Sunday’s Sermon: Never Not Enough

  • I’d like to tell you a story this morning – it’s a story about a man named Tim Harris.
    • Grew up in Albuquerque, NM, loving parents and 3 older brothers – family that always treated him like everyone else → But there was something special about Tim.
      • Tim’s own words in CNN “Human Factor” piece: A few hours after I was born, our doctor told my parents that I had Down’s syndrome. A lot of people told my parents that they were very, very sorry.[1]
        • Whether a newborn like Tim or, as science advances, even before the child is born, this is often the response that people encounter when they find out their child is going to have some sort of special need – physical, mental, or emotional
          • Story of Alexis Wineman (just through high school)[2]
            • Pervasive development disorder at age 11
            • “I realized that my autism isn’t what defines me. I define what is autism.”
          • Story of Emily’s birth
        • There are so many beautiful, wonderful, caring, smart people in this world who happen to see things or do things or understand things differently than the rest of us. – often told they can’t do things
          • By classmates
          • By adults
          • Even by doctors and other professional helping them
          • Told they aren’t strong enough, smart enough, able enough to do so many things
    • Fortunately, there are people in the world like Tim Harris … like Alexis Wineman … like my cousin, Emily – people who are strong enough, smart enough, and able enough to recognize their own wonderfulness despite what so many other people say.
      • Tim = college graduated and accomplished athlete, handful of gold medals from Special Olympics
      • Alexis = gained so much confidence for her various high school activities that she decided to enter Miss Montana pageant (2013)
      • Emily = smart, kind, outgoing, healthy 5th grader who just happens to get around in the speediest purple wheelchair you’ve ever seen.
      • Recognize God-given beauty and importance in themselves
      • Definitely faced hard times – didn’t let those struggles define who they are, what they do, or how they live their lives → lesson echoed in Scripture today: This morning, we hear God reminding us that no matter what, we are enough for God, and God can be our “enough.”
  • When we’re up and when we’re down, when we’re feeling complete and when we’re feeling depleted, when we’re dancing and when we’re dragging, God is with us. → certainly see down, depleted and dragging in both passages – see in Israelites, see in disciples
    • Israelites
      • At this point in their story, Israelites – just starting to wander in the wilderness with Moses → They haven’t even been away from Egypt for that long, but they’re already starting to feel the stress and strain of living a nomadic lifestyle.
        • Constantly on the move
        • Always looking for enough water, food, shelter for thousands of people (not an easy task) → today’s story: complaining about lack of food … Actually, I’d say they’re doing more than just a little simple complaining!
          • Text: The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”[3] → Drama, drama, drama. “We are hungry. We’re having trouble finding food. You brought us out here to kill us!” Oh, how quickly the Israelites seem to have forgotten the backbreaking work, cruel taskmasters, and slavery that they’ve so recently left behind. Depletion can do that to us – make us forget the good and focus on the bad.
    • And I must say, the disciples in our Gospel passage aren’t much more optimistic than the Israelites. – text: When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the village and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”[4] → We have nothing here … except these five loaves and two fish. We have
      • Scholar – interesting point: [The disciples] clearly thought that what they had was not enough. … While it is true that what they had was meager, they described it as nothing.[5] → The disciples and the Israelites from our Old Testament story have fallen into the same negative cycle: don’t have enough, don’t know enough, can’t do enough … defeat.
        • Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
    • Now, it’s true that neither the Israelites nor the disciples came by this attitude lightly. – faced serious struggles
      • As mentioned, Israelites wandering around in the wilderness – no indication of where they’re going or how long it’s going to take them to get there à Honestly, I think that the ambiguity that the Israelites were dealing with would be enough to send most people into negative overdrive.
      • Disciples – double whammy
        • Immediate struggle: faced by this hungry crowd of 5000+ people – text: Those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.[6]
        • More weighty matters on their minds: recently found out that John the Baptist had been beheaded by King Herod at his daughter’s whim → spirits must have been hurting
          • John was a mentor and friend
          • That’s how our passage starts out this morning: Now when Jesus had heard this (had heard about the senseless and violent death of his friend, John the Baptist), he withdrew … in a boat to a deserted place by himself.[7]
  • And yet, even in the face of turmoil, we see God working.
    • Israelites – see God working with literally nothing at all: When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”[8] → I think we can safely say that this manna from heaven isn’t the food that the Israelites expected. Honestly, who would expect bread to miraculously collect on the ground overnight with the dew? But with this fine, flaky substance, God reminded the Israelites that with God, there is never not enough.
      • Never not enough faith
      • Never not enough hope
      • 2 things probably in short supply with the Israelites at the time, but God was happy to provide
    • With the disciples – God working through the perception of nothing
      • Scripture: Jesus said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.[9] → All the disciples could see in their situation were the shortcomings – the places where they were lacking. The crowd was too big. They didn’t have money to buy food. And all they had with them were a few loaves and a couple dried fish – barely enough food to split between the 13 of them. Basically, they had nothing. But God looked past that “nothing” and saw an opportunity for overflowing grace and fellowship.
        • Scholar: Even when the needs of the group might seem too great … Christ invites us to stay with one another and discover another way to collaborate. In remaining together, we may find possibilities none of us could create alone, and surely we will find comfort and companionship in sharing the experience.[10]
          • “Possibilities none of us could create alone” – sounds like the stories of Tim and Alexis
            • Tim – after years of working in various other restaurants, became the 1st person in U.S. with Down’s syndrome to own his own restaurant: Tim’s Place
              • Cuisine: American food (burgers, etc.)
              • Specialty: hugs (more than 40,000 hugs according to “hug counter” on the wall)
            • Alexis – not only had confidence to enter Miss Montana pageant but also won, had the confidence to compete in Miss America pageant, made it to top 15 finalists, and was voted Miss Congeniality by her peers
            • Beautiful people overflowing with possibility
            • Smart people with the inner knowledge that they were more than capable to achieve their dreams
            • People who were able to work with others to make those dreams come true
  • But did you catch that? Tim and Alexis both worked to make their dreams come true. Tim’s restaurant didn’t just fall into his lap. Alexis didn’t just wake up one morning and crown herself Miss Montana. They worked for what they had.
    • See this work in Scriptures this morning, too
      • Israelites had to go collect manna – commanded to: “[11]Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person” … The Israelites … gathered as much as each of them needed.
      • Gospel story – Jesus blessed and broke the bread but the disciples gave it to the people.
        • Scholar: Jesus did not feed five thousand. He told the disciples to do it. God has entrusted us to be the body of Christ – the hands and feet through which God’s work is done in the world. God does not work alone, but through people, you and me. To follow Jesus is to express our faith in concrete acts of love, justice, and compassion toward others.[12] → do this by …
          • Offering ourselves up to God in prayer – asking God to use us and being open to whatever opportunities may come across our paths
          • Sharing that message of hope and fulfillment with people around us
            • Ask if you can pray for them
            • Talk to them about strength, encouragement, family, and hope – whatever support you find in your faith
          • Participate in communion with each other – share that life-giving, soul-renewing, salvation-reminding bread and [wine/juice] with each other and let ourselves be filled up by God’s amazing enough-ness
            • Enough to heal our wounds
            • Enough to enliven our spirits
            • Enough to shoulder our burdens
  • Tim has his restaurant. Alexis has her crown. Both of them have their confidence. Their stories – at least these portions of their stories – are happy ones. I don’t know yet where Emily’s story is going to take her. I don’t know where my story is going to take me or where yours is going to take you, but as we journey through this life together, we can step out confidently knowing that with God, we are never not enough. Amen.

[1] Tim Harris. “Breakfast, lunch and hugs at Tim’s Place,” interview for The Human Factor on CNN. Posted July 10, 2013, accessed July 31, 2014.

[2] Alexis Wineman. “Miss Montana: Autism doesn’t define me,” interview for The Human Factor on CNN, Posted Jan. 17, 2013, accessed July 31, 2014.

[3] Ex 16:2-3.

[4] Mt 14:15-17.

[5] Dock Hollingsworth. “Proper 13 (Sunday between July 31 and August 6 inclusive) – Matthew 14:13-21 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 311, 313.

[6] Mt 14:21 (emphasis added).

[7] Mt 14:13 (with personal addition in parentheses).

[8] Ex 16:14-15.

[9] Mt 14:18-20.

[10] Liz Barrington Forney. “Matthew 14:13-21 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew – vol. 2, chapters 14-28. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 11.

[11] Ex 16:16, 17, 18 (parts from each verse).

[12] Clifton Kirkpatrick. “Proper 13 (Sunday between July 31 and August 6 inclusive) – Matthew 14:13-42 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 310.

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