Sermon for July 29, 2018

Scripture readings: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Ps. 145:10-18;
Eph. 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

Sermon by Sheila Graham 
from 2 Kings 4, Ephesians 3 and John 6

When the Impossible Becomes Possible

Introduction

The apostle Paul constantly encouraged the early Christians to have faith, and, as they went out into the world with the gospel message, to access the power of the Spirit, which, through Christ, was within them. That same message applies to us today. Jesus did not give us an impossible job when he said to take the gospel to the world, making disciples of all peoples. It may seem that way at times, but through him the impossible becomes possible.

Let’s look at what Paul wrote in Ephesians chapter 3. First, he reminds his readers that we do indeed have the Spirit of Christ within us and he prays that we be strengthened in that faith. Then he prays that we will comprehend the love that God has for us and all people:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:14-19, NRSV)

Paul then ends his prayer by saying we can’t, even in our wildest imaginations, comprehend the power the Holy Spirit within us has. Nothing we can ask for or imagine to do in Jesus’ name is beyond him.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I get down on my knees I’m pretty good at asking, and, as for imagining, I can imagine quite a lot. But Christ in us is far more powerful than yours or my limited imaginations. Let’s continue in chapter 3:

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21, NRSV)

When we think about the great challenge of the commission Jesus gave us, we sometimes get discouraged. But let’s not forget that Jesus can do the impossible! Though he was human just as we are, he healed the sick, fed thousands with a few scraps of food, and walked on water! Note what it says in John chapter 6:

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” (John 6:1-9, NRSV)

This was another one of those teachable moments for Jesus’ disciples. What did Jesus do? Let’s read on:

Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:10-15, NRSV)

Miracle of the Bread and Fish (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

I’m sure the disciples were awestruck as they gathered up the remains of the feast Jesus had miraculously provided, but this memorable day was not over for them. We can’t be certain they saw where Jesus went to escape the crowds. Maybe he told one of them, but whatever the case, by that evening they had given up on him coming back, and headed back to their boat and took off without him to Capernaum. Continuing in John 6:

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going. (John 6:16-21, NRSV)

OK, you might argue, that was Jesus, not me. Jesus is God; I’m not. I couldn’t feed thousands without taking out a loan and hiring a caterer, maybe a dozen or more caterers, and I sure can’t walk on water. Sounds like a disciple of Jesus, right?

Jesus is not asking us to produce food out of little or nothing, or to walk on water, but if he did, don’t you think we could? Peter was bold enough to take Jesus at his word, and for a little while anyway, while faith held out, he could walk on water. And as for someone other than Jesus feeding lots of people through faith, look at the example of Elisha, one of the prophets back in the Old Testament:

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.”’ 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.'” He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD. (2 Kings 4:42-44, NRSV)

Peter and Elisha were both human, just like us. Yes, Jesus was God, but he was also fully human. His miraculous powers to feed thousands, walk on water and heal people came not from himself, but from the Father upon whom Jesus fully relied. And, just as with Jesus’ first disciples, he is asking us to participate with him in his ministry to the world.

With such a powerful spiritual source to draw from, how can we as Christians not go forward with Christ to bring the good news of the gospel to others? As much as we feel comfortable here in our little church with those of like mind, we should think of our church fellowship as a kind of spiritual recharging station. We are to come here once a week to be recharged, not to live here.

Christian author and preacher John Stott wrote about our life in Christ:

The Christian life is not just a private affair of your own. If we are born again into God’s family, not only has he become our Father but every other believer in the world, whatever their nation or denomination, has become our brother or sister in Christ. One of the commonest ways of describing Christians in the New Testament is “brothers and sisters.” This is a glorious truth. (“Basic Christianity”)

Unfortunately, we have a hard time caring about Christian brothers and sisters, let alone non-Christians. But, is it such a hard thing to listen, to pay attention to that grumpy coworker or sad-faced person serving you, or that aggravating neighbor, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you in developing a relationship with them that can lead to opportunities to share with them the truth of the gospel? Well, it’s not a hard thing with God’s help. Whenever we can, let’s be an encouraging light in the darkness of this world.

Conclusion

I’ll conclude with a story I heard about a church member who felt he was totally unqualified to answer people’s questions about God. Yes, he knew God’s Word, but trying to explain it to someone else? He felt that was beyond him. When the members of his church went out to serve the poor in the community, he would help but avoid getting into any kind of spiritual discussion with anyone.

At one place they went regularly, one man would always rush out and challenge the church members with questions about God. This particular church member was careful to avoid that man, but one day, his fears became reality. He was personally accosted by the angry man.

What happened? Did his fears come true? No, not at all! Afterward, this hesitant church member rejoiced with his brothers and sisters that the Holy Spirit had given him answers to the man’s questions. The church member’s faith was strengthened as he realized who it was that really does the work of the gospel.

Let’s go forth this week and share the all-encompassing, overwhelming love of God with our families, our friends, our neighbors and other people we meet. Let’s pay attention to others and to what they are saying. Let’s be encouraging wherever we go. People need to know, through the grace of God, that we really care. And as we go, let’s not forget Paul’s words in Ephesians 3:

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21, NRSV)

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