“I am not that kind of a Christian!” She insisted. Others soon joined in. A whole group of people identified themselves as Christian, but not that kind. They go on to declare a whole list of things they don’t do and don’t believe. I nod with sympathy and understanding. I get it. I understand what they are trying to say, but it occurs to me that there is a better way to say it. What kind of Christian are you, then? Because as soon as you say you aren’t “that” kind you’ve just defined yourself as someone who is judgmental and, possibly, quite angry. Surely, there is a better way. Surely, after a couple thousand years of practice we can say what kind of Christian we are without participating in the very judgmental divisiveness that we want to overcome.
About 800 years before Jesus, the Prophet Elisha walked the earth. His very name pointed to the saving power of God. According to 2 Kings, Elisha did something pretty amazing during a drought. A man came from a foreign place bringing to Elisha the first fruits of the harvest. It was just twenty loaves of barley and a few ears of grain. Elisha told the man to give the food to the people, but the man protested. The meager offering was not enough to feed 100 people. Elisha insisted that this is what God wanted. Sure enough, the people ate and there was food left over.
To those of us familiar with Jesus feeding 5000 men plus women and children, this seems like nothing much. There is more here than we might realize. The man who brought the food offering to Elisha was from Baal-Shalishah, no doubt a place dedicated to the worship of Baal. Of course, in a time of drought, making a sacrifice to another God was a good way to cover all the bases. One God or another wasn’t happy so best to try to please them all. At any rate, Elisha could have turned the man away because he was not one an Israelite. Instead the miracle that takes place is more than appears at first glance.
The God of the Israelites accepted the food offering from the scant harvest. The drought didn’t disappear, but the food became more than enough for the hundred men. In other words, God provided for those who were not even counted among the chosen people. On that day those gathered witnessed the abundance of God, an abundance that included those who worshiped Baal.
Fast forward several hundred years and Jesus does something similar. He feeds thousands with a few loaves of bread and couple of fish. All who were gathered ate and were satisfied, and there was enough left over to fill twelve baskets. I do not doubt that there were foreigners in that crowd and many who worshipped other gods. Yet, God’s abundance met their needs and provided (at least symbolically) enough to continue to feed the people of Israel.
In both stories, God’s abundance was not limited by the faith of those who hungered. God fed the ones who knew they were chosen and the ones who didn’t know with no distinction. Is it not time we all learned that God’s abundance (of love, grace, forgiveness, etc.) is not dependent on human belief. God nurtures and sustains and saves those who follow Jesus and those who follow a different path, or even follow Jesus differently. God doesn’t distinguish those who have it “right” and those who have it “wrong.” That need to separate ourselves and be “right” while judging others “wrong” is a human thing. God seeks unity not division. God yearns to feed all who hunger without waiting for “right” belief.
As Christians, as the church, as the body of Christ, isn’t it time we seek to share God’s abundance without hesitation, knowing that there will always be more than enough? Instead of defining ourselves over and against others, shouldn’t we be defining ourselves by what we say and how we live? What if we start saying things like, “I’m a Christian who seeks to feed all who hunger”? There are other ways, too: I follow Jesus by seeking to love all my neighbors. Jesus calls me to love with my whole self everyone I meet. I’m a Christian who sides with those who pursue justice. I follow Jesus by caring for Creation.
You get the idea. If we really believe in the abundance of God, then we believe it is for everyone without condition. Neither Elisha nor Jesus required everyone to subscribe to specific dogma or doctrine before they ate their fill. Learning from these accounts of miraculous feeding, we don’t need to define ourselves by saying what we are not. We can define ourselves by embodying God’s abundant Love for all whom we meet. Church, maybe it is time for us to put our tables together so that there is more than enough room for all who are hungry and in need of sanctuary.
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RCL – Year B – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – July 29, 2018
2 Samuel 11:1-15 with Psalm 14 or
2 Kings 4:42-44 with Psalm 145:10-18