Sunday, April 19, 2009

Creating Home...In Times of Fear

April 19, 2009
Immeasurably More
Mark 6:34-44; Ephesisan 3:14-21
Homestead UMC is in the middle of a capital campaign called "Creating Home" for the purchase of land to relocate the ministries of our church. These sermons are to encourage our congregation and listen to God's call on our community of faith to extend its reach in ministry and mission through relocation.

Check out some of these current headlines.
  • Home building takes a big dip – declines nearly 11% last month
  • MN Jobless rate 8.2%
  • Credit Markets dry up
  • GE’s Profits Dragged by Finance Arm
  • Foreclosure Filings Jump 24%

If we listen carefully, the “experts” want us to be afraid. And perhaps there is legitimate fear. Maybe you’ve lost your job, or you’ve actually looked at your investment portfolio, or your income from investments has dipped. Maybe you tried to refinance your home, only to find out you owe more on it than it is worth. The “experts” would have us afraid and acting in fear. There’s not enough to go around. There’s not going to be enough for a while. If you see any glimmers of hope, you need to check your eyesight. This is going to last a long time. We’re not going to have enough for who knows how long. We are supposed to be afraid of the economic times in which we live, and that fear of scarcity can paralyze.

That’s what happened that day on the grass. The numbers just as staggering: 5,000 people; 6 month’s wages needed to feed them (John’s Gospel); only 5 loaves and 2 fish. The disciples are paralyzed by fear. “Send them away,” the disciples plead with Jesus. “It’s late. There are too many of them. I know they’ll be getting hungry.” The fear of the staggering numbers paralyzes they disciples. They see no way to accomplish it. They trust only in what they can measure: the clock, the crowd, the need, the scarcity. Rather than acting, they are paralyzed by fear.

Jesus does not play into their fear of not having enough. “You give them something to eat,” he tells them. The disciples protest. The cost of even buying bread for them is staggering. They throw out a number that’s as far as their imagination can go – 200 denarii. Can you hear it? Clean your room … That’ll take forever! Today in gym we’re going to run the mile … That’s impossible! We have to find 40 people to help … There’s no way I can find five! When what’s asked of us seems beyond our resources, we can be paralyzed by fear, but Jesus does not play into fears on the grass that day.

Rather than focusing on what they don’t have, Jesus asks what they do have. “Go find out! Count the loaves! See what resources are available!” The disciples discover they do have resources, meager as they seem. Five loaves and two fish is what they have, but at least they are something.

Jesus gets his hands on those seemingly meager resources and things start to happen! Jesus sits them down. Jesus takes, blesses, breaks. Jesus makes the meager resources holy. He makes them holy in the same way he blessed the bread and the cup. He makes them holy in the same way he took his life and made it holy.

But Jesus does not distribute the bread and the fish. At least three of the gospels agree on that fact. The disciples get involved in the holy act. They participate in turning meager resources into enough.

When the need has been met, they gather up what’s left. To even think that there would be some left is ridiculous! There’s no one that could think this would feed the crowd. But the disciples pass baskets to collect the leftovers. In what is the miracle ending, there are 12 baskets full of broken pieces, leftovers!

If I have heard one concern about the Creating Home campaign more than any other, it is, “How can we do this in these economic times?” Do you hear the fear? Why now? It will surely fail! People will not be able to contribute because of the economy. We won’t get enough money. The project is doomed. Is that a fear that’s gotten a hold of you? It is a fear grounded in the headlines of the day. If the only thing you knew about the economy is from the headlines, if the only data you have to assess the situation if from your quarterly investment statement, if the only experience you have about the economic times is the stories of people around you loosing their jobs, then your fear seems grounded in reality. Perhaps as grounded in reality as feeding 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and two fish.

Jeremiah Clary was a farmer in 1930’s Oklahoma. These were the days of black blizzards. These were the days of the dust bowl landscape. These were the kinds of days when you would plant your seed one week, and the next week it would be a part of the topsoil blowing from Oklahoma to Missouri. Jeremiah Clary had done it for 5 years already. He took a month’s worth of salary and bought his seed. Then he planted it in the sure hope that it would germinate and make a crop. But for 5 years during this time of drought, there was no crop and, therefore, no income. It was getting to the point where Jeremiah didn’t know if he could afford to plant the seed any longer. Now that’s irrational thinking for a farmer. The only way to make a crop is to plant the seed. If you didn’t plant the seeds, there was not going to be a crop for certain. But in Jeremiah’s day, the fear of loosing the seeds to the winds, the fear of the sun scorching out his plants as they thirsted for even a drop of rain, the risk of actually putting the seeds in the ground was seeming more irrational than not planting. He was afraid.

