Thursday, July 30, 2015

Miracle in Cooperstown

2 Kings 4:42-44
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last few days, you will have no doubt recognized that this is a big weekend here in Cooperstown. Our quaint little village attracts many tourists during the summer months on account of the Glimmerglass music festival, the Baseball Hall of Fame, and other local attractions, but it explodes on this weekend in particular because this is when new members are inducted into the Hall of Fame.

It can be rather hard to accommodate large crowds of people. Where will they all stay? Hotel rooms in the area become rather scarce and many locals find it lucrative to rent out their homes this weekend. Where will they all park? My apologies if you had a more difficult time than usual finding a parking space this morning. What will they all eat? Our parish has found this a good weekend to have a hot dog sale fundraiser!
According to the Hall of Fame website, last year’s induction weekend saw more than 48,000 visitors to Cooperstown. That is a lot of hungry mouths to feed!
I want you to imagine that—heaven forbid—Cooperstown and all the surrounding area just ran out of food. The only grub to be found for miles is 21 extra hot dogs left over from our sale. An angel from heaven appears in the kitchen of the Parish House and directs us to take those remaining dogs over to the field by the Clark Sports Center and feed the multitudes gathered there. How do you respond?

I can tell you what my reaction would be, “Lord, there just isn’t enough!” I don’t think I’m off the mark in saying that that would seem the natural and most reasonable response to most of you here as well. It is simply mathematically impossible to feed that many people with so little.

Ordinarily, you would be right, but in this particular hypothetical scenario you would be dead wrong. Why? Because God commanded it, and God never asks us to do anything for which he does not provide the means of accomplishing the task. Another way of saying that is, God always pays for what he orders.

In both our Old Testament Lesson and our Gospel reading a very similar situation to the hypothetical one I just asked you to imagine is presented to God’s people.  The stories are remarkably similar to one another as well. In both, God takes the obedient but slight offerings of his faithful people, and miraculously uses them to feed large multitudes of people. He does far more than could be imagined with a meager amount of food. 
These are not the only instances of such miraculous feedings either. In the Gospels alone there are two separate accounts of such miracles. The first, the feeding of the five thousand, with the exception of the resurrection, is the only miracle recounted in all four Gospels. A second and similar miracle is reported in both Matthew and Mark as well.
This must be an awfully significant lesson, if Holy Scripture so emphatically communicates it to us.

As human beings we are limited. There is a limit to what we are capable of. We live in a finite world, of limited resources. It is only natural that we should have a mentality of scarcity, because it is the world we live in. There is, however, never any lack or deficiency in God. God is forever challenging his people to see beyond the world of appearances and look with the eyes of faith to behold the limitlessness of his power.

Our mentality of scarcity may be natural, but it is sinful. It is reflective of our estrangement from God and our lack of faith in his power and providence. It manifests itself in at least three different ways.

First, the belief that there is not enough. We see the world as cursed with scarcity rather than blessed with abundance. We believe that reality is zero based and the world is a closed system. This belief is the fruit of believing either that God is distant and far off, indifferent to the world’s need, or that he doesn’t exist at all. This is not actually the way that the world is though.

We don’t live in a closed system with ever depleting resources, but one that is ever open to its depths. The same God who brought the world into existence out of nothing is alive and available to us. He is our heavenly Father and gives us all things according to our need.

The first trick of the devil was to make us doubt this fact. God had provided for us abundantly all that we could ask for in the Garden of Eden, but our first parents were deceived into thinking that God was holding back from them. Instead of giving thanks for what they had, they coveted the one thing they were forbidden.

The second way in which our mentality of scarcity manifests itself is in the belief that we can’t afford to be generous. We are anxious about not having enough and our lack of faith in God’s providence makes us cling tightly to what we have rather than investing it faithfully in God’s work.

It is easier to give when we feel we have more than enough, but it is much harder when times are tight. We have in our readings today two examples that should convict us of this lack of trust. The first is the man from Baal-shalishah, who in a time of famine in the land, offered his first fruits up to Elisha the man of God. The second is the boy with the five barley loaves and the two fish who gave all his provisions to the apostles to be shared among the people.

Any reasonable person would be tempted to hold on to what they have in the face of such scarcity, but both of these individuals were inspired to be generous, believing that God would provide. We can be generous when we believe that God is generous to us.

The third and final manifestation of our mentality of scarcity that I will mention is the belief that what we have is devalued if it is enjoyed by many others.

No doubt some of the visitors to Cooperstown this weekend will patronize the many baseball memorial shops on Main Street. What makes a particular piece of memorabilia valuable? How rare it is of course. This is the old principle of supply and demand. The lower the supply, the greater the demand, and thus the greater value.

Many of Jesus’ fellow Jews were outraged by the way he reached out to the outcasts, the poor, and the sinners. In their mind the Jews were the righteous – and that was a very exclusive club. To invite in the riff raff devalued what they believed they had.

Jesus turns this whole idea on its head, because the most precious and valuable thing in all the world, God’s grace, is free and abundant, available to everyone. There is more than enough to go around. This is expressed by the twelve baskets of fragments the apostles carried away even after everyone had eaten.

 In being plentiful, God’s grace never loses its value. The sheer prodigality of God’s love seems wasteful to the natural mind.

One of my all-time favorite hymns is called “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.” I grew up singing this hymn in church. At first it seemed awfully gruesome to me. Isn’t that a bit much I thought to myself? But once I understood that the blood of Christ was the life of God poured out for the salvation of the world, the image seemed beautiful. How extravagantly abundant Gods love is! The author writes,

“And since by faith I saw the streams, thy flowing wounds supplied, redeeming love has been my theme and shall be till I die!”

I pray that God will open the eyes of our faith to perceive the torrents of blessing he is pouring out on us continually. I pray that knowing God’s generosity, we would have the courage to be imitators of that generosity.

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