There’s an old story of a stunt man who strung a tight rope between two buildings. Soon a crowd gathered to watch as he walked easily from one building to the other, even taking a wheelbarrow and pushing it back and forth on the taut rope. He called down to the gathered crowd, asking them if they believed he could put someone in the wheelbarrow and safely push them back and forth, and the crowd cheered with all the confidence in the world, shouting, “We believe”. But it got real quiet when the stunt man asked for a volunteer to prove it. Talk about faith is cheap—putting faith into action is costly.
The God revealed in the Bible is the God of unlimited grace and love who loves to generously bless those who trust and are willing to live their lives as men and women created in the image of God, trusting God’s way of being and doing. To follow Jesus is to leave behind the fear of scarcity and trust the abundance of God’s provision. It is, in effect, to get in the wheelbarrow. When talking about money during the Sermon on the Mount Jesus put it is this way:
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)
There is a daily tug-of-war in my life between gratitude and the fear of scarcity—there won’t be enough. When scarcity gets the upper hand, I become more self-centered and more miserly with my resources: time, money, and even personal expressions of loving kindness and mercy. Gratitude, on the other hand, loosens the chains that can bind me in fear, and I am willing to be willing to practice generosity with who I am and what God has given me.
The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand in Mark 6:33-44 (see below) is the story of the disciples living in the bubble of fear and scarcity: there isn’t enough. And in so many ways they were right. They were gathered in a desolate place with no visible resources. Yet Jesus lived in the vast wonder of God’s generosity and plenty. The little boy with the typical worker’s lunch of the day (five small loaves of bread and two fish) joined Jesus in the God’s kingdom reality of plenty when he offered up his lunch. How did this miracle take place? If Jesus caused the bread and fish to mysteriously multiply, that works for me. But I now wonder if William Barclay’s suggestion that what really happened is that the generosity of the little boy moved everyone else to give up hoarding what food they had, and when it was all generously shared, there was more than enough to feed everyone. God had already provided the resources, but these resources were all in the possession of the people present. It was up to them to share what God had given them to share. They could choose to share or hoard. That just has the ring to me of how God works. And it both humbles me and ignites a holy fear in my soul, the kind of “fear of the Lord that leads to wisdom” Proverbs 3:5-6 talks about.
Having been richly blessed in my life, God invites me to practice generosity. I use the suggestion of the biblical tithe, giving ten percent of my resources away in Jesus’ name to both the church and the others who are doing God’s work in our midst. Romania is one of my favorites, and it’s going to be a real joy to see and talk with my brother in Christ, Sabin Boruga, this Sunday. His willingness to get in the wheelbarrow and trust Jesus is a great inspiration to me. It’s true: the need for the ministry Sabin and his brother Florin lead is great and I feel as overwhelmed as the disciples when Jesus told them to feed the people. Yet great are the resources God has distributed among His people to support and encourage the kind of gospel work we undertake both here in Sonoma and far away places like Sighisoara, Romania.
This is going to be special. I look forward to worshiping our generous God this Sunday.
Mark 6:33-44: Many people, however, saw them leave and knew at once who they were; so they went from all the towns and ran ahead by land and arrived at the place ahead of Jesus and his disciples. When Jesus got out of the boat, he saw this large crowd, and his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began to teach them many things. When it was getting late, his disciples came to him and said, “It is already very late, and this is a lonely place. Send the people away, and let them go to the nearby farms and villages in order to buy themselves something to eat.” “You yourselves give them something to eat,” Jesus answered. They asked, “Do you want us to go and spend two hundred silver coins on bread in order to feed them?”
So Jesus asked them, “How much bread do you have? Go and see.” When they found out, they told him, “Five loaves and also two fish.” Jesus then told his disciples to make all the people divide into groups and sit down on the green grass. So the people sat down in rows, in groups of a hundred and groups of fifty.
Then Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God. He broke the loaves and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. Everyone ate and had enough. Then the disciples took up twelve baskets full of what was left of the bread and the fish. The number of men who were fed was five thousand.