Jeremiah Clary stood in his barn. He stared at his seed and he weighed the cost of actually planting again. He would have to make a quick decision. The window of opportunity to plant the seed and have it germinate was closing fast. If he planted, there was the possibility of even a meager crop, and even a meager crop might help him buy next year’s seed. But if he did plant, he might loose everything. The irony was overwhelming. Now Jeremiah Clary wasn’t a greedy man. But under the mounting weight of uncertainty, he was slowly becoming irrational.
(*Story of Jeremiah Clary found in Fields of Gold by Andy Stanley.)

Perhaps that’s the same uncertainty under which we feel weighted down this morning. What if I loose my job? What if I can’t pay my bills? What if my investments shrivel up to nothing? What if I can’t contribute to my kid’s college fund? What if I can’t pay my mortgage?

We are not alone in our fear. Many Christians are as afraid as we are. It isn’t a question of fear or faith. There are certainly things that are worth fearing a bit. It’s a question of how much fear and how much faith.

In our history as a community of faith, we have been here before! When the bills for building the Tabernacle needed to be paid, there was a lot of fear. We had no way to pay the bills we owed. The church had a bad credit reputation in town. The situation looked bleak. That’s when the women’s society took out a loan and paid the bills on the spot. Then those same women worked to pay back that loan through bake sales and the like. While there was a lot of fear, our faith in God was stronger than our fear.

When our congregation outgrew the East Center Street Church, there was a lot of fear. We needed a new building, but no one believed it to be possible, at least at first. Rev. Hilton said of us, that we built the parsonage first to prove to ourselves that we could build the church together. And both were built. There was a lot of fear, similar to the fear I hear in us today. But in the late 1940’s, our faith was stronger than our fear.

Each time in the past, when Homestead has been weighted down by uncertainty and fear, we have done in faith what the disciples did that day on the grass. We have taken our resources that seemed to us meager and we have placed them in the hands of Jesus. Look out when Jesus gets his hands on these resources! In his hands, he has taken them, blessed them, broke them. And then asked us to distribute them. Jesus has made holy what we brought to the table. When we have trusted in God’s economy and not our own economy, when we have trusted God enough to sow the seeds we have, we have seen the blessing. We have been released from that fear, aAnd we have known God’s provision for God’s church. In God’s hands, what seems meager is made holy.

Are you inclined to memorize scripture? Even if you are not, I hope you’ll take the challenge today to memorize the text from Ephesians.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 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 in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

Nearly by accident, I stumbled onto our text from Ephesians that has become my favorite scripture passage. I was a teenager and I needed to know the “breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ. When I read this text, I began immediately to memorize it, though not intentionally. It had a word for my soul I needed in that day. Now my Bible was a different version than what was read this morning – I had the New International Version of the Bible. So when I memorized the words, I memorized: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine… Beautiful words, aren’t they? I would encourage you to put those to memory, plant them in your heart.

There are many answers to our fears that can make our faith bigger than our fear. God’s promises to take care of us are all over scripture. We have a long history of stories of God’s care of God’s people in the scriptures. We have the history of our own lives and God’s care of us personally.

The promise that overcomes my fears about Creating Home is that God can do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine… We have this dream God has planted in the heart of Homestead. We have this dream of reaching more young families with this wonderful family of faith. We imagine that there are young adults and families with children who hunger for the connection we have with one another. We imagine that in the family connection they will find here, they will discover the “breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ. We dream of a new building with a new location with a new layout to draw those folks in. We dream of that building on the edge of Rochester to extend our reach with the love of Christ. We imagine that God will do amazing things through us.

All of that is in our imagination and in our dreaming and in our asking. The scripture promises that God can do “immeasurably more” than that. We have seen it in our past. We know it in our hearts. So that even as the weight of uncertainty creates fear within us, our faith reminds us that God can do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.

May you and your family, and us as a church family, start Creating Home from a deep sense of the promise that God can do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine! So be it!

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN

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