Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

For Such a Time as This

FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS

As you all know the denomination use to have a program entitled “For Such a Time As This”. Your pastor Catherine was a part of that program. I, too, was involved in the program for several years as a pastor mentor. The program worked to match seminary graduates into their first call in small, usually hard to fill, pulpits. The idea is that these graduates have been purposed by God for this time to provide a pastor for these particular pulpits - the graduates and the churches are matched by God specifically ‘for such a time as this’. Several years ago, at the Presbyterian Triennium, which is an every three year gathering of Presbyterian Youth at Purdue University - usually about 5000 Presbyterian Youth are there from all over the world - the theme was “For Such a Time As This” and the whole week was designed to help the youth understand that God was gifting them and God was training them for a specific purpose in the life of the church - whether it be now or sometime in their future. Those youth went away really understanding that God was grooming them ‘For Such a Time As This’ - they each had a purpose serving God and when that time came, they would realize what God had prepared them to do. “For Such a Time as This” is a widely used theme in all manner of church venues - and for good reason - because we all need to realize that God is grooming us and grooming the church for his purpose in his time.
“For Such a Time As This” comes from the story of Esther in the Old Testament and has become a catch phrase to help God’s people - us - understand that each of us has a purpose in the work and worship of God. And when we find ourselves in situations, when we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, when we find ourselves in times and places where we are called to stand up to the plate, whether we are comfortable with that or not, we come to understand that God has prepared us ‘for such a time as this’ and we are there to do work for God.
To understand the story of Esther lets get her into historical perspective. Let’s go all the way back to God’s people in the wilderness because that is where we are most familiar. God’s people spent 40 years wondering around the wilderness and God brought them into the promised land. Back then it was known as Cananaan, during Jesus’ time it was known as Palestine - today we would call it Israel. God’s people lived there a little over a thousand years - sometimes following the ways of God and more often straying away from God and worshipping the local idols. Eventually God got so frustrated trying to lead his people into what was best for them and best for God that God allowed Assyria to capture 10 of the tribes of Israel and scatter them all over the area around the Mediterranean Sea. Then God concentrated his efforts on the remaining 2 tribes, trying his best to help them and guide them but they also abandoned God and so God allows the Babylonians to come into Jerusalem and capture his remaining people and carry them off into Babylon where they lived in slavery. The story of Esther takes place after this Babylonian exile when most of God’s people were allowed to travel back to Jerusalem. There`was a small contingent of Jews who elected to stay in Babylon after the majority had returned home.
We open up with the king of Babylon, Xerxes, (although his name is recorded various different ways in different versions of the Bible) who has just hosted a party that has lasted months! The party consists of many of the powerful leaders of the nations around Babylon and the King needs to make sure that at all times he appears powerful. Any glimpse of weakness will alert these other powerful kings that perhaps they could come in and defeat Babylon. Remember that even though these guys are partying together, they are also sizing each other up and looking for that ‘edge’ in case the nations go to war with one another. So after many days of eating and drinking Xerxes wants to show off his queen who was a very beautiful woman. Her name was Vashti and Xerxes summoned her to come and parade in
front of all these drunk men in her scantily clad outfit. And she refused. Now, in our day and age of strong, independent women, we think “Good for her! Way to go!” but in the day and age of ancient Babylon, this was unheard of. No one in their right mind would refuse the king anything, but for a woman to refuse a man, especially the king, especially in public, was unthinkable. Xerxes has been embarrassed in front of all of these powerful leaders and Xerxes’ advisors quickly pointed out that this was unforgivable and he had better show his strength. Now Xerxes is conflicted because he does love Vashti - but he really doesn’t have a choice. Normally he would have her publicly executed to show people what happens when you defy the king, but because he cares for her he sends her away - which leaves the position of Queen of Babylon open…..
The solution to this problem of the empty Queen throne is to have a nationwide beauty contest. Almost like the story of Cinderella and her glass slipper when all the women wanted their foot to fit, all the women of Babylon wanted to be the Queen and began to apply for the contest. There was a man named Mordecai, who was a Jew, who worked in the palace of the king and he heard about the beauty contest. Mordecai had raised his niece, a girl named Hadessah (who we know by her Babylonian name of Esther) and she was very beautiful. So Mordecai encourages her to enter the contest, but Mordecai cautions her not to let anyone know of her Jewish heritage. The Jews, were 2nd class citizens and as a Jew Esther would have never been allowed to enter the contest.
After a year long elimination process, Esther won and she is now the Queen of Babylon and Xerxes is very pleased with her! Meanwhile, Xerxes has appointed Haman as the Prime Minister and while no one in Babylon likes the Jews, Haman had an unnatural hatred for the Jews. Haman, who feels he is quite important, declares himself such an important leader that everyone must bow to him as a god. Mordecai, being a good Jew and knows the first commandment, There shall be no gods before me, is not willing to bow before Haman which makes Haman crazy. So instead of just punishing Mordecai, Haman figures this is his opportunity to get rid of all the Jews. So Haman goes to Xerxes and asks Xerxes if he can kill all the jews and Xerxes says ‘sure’ and Haman begins his plan. Mordecai, who works in the palace, gets wind of the plan and knows he has to do something.
So he goes to Esther and tells her that she is in a position to do something about this. Well, Esther, is a little reluctant to do anything. She may be the Queen but this is a pretty ornamental office - her job is to do what the King asks her to do and to be available for him and she is only allowed to speak to the king when she is summoned. So Esther argues with Mordecai that there is nothing she can do. And Mordecai reminds her of two things - one is that she is a Jew and if Haman kills all the Jews then why does she think she is going to escape. She will get killed with all the other Jews. And he reminds her of the power and purpose of God. “Don’t you think, Esther, that God was behind all of this? Do you really think that you are here on your own? You think that maybe God has put you in this place so that you can do something about the extermination of all of your people? - maybe you are here ‘for such a time as this’.”
And Mordecai speaks to all of us. If we truly trust in God; if we truly understand our life as the people of God - then we need to remember that God is guiding and directing us in the way we should go so that we can be in places and in times to do what God needs done. When we find ourselves in a new place, in a new situation, a place or an event or a situation that we would have never chose for ourselves - maybe, just maybe, it is God saying, “I need you for such a time as this to do what I need done.” And we realize that God has given us the tools and the gifts and whatever else we may need to do whatever God lays before us.
Our world is a little strange right now. Our world is someplace new and different and confusing. Our world is restless and maybe that is part of God’s plan - to throw us off kilter a little bit, to make us think; to make us re-connect with him since let’s face it, God is about the only constant in our lives right now. Maybe God is preparing us as the church to be present as a witness ‘for such a time as this’…..
To make a long story short, Esther risks her life by approaching the King unsummoned and convinces Xerxes to cancel Haman’s genocide of the Jews - and she is able to save her people.
That is the point of this story - be willing to open yourself - as individuals and as a church - to the places you find yourself in and remember we are people of God, and we are here to do what He needs us to do - For Such a Time as we may find ourselves in.
Maybe God is grooming the church to be present in a whole new way in such a time as this.
Amen!

