2 Kings 4:42-44
I did a children’s message once about tithing. Tithing, the biblical principle of giving back to God the first-fruits or first 10 %, is difficult to explain to adults let alone a rowdy group of elementary school students. I prepared 9 bags of 10 pennies and one empty bag, fairly certain that we would have ten children that morning. And we did, 10 kids, just as planned. I handed out the bags one at a time and I told the kids these coins were theirs to do whatever they wanted with, then asked them to share how many coins were in their bag. They each had ten, except for Houston whose bag was empty.
It didn’t take any time at all for the kids to start offering to share with Houston, and one very smart child realized that if they all gave Houston one then they would all have 9 pennies, the same amount. Houston stood next to me and each child gave him one coin. And when he counted them he had 13.
Everyone still had 9 nine coins in their bag, but Houston had 13! I will never know exactly where those extra coins came from, but Houston smiled and handed me the extra 4 pennies and said “Mrs. Cardelia, you can have my left overs.” God can take a little and do a lot.
Read Sermon Scripture 2 Kings 4:42-44
I confess to you this morning that while I’m sure I have read this passage before, it has never stuck in my mind. Perhaps it’s because this text is paired with the feeding of the 5,000 and by contrast feeding 100 doesn’t sound like such a big deal!
But in God’s world, the numbers don’t matter, it’s the people that are important.
Elisha is going around the community speaking the words of God and establishing himself as the successor to Elijah’s prophetic authority. This particular miracle is the 4th explained in chapter 4, all of which echo a miracle performed by his predecessor.
This is God’s way of reminding the people that while Elijah has been carried to glory, God is not done with them just yet!
The people find themselves in a time of famine, a time of scarcity. There is not enough to eat and there are those without food. It is harvest time, perhaps the time when being without food is the most keenly felt and a man, from a town named after a foreign god, brings his first fruits, his tithe to the prophet.
His first fruits, that means the very first things harvested, without knowing for sure that what will be left will be enough, but trusting that God will provide.
He sets his gift before the prophet and Elisha tells his servant to feed the people.
Twenty fist sized loaves of bread and a few handfuls of grain might feed 20 people, not 100 and the servant is quick to point this out to Elisha.
How quick we are to worry that there is not enough. How quick we are to fear running out.
In our society there are often times when panic arises over the fear of not having enough. I shudder to think haw we might handle such a thing as rationing in our day! There are those that horde all they can get to make sure they have what they want. There are riots at store when certain items go on sale or when the latest and greatest thing is released. Anyone remember the Cabbage Patch riots of the 80’s? Heck, we even buy our movie tickets online in advance not just because we are worried that the show might sell out, but because the theater might run out of the right seats and we would get stuck on the front row!
The servant sees how little there is and panics. Elisha repeats his words to the servant and adds this “thus says the Lord. They shall eat and have some left.” God can take a little and do a lot. Mighty big talk for a new prophet! But the food is given and indeed there are leftovers.
There is no explanation as to how this occurred, there is no need to debate how this happened. What is clear is that in the midst of human need a man arrives, generously offering the best of what he has. And the prophet, with the eyes of faith, offers it to the people of God. The result is beyond any reasonable human expectation, and that’s the point. God is at work beyond our expectations!
Hospitality, the act of caring for one another, either out of our abundance or out of our pittance is the life force that creates community. From these acts of stewardship and hospitality flow the abundance of God. God can take a little and do a lot!
There is a YouTube video I watched not so long ago that speaks to hospitality and community building. A man walks around a food court and asks people to share their food. He’s very polite, he just says he is hungry and would they happen to have any extra food to share. Every single person sitting there with bags full of food or heaps of food on their plates says there is not enough to share. Most are polite too, although some are not.
The man and his hidden camera men leave the mall food court and walk outside. They see a homeless man sitting on the grass and quickly decide to buy him a bag of food. Two of the three go and give the homeless man the food and a drink. Then they leave. A few moments later the man comes up to the homeless man and says “I’m really hungry. Do you have anything you could share?”
It only takes a minute for the homeless man to offer him whatever he would like out of the bag. He invites the young man to sit down with him and they talk and eat together. Generosity, hospitality, abundance.
God can take a little and do a lot.
There is an absurdity to this text that cannot be overlooked. What we have received is a message that is countercultural. Our lives are often so similar to that of the servants words “How can I set this small amount before 100 people.”
We budget our resources and our time with a careful eye to the limitations we see present. We tell ourselves “there are only so many hours in the day.” And “a penny saved is a penny earned.” When we design even our church budgets we are very careful to be prudent and make sure that we can afford to pay for every program that is proposed.
We would never put Elisha in charge of the budget or even in charge of planning a church potluck! That would be reaching beyond the bounds of sanity.
Too often we focus on the need and how big and overwhelming it seems to us. We let that paralyze us, keep us from doing anything other than nodding our heads and saying, “yes, yes, that is so sad.”
But, remember, God can take a little and do a lot.
What would happen if, instead of looking at all the need, we started by looking at what God has done? If we first considered how we have been fed, would we see the abundance that allows us to feed others?
God takes our little gifts, our little efforts and blesses them beyond our understanding. God has taken this little denomination and used it to bless people in other countries with the good news of the gospel. God has taken the gifts of children and turned them into feasts. God has taken our stories and turned them into witnesses for his saving grace. God has taken this church and allowed us to reach out with love to so many through the Angel Tree, through the Pumpkin Patch, through the blessing of the animals! God is using our relationship with Church Street to show both denominations that we can work worship and serve together! God can take a little and do a lot.
So what are we willing to offer to God today? Will we offer our time? Will we offer our talents? Will we offer our tithes? Will we offer our lives? No matter how small we may feel, no matter that the world may say, it is not enough, we must be bold like Elisha and claim the truth found in the word of God. God can take a little and do a lot!