The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
February 10, 2019
It doesn’t matter how much we have to give to God. What does matter is that, however much we have, we give it all. For, if given out of love and hope, God makes everything of our “nothing’s”, and makes them the stuff of miracles.
God, who in truth needs no help from us, loves to include us in His work and enlist us as contributors and collaborators with Him. Thus, Jesus the Son of God – when, out of compassion, He wanted to feed 5,000 hungry folks and could have done it all by Himself, say, by turning stones into loaves of bread – used a boy’s voluntarily offered nothing of a lunch – just two fish and five scraps of bread – and transformed it into a feast that stuffed 5,000 bellies full.
We don’t know anything about that boy except that, though he had to have enough sense to know his brown bag lunch could make only the smallest dent in all that hunger, it still somehow made some sense to put it into the hands of Jesus and see what would happen. What happened was that Jesus turned it into an all-you-can eat banquet for a very big crowd!
The God of love makes a big deal of any size or quality of gift if it’s all we’ve got and we give it with all we’ve got. One man doubted he could serve the Lord in any significant way, because he realized he was very modestly talented and rarely did anything exactly right. But then one day his five-year-old daughter presented him with a work of art she’d drawn for him. It was anything but a Picasso; but he thought it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Though it hardly measured up to any art critic’s standards, it was to him, for all its imperfections, a cherished masterpiece. As he Scotch-taped it to the center of his refrigerator’s door, it suddenly occurred to him that that was how the Lord received his modest offerings of service. They didn’t have to measure up to any standards to be masterpieces in God’s eyes.
A shoemaker once approached Martin Luther and asked him how he could serve God. Much to the cobbler’s surprise, Luther replied, “Make good shoes and sell them at a fair price”. That was it: Nothing dramatic, nothing impressive; just an honest effort to do one’s best and make the contribution one could. Luther didn’t tell him to make “Christian shoes” – whatever that might mean – and didn’t tell him to leave his shoe business and become a missionary. He just told him to do what God had given him to do and to do it with everything he had as if he were doing it for his Lord Himself.
Of course, in the magic of God’s mercy and grace, our modest offerings are, when handed over to the Lord, enlarged and expanded like multiplied fish and loaves, and it’s often surprising the difference we can make.
A woman found herself housebound and wondering what difference she could make.
As many of us do, she received annoying, unsolicited calls from rudely aggressive telemarketers. One day, while saying her prayers, she caught herself feeling sorry for those people who she felt sure made very little money and who all day long heard people curse at them and slam down their phone on them. She then caught herself imagining how, despite her disabilities, she could minister to telemarketers. So, when their calls came, she listened to their sales pitches courteously and kindly, though she let them know, as soon as they’d let her, that she was in no position to buy what they were selling. Then, if they didn’t hang up on her, she asked them about their personal life and if there was anything she could pray for. Some more of them would then hang up on her, thinking her some kind of religious kook; but some would share with her a concern and allow her to pray for them over the phone. More than once, she heard them thank her with tears in their voice; more than once she heard them tell her that she’d made their day. God has taken her humble offering, all she can do, and made of it something glorious.
When people come to a church for the first time, few would ever expect to be cursed at or to have to endure the verbal equivalent of having a phone slammed down on them; but it still can be scary for many to come into such a foreign place and see all those people who know each other but whom they don’t yet know well enough to know whether they can trust them. It is a small thing, but we can greet them with a warm smile. It is a small thing, but we can ask if we can answer any questions for them. It is a small thing, but we can say, “Thanks for being with us today.” It is a small thing, but we can try to read them and determine whether they want to be left alone or invited into a circle of conversation. It is a small thing, but we can say a silent prayer for them.
We who follow Jesus are people of purpose. We are here as His representative to give to others what we have to share, what they can receive from us as a no-strings-attached gift just for the heaven of it.
David Kuo, once deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, spent his last ten years on earth fighting a brutal and ultimately losing battle against cancer. Toward the end he lost the ability to walk, and even to write. His personality changed under the vicious assault of surgeries, radiation and medication. Yet, he never lost his resolve to give whatever he could each day that remained to him.
In semi-lucid deterioration, he encouraged an ICU doctor to read the Christian books of C.S. Lewis. He inspired his neuro-oncologist to start a clinic for homeless cancer patients. He facilitated reconciliation between political enemies and healing between alienated family members. His ugly passing became something beautiful for God and others.
Presbyterian pastor Richard Halverson, once the chaplain of the United States Senate, frequently ended the services he led with the same benediction. It reflected his deep biblical conviction that, in every place we find ourselves, and with whatever abilities and opportunities we find ourselves with, we have a mission to fulfill by giving everything we have to serve God and neighbor. His benediction went like this: “Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has put you there.
Whatever you can do, God has a purpose in your being right where you are. Christ, who indwells you by His Spirit, wants to do something in you and through you. Believe in His grace, love and power.”