Don't Worry

DON’T WORRY

How many of you remember Alfred E. Neuman? He was the iconic face on the cover of MAD magazine who’s famous quote was, “Who me, worry?” There is no great story behind the fact that Alfred E. Neuman was known for that phrase, the producers of MAD magazine just wanted Alfred E. Neuman to come across as laid back and easy going and so that phrase just seemed to fit. But Jesus would tell us that “Who me, worry?” should be our motto as well - Jesus would say that as his followers we have no business worrying about anything.
Easier said than done I realize and we wonder how it is even possible to live a life worry free. Jesus seems to think it is possible - as many times as he says to us “Don’t worry” it seems like it is pretty important to him. The great philosopher Van Wilder once said, “Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere!” You know this - worry doesn’t change anything. Worry doesn’t make things happen. In reality, worry doesn’t do anything except cause the worrier to lose sleep and raise their blood pressure and often waste time and energy.
Worry can do nothing but yet we are great worriers. Could Jesus really mean that we shouldn’t worry about
anything? And yes that is exactly what he means. Worry is symptomatic of another problem in our lives as followers of Jesus - worry is symptomatic of a lack of faith; a lack of trust in the God who is constantly trying to get us to understand how very much he loves us and how very much he wants to take care of us.
But what happens is this - we have these expectations of how we want our lives to be. We have these expectations of what we want to happen. And when something happens in our life and it is not what we want; or not how we would have had it happen - then we assume that God doesn’t love us or that God doesn’t care.
That is what happened to Elijah in our Old Testament reading. We talked about this story last week but a quick review - Elijah is a prophet from God. His job is to try and keep the leadership of Israel in line with God and this is proving to be quite a challenge with King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Elijah holds a contest to show Ahab and Jezebel that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the one true God; through Elijah’s prayer God reigns down fire from heaven! Yet when Jezebel threatens Elijah’s life for killing the priests of the pagan god Baal, Elijah becomes afraid and runs away. He is worried that he is not going to come out of this alive. He runs as far as he can and when night falls he stops and goes to sleep under a broom tree. As he sleeps, an angel woke him and said, “Get up and eat.” Elijah looked and there beside him was some baked bread and a jar of water. So he ate and went back to sleep. Later, the angel woke him once again and said, “Get up and eat some more so that you can continue on your journey.” So Elijah got up and ate and drank and the food gave him enough strength that he was able to continue on his way - refreshed and strengthen and more able to cope with what he was so worried about. God comes to him and assures Elijah of his presence and his care and Elijah is able to go back to his work as a prophet. God didn’t criticize Elijah for his worry - God just shows Elijah what God can do. God provides what Elijah needs and Elijah realizes that he doesn’t need to worry. Elijah has some time to remember all the times before that God has come through for him; Elijah remembers that regardless of what situation he is in, God has provided. And that is important for us. The next time you begin to fret and wring your hands and pace the floor, stop for a minute and look back and think about those times that God has come through for you; those times when things have resolved; when life has continued on through whatever was going on…
The first time Elijah went to King Ahab and confronted Ahab about his sin; confronted Ahab about trying to worship God and worship Baal. Elijah told Ahab that he couldn’t do both - he had to choose. Worship God or worship Baal and until Ahab made up his mind there would be no rain - and there wasn’t.
Now remember Elijah had to live through this drought just like everyone else in the land of Canaan. But Elijah never had to worry about his being able to survive the drought because God continually cared for him. One day God said to Elijah - ‘Go to the village of Zarephath and I will lead you to a widow who will care for you.’ So Elijah trusted God and obeyed him and traveled to the village of Zarephath. There he found the widow and asked her “Would you please brig me a little water to drink?” As she was going to get it he called after her, “How about bringing me some bread too?” This time she came back to him and said, “There is a drought. I do not have a single piece of bread in my house. I have one handful of flour left and a touch of oil. I was getting ready to gather some sticks to cook this last meal for me and my son, and then we will die because we have no more food.” Elijah said to her “Don’t worry. Use what bread and oil you have left and bring me some bread - and then what is left you use for you and your son. If you are obedient to God in doing this, then God says there will always be flour and oil in your containers until the time God sends rain and the crops grow again.’ (Which we remember from last week is 3 years!) So the widow did as Elijah asked and for the remainder of the drought there was always oil and flour in her house.
