Strength of Faith.

Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted.

Over the months of Ordinary Time, a time dedicated to growth, we focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith. Remember, we are focusing on our Strength of Faith.

Today we encounter another of Jesus’ most well-known and amazing miracles, the multiplication of loaves and fish. A few weeks ago, recall we encountered Jesus calming the sea. Powerful miracles!

On this occasion we see Jesus once again testing His disciple’s faith. He is taking a measure of their store of faith, how full was their faith tank? [Jesus] said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because He Himself knew what he was going to do.

He is testing our level of faith as well. How strong is our faith? Is this a true miracle or a nice story? Do we believe or not?

I remember a few Biblical Studies courses where the professors would posit that there was no direct miracle from heaven. They would say that people in those days never traveled without food. When they saw the strength of Jesus’ faith, they pulled out the food they had hidden away and shared it, thus creating a surplus of food, i.e., the miracle was the opening of people’s hearts. I was shocked. What, Jesus did nothing!?!

Perhaps such a thought gives some people a nice feeling. They can discount heavenly stuff and remain fixed on themselves. Jesus doesn’t do much, He just inspires good actions. How wonderful.

If, however, we confront the reality of the miracle Jesus performed in the multiplication of five loaves and two fish, we must recognize Who and What Jesus is. He is God Who works great things from the smallest of gifts for those who come to Him. He is the God of amazing works and of everlasting care. 

Jesus’ care is directed at us and is a sign of heavenly power and favor for believers. His care is for the strengthening of our bodies and souls. He builds us up so, as St. Paul says, we may live in a manner worthy of the call we have received; to live in strength of faith.

God’s call is never to focus inward, but first upward to heaven, the source of all good, and then to take that experience outward to others. 

In our heavenward focus, let us realize that the Holy Spirit in and among us continues to take the smallest of things in and about us and makes them massively wonderful. Let us consider then the small gifts we each have, our skills, knowledge, and abilities, and let us pray that God take the loaves we have to offer and through His miraculous power accomplish great things. In strength of faith trust and it will happen!

Worthy of the
call.

But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!

Jesus’ meeting with Zacchaeus is one of the most beautiful encounters in the gospel. It is beautiful and poignant because it speaks to us in the ways we fall short of the call we have received and the hope we have for coming to worthiness.

St. Paul tells the Thessalonians to be worthy of the call. Jesus reminds Zacchaeus to live up to his call.

Let’s take apart the words here.

First, Jesus had no intention of hanging out in Jericho. The gospel tells us “[He] intended to pass through the town.”

But… there was this man Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus the short, the tiny, the little. It wasn’t so much about Zacchaeus’ physical stature, but rather his spiritual standing.

God’s only Son, Jesus, passing through the town comes across one fallen, one with great spiritual and moral shortcomings. and stopped as Wisdom says God does. The Lover of souls takes time to call Zacchaeus down from his lofty position and back to the reality of one called, a son of Israel and child of God. Jesus’ presence calls Zacchaeus to abandon his former ways … and he does.

Notice, Zacchaeus stands, stands on his own feet to be seen and heard by all. He renounces his former life and in doing so finds salvation. And not just Zacchaeus, but salvation had come to his entire house. 

There is such hope here. There is such promise!

Zacchaeus, like we, was the holder of God’s promise. He was not an outsider, not a castaway, forgotten – and Jesus did not pass him by. Jesus passes no one by. The Holy Spirit’s call to faith echoes in each person’s ears. We are all called as is every human being. There is no ‘them’ in the promise of hope. 

The call rang out in Zacchaeus’ heart, come unto Jesus. So, he climbed. It has rung out in our hearts – it is why we are here. It is ringing in ears across this city, county, state, nation, and world. We must therefore live worthy of the call, using the grace and power given us to powerfully bring to fulfillment the good God asks of us, the effort of faith. Let us bring in of the harvest through the word of hope we hold, the example we offer.

The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

As I was studying for this week’s discussion, I came across a great word: performative. The Webster type definition seems a little complex. Here it is: “Relating to or denoting an utterance by means of which the speaker performs a particular act.” This example, contained in the definition, sets it out better: “performative utterances do not merely describe what one is doing; to say the utterance is to do it”

The words Jesus gives his messengers, as He sends them out, are performative: they do, they accomplish what He says. The kingdom of God advances and draws near. Jesus seemingly gives great power. When the disciples return, they rejoice for they have seen remarkable things, miracles. Yet Jesus cautions them. Why?

Jesus cautions them, not to get caught up in the power they have (something we as Christians have completely forgotten and neglected), but to see more clearly the ends that are being achieved.

Certainly, Jesus words accomplished the power the disciples exhibited. Yet they did far more than that. Those signs and wonders were mere markers of the coming new age, the redeemed time, the advent of the kingdom. The performative word of Jesus ushers in the kingdom, invites all into that kingdom. Jesus’ presence among us and His performative words bring the kingdom. So, we must share.

We have to reconnect to the performative words of Jesus. 

We have power in faith. We have to own that power and have confidence that Jesus – GOD – provided. His is the true and performative gospel. What He said is! The enemy cannot win against us because we bring the truth.

Beyond that power, and more compelling, is the word we bring, whether accepted or not: ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ And if some do not listen, we say: Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.

Starting and ending
with Jesus.

Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.

Imagine a world in which some criminal, a reactionary and revolutionary becomes everyone’s hope. Imagine a world in which being foolish, weak, lowly and despised is more powerful than power.

