Ask or Imagine

Ask or Imagine

II Kings 4:42-44 Peace Community Church
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21 Glenn Loafmann
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12) 26 July 2009
Commissioning of Emily Boston
Be not afraid:
You know the story of Jesus Feeding the Five Thousand? (“The Multiplication,” it’s called in Catholic theology. Since it’s about feeding people, maybe you could call it “The Multiplication Table.”)

The lesson from the Old Testament is like that story, except it’s Elisha Feeding the One Hundred. Not so much a major league miracle, a kind of “Triple-A” miracle. I chose that passage to read instead of the Gospel lesson because it’s simpler than the Multiplication – it gets right to the point – “just do it.”

But, you gotta remember in this biblical stuff, there’s almost always more going on that we notice at first. It’s sort of like… life in that way: where there’s always more going on than we notice at first. So let’s start with the story of the miracle – and then look at Ephesians, because it helps us see what’s going on.

The hundred people fed by Elisha’s miracle were all “prophets.” Prophets at that time were a little different than the image that comes to mind when we hear the word. I know I tend to think of a guy with a beard, wearing a robe, standing on a street corner with a sign that says, “the end is near.” That would be a “prophet of doom” – or Paul Krugman – and the image is based on some Old Testament prophets – guys like Amos and Jeremiah and Hosea, who stood on the corner and denounced the nation and the king and rich merchants for putting too much trust in weapons and for cheating customers and failing to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless and care for the helpless. There’s still a certain appeal in that message, a certain currency.

Those later prophets basically said, “God will get you for that – the end is near.” There’s a certain appeal in that, too. They were like “Rolling Stone” or Jim Wall. But in Elisha’s day, two or three hundred years before Amos, prophets went around in bunches, groups – “companies,” the New Revised Standard translation puts it, or “communities,” perhaps, like Emily’s l’ Arche community. It was sort of the “International Brotherhood of Prophets, Proclaimers, Dervishes, Miracle-Workers, and Kvetches, Local #201,” with Elisha as maybe the steward or something – the Dave Beck of the Prophets Union. There were different groups of prophets – different “schools of thought” – they travelled together, they had a common way of looking at things, like “socialists” or “Chicago School” economists. It was like a denomination, almost, or a “think-tank:” the Rand Corporation of Prophetic Analysis. Anyway, there were different groups of prophets, and there are accounts of differences between them – even rumbles.

Elisha had been away on prophetic business – presumably not to Argentina – and he came back to Gilgal and found Local #201 was starving: “there was a famine in the land.” (II Kings 4:38)

Gilgal was a big religious site in Israel, with an altar, and possibly a temple commemorating the twelve tribes who had crossed the Jordan River there when they came into the Promised Land for the first time. It made a lot of sense for a “company of prophets” to have headquarters at an important religious site, like lobbyists and unions and think-tanks have offices in Washington.

But there was a recession: a famine in the land. So Elisha got back from his fact-finding mission and sent people out to find food. What they found wasn’t very good, but they cooked it, and made some bad vegetable stew and a good story which we’ll skip. (One of the key lines in that story is “O man of God, there is death in the pot” [v. 40], and there was general unhappiness in the camp.)

At that point, Elisha’s servant showed up from Baal-shalishah, which is not a person or an idol, but a place which sounds a bit like “Salisaw,” (Oklahoma), but isn’t. This servant brought “food from the first fruits” (v. 42) – perhaps a “first fruits” offering: gifts placed on the altar at Baal-shalishah as part of worship and then given to the priests, or in this case, to the Order of Prophets, for their use.

(I’m speculating that the followers of various prophetic “schools” – or orders – may have devoted offerings to support “their” group of prophets. Like union dues, or donations to church or whatever.) Anyway, the servant showed up with food, something that sounds very much like a tithe.

If you made a movie of this, the script is direct: short, simple, clean.

Servant: “Here’s some food.”
Elisha: “Then feed the people.”
Servant: “There’s not enough.”
Elisha: “Yes, there is. God said so.”
Servant: “OK”
Narrator: “And there was some left over.”

A Reader’s Digest condensed miracle.

Except. There’s almost always more going on than we notice at first.

It’s like Emily going off to Tacoma. That’s very direct:

Voice (or Thought): “Here’s something needs to be done.”
Emily: “Yeah?!”
Voice (or Thought): “Go do it.”
Emily: “OK.”
Peace Church: “Can we help? Do something? Cheer you on? Pray?”

I’m speculating, because I haven’t talked to Emily about this, but it’s probably close. Simple. Direct. Except. Here’s what’s going on…

“Now to [God] . . . be glory.” (Eph. 3:20-21, nrsv)

We may get distracted by the poetry of this passage – the power of the words – and not quite pare it down to see where the light focuses. When we do, though, we get the shivers:

I bow my knees before the Father {of our Lord Jesus Christ}, 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. (Eph. 3:14-18, nrsv)

Planted, maybe? “Rooted and grounded.”

It’s a prayer of intercession and blessing – or sounds so – crafted and woven from a complex of images and ideas and feelings which are familiar, but which resonate with one another, harmonize in new and exalting ways. Consider: “father,” “family,” “Spirit;” “power,” “faith,” “love;” “inner being,” “the riches of his glory” – all packed together in a few lines.

“I pray . . . that you may be strengthened. 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. 3:18-19, nrsv, adapted)

The language reaches its limits here, trying to express what is inexpressible, overwhelming: “Filled with the fullness of God.” Think about that!

“The breadth and length and height and depth . . . of the love of Christ.” “To know . . . [what] surpasses knowledge.” “My cup overflows,” the psalmist said. (Ps. 23:5) That’s what Ephesians is talking about – life.

Describing the life overflowing in the presence of God, the love of Christ. Language fails. And then we are at the center, at the focus of the light.

Now to [the One] who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish [extra abundantly] far more than all we can ask or imagine, to [God] be glory (Eph. 3:20-21, nrsv, adapted).

You see? That’s it. This is not about “success” or “sufficiency.” This is all about, all an expression of, a realization of, the glory of God.

To [God] be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, [to ages of ages]. Amen.

And where is the “glory of God?” How is it known? How is it seen?

“… by the power at work within us.”

And how measured?

“… able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”

And where?

“… in the church, and in Christ Jesus.”

This church, our church, you.

“to the ages.”

It’s an internship, a year maybe. There are some needs to be met, some things to be done. And limits on that! A community of disabled adults, and five, six volunteers to live on not enough money.

And one youngish person to do those things, with the blessing and good wishes and prayers of one smallish church without a lot of bread, half a country away: “twenty barley loaves and a few sacks of grain.”

But at the heart of it, revealed and offered “by the power at work within you” – the glory of God, beyond abundantly more than all we can ask or imagine.