“Don’t worry.” Elijah said, “Just Trust and Obey and you will have what you need.”
Would we have enough faith to use the last little bit of oil and flour to feed a stranger? Or would be be worried that if we use it, then it will be gone and we will die…..
What worry is essentially - according to Jesus - is a lack of faith; a lack of trust in God. And since our primary mission as followers of Jesus is to show the glory of God - to show the goodness of God - to teach others that they can put worry aside and trust in the God almighty - worry for us is problematic. It is essentially denying the power of God and denying our call to witness to others that God is trustworthy.
Frank Powell is a Christian writer who recently wrote about worry. He pondered why we as followers of Christ, as members of Christ’s church, still worry so much. He asked people he knew; he asked learned theologians - and what he heard was this “Our greatest concern is that we don’t want to need God. We’re Americans. We’re independent. As Americans we will do anything to maintain the illusion of control and responsibility, so not wonder worry plagues us. Worry is the by-product of bearing a weight only God can bear. The more independence you desire, the more worry you will experience.”
God did not make us to be independent - God made us to be dependent. Remember Jesus’ words, “Unless you become like little children, you won’t experience the Kingdom of God.” Think about your childhood. For most of us our childhoods were worry free. We didn’t worry about having a roof over our head or being hungry or having clothes. We were free from all that because we knew that our parents would take care of that. Now I know that there are some of you and some children today who do have to worry about those things - but don’t get distracted in the exceptions - the point Jesus is trying to make that we as his followers need not worry - God will provide.
Maybe that provision is comfort during a tragedy; maybe that provision is peace when things don’t go the way we want; maybe that provision is friends who sit with us when we are confused or depressed or despondent like Elijah in the wilderness. Maybe that provision is the hand of an angel when our world falls apart. Maybe that provision is guidance when our world changes.
Has our world changed anymore than it has right now? I was talking to someone who said, “Its not that I went that many places before this, but it is that now if I decide to go somewhere, I can’t.” Maybe the worst part of this COVID is the lack of choices. There is so much we can’t do and we worry about that. We worry about what affect going out may have on ourselves - but also what affect our going out might have on someone else. We worry about what risk we are willing to take? We worry about not doing thinks and we worry about doing things. And we worry about ‘how long this will last……”
“Do not worry” does not mean that all will be well in our lives - cause we know better than that. COVID has taught us that. “Do not worry” means that regardless of what life throws at us God will provide what we need when we need it. Whether it be physical needs or emotional needs or spiritual needs - God knows and God will be there.
“Do not worry” is all about faith and trust and acceptance. And if you think about it, is that not what we pray for each time we pray the Lord’s prayer - “Give us this day our daily bread” - cause every time we say that, essentially what we are saying is “God I won’t worry because I know that each day you will provide what I need.” And if God provides everything we need, then what do we have to worry about.
And I will repeat - worry is not having faith that God will provide what we need; worry is wanting things to turn out the way we want them to turn out; worry is thinking we can manipulate the world around us so that things go our way.
Elijah didn’t think God would protect him - and he did. The widow of Zarephath thought God had forgotten about her, and he hadn’t. We could tell more, and more, and more, and more stories from the Bible which show us that God knows exactly what we are going through, that God knows exactly what our issues are and while we might not think he provides things quickly enough or provides what we want him to provide - he will provide what we need. Isn’t that what we pray for “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”? Either we are sincere in our prayer or we aren’t.
Things are going to happen in your life. That we can be assured of. We can either bog our lives down in worry - we can wring our hands and say “Woe is me” like Elijah did before God came and gave him food. Or we can live a life of peace and as situations happen that we don’t like or don’t understand we can be like Alfred E. Neuman and say, “Who me, worry?”

