Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Is There Enough?

Matthew 14:13-21
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

It was 1989, I was 29 years old, married for a couple of years with a new born daughter.  On Thursday March 16th the phone rang in the parsonage in Plymouth Indiana.  The call was from Wilber Yates, District Superintendent of the Warsaw District inviting Nancy and I to pack our belongings and move in 90 days to Warsaw to plant a new church.  I would be lying to you if I said that it wasn’t one of the most terrifying phone calls I have ever received.

A few weeks later I was on my way to meet with my Steering Committee for the first time, a group of local lay members of other United Methodist Churches who were to give me guidance and support.

Keep in mind, I had never met this group and they had not met me.  I saw two people sitting in some chairs in the lobby of the hotel where we were to meet and as I got closer I overheard one of them saying to the other: “Why in the world are we starting another church here in Warsaw, aren’t there enough churches here already?”

What a nice way to be introduced to some members of my team.

But that question has stuck with me through the years.  Especially what the question was really asking.  Not just in regard to church planting, but also as it relates to life in general.
Is there really enough . . .

In 1881, the Rev. C.C. McCabe was on a train headed toward the Pacific Northwest, he was on his way to plan, fundraise, and eventually plant Methodist Churches throughout Oregon, Idaho and Washington states

In the newspaper that morning was a copy of a speech delivered by Robert G. Ingersoll, the famous agnostic philosopher, to the Freethinkers Association of America convention that was being held in Chicago.

In his speech Ingersoll declared: “the churches are dying out all over the earth; they are struck with death.”

At the next train stop, Rev. McCabe sent a telegram to Ingersoll who was still in Chicago at the Freethinkers convention.

He wrote:
Dear Robert,
All hail the power of Jesus name --- we are building one Methodist Church for every day in the year, and propose to make it two a day.
                   C.C. McCabe

Word of the telegram leaked and someone wrote a folk hymn that became popular among the preaching missions and camp meetings.
The infidels, a motley band
In counsel met, and said:
“The churches are dying across the land,
And soon they’ll all be dead.”
When suddenly, a message came
And caught them with dismay:
“All hail the power of Jesus’ name,
We’re building two a day!”

We’re building two a day, dear Bob,
We’re building two a day
All hail the power of Jesus’ name,
We’re building two a day

In our Gospel lesson this morning, the disciples come up to Jesus ---
who has been busy all day preaching and teaching and healing
          and say:

“Hey Jesus, we’ve got a problem here ----
It is starting to get dark and this crowd of over 5,000 people (not counting women and children) have yet to eat ---- and there is not a McDonald’s in sight --- face it --- we are in the middle of nowhere.
Why don’t you do all of us a favor and sent them all home!”

Jesus reply was quite simple: “You give them something to eat.”

But the disciples went on:

Jesus, you aren’t listening --- you know we only have $1.75 in the treasury, and even if we had the money --- there is nothing out here to buy. 
Face it, all we have is these five loaves of bread and two fish, and that’s hardly enough even for us!

“Bring them here” --- was Jesus reply

The disciples looked and only saw a coming disaster --- a hungry mob and no way of feeding them.

Jesus on the other hand saw not a disaster, but instead saw possibility.

Jesus saw the chance for a miracle --- an opportunity to trust in God

Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the famous book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, has said:
God is like a mirror.  The mirror never changes, but everybody who looks at it seems something different.

There is a marvelous little movie about an eccentric old woman titled: “Ruth Stout’s Garden”.  I wish I had a copy of it and could show it to you.

In the movie Ruth tells about herself and her unique gardening techniques
She has this garden, and she would till the soil and weed it, and carefully place each of her vegetables in neat rows with a stick identifying what it was that was growing there.
          One day – Ruth decided that this method was a waste of time
So instead she just cast the seeds and lets nature take over
          They grow anyway she would say

People used to love and watch her garden --- she said it was so strange that people would just stop and stare --- maybe it was because she liked to garden in the nude . . .

In the movie Ruth tells about a time when she was a little girl.
She said that she was sitting in front of a window looking out and watching her brothers bury her beloved dog.
While she is looking out the window, with tears streaming down her face, her grandfather comes over to her and says:
Ruth, do you remember that rosebush that you planted last year?, come and look a the beautiful rosebud that is blooming on it.

Why Grandpa? Ruth asks

Because Ruth, you are looking out the wrong window.

God is like a mirror.  The mirror never changes, but everybody who looks at it seems something different.

In 1941, Rev Herman Thomas, was pastor of the Methodist Church in Algoma, Wisconsin.  One evening Rev Thomas was walking through his neighborhood when he decided to stop at the home of Robert G. Ingersoll III, a brilliant engineer and grandson of the famous agnostic philosopher.

