A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on November 14, 2010.
2 Kings 4:1-7
O God, your generosity is so great it always exceeds our ability to receive. We thank you for abundant life and how it overflows with blessing beyond our ability to even comprehend it. Forgive us when the blessings we have received are so numerous that we forget to thank you for blessings in days recently gone by. We thank you for friends that have sustained us in times of need. We thank you for the ministry of this church that has been a witness to us through your grace. We thank you that Christ was crucified and that you did raise him from the dead for our salvation. May our living, our speech, and the temperament of our hearts always, and in every way, reflect our remembrance of these and your other gifts. We pray today to have hearts that celebrate your goodness to us by loving one another, by giving with generous spirits. Teach us to welcome the guests, to include those who are isolated and to witness to those who are without hope. Send peace upon all who are worried and anyone who carries an anxious moment today. Send healing upon all who are ill and comfort to all those who grieve. O God, if we might be your instruments in these works of your heart, we stand ready to bless as we have been blessed. We pray all of these things because we love your son, Jesus Christ, and we want to reflect his spirit in all that we do. Amen.
The Bible contains many accounts of God’s abundance: manna and quail in the wilderness, ever available oil and meal for Elijah and his landlady, seven loaves and two fish that yielded twelve basketfuls of leftovers, and the best wine served at the end of the wedding celebration. The question for us is this: Does God have no more abundance left to give?
Two friends are talking about cars. One begins to complain about his car because it is fast approaching high mileage.
“Is your car giving you trouble,” the other friend asks.
“No, it is not giving me any trouble at all.”
“Well, what are you worried about?”
“It is getting to the point where it has so many miles on it that I know something is going to break. I can’t afford a new car and I certainly can’t afford any repairs. I don’t know what I am going to do.”
“Well, what’s the problem? Is it really giving you trouble?”
“No, it’s not giving me any trouble yet.”
The friend says, “I tell you what the problem is. You always see the glass as half empty and I always see it as half full.”
Have you ever had that conversation with somebody where you are looking at it from the negative side and somebody says, “Well, you just see the glass as half empty, and I see it as half full.”
In preparation for the sermon, I actually came across something on the internet where they were debating whether that phrase was so worn out that it did not have meaning any more. I think that may be true, but I will tell you something I have observed that I think is different. I have racked my brain and tried to think of anyone in my life that ever described themselves as a half-empty kind of person and I can’t think of anybody. I am sure there has been, but what I have discovered is that most of us think of ourselves as half-full kind of people. It is the other person who is always seeing the glass as half empty.
If we were to talk about whether folks see us as half full or half empty, I would bet that almost all of us would say, “I see it as half full,” because we like to think of ourselves as positive, optimistic, and faithful individuals.
The idea reminds me of a great story by Ernest Campbell. He was in the great tradition of Riverside Church preachers in New York. He grew up in New York, I think a Yankees fan. He tells the story of going to double-headers in the afternoon at Yankee Stadium. What a great time it was! There were 18 innings. As the day would begin to wear along, he would begin to dread the end of the day. He would start doing math in his mind. He would begin to think, “There are three innings gone. I still have 15/18ths (or whatever that turns out to be left) left.
As the day would wear further along and he would grow more anxious about how little he had left, he would begin to divide into half innings so he would go into 36ths. You can figure it out. “There are only 13/36ths left of this day.” He would begin to just count down, count down, and count down. He called it the depletion anxiety. The anxiety that comes with the idea that pretty soon whatever I have is going to be gone. However much I have left right now is going to be even less.
I must confess that I suffer from that. I can remember as a teenager getting money for Christmas from grandparents, etc. I might have had $100 which, at the time, seemed like a million dollars to me. I can remember leaving the house after Christmas ready to go to the sales to buy something stylish like bell-bottom jeans or something else that I really wanted, and then realizing that if I spent my money, I was going to have that much less. It seemed to me to be an every-year occurrence that I would set out to go shopping with the money I got for Christmas, and I would come back with every penny because I could not bear the thought of having less than I had before.
Do you ever do the depletion anxiety math with vacation? Vacation is usually seven days and runs from Saturday to Saturday. About Tuesday, you begin to think, “O no, I only have this much left. It’s going away! It’s depleting!” Yet, if we were asked, we would probably all say that we are half-full kind of people who suffer from the depletion anxiety.
This brings us face to face with a crisis of faith. Do we genuinely believe in the abundance of God?
The scripture from 2 Kings 4 is the story of Elisha who was the follower of Elijah. The widow of one of the prophets does not know what to do. Elisha told her, “Go borrow all the pots, pans, jars, and bowls that you can from your friends. Take that little bit of oil and keep on pouring.”
If we were there and watched, pretty soon we saw one of the sons run out and go to other neighbors’ houses and come back with another pot, another pan, another jar. They just kept filling these vessels up until the point came when there were no other pots, pans, jars, or vases to borrow from anybody in the town. They were all full, and Elisha said, “You have enough to save your sons from going into slavery for the creditors. Sell the rest of it as well and live off that.”
This is a miracle of abundance, but think with me for a moment how many of the miracles in scripture are miracles of abundance. The children of Israel were hungry in the wilderness and manna came every day. Every day, every person in the entire company had enough to eat. It was a miracle of abundance.
Elijah, before Elisha, also had miracles like this one where there are miracles of abundance.
Jesus came to the wedding at Cana of Galilee. They had run out of wine in celebrating the great wedding feast and Jesus performed the water-to-wine miracle where the abundance just kept flowing.
Here is a little tidbit of biblical knowledge: the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels, and actually there are two accounts in the Gospel of Mark, is the miraculous feeding. Jesus was out on the hillside with his great multitude and there was no way to feed them. The disciples found a few fish and two loaves of bread. Jesus took it, multiplied it, broke it, and there was more. When they were done, they filled up the baskets with what was left over. It was a miracle of abundance.
All of these miracles, beyond what they are physically and literally, are reminders to us to trust in the abundance of God. Whether it is the children of Israel who need enough to eat or whether it is sinners who have a sense of great guilt who need the grace of Christ, there is always more than we imagine, more than enough to calm the greatest of our anxieties.
Last week, we talked a little about giving. We mentioned that God is love and we know it because God gives to us. We are reminded that we, too, are to give out of love to God and the biblical message is to give in proportion to what we have.
In the Old Testament, the proportion that was prescribed was the 10% tithe. In the New Testament, it was just “give as you are blessed,” and I believe we are to use the 10% tithe as something of a base. If that is true, then why don’t more of us, as Christians, give that way? Why don’t more of us give with the sense that the abundance of God is enough to supply our need and we have enough to give?
We live in a world now where conversations about world religions are not simply something that take place in a college classroom as an academic exercise about how to compare the dogma of Hinduism with the tenants of Christianity. It has become something that we encounter every day in our work, in our school, and other places where we come face to face with people who believe different things. Our claim as Christians is that we believe the right thing: Jesus is the son of God, God did send him to die and be raised again and to forgive us of our sins, that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Our belief is supreme. But when it comes to the depletion anxiety and how much we trust in the abundance of God that is recorded on page after page after page in the Bible, what do we really believe about God? If we really believe it, then why don’t we act on it?
We are approaching Thanksgiving; Christmas is not far behind. Several times during the month of December, we will have the opportunity to watch different versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and all the different people who have played Ebenezer Scrooge. Typically, what we think of as the opposite of generosity is that Ebenezer Scrooge greed that wants to pinch every single penny. I am sure that sometimes that is true, but I honestly with all my heart believe that the opposite of generosity is not so much greed as it is anxiety and fear that somehow, if I give, there won’t be enough.
We are in a season where as ask what you would give to God through the ministries of this church. We have mailed commitment cards to the homes of all of our members that we ask you to consider completing. When we go to fill out those cards, is the first thing we think of the fact that God has supplied us with so many wonderful things? It may not be enough to supply a careless lifestyle but, truly, in the goodness of God, has there not been enough?
When we go to fill out that card, do we fill it out thinking about everything God has blessed us with or do we look at it as if life is half empty and fearful that if we give what we would really like to give that there won’t be enough? Do we look at it as if the glass is half empty and we are being depleted all the more and there is nothing left from God? Which way do we approach it? Do we approach it as people of faith who believe in the abundance of God? Do we believe that if we give as our hearts direct us to give and are stewards as God has blessed us, God provides? Do we believe there is no more abundance to be shared? It is all in bygone days. It is all about people in the Bible or something that happened in my own past but there is certainly no more abundance today. Which is it? It is a crisis of faith.
If we, as a congregation, had millions of dollars, more than we need to do the ministries that God has called us to do, we would still talk about our giving because it is not about donors, it is about disciples. It is not about contributions, it is about faith.
Is the glass half empty or is it half full? Do we look at life as life being depleted and there is no more or do we remember all that God has done? All that God has and we even remember the words from the hymn, All that I have needed, thy hand has provided. Great is thy faithfulness Lord unto me.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.