Amen!

The Love of a Father - the Story of Jairus


The Love of a Father - The Story of Jairus


Today is Father's Day. This is a day set aside to honor fathers. We all have one. Some are still with us and some have left us physically but will always be with us in our hearts. I always struggle when it comes to Father’s day sermons. Ideally a father’s day sermon should be about some great father God has lifted up from the Bible….. but that becomes a real challenge when you look at the Father’s in the Bible. Its hard to find a man who really stands out as a good father…..
I could give you all manner of stories from scripture about bad fathers… and maybe the could serve the purpose of saying something like - don’t be a father like this… Remember Jacob who had 12 sons but really only paid attention to one - his favorite son Joseph and Jacob didn’t seem to mind letting his other sons know that he c=only cared for Joseph which turned Joseph in =to a little brat….So the lesson here perhaps is don’t show favoritism to one child. And there are lots more of these kinds of stories.
Of course we look at God who is the ultimate good Father who is presented to us in the story of the Prodigal Son where the son runs off and squanders all the father has given him and his Father waits and watches for the run away son and takes him back and lashes wonderful things on him when he returns - God teaches us the unconditional love and care of a Father.
But it really is unrealistic to hold God up as the marker when determining a good father.
In the book of Luke, however, we do have an example of a normal guy, someone we can relate to, who is an example for us of a good father. Here really is someone we can look to and say - “Here is what God wants a good father to be”. So let’s look at the story of Jairus.
Like so many of the stories of Jesus, they are told in the context of a crowd of people. We get the impression that everywhere Jesus went, large crowds of people formed around him; the people wanted to be in the presence of this special man - there was just something about Jesus that attracted people to him and word spread all around the area about the things he said and the things he did. How he taught with authority and how he healed the sick and how he spent time with people no one else was willing to spend time with. And it was no secret how much he was despised by the religious leaders.
Sometimes when we tell these stories of Jesus we have to take a moment to remember what society was like in ancient Jerusalem because it is so different than our experience and it is important in understanding a lot about Jesus and the context for much of his teachings. The case in point here is that the religious leaders in Jesus day had great power. As a Jew, your daily life was dictated by the rules and regulations governed by the religious leaders. And the religious leaders had the power to hold you accountable for how well you followed the rules and regulations. The religious leaders had their own army; their own judicial system; their own jail. And it was not an equitable system. There was no “I’m going to get a lawyer and defend myself”. The religious leaders had complete control. They said you broke a religious law then you suffered the consequences and that was that. The other important point to remember is that salvation was not through the love and grace of Jesus Christ - salvation was through your appearance at the temple and your offering of the correct sacrifice. Without your presence at the temple, you lost your relationship with God. So if the religious leaders would ban you from the temple for some infraction, then they were in essence taking away your salvation.
Understanding this life as a Jew under complete control of the religious leaders helps us better appreciate the story of Jairus.
First, Jairus was the ruler of a synagogue. The Jewish synagogue was more like a community center than what we would think of as a church. There were Bible studies there; they would have held the Jewish school for the sons; the local jews would gather there for lots of different activities.