The Ingersoll’s had moved to Algoma a year earlier.
Mrs. Ingersoll was a strong believer and had joined the Methodist Church and sang in their choir --- Robert visited occasionally.

Outside the Ingersoll house, Rev Thomas prayed: Asking God for strength before he knocked on the door.

Ingersoll answered the door saying: “Pastor Thomas, I am glad you dropped by, I’ve been saving some questions for you.”

He asked his questions and seemed to appreciate the understanding and clarity of Rev. Thomas’ replies.

Ingersoll asked: “Pastor Thomas, how can I become a follower of the way?  Will you help me?”

Herman Thomas explained that the Spirit knocks at the door in one’s heart --- and that the person who opens the door will experience the grace of Christ, and know that they belong to him.”

Before he left, Rev. Thomas led a prayer with the family.

The next Sunday, Ingersoll came to church and during the singing of the closing hymn he walked forward and asked to be baptized.

The following year, in 1942, the Algoma Methodist Church had another memorable service.

During the service Pastor Thomas baptized two infant boys into the Christian family.
          One was his own first born son
          The other was a baby boy named Robert G Ingersoll, IV

Had the church been silent for just a moment I am willing to bet they would have heard some singing in the distance:

We’re building two a day, dear Bob,
We’re building two a day
All hail the power of Jesus’ name,
We’re building two a day

It is easy for us to look at the negative side of everything.
It is easy for us to sit in front of the window of sorry --- rather than the window of joy.

It is easy for us to be like the disciples and say: "Lord, there is not enough!"

The hard part is for us to recognize and accept what Jesus told us:
Matthew 9:37-38 (NRSV)
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

People tell me all the time that we do not need to reach out into the neighborhood, that the people who live close to the church are already involved in a church.

According to the Pew Research Center
·         71% of American's claim Christianity as their religion
·         6% are other non-Christian faiths (Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc)
·         23% are what we call "the nones" today

And when you read that data --- it indeed sounds like most people are involved in their faith journeys.

However, the group that we call Christians --- 71% of the population can be broken down into three categories
·         Cultural Christians ---- They call themselves Christians because of heritage or culture.
·         Congregational Christians --- They have some connection to a local church but do not attend regularly (We have a little over 1,000 members here at Meridian Street)
·         Active Christians

Only about 25% of those who call themselves Christians practice their faith in an active way.

The greatest mission field in the world is in our neighborhoods.

Most of our friends, many who call themselves Christian --- do not attend any church.

The question of abundance is two-fold.
·         Yes --- we know that there is plenty of opportunity for us to reach out and share our faith --- most of our neighbors and friends are not active in their spiritual journey.
·         But the second question is really the more important one --- do we believe that there is ENOUGH that if we invite others we will still have a place here, for us, at Meridian Street.

And the answer to that is, of course, YES.

Like the people in Matthew's story --- we have been called to share what we have so that all can come to know the love and grace of Jesus.

There is a commercial that is very old that has always stuck with me.

The commercial was about a man named Bill Demby. 
Bill is your pretty typical person: a father, a patriot, courageous.

The commercial went something like this:
When Bill Demby was in Viet Nam he dreamed of coming home and playing a little basketball, a dream that all but died when he lost both legs to a Vietcong rocket.  Then researchers discovered a DuPont plastic that could make truly lifelike limbs.  Now Bill is back, and some say he hasn't lost a step.

Bill was interviewed and said that he really didn't like the recognition that the commercial gave him.  But, he said ---
there was a time when a man came up to me.  He explained his troubles and told me that he had given up on everything.  But he said seeing me in that commercial had turned him around.  He thanked me for changing his life.  ME?!
Bill said that he had to walk away so that the man wouldn't see him crying.

What kind of witness are you to those that you meet or even to those who know you?

Do any of you remember Squeaky Fromme, she was a member of Charles Manson’s “family” but never charged in the Tate/La Bianca murders.

In 1975, Squeaky Fromme attempted to assassinate President Ford, she waved a gun at the President, but did not shoot.

Years later she was interviewed by a leading psychiatrist who concluded rather interestingly that if instead of meeting Charles Manson, if Squeaky Fromme had met some Christians who had invited her to get involved in their church that she probably would have.  Her life would have been totally different.  She was just looking for a place to belong.

Each of us are called to do our part --- to see the possibilities --- rather than the dead ends.  To see God's multiplication in action

We’re building two a day, dear Bob,
We’re building two a day
All hail the power of Jesus’ name,
We’re building two a day

Let us do our part, as we go out into the neighborhood, knowing that the harvest is rich, and that there is more than enough!

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