Friday night Beth and I had the opportunity to participate in a grand part of life in Oklahoma. We went to Lake Eufaula with Scott, Kama, and Andrew and loaded onto a pontoon boat with her parents and heading out for some fishing at dusk. The sand bass were running and we pulled in over 100 fish in about an hour. I had never seen anything like it. The sand bass were hitting the water’s surface so hard it looked like that part of the lake was boiling. It seemed with almost every cast we had a hit. I had grown up with the traditional cast and wait – cast and wait – cast and wait – hoping to catch one or two fish in the course of the day. Nothing I had experienced on a lake could prepare me for the flurry that awaited me. The sand bass run was beyond anything I could have imagined.
Throughout of worship experience we have heard two stories of people who had experiences beyond their imagination. While the circumstances of each story are different, an encounter with the prophet Elisha that drew them into a grand act of provision with God. Hear the Ogburn version of the stories
The first story about a woman filled with desperation. Her husband was a man of faith and a servant of the great prophet. He had performed his role with heart but his resources were pretty meager. He died leaving his wife and children deeply in debt. When the woman could not settle their debts the creditors let it be known that they were going to seize her sons as slaves to pay off the debts. The desperate woman came to prophet. There was nothing left to do. “What do you have?” the prophet asked. “Just a little lamp oil” she replied. You can imagine the prophet stroking his beard thinking through the situation. “Go get any empty jugs from your neighbors and bring them here” he told her. She scurried off and begged her neighbors for anything empty jug they might have. “It does not matter what they look like” she probably said, “The prophet told me to collect them.” She collected what she could and brought them to the prophet.” At his command she took her little bit of oil and began to pour it in the jugs. She probably wondered what he was thinking because she knew how little she had. But there she stood and her bit of oil filled the first jug, then the second one, then a third one….he filled jug after jug. She could not believe what she was seeing. “One more”she called out. “We do not have any more” one of her sons said. “That’s all of them.” With the spoken word the oil stopped pouring. She looked around with utter amazement. “Go sell them and pay off your debts” the prophet told her. “You will have enough left to love on the leftovers.” Her world was changed. God had provided her everything she needed – with leftovers to spare.
An unnamed man brought prophet bread made from the first fruits of his crop. It was an as an act of faithfulness. But, the man could not have been prepared for what was about to happen. The prophet told the man to feed one hundred people with his twenty loaves of bread. The math did not work. The man asked the prophet, “Do you see what I brought you? There is no way this is enough to do the job you are asking me to do.” “Trust me,” the prophet told him. “Go and do what God has asked you to do.” The man did it and good multiplied his offering. God used what the man brought, fed the people - with leftovers to spare.
On Wednesday night we faced a difficult decision as a church family. We made a decision to sell our cabin at Falls Creek and our lodge at Glorieta. The decision was made both to contain costs and provide our congregation some additional resources to help us maneuver through this season of financial concern. A little over three months ago I sent the email to Bruce and Kim that this would be the sermon scripture for the morning. I could have never imagined how meaningfully these two parallel stories can speak into our church family life this morning. God knew and guided us here.
Both stories begin with a personal encounter with the Prophet Elisha. They would have understood Elisha as much more than a preacher, a pastor, or an evangelist. In that era the prophet was understood to be the voice of God among the people. When they came to Elisha they understood that they were coming to the one who could help them hear God’s voice and experience God’s presence. The woman understood she was in a crisis of faith and in a defining moment of her life. Many in this room have come to God sharing her sense of desperation. You know that short of an act of God thing will only get worse. You have done all you know how and now come seeking a fresh word from God and a sense that you are not walking this path alone. The woman could not conceive that God could use her limited resources to do something amazing. For some, the anxiety of financial concerns in your life – or in the life of our congregation – demands you – demands that we - turn to God with hope and expectation. We come knowing that we need God’s provision.
The man did not know what awaited him. He came to his moment of crisis and definition in an act of faithfulness. He brought God his best and waited to see how God might use it. He could not imagine that God would use his resources to do something amazing. For some in this room you come like the man. You have been faithful and you long to see what God will do with the tithes and offerings you have brought. We come wanting to see God’s provision.
For different reasons the woman and the man come seeking. God speaks into their lives with clear direction. They must choose obedience. “Obedience” is one of those words that seem to be fading away from the vocabulary in our current culture. We would rather negotiate the terms and conditions that are comfortable for us. We would like an explanation of objectives and outcomes. We want to know the fine print of the contract. Elisha did not offer either one of the two a choice. He told the women to go and gather all the jugs she could, without telling her what would happen next. He told the man to feed the one hundred, even over the man’s concerns. He told the man to fee the one hundred, without telling him what would happen next.
We, as individuals and as a congregation, are called to listen for God’s direction and to respond in obedience. God’s movement among us is unmistakable. We see God’s hand in the growth of our ministry with children, youth, 20somethings, refugees and internationals. We see some great new individuals and families joining us side-by-side in ministry. We are witnessing the renewal of this grand facility. But, we do not know what will happen next. Where will all of the required resources come from? Who will God bring into our church family? What will we look like in one year or five? What is going to happen?
Let me make you nervous. I do not know how it all works out. Our task is not to have it all figured out. Our task is to be obedient. The call to obedience is not to a pastor’s voice or a strategy plan devised by others. Our task is to be obedient to what we as a community of faith believe to be the voice of God. It is about looking for where God is moving, for sensing how God is shaping us, to prayerfully considering what God is saying to us in worship, in Bible study, in prayer, and in song. Obedience is not easy. I believe that we were obedient on Wednesday night- but the pain of the decision was unmistakable to all of us. It was a defining moment for us – a moment when we trusted all of our congregational resources into God’s hands. Obedience commands trust and change. It commands that we align our lives and our church life to be where God wants us to be – and to do what God has for us to do – without knowing the results in advance. It is about trusting God and trusting God with the results.
Both stories end with a grand act of God. The woman’s needs are met with leftovers to spare. The man’s bread is multiplied with leftovers to spare. Neither one of them could have imagined what God would do in them and through them. The woman could not have imagined that God would not only meet her short term need using her own resources – but that God would also provide her a future. The man could not have imagined his simple offering would become a tool of God. These two stories are testimonies of God’s faithfulness. These two stories remind us that God will make a way.
* I wonder what God will do in and through us if we choose to come to God’s presence and listen for God’s voice.
* I wonder what God will do in and through us if we worry less about the results and focus more on doing what God calls us to do.
* I wonder what God will do in and through us if we really trusted God with our resources – trusting God to use them and multiply them, even leaving leftovers.
*I wonder what God will do in and through us – a defining moment awaits us - I can hardly wait to see what God will do.