Paul was telling the people of Corinth to be focused on Someone and something the world saw as completely absurd. A criminal in the world’s eyes was crucified and had become the center of their faith. Jesus – Who the Jews saw as a stumbling block and Who the Gentiles saw as foolish – was their means of salvation. In fact, Jesus specifically called them, chose them – the lowly of the world – into the fullness of salvation and victory. Can we be foolish enough to get there?

Around 300 a philosopher explained that Christian “simplicity” attracted people. It is a fact of human history that power and strength and its benefits are limited to a few. The power of the strong and their cruelties make us question whether their way is our goal and hope or is it a corruption of what life was designed to be.

Jesus’ life calls us to question what is important. It helps us to realize that we, the foolish, weak, lowly and despised, are chosen and worthy of God. Jesus’ life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension calls us to realize that all He said and did was meant to raise up our everlasting status and to make us His coheirs – that’s real power.

Like us, the Corinthians probably doubted. Worldly power and status is powerfully attractive. Yet there they were, none of them powerful or aristocratic. Paul reminds them that the real victory in not being “all that.”

God’s way is to choose those of apparently little account to show the apparently important that they are wrong, to “shame” them. It is a paradox with a beautiful outcome. Instead of choosing learned, perfect, and proud figures to bring about the greatest good; God chooses the small, imperfect and weak. It that, God works the most beautiful of miracles. He does away with boasting so that His faithful might place their boast and receive their power from Him alone.

God asks that we grasp the real power that comes from boasting in Him. We are to rejoice in our simplicity and rely completely on the One who gives us real power. Seeing Him as our beginning and ending leads us into becoming His blessed, His coheirs, the receivers of His real power.

What will stop
Jesus?

At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.”

Thirty-six, what can we do with thirty-six? With thirty-six dollars we could hire an actuary, a Sports Agent, or a Nuclear Power Reactor Operator for an hour. We could hire a Physical Therapist for an hour’s treatment. We could buy a fairly good meal at a good restaurant. We could get three drinks at the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa. We could get a whole mess of stuff at our local dollar store. The point is that with thirty-six dollars we couldn’t do a lot. We would be limited. Thirty-six isn’t a lot.

What could Jesus accomplish with only a few? This is a powerful moment. Jesus cuts His first followers loose on the world. He sends them out. There are only seventy-two. Thirty-six pairs of disciples who go out to witness and proclaim the kingdom.

What was it about these thirty-six ordinary pairs of people? They’d listened to Jesus for a while. Not exactly like going to college or a long-term course of study. Jesus’ instructions aren’t even that detailed. So what would these thirty-six be able to do?

Jesus gave them an essential mission. Tell people who receive you: ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ They went and they did it – then came back rejoicing. They were successful. They focused on one thing that Jesus asked and that was all that was needed. The word was spread. By this proclaiming people came to know about the kingdom. A kingdom they had part of by their faith.

We might now think, wow, with only thirty-six pairs of people so much seems to have been done. Unfortunately things did not get great immediately. Things went backwards. Once the Great Preacher and Teacher was arrested, tried, and killed many ran away. Was it fear or no earthly kingdom? We cannot say for sure, but in the end twelve counting Judas’ replacement and a handful of supporters were left in the upper room.

We know the story – they were filled by the Holy Spirit and preached the Kingdom to the ends of the earth. Yet they were only twelve. They were small, uneducated, and unpopular. They went out like lambs among wolves. Within days some would be arrested. One was already dead. But nothing stopped them. Nothing was more powerful than their faith. They were victorious because regardless of obstacles faith overcame. And their names are written in heaven.

Reflection for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014

We Have a BIG God

We have a big
God

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We are called to recognize and live the power of God.

Reading the Old Testament we see the multitude of tremendous things God did for His people. When they were threatened He gave them victory. When they were small like David He blessed them and gave them the power to slay giants. He led them from slavery and captivity. He caused them to pass through the sea, and He fed them and gave them drink when there appeared to be none.

Reading those accounts we see the power of our God – able to create from nothing, to protect, to lead, to save; Who as Isaiah says feeds us and sustains us, even though we have nothing to offer in return.

All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!

This big and powerful image of God was ever before the people of Israel. Even so, the people of Israel turned away from God over and over. They sought after the things they thought would give them power, success, and happiness and forgot that He was the only One who could deliver all that and so much more.

Finally, in His greatest and most powerful act ever, the New Testament reveals and witnesses to the fact that God emptied Himself of everything, became man, taught us, healed the sick, raised the dead, and …taking the five loaves and the two fish… gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied…

He then picked up all our sinfulness, fears, and our very deaths and offered them in His body on the cross. In doing that we now enjoy freedom and security in His power and promises.

Our God is big, powerful, almighty, and yet people still turn away, and pull into themselves. They try to find a way to fill the voids in their lives, to solve the problems they encounter, and to seek joy without Him. We must be different!

Our bulletin art says it well: Don’t tell God how big your storm is; tell your storm how big your God is. In God we have the ability to triumph, to overcome, and to succeed. This does not mean earthly success or freedom from life’s strains and pressures. It does mean that when we encounter these things we can stare into them and confidently say – my God is bigger than you and His promises are more important than you. We are called to recognize exactly how big our God is and to place our trust in Him. Take this huge leap of faith and trust. It is very much worth taking!