July 29, 2012
Paul writes, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine– to him be glory.” Is it true that we underestimate God, as he says?
It is hard to miss the extravagant descriptions of Divine resources in this prayer.
Paul speaks of “fullness of God” which can fill us completely. He speaks of beginning to know, or experience, the unlimited dimensions of Christ’s love–the breadth and length and height and depth, shooting off infinitely in every direction, the love which surpasses knowledge.
An inexhaustible abundance in God, a well of blessings that can never go dry.
Streams of mercy never ceasing.
Creation reflects divine abundance
The creator we see in Genesis loves abundance. The creatures proliferate, multiply in kind and in number, to God’s delighted “It is good.” . “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps 19). The more we know about the universe the more magnificent it becomes. And in the last 100 years we have learned more about the cosmos than in all of human history up till then.
We learned that it was finite in size and years. The age of the universe is about 13.75 billion years, but the diameter of the observable universe is estimated to be about 28 billion parsecs (93 billion light-years) because the universe has been expanding. In 1929 Edwin Hubble discovered another galaxy than our own Milky Way. In 1999 the Hubble telescope focused on one tiny apparently empty point in the sky and the results that came back astounded scientists. Astronomers estimate 200–400 billion stars are in the Milky Way but now it is now estimated that there are 100 billion visible galaxies. 100 billion times 200 billion.
Your God is too Small is a little book J. B. Phillips penned decades ago. He pinpointed a variety of ways that we diminish God in our imagination. God “is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”
On the one hand we have this assertion of the abundance of God, and on the other we have the familiar experience of “not enough,” of human situations of insufficiency. The abundance of God is set over against the human experience of scarcity and limits.
In the Gospel reading this morning we see two different occasions in which human need encounters Divine capability.
First is the familiar story of the feeding of the thousands, the only wonder Jesus did that all four gospels retell. In this first story the people come to Jesus with their needs; in the second Jesus takes he initiative to come to the disciples caught in a storm at sea.
We read that Jesus, who was attempting to have a quiet retreat with his disciples, is instead greeted by hoards of people eager to hear him, and to have him heal their diseases for which he had a reputation. Jesus, rather than being perturbed and frustrated, had compassion on them, because they looked like “sheep without a shepherd.” He taught and healed the whole day. By then Jesus could see another need. They did not tell him; he saw it. They were hungry.
“Where are we going to get bread to feed all these?” Jesus asked. Wait a minute. Who said it was our responsibility? Other gospels say the disciples told Jesus a better plan would be to send them off to get their own food where they could. Let them look after themselves. Only Jesus seems to think they would have a hard time pulling that off out in these rural parts.
“You feed them.”
Now here is where the desire to help runs into the reality of what it would take. Jesus after all said that a general does not go into battle against an enemy without sizing up the troops on both sides. And a builder should start unless he has figured out whether he will have the means to finish the project.
Andrew says it would take 8 months wages to give just a sample to everyone there. They don’t have enough. But by now Andrew has discovered that while they may not have enough for the crowd, they do have something, or rather a small lad has something– a picnic basket with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish.
And then here is this remarkable moment– an act of crazy, uncalculated generosity. The boy gives the whole basket over. He is willing to share it, all without holding back a little first.
What an offering. This is like the widow’s 2 mites. The sum total of her resources at the moment. She was the only one Jesus praised in the temple that whole week.
Jesus takes this offering, this obviously inadequate sum. and – here is another surprise– he gives thanks. He does not worry or complain or say, “Is that all?”
No, Jesus just lifts up the offering and gives thanks. Now what is going on here? Jesus attributes this resource to God’s provision, and thanks the Father.
I think that Jesus thanked God for this one boy, for the disciples who are with him, the crowd that has surrounded him, for being the kind of God who satisfies the desire of every living thing. Before anything else, this act of thanks.
Can you say thanks for what you have, even when in your mind you can’t see how it is going to be enough? Can you say grace when all you have is 5 loaves and 2 fish. Can you say, “God is good” when there is so little? Can you imagine abundance when you are so aware of needs outstripping resources? What a leap of faith and hope!!
Jesus receives with gratitude that little offering. Thanks God and then puts them back into the hands of the disciples to feed the crowd. Jesus beckons us to do something for the needs around us with the resources we have.
Something profound happened and happens when you give all you have, even if it is not by our calculations adequate. When they began to pass the food around, everyone got all they wanted and there was an abundance left over.
Jesus turns our “not enough” into some kind of abundance that blesses more than us. It blesses the lives we touch. None of the gospels take us backstage to explain how this came to pass. How could it happen? Did it include more people than just this little boy pulling out his lunch? Maybe. God works in all sorts of ways. But notice he works through us– our gratitude, our compassion, our willingness to share Christ’s concern, our “not enough” supply, our “not enough” talents.
Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations.
We read that when that terrible drought came from God to turn people back to him. Elijah at first made out camping by stream of water and raven brought him food. But the day came when that was gone, and he went into Phoenician territory. God used a widow to meet Elijah’s need.
He asks a widow he comes upon to give him to eat. She laughs that she is gathering sticks to cook her last meal for herself and son. But because he was a man of God and because he asked, she shared with him first. And the cruse of oil and the jar of flour did not run out all the months Elijah was there.
That widow’s crazy generosity was an act of trust that God has provided, and can still provide.
“Great is thy faithfulness morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto to me.”
We can look at the world with expectation of scarcity or the faith in God’s abundance. If we take the confidence in abundance seriously, we will act hopefully.
In the Parable of Soils a distressing amount of seed is lost– there is still a bumper crop. What we thought ‘not enough’ becomes a surplus in the Lord’s hands, for God is able by his power at work within us to able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.
The second part of the story is about the disciples’ own need.The gospel reading goes on to say that very evening when Jesus sent them on ahead, a storm caught the disciples at sea. Caught in a storm– that richly describes most crises– the things that are beyond control. Carlyle Marney reviewed a book on grief shortly before he died. And he said “all this stuff about ‘grief management’ misses it. When you are in real grief, it is managing you.”
The Jesus who is aware of the needs of the crowds before they are, before the disciples are, sees now the plight of his followers.
They could not see Jesus, but Jesus saw them and came to them. “I AM” he says, that name of God which means I AM I AM or I AM….here! “Do not be afraid.” The storm is stilled, the voyage completed in safety.
Cast all your cares on him for he careth for you.
Now all this does not mean that since God cares and can help, that I would be justified doing nothing and just waiting for God to take care of it all for me.
Our lunches may be part of how needs get met; don’t stop oaring because you expect God will come and help you. Augustine said “Pray as if it all depended on God; Work as if it all depended on you.”
The crowds in their need come to Jesus, but Jesus also comes to those in need, as we see when Jesus sees the crowd’s hunger and the disciples’ distress in the storm. It works both ways.
Paul prays that we will experience this abundant responsiveness of the Lord sustaining us:“that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
It seems that the choice of faith is to trust the abundance of God’s capacity, even when confronted by the “not enough” of our own lives, whether it be not feeling we have enough to help others, or not having the capacity to handle what has happened to us. Let us trust God’s abundance. Amen.