There was some worship there but real worship could only be done in the Temple in Jerusalem. Jairus, as the
ruler of the synagogue, would be the one of oversaw the activities; who took care of the physical property and pretty much just was a caretaker. He was not a priest or a rabbi who held different functions. As a ruler of the synagogue he would have been answerable to the religious authorities and expected to be a ‘good Jew’ who followed the rules and lived life as he was ordered by the Jewish leaders. He would have had a lot to lose had he made the religious leaders angry.
Another thing to keep in mind - the religious leaders had declared that anyone associated with Jesus could be banned from the Temple association with Jesus could be considered a crime punishable by the religious leaders. One would have to think clearly before rushing to Jesus to ask for help.
But there was a crisis at Jairus’ home. His 12 year old daughter had fallen ill - and she was very ill. She was sick enough her father was worried about her survival and he was a good father who was willing to do whatever was necessary to help his daughter. He must had heard that Jesus was in town and he would have known that Jesus was going to be surrounded by crowds - because Jesus was always surrounded by crowds. He also knew that if the religious leaders head that a man of his position had gone to Jesus; had publicly talked to Jesus; had brought Jesus back to his home - his livelihood and the salvation of himself and his family could be in jeopardy. But we get the impression from the way this story is written that Jairus was willing to risk every to help his daughter get well and he knew that his only hope was in the hands of Jesus.
So Jairus leaves his home and goes to seek Jesus out, obviously not caring who sees him. Right now the most important thing to Jairus was getting help for his daughter. He finds Jesus and falls down at Jesus feet, humbling himself before this man he was suppose to be avoiding. How hard is it to ‘humble’ yourself? Jairus was a man of stature in the community; someone who would have been very sure of himself and a man who would expect others to humble themselves before him….. and yet he was willing to do that because he was sure Jesus was the answer to his dilemma.
Think what it must have been like at that moment for Jairus - he had to put aside a lot of baggage to seek Jesus out in a crowd and to kneel down before Jesus and to beg Jesus for help. Who among us likes to make ourselves so vulnerable we are willing to
beg for help?
Jesus says ‘yes’ he is willing to help and starts working his way through the crowd towards Jairus’ house when he is stopped by a women who wanted Jesus’ healing. What do you think it was like for Jairus when he had Jesus on the hook to come help; he knew his daughter needed immediately help; and then this woman stops Jesus and Jesus stops to help her. I picture Jairus hoping up and down saying, “Come on Jesus! Come on! My daughter needs you now! This woman has been sick 12 years, she can wait a few more minutes…..”
But also see what Jairus witnessed - Jesus healed the woman right in from of him. Jairus go to see this miracle and had to have had an impact. And then Jairus’ heart must have sank when someone from his house comes running to him and says, “You don’t have to hurry anymore. Your daughter has died.”
The amount of emotion in Jairus had to be enormous. Here he had risked everything to come to Jesus; he had humbled himself; had allowed himself to beg; had his hopes up because Jesus was actually coming with him; and then to have the bottom fall out because Jesus had stopped to help this other woman….. Can you imagine how he felt? Grief over the loss of his little girl; anger over the interruption by the woman; and regret that he hadn't come to Jesus sooner.
Jesus had heard the report about the little girl and Jesus looked at the grieving father and said - “Don’t worry. She will be healed. Have faith in me.” And then Jesus continues on to Jairus’ home where he indeed heals the girl and she is restored to life because of what this loving father was willing to do.
Jairus did the greatest thing a father can do; he came to Jesus. Jairus was a good father because he showed us a father's love for his child. He was a great father because of his faith in Jesus Christ.
Jairus showed us the secret of being a good father and the secret is simple - it is faith. Being willing to put your faith in someone other than yourself. To realize that being a good father is not taking care of everything yourself, but of realizing that you can’t always take care of everything yourself; of realizing that you need help and that help comes from faith in Jesus Christ. Amen!

Just Like Loaves and Fishes

“Just Like Loaves and Fishes….”


