A friend was at a church meeting in September where each person was asked to respond to the question, "How did you experience God this summer?" Several people told how they had experienced God in nature. At the cottage, while walking in the woods, while looking out at the lake in the early morning, through a sunset, in hearing the call of the loon, or feeling a summerís breeze. And as they listened, participants thought of their own experiences of God and nodded, "Yes, God was there." Several other people told how they had experienced God through their grandchildren. They reflected on the innocent smile, the childlike laughter, the spontaneity of youth. And as they listened, participants thought of their own children and grandchildren and nodded in agreement, "Yes, God was there." A few others at the meeting told how they had experienced God in music. They had attended a concert, or purchased a new cd, and heard Tchaikovsky as they had never heard him before. And as they listened, participants thought of their own experiences with great music and nodded in agreement, "Yes, God was there."
Finally, it came the turn of a woman who was a newcomer to the group. She was about 35 years old. She looked rather uncomfortable about responding, but after some hesitation she said, "One morning this summer I awakened with an incredible compulsion to go see my ex-husband. Normally I am not a very spontaneous person. In fact, I donít really like my ex-husband. We havenít spoken in over a year. But I was filled with such a compulsion to see him, that I literally could not resist it. So, I gathered up my children, dressed hurriedly, and we drove to his house. We found him collapsed on the floor, having experienced a massive heart attack. We called 911 and saved his life." The listeners were stunned. Some stirred uncomfortably in their chairs. This was an unexpected story. Finally, one whispered tensely: "Holy smokes!"
The womanís sharing was certainly different than seeing a sunset or an innocent child or listening to a grