2 Kings 4:42-44
One day a messenger from Baal-shalishah brought God’s prophet Elisha a sack of fresh grain and twenty loaves of barley bread made from the first grain of his harvest. Elisha said, “Give it to the people so they can eat.”
“What?” Elisha’s servant exclaimed. “Feed a hundred people with only this?”
But Elisha repeated, “Give it to the people so they can eat, for this is what the Holy One says: Everyone will eat, and there will even be some left over!” And when they gave it to the people, there was plenty for all and some left over, just as God had promised.
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?” 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.”
“It is Enough”
Will you pray with me? Holy One, you provide more than enough for all your children. Teach us how to use your many gifts generously, so that no one goes without—food, housing, education, health care, love, understanding, opportunities. Give us the grace to recognise our own stinginess and the wisdom to become more like you, sharing all that we are and have with all who have need, not only the ones we know and see. Open our hearts and spirits to your teaching today and every day. In all your names, amen.
Enough. What does it mean to you? We all say we only want “enough,” but what is enough for one person is not enough for another, whether we are talking about food or time or books or money or talent. A single childless person’s “enough” in income is not nearly enough for the family with three children. For a city dweller, one car may too many; for a family in the country, two or three may be enough. And so on. Enough in God’s economy means more than the minimum, not an amount to satisfy basic needs. It means leftovers, abundant leftovers. Enough, to God, means “more than you can possibly need.”
Which brings us to a question. Do we trust God for that generous “enough?” Even more, do we have confidence not only that there will be enough, but that what we have is more than enough? That we can supply all the needs—the real needs—and have some left over? I am not talking so much about finances, although the concept could be equally applied to money as well, but gifts, graces, talents, abilities.
I am more interested in how well we share—or don’t—our gifts and talents and other resources, like time and energy. Gifts—those abilities we simply have, not skills we have learned or knowledge we have gained, but gifts. We all know people who have gifts—the person who can sit quietly with a friend, just listening; the person who preaches a sermon so strongly that your life is changed; the musician who can move you to tears with the depth of their music; the person who always knows what to do for those in need. Those are gifts.
Some skills can be learned—bookkeeping, playing the piano, writing computer code, laying tile, leading a meeting—but some of us can go beyond those basic skills to genuine talent and gifts, to creativity. The ones who are gifted go beyond those with skill and talent to create. Many people know how to dive; lots of them are on university diving teams and some of them even are selected for the Olympics. Only a very few, such as Greg Louganis, can create a new dive. That is a gift. Pretty much anyone can learn to lay tile; that’s a skill. Doing it well, so that all tiles are even and make a pleasing pattern—that’s talent. But creating new patterns, finding new ways to use tile—that is a gift. Everything we do has these three levels of ability—skill, which anyone can learn or do; talent, doing the skill well and excelling at it; and gift, creating something new, going beyond what is known and usual. It’s relatively easy to understand when we think of concrete abilities like tiling or gardening or bookkeeping, but applying that to more abstract or spiritual abilities is more difficult—and yet we easily can recognise those with gifts in those abilities. For example—we all have friends and people we care about; most of us talk to those individuals about what matters to us—struggles, hopes, joys. Some of us feel heard and understood. But those with a gift for hearing others—they are the ones who offer us new insights and understands, who help us know ourselves better. And that is the going beyond, the creating anew, that is a gift.
We are not all stars—Albert Einstein, Archbishop Tutu, Roger Clemente, Bruce Springsteen, Sir Laurence Olivier, JRR Tolkien—but what we have, who we are, is enough. Whatever gift we have, it is enough—it is what God needs us to have, needs us to share. When we are doing God’s work, when we are called by God to a task or a life, we have what we need, even if we don’t think we do, or don’t even know what our gift might be. There is always a place for us—God knows who we are, and has given us the gifts we have and has a place for us to be, and to be fully all that we are.
Paul mentions many gifts in his letters to the new churches—some people teach, some lead, some are musicians, some can sit with the ill and dying—all these gifts are needed, and the needed gifts will appear if they are not already present.
In the end, the choice comes down to us—will we share those gifts? Will we be part of that “more than enough?”
And it is indeed part of having those gifts to share them—a gift that is not shared is sterile, useless to everyone, not only the people who might have benefitted but the rest of the world as well. If someone has the gift of counselling, but does not reach out and support others, then not only do those who are in need suffer, but those who depend on them in turn suffer when they are comforted or healed—their partners or children or co-workers. What we do—or don’t do—affects so many other people.
Look around you; think of all the prayer requests in our book each week, the prayer requests you see on Facebook or an email list or hear from family and co-workers and friends, what you see in the news—all the situations that are in desperate need of someone’s gifts, in some way, shape or form. You can see needs for financial resources, for teachers and carers and listeners and creators of beauty. We can see these needs, and sometimes it is frustrating, because we don’t have that gift and we know it is needed.
But—we cannot control or direct God’s call, God’s gifts to us or others. Just as Jesus eluded the crowd that wanted to make him ruler and wouldn’t go with the disciples in the boat, God goes God’s way, not ours. I wish I had the gift of music, so that I could compose hymns. When I selected the hymns for last week, I had to compromise, because there were no hymns that said exactly what I wanted them to say. If I had the gift of writing hymns, I could create one to fit the need, whatever it was—but I don’t. I can read music, I know the basics—the very basics—of music theory. I could learn the intricacies of music theory, I think I can write lyrics, verses, and theoretically I could put the two together, and have a hymn. So I have the skill, not the talent, And I will never have that creative gift of an Isaac Watts, a Michael Smith, a Shawn Thomas. A gift cannot be forced, cannot be demanded from God.
What we have to do is use the gifts we do have—use them fully, and as God intends for us, fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives. There’s no point in whining for gifts we don’t have. It’s easy to do. We see the need for those gifts in the church, and no one currently in the church seems to have those gifts, so we wish we had that gift. Sometimes we even try to pretend we do, or that we at least have the skill; and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But, perhaps someone is on their way, someone we don’t know yet who has that very gift in abundance, who will share it generously with the church. The other side of that coin is pretending to ignore the ones we do have.
It may be scary or a venture beyond what we know to share our gifts. We may have to speak to strangers or challenge the way things are. A gift may mean paying a price—in time or energy or finances or simply giving up what we want for what God wants. It’s true of big things—giving up a lucrative law career, as a seminary friend of mine did, in order to answer the call to ministry. It’s true of small things—instead of sleeping late or hanging out at home on a Saturday, we work at a church fund-raising event or maintain the community garden.
Whatever the gifts that are present—in the church, in us, at work, in our community, in our families—they are enough. If we share those gifts, there is more than enough. What we have is enough—God’s enough, which means an overflowing abundance.
In all God’s names, amen.