The Only Answer is God
May 22, 2011
Arlene Bougher, Lay Speaker
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Luke 11:9, Matthew 14: 13-21
The title and theme of the message this morning is: The Only Answer is God.
My sister is the director of a Community Service Association in Manhattan, an organization that ingathers and distributes organic foods and herbs or as she says Herbs J. It operates out of the basement of the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest. Its pastor, Rev. James L. Burns sends out a weekly word to those connected to the church. She kindly passed this one on to me– Rev. Burns entitles his messages, Meditations and Inspirations for the Other Six Days. This week’s word was from Luke 11:9.
“So I say to you, ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.”
It’s interesting that even though we are familiar with a bible verse, we may perceive it in a new light according to where we are in our spiritual journey. This verse tells me to keep going. If you don’t get what you want, you may surely get what you need. We have all asked and been given something; we have all searched and found something, but that door, that door calls to us –“knock and the door will be opened for you.” We don’t get to turn the knob or lift the latch. We knock and the door is opened for us. It is someone else’s house. We are welcomed, we will be cared for, we will be safe, but we don’t get to make the rules.
Rev. Burns tells us that “Jesus teaches about prayer, and his message here is persistence. Prayer is not to be occasional, and is not, contrary to popular desire, about getting what we believe we want, when and how we want it. True prayer,” Rev. Burns says, “seeks to understand what God wants. We are to persistently ask, seek, and knock until our lives become the question for which the only answer is God.”
In the gospel of Mathew, chapter 14, we read that Jesus is in Galilee when he finds out about the death of John the Baptist, a member of his family and a good friend. He desperately needs to grieve in solitude and be alone with God in prayer. But Josephus the 1st century historian tells us that the small country of Galilee had hundreds of towns, each filled with thousands of people. If Jesus needed rest and quiet he would have to borrow a boat from one of his fishermen friends and row to the other side of that long narrow lake. This day the people gathered on the shore, seeking to be healed, and saw where he was going. The large crowd walked up and around to the other side of the lake to meet him. There would be no rest for Jesus.
And Jesus out of his deep compassion, and desperate need in his soul to heal the sick, would put aside his weariness and grief. The crowd silently asked and they would receive. The people were knocking; Jesus opened the door. The only answer is God.
The crowd had been there for hours waiting patiently as Jesus walked among them.
The disciples came up to him and said “This place is remote, and it’s already getting late, send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
Jesus replied “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat” as if he was saying, I am not finished yet. You go and show them the miracles and blessings of God. It’s your turn to witness to His works.
And so we read about the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The only food that was available in the crowd was the small amount of bread and fish. What could be done with that?
But “Taking the five loaves of bread and two fish into his hands and looking up to God, Jesus gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples and the disciples gave them to the people.”
It was enough for the thousands of people sitting at Jesus’ feet. Not just the 5,000, (these were just the men recorded in history) but also the hundreds of women and children usually not counted, and basketsful of broken pieces left over.” Blessings left over!
Christ shows us there are times we won’t get what we want, but what we need. We are able put aside our tiredness and grief and are filled with compassion and persistence, and the Christian vigor that God wants for us in our lives because: The only answer is God
Last fall there was a moment when a small group of women gathered together in an open room here in the church, to exchange thoughts about the work that had just been done during their biannual church rummage sale, a fundraiser for global and local missions.
Large heavy signs had to be put out on the highway. Announcements and ads had to be written and submitted to several newspapers. Rooms had to be cleared, shelves and long tables set up. Hundreds of pounds of clothing and merchandise had to be sorted in three days. Sunday’s and Monday’s donations of bulging black bags were piled waist high and seemed impossible to sort and fold by Wednesday without extra daytime volunteers.
Then there was the clean-up on Saturday afternoon, stuffing the trucks with the leftovers and what ever didn’t fit was put in a “free pile” beside the church’s exit driveway.
The women were tired after spending hours each day and hours each night, working. They had obligations at home and elsewhere and thought about cutting back to one fundraiser a year (or none at all!).
But compassion toward raising funds to educate, feed and gain financial independence for women and children in global and local missions helped them to rethink and regroup.
We have to know that the only answer is God.
A few weeks ago one of those hard working women stood at this pulpit and talked with compassion about a mother whose only recourse for clothing for her children was our rummage sale. The woman spoke no English, but continued to come and over time, learned the language, and was employed. Relationships are important.
Here we see blessings for both of them continue year after year.
And then there is Paul, a well known volunteer in town. Years ago his wife was employed in the schools here. I didn’t know him as a friend, but when I needed a wheel chair for my mother, he helped me to borrow one. He cared about his environment. Once in a while we would meet at the junction of the wooded back roads where we frequently walked. He usually had a bulging plastic bag in hand, full of the litter he would pick up along the way.
Paul and his wife brought their unneeded clothing to our fall and spring rummage sales. This last year he lost his wife and it was sad to know it would be the last time the tall and stately dresses would hang on the racks in Friendship Hall. Paul came alone, holding back tears, but a warm hug sent him on his way. Yes, the blessings continue…
Just before our sale, one of our women called the local Jewish temple, to ask if they would like any of our unsold articles for their sale the next week. Their secretary lost our telephone number; our group got busy and forgot to check back with them. But a temple member who knew one of us and where she worked, called there. “No, they couldn’t use our stuff,” she said, but she knew a local couple, grandparents of children who had started a peace project 4 years ago when that oldest child was only seven years old. He had been to an emergency room with a family member, and noticed there weren’t any books for children. So as a peace project he began collecting books to give to children in hospitals and place in emergency rooms in Charlottesville, South Carolina, where they lived. We contacted the couple, and by the Friday evening of our sale, we had boxed up hundreds of children’s books and readied the Grandparents for their next trip to Charlottesville where so many children of that city never had a book of their own. We had helped to meet the young children’s 4 year goal of 10,000 books given to city children in need.
There is one final blessing; one of our women put a message on Craig’s List, regarding our free pile or leftovers we put out by the driveway. After the sale, a line of cars drove around the building, some curious, some getting out of their vehicles and taking goods just because they were free.
But a wonderful story about the free pile came an hour or so later after the line of cars had left. A lone pick up truck was parked over to the side of the drive. Two nicely dressed young women were standing beside the truck talking. One of them had put a lamp and an old toaster into the back of the truck. As I pulled out of the parking lot, toward the exit, I stopped and rolled down the window, and gave a bright “hello”. I tried to be friendly; I was interested in their story. “I’m on disability” one of the young women said, “and I’m being kicked out of a “friend’s” place. My friend, here, saw the ad on Craig’s List and came to help me. I found a low rent studio apartment but I have absolutely nothing.” she said, as her friend added an old kitchen chair to the pile in the truck.
These stories have nothing to do with sale profits; they are blessings of compassion, persistence, hard work, and reaching out to others.
Like the miracle of loaves and fishes in Jesus’ hands, and then given to his disciples, we learned God uses all of us to pass on blessings to others.
The blessings would have not existed if the women hadn’t decided to share their energies, talents, and decades of experiences.
This morning I invite you to share your faith, compassion, persistent prayer for others, and with an added dash of Christian vigor, please continue on your giving journey, because what you may think is not enough, an hour, a half hour, a dollar, a telephone call, may become blessings for so many.
How, you ask? You know, The only answer is God.
Thank you for being here and have a wonderful week.