Several years ago, I was part of a youth mission trip to Chicago. The youth were going to be in Chicago for 8 days and during those 8 days they worked in various missions around the Chicago area - every day there was a different kind of work. They worked at a food pantry helping to sort and stock food; they worked at a woman’s shelter where they worked with the women as they studied for their GED; they worked in a soup kitchen staffed by two nuns and supported by restaurants in the area who would drop off the food left over from their kitchens from the night before.
This was the project which made the most impact on these kids because what we had to do is essentially go through food that was spoiling and cut out the good portions of aging fruit, we picked out the good portions of left over lettuce from salad bars, we picked through vegetables to get the pieces that were still edible. By the time we were done and we assembled these left overs into meals and we were amazed at how many people we served. From leftovers and a morning’s hard work came enough food to feed an overwhelming number of people.
We are part of a denomination where 80% of the churches are 80 members or less. And in a culture where the first question that is always asked when there is an activity is ‘How many were there?’ ‘How many came?’ ‘How big was it?’, we often try to add qualifiers to our size as if we are defensive and embarrassed that we are small; that we have fewer numbers.
But the story of God as recorded in scripture teaches us something quite different. If I preached a sermon on all the times God used something that had a lot of people or a large number of anything or something big, the sermon would be over already because there weren’t any times when God began anything with something large or numerous. We need to shout for joy that we are small and that God chose us and gifted us to be this small congregation that is a bright light in this community.
Look at the history of God’s people - God started of with one man; well one man and his wife. That was it. God said I am going to have followers as numerous as the stars and I am going to start doing that with 2 people….. 2 people and from those 2 people came a great nation. The point - God always starts his work with something small - something small and with faith. From the time of Abraham through the teachings of the New Testament we are reminded of Abraham, time after time, with the lesson that God started small with Abraham and Sarah - but that the other important element was faith. Abraham is held up before us as the example of what faith is to be like….. “Hey Abraham. There is only you and Sarah and from you will come a great nation if you will trust me enough to pack up everything you own and head off into unknown territory; if you will only have faith.”
Faith seems to be the key and we as a small church need to remember that. We need to keep in mind that yes we are small, but if we have faith - if we truly trust in God - then nothing is impossible; there is nothing we can’t do if God lays it before us.
Our short passage from Deuteronomy earlier in the service, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other people, for you were the fewest of all peoples” was said by God to Moses who in turn relayed it to God’s people. God’s people had been freed from Egypt and God was sending them to the promised land. But, God said through Moses, there are 7 nations who already live in the promised land and you are going to have to defeat them. Each of those 7 nations, God says, “are greater and more numerous than you.” And God says ‘It is going to be your job to defeat them and take over the land.” What? We are this small group of people and we not only have to defeat one group of people who have more weapons and more people than we do? We have to defeat 7 nations with more and better weapons and more people than us? What? “Won’t be a problem” God says, “As long as you have faith that I will help you.” And what do we find out as we continue reading this story in the Biblical account - they did it. God’s people were able to conquer the 7 more numerous and more powerful and better equipped nations who lived in the land of Canaan - the Promised Land. God tells us then that the whole reason that he did it this way was to show the world that with God helping you, the small can achieve great things.
We could go on with these stories the rest of the day. Bible story after bible story glorify the small and the weak and the unusual and the makes no sense - able to do great things for God because of their faith and trust in him.
Jesus was the same way. Jesus had a fascination with all things small and humble - mustard seeds and sparrows and grains of wheat and yeast and on and on…. and the remnants of a boy’s lunch. There is a German proverb that says, “You can’t make bread from crumbs.” Well, don’t tell Jesus that. The whole message of the kingdom, the message Jesus kept hitting over an dover, the sermons he physically demonstrated were “Start small and see what God can do.” And Jesus’ response to that proverb, “You can’t made bread out of crumbs’ Is to promptly make dinner for 5000 (which was really closer to 25,000) out of crumbs.
We know the story - and in fact this is one of the very few stories that occur in all four Gospels - which tell us the importance God places on this teaching. Jesus has been teaching all day to this huge crowd and it getting to be late in the day and Jesus realizes these people have not eaten this whole time. So he gathers his disciples and says, “It is getting late, we need to feed these people”. The disciples solution was to send them home and to let them get their own food, but Jesus says, “No. We’ll feed them.” But, but, but, - the disciples were full of excuses as to why this was not possible. Jesus did the Jesus eye roll at them and said, “We will feed them.” Just then Andrew shows up with a young boy who had some fish and bread - just what his Mom had given him for his dinner. These are little fish, maybe 2 or 3 inches in length and small rolls - “but we can’t do anything with that.” Again with the Jesus eye roll….. “Sit everyone down.” And Jesus took the loaves and the fishes, he asked for God’s blessing on the food and he began to break up the bread and give it to the disciples and the disciples distributed it. And not only was there enough, there was an abundance. We are told that it wasn’t that everyone had food, everyone had enough food to fill them up. They were full. You know that full when you say, “I’m SO full….” and you rub your belly cause you know it is full. And not only is everyone full - but there are 12 baskets full of leftovers. From the small, 5 small loaves and 2 fish, came an abundance.
Over and over again God tells us that he does this deliberately. God deliberately calls the small things of this world to do his work - why? We sometimes think it is to work us to death….. but he does it because on the surface, it doesn’t appear that this would be possible. He does it specifically because in actuality we can’t do what we are called to do on our own. If we, as a small church are to do what we are asked to do, we can only do it through God’s provision. But through God’s provision, we can do it.
I hear this all the time from other people in other churches, “How can you all do all that you do?” - meaning how can we provide the ministries we do with the number of people we have. You are a generous bunch but when you realistically look at what we accomplish, “We really can’t on our own. But God can….”
Now I know there are days when you are tired and burnt out and you just don’t think you can do one more thing or go shopping and bring in one more thing to donate to someone else and God says, “I need you to……”. And we grumble - and it gets done because God gave us that one more zap of time and energy and resources.
1 Corinthians says, “God specifically chose the powerless and the things the world counts as nothing” to do his work so that the world can see that if we, the small and powerless, trust in God; if we have faith; if we truly believe in God’s provision; If we remember we aren’t like other clubs or organizations or groups - we are the church of Jesus Christ, chosen and gifted and ordained by God; if we follow through on what God calls us to do and then give God the credit for what we are able to accomplish, there is nothing we can’t do for God.
But our broken world right now needs so much. We need understanding and peace and reconciliation; we need healing and wisdom and cooperation. As a small church we think we can’t do anything about those huge reforms that need to come about.
But God tells us something different - God says “Look what I accomplished with 2 people, with my 1 son; look at what I did with only a few loaves and fishes… imagine what I can do with you.
We need to never say, “I wish we were bigger; I wish we had more”. We are exactly who God chose us to be - We are the small churches of our communities, chosen so that we can show the world what is possible if we live and serve with complete faith in God. Celebrate! Give praise to God! For we, the small churches, are his and with his power we can make a difference.
Amen!

