Multiplication

I came across a math problem on social media this week. I thought I would give it a go, even though I am terrible at math. It was a multiplication problem, and the trick was to figure out where the parentheses should go. But that turned out to not matter, because it was a series of steps that concluded with “times zero.” So no matter how you added, multiplied, or subtracted the other numbers, “times zero” resulted in zero. Anytime you try to multiply something by nothing, you get nothing. (Cue Billy Preston.)

Many of us are familiar with the stories of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes in the New Testament. All four gospels record Jesus’ feeding the multitudes of people with a small portion of barley loaves and fish. This story is so important, it is the only story besides the resurrection that is recorded in every gospel.

But did you know that a similar story appears in the Old Testament?

Our scripture from 2 Kings today tells a story about Elisha that sounds very familiar:

2 Kings 4 (New Revised Standard Version)

42 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” 

43 But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” 44 He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.

There are several things that jump out in this passage. The man presented food from the first fruits to Elisha, who was a man of God. The phrase first fruits refers to the first and best part of the harvest in the amount of ten percent. This tells us that the giver was obedient to the tithing law. He brought one-tenth of his harvest to Elisha as the Law instructed. Somehow this man understood that you can’t multiply something from nothing, and so he brought his small offering with the understanding that it would be multiplied.

Do you tithe? This ancient practice is as relevant today as it was in those times. The people of God who give generously of their time, talent, and tithe can tell you what blessings flow from this practice.

And we have to pay attention to Elisha’s response. His instruction to his servant was to give it all away. He didn’t take a portion for himself and then instruct the left-overs be distributed. No, he is confident that his needs will be met if the people are served first.

When you receive an unexpected blessing of abundance, what do you do with it? Do you hoard it, bury it in the ground, bank it, or do you share it? God’s word affirms his desire that we should serve others before we serve ourselves. We can do this with confidence, knowing that Jesus’ example of washing his disciples’ feet was a lesson to us about how to have a servant’s heart. Where is God calling you to put someone or something first?

Finally, this passage assures us that God always makes good on his promises. Elisha was standing on the word of God when he made the crazy suggestion to feed one hundred people with twenty loaves of bread and a few heads of grain. He probably didn’t even count what had been set in front of him. He didn’t do the math to figure out how small to cut the slices, like a worried mother would when too many people show up at the birthday party. No, he just gave it all in the firm belief that God would multiply it, simply because God said he would. And not only did everyone get enough to eat, there were left-overs!

Where is God calling you to stand on his promises? Where is he nudging you to let go of the little that you have so that you can receive the abundance he is waiting to deliver? When we let go of the things we hold onto the tightest, such as our resources, our time, our fears, our past history, our mistakes, our pre-conceived notions, etc., it is only then that we are open to what God is trying to give us.

We live our lives out of a theology of scarcity or a theology of abundance. Jesus came so that you might have life, and have it ABUNDANTLY. God invites us to trust him today and let go…and receive.

Abundance by Kathy Schumacher

See Jesus? Be Like Jesus

In studying the term “abundant living” for an upcoming sermon, I came across the idea that one aspect of abundant living is walking in Jesus’ steps. In a kind of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” chain of thinking, I then turned to looking at scriptures that definitively explain what it means to be like Jesus. (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is a fabulous children’s book where a mouse gets a cookie, which means he needs a glass of milk, which means he has to use a chair to get a glass, which means….you get the idea.) In the plethora of cookie crumbs that I followed in that line of thinking, I came across this morsel of goodness from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi:

Philippians 2 (The Message)

1-4 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care

Holy Cow. Did you catch that? “If you have a heart, if you care…” Paul lays it on straight and THICK.

— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Being Jesus means not being obsessed with getting your own advantage. Imagine how the world would work if everyone behaved that way!

5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process.

I’m terrible at math, but even I can see that equation: “Being like Christ” = “Being humble.”

He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Now let’s think about how this could apply to the way we treat people who look or think differently or will VOTE differently than us. Think about the person you MOST disagree with…maybe it’s your relative, a co-worker, a friend, or even your spouse. It might be someone with whom you have had many arguments or with whom you have exchanged NASTY posts on FaceBook.

You know who I’m referring to….the one who is the red to your blue or the liberal to your conservative. Now hold that person in your mind and listen again to what the scripture is telling you about how to treat him or her:

  1. Agree with each other.
  2. Love each other.
  3. Be deep-spirited friends with each other.
  4. Don’t push your way or your IDEAS in front of that person.

What should we do? Don’t try to talk your way to the top but let others go ahead of you. Step aside, FORGET YOURSELF, and lend a hand….even to that person you don’t like.

That is the secret to abundant living. When we empty ourselves of ourselves, it is then that we are most like Jesus.

Step Aside by Michelle Robertson

Sparking Sadness

Yes, that is a picture of mismatched, old, worn-out socks. I took it against a nice background, since my epiphanies always happen at the Water’s Edge, but it is indeed a nasty pile of socks. These aren’t even my socks, but my husband’s. He walked down the steps with them last week and declared, “I have decided that these socks no longer spark joy.” In my mind I was thinking, “Honey, they haven’t sparked joy for about ten years, especially the red ones.”

His comment was a result of the Marie Kondo phenomenon. Kondo is a television personality who brilliantly came up with the idea to do shows helping people become more organized and efficient with their homes and their usage of space. Disciples of Kondo will recognize the “spark joy” reference. Her greatest teaching is that you should hold an object in your hands, and if it doesn’t spark any joy in your heart, you need to toss it out. I read a news report that said that once this idea went viral, thrift stores everywhere were suddenly overwhelmed with joyless donations. Her thinking is pretty revolutionary, don’t you think? But more importantly, don’t you wish you had come up with it first?? I sure do!

A friend of mine coined another phrase to describe the opposite of sparking joy. She said that she realizes there are things in her home that only “spark sadness.” She described how a beautiful figurine that looked just like her dog now sparks sadness, as the dog has passed away. I have a favorite photograph in my living room of my in-laws holding hands as they crossed the finish line at the Turkey Trot many years ago. Since my mother-in-law died, this picture of her smiling in her Penn State hat and wearing her race number pinned to her sweatshirt often sparks sadness for me. She will never do that race again, which was the highlight of our Thanksgiving day for many years. We keep things like these to honor the sweet bitterness of lost loves, but sometimes holding them truly sparks sadness, and rightfully so.

There is a difference between things that no longer spark joy and things that outright spark only sadness. Sometimes relationships are like that. They can go fallow for awhile, and temporarily fail to spark joy. Then a reconciliation or reunion happens and turns it around. But other times, the thought of them brings only a sweet-less bitter that is permanent. And that’s when you know it is time to let go.

This applies to anything that is bringing you despair and angst. When past mistakes, regrets, guilt, sin, poor choices, failures, bad relationships, hurts, anger, betrayals, etc. bring nothing useful to your life and only drag you deep into a place of darkness, let it go.

Paul calls us to reach forward and grasp what Christ has already planned for us:

Philippians 3:13 “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Remember when you were learning how to cross the monkey bars at the playground? Somebody held you up, and you grasped a bar. Then to move forward, you had to let go of the bar and grasp the next one in front of you. Otherwise your arms would eventually wear out and you would drop to the ground.

Forget what is behind. Strain toward what is ahead. Jesus took hold of the cross so that you could take hold of life, and he promised it would be a life ABUNDANT with meaning, purpose, and joy. So whatever you are holding today that sparks only sadness in your heart, let it go. Jesus has so much more for you than that.