July 27, 2009

Sermon for Proper 12B

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away there lived a man named Moses who had been adopted into the court of the king. Now it came to pass that Moses did some stuff that he wasn't proud of and he was forced to run away from the land he knew for fear of his life. For a long time he lived with his wife in the town where his Father-in-Law, Jethro, had welcomed him. One day, Moses was doing his work when he noticed something off in the distance that caught his attention.
He thought to himself, "What is going on over there? I've gotta see this thing, it appears to be a bush that is one fire, yet not consumed"
So he walked toward this great sight, and in that very moment God spoke to him saying, "Moses, Moses!" God told Moses of his plan to save his people from the oppression of slavery in the land Moses once knew. God gave Moses a job to do, he said, "I'm sending you to save my people."
Moses responded to God quickly by saying, "Who am I that I should accomplish this great and impossible task you have set before me?"
And God replied, "I will be with you."
Moses doubted his own abilities and was nervous about trusting God. And God was speaking to him from a burning bush. It is a story we see play out over and over again in Scripture, in Church history, and, I'm afraid, even in our own lives. God calls, and people hedge their bets. Jesus didn't use a burning bush to call Philip and Andrew to greatness - he just asked them a simple question - but the response was the same. Umm, well, umm, yeah, er...
Jesus give Philip a chance to do something great. He asks Philip "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" And Philip responds, "Six month's wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."
Just like Moses, Philip asks, "Who am I that I should accomplish this great and impossible task you have set before me?"
Andrew, only slightly more helpful points out to Jesus a young boy "who has five barley loaves and two fish." "But," he is quick to add, "what are they among so many people?"
And with that caveat, Andrew joins the long line of people who have asked God, "Who are we that we should accomplish this great and impossible task you have set before us?"
God's presence in the burning bush wasn't enough for Moses to think, "hmm, this could probably happen." God's presence in the person of Jesus wasn't enough for the disciples to think, "ok, yeah, maybe we could come up with something for these five-thousand-plus people to eat." How much harder is it for us, when it seems like God is often still hanging out in that far away time and place -and he certainly isn't lighting fire to any bushes - how much harder is it for us to follow through when he says to us, "I'm sending you to save/feed/comfort/revive/clothe/renew/restore/educate my people"? The excuses flow like a river, "who am I, how could I, I'm no good, well, but, maybe..."
Sixteen months ago, Wayne Verry and I sat with Dr. Lawrence, the Principal of Foley Elementary School in the cramped office he shared with is secretary at the old school. He told us of the great need at FES: 50% of their students have no male figure at home, 70% are enrolled in the government's reduced or free breakfast and lunch program, a majority of that 70% won't have a nutritious meal between lunch Friday and breakfast Monday, and a full 20% of their student population spoke no English. The meeting came to an ominous conclusion as he finished by saying, "I've had this conversation with two other churches and never heard another word from them. I hope this won't end the same way."
Truth be told, I left that meeting pretty sure that our encounter with Dr. Lawrence would, in fact, end the same way as those other two churches. I returned to my office and continued the long lineage of excuse makers from Moses to Andrew and Philip and asked God, "Who are we that we should accomplish this great and impossible task you have set before us?"
But those words from Dr. Lawrence stuck with me. Mostly because they stuck with Wayne who kept reminding me that we couldn't be the third church to let FES down
Still, the thought "who are we" continued to weigh on my mind.
But as they old saying goes, what matters is not who you are but whose you are. And we are people of the same God about whom Paul writes, "Now to [God], 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 in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations." Almost as an afterthought, in the midst of a call to praise, Paul articulates an attribute of God that brings to mind the story of Moses at the Burning Bush, the story of the disciples at the feeding of the 5000, and, more recently, the story of Wayne and me at our meeting with Dr. Lawrence. It is reminder for all of us who have ever asked, "who am I that I should do this thing?"
God promised Moses, "I will be with you."
Jesus told the disciples, "Make the people sit down," and then proceeded to multiply five loaves and two fish into a feast for thousands.
And God tells each of us, "just give me what you've got. I'll take it and use it to do amazing things."
God could have saved the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt by himself. Jesus could have "poofed" up some food for the masses. For crying out loud the kids at FES already have good and faithful teachers, God could have done everything he wanted to through them. But he chose not to. He chose instead to use the power at work within Moses and within the disciples and within you and within me to quite literally do abundantly far more than any of us could have asked for or imagined.
The people of Israel walked through the Red Sea and did not drown. The disciples fed more than five thousand people with five mini-muffins and two sardines and had more left over then when they started. And just Thursday morning I sat down with Terrie and Jeannette at the Chamber of Commerce to discuss how the Chamber's Education Foundation might replicate our program and bring volunteers from local churches into all 10 schools in the Foley High School feeder pattern. God has amazing things in mind.
And all God asks for is our trust. Trust that when he asks you to do something he will equip you to do it. As the sign in my office says, "What would you do if you knew you would not fail?" God said to Moses, "I will be with you, and here's how you'll know you've done the right thing, when you are standing on this very mountain praising my name." Jesus said to the disciples, "Make the people sit down" and then as the meal ended he said, "gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be wasted." With God nothing is wasted; be it five loaves and two fish among five thousand plus people or your ability to utilize a copy machine or your knowledge of the alphabet or your keen understanding of the Dewey Decimal system. God takes our gifts, large and small, and turns them into amazing blessings for the honor and glory of his name.
What gift will you offer the Lord? What is he asking you to do that you're hedging your bets on by asking, "who am I that I should accomplish such a great and impossible task?" Is he calling on you to teach Sunday school? Is he calling you to volunteer in the office on Tuesday mornings? Is he calling you to sing in the choir or read the lessons on Sunday, or start something brand new like a food pantry or a mother's day out program? I have no idea what God is calling you to do this day, but I am certain he's calling. I assure you that his promise to stand beside you is trustworthy. I know that with his power at work within you, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish. Offer him your gifts, you will not be disappointed. Amen.

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