A Wee Man and a Big Faith

“A Wee Man and a Big Faith”

For whatever reason, Zacchaeus is one my favorites of all of the Bible Characters. It may be that he has a great song with a catchy tune or because there is something fun about a short fella who climbs a tree…. but would we like the story so much if we replaced Zacchaeus in this story with Bernie Madoff who is famous for cheating people out of billions of dollars; out of their very livelihood - who I don’t know if he was a short person - but Zacchaeus, in reality, was not a lovable little wee man, he would have been the Jericho equivalent to Bernie Madoff…
Jesus is traveling from Capernaum to Jerusalem and is on his way to Jericho. From Jerusalem to Jericho is about 16 miles. Jericho has a rich history throughout the bible and still exists today. It is believed to be one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and it still has the famous wall that was originally knocked down by Joshua.
Our story however starts in a small town outside of Jericho where as usual a crowd gathers around Jesus and he begins to tell his stories. He starts by telling a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector who go up to the temple to pray.
Tax collectors in Jesus’ day were hated by everyone. The Romans, even though they hired the tax collectors; they saw the tax collectors for what they were, greedy traitors who were willing to prey on their own people cheating them for their own gain, working for the hated Roman oppressors, robbing people of their livelihood and their means to support their own family. And the tax collectors own people, their Jewish neighbors hated the tax collectors because they were greedy traitors who cheated them - it was such a slap in the face for your own to work for the enemy. Tax collectors were very wealthy and for the most part were not shy about letting people see how wealthy they were - of course from funds taken from the people…..
And remember Pharisees were the professional religious people - the ones who were suppose to be outstanding citizens, above reproach, people you were suppose to look up to for your moral example….
So Jesus tells the story about a proper Pharisee and a hated tax collector who go up to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee stands where everyone can see him and lifts his arms to heaven and says “Thank you God that I am not like the bad people - like robbers and adulterers or like that tax collector. I fast and I tithe and I do all the right things.” And the tax collector stood at the back, bowed down and and would not lift his head or his hands to God in the typical way to pray and prayed, “God have mercy on me, for I am a sinner.” And Jesus says, “The one who is blessed, is the tax collector.” What a slap in the face to a group of people who thought the tax collectors were on the highway to Hell.
About this time a rich young man comes to Jesus and says, “I want to follow you!” And Jesus looks at him and says, “Fine. But first you have to give up all you have. Go do that and come back and you can follow me.” And we are told that the rich young man went away very sad, because he wasn’t willing to give all that wealth away.”
Remember these two people, the repentant tax collector and the reluctant young rich man as we go with Jesus into Jericho.
Jesus enters Jericho. News of his coming had preceded him and crowds had gathered to see Jesus as crowds did everywhere. Something had compelled Zacchaeus to go to see Jesus. But Zacchaeus was short - he was a wee little man - and with the crowds of people Zacchaeus was shut out - no one was going to help him; no one was going to move out of his way so he could see… so Zacchaeus does the only thing he can to be able to see Jesus which was to get somewhere above the crowd, so he climbs up a tree - a sycamore tree to be exact.


