is a miracle.
Would we construct our worship, learning, fellowship, missional, and giving activities differently, if pointing to God’s abundance and being a miracle worker was our ongoing mission? The stories in John 6 suggest that the focus of ministry is not what good people decide is reasonable to undertake, but instead, trusting God to multiply resources and calm the storms. What is accomplished, then, is not what’s reasonable, but a miracle. Ministry should leave people exclaiming the transforming power of God. These stories ask us to look to God and not ourselves to solve the dilemma. God is not a social manipulator who prods us to be best neighbors and share. No, God is a miracle worker.Karen Marie Yust writes, “The temptation in times of religious decline is to use good works as marketing tools, with the hope that coverage of activities in the local newspaper will generate interest among prospective members.”Only by opening our hearts and minds through spiritual practices designed to seek God’s face and hear God’s voice will we be open to God’s abundance and miracles.
What could happen, if we placed our vision for the ministry at Geneva into the hands of Jesus and trusted him for a miracle? In 1946, when Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu (Mother Teresa) experienced a call to serve those suffering the most, her knowledge of how to fulfill a calling to the serve poorest of the earth was not enough. Yet God’s love for the least of these fueled the passion of that call, and with that passion she began the Missionaries of Charity. Love multiplies meager resources and makes a way forward when our limited ability to really know what to do comes to its end. In 1976, when Linda and Millard Fuller began Habitat for Humanity International, there were few resources and a great need for affordable and quality housing for the working poor. With a few tools, a small group of volunteers, and the passion for justice, the Fullers were compelled forward.
In the hands of Jesus, Geneva’s vision of being a congregation remembering, telling, and living the way of Jesus is doable. Yes, we are an aging congregation with some middle age and younger families. Yes, we have some on fixed incomes and others not. We worship and follow a God of abundance, however, who far exceeds our limitations. In the hands of Jesus, “little can become much, the few can become the many, and the weak can become strong.”Rebecca Manley Pippert in Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World writes, “There are three primary ways that God has given us to accomplish the task of evangelism. Our evangelism is most effective when we proclaim the gospel, when we demonstrate Christ’s compassion through our words and compassionate service, and when we depend on the Spirit and point to the demonstration of the Spirit’s power.”When we look to ourselves, our resources, and our successes, we limit God. Why? We leave God out of the picture. By doing such we become paralyzed, instead of empowered. We cannot share good news, that is be an evangelist, if we cannot proclaim what God has done, demonstrate God’s compassion in word and deed, and point to the Spirit’s power at work. Jesus is not our therapist…our social manipulator. He is God incarnate living with us. Jesus desires to live his life through you and the ministries of Geneva Presbyterian Church. Expect a miracle my friends.
Stephen Edmondson in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 266.
Provided by Van Morris, Mount Washington, Kentucky, and Brian Lowery, managing editor, PreachingToday.com; source: Anne Cetas, “Serving Together,” Our Daily Bread (June 2008).
For more insight on God being a God of abundance and One who accomplishes miracles see Karen Marie Yust in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, 284-288.
For further elucidation of how Mother Teresa and Linda and Millard Fuller trusted God for a miracle see Cheryl Bridges Johns in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, 287, 289.
Rebecca Manley Pippert, Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 134.