Jesus goes straight to the tree where Zacchaeus had climbed up, stopped and looked up and called Zacchaeus by name. How did Jesus know that Zacchaeus was in that tree? How did Jesus know that Zacchaeus was his name? Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down! I’m going to go to your house.” ‘There is so much wrong with this considering the social norms of the day. First of all it was not socially acceptable to invite yourself to someone’s home, even if you were the visiting celebrity and it was certainly tabu for a good Jew to go to the house of a tax collector. Entering a tax collector’s home would make you ‘unclean’ and very unpopular.
Zacchaeus comes down out of the tree and takes Jesus to his house. Can you imagine the surprise and the disgust of the people who hear this exchange and who see Jesus walking with this man, this tax collector, this greedy traitor. The crowd couldn’t understand how Jesus could actually share a meal with this sinner.
But Jesus didn’t see Zacchaeus as the citizens of Jericho saw him – Jesus saw someone whom God loves. Jesus saw someone who is precious, someone whom He has come to save.
What a contrast it would have been for Jesus, this plain, simply dressed former carpenter, to enter into this fine, luxurious, home with its rich furnishings and elaborate tapestries on the walls. The food would have been the top of the line, gourmet offerings, the finest of wine.
Jesus and Zacchaeus sit down and talked. We don’t know what the conversation might have been, but by the end of it we know that Zacchaeus’ life was transformed. He looked at Jesus and said “Today I am giving half of everything I have to the poor and the people I have cheated I am going to pay back 4 times over!” Amazing what Jesus can do - and did you catch the difference between Zacchaeus and the rich young man who couldn’t follow Jesus because he wasn’t willing to give anything up for Jesus?
Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Zacchaeus, I knew when I saw you up in that tree that you had a true desire to change your life. I knew that if you went to that effort just to see me, there was a desire within you to get to know me, to understand what I was all about….. Zacchaeus, today you have understood the grace God has showered on you.”
Jesus then looked at the crowd and said, “This is why I came. I came to seek and find the ones who have lost their way; to show them there is a new way, a better way to live. To find those that have lost their way and just need some help getting back on track.”
Zacchaeus serves as evidence of all the possibilities in the presence of Jesus. Everything about the story of Zacchaeus seems impossible -- that a chief tax collector would want to see Jesus; that Jesus sought him out and knew his name; that Jesus would stay in his home; that it would be revealed that this sinner exceeded what the law required as restitution for the money he extorted by his generosity to the poor and the people he cheated; that Jesus would declare not just him but his whole household saved because of Zacchaeus’ transformation. Jesus declared that what is impossible for mortals is nevertheless possible for God. Perhaps Zacchaeus is one more example of the impossible possibility that Jesus embodies and regularly displays.
Maybe for us Zacchaeus represents what Jesus can do in our lives. Especially when we see so much evil going on around us - shootings, and riots, and vandalism, and anger, and resentment. Disagreements over social distancing and getting back to normal. Uncertainty about when or if our lives will get back to normal.
But Jesus says, what will make a difference, is if we first get our own spiritual lives back in order. If we think more about a relationship with him and less about the inconveniences of our lives - if we focus on the things of God, we can be transformed just like Zacchaeus. We can begin to see ourselves and our lives in a whole new perspective.
And that is all it takes to begin to transform this crazy world - one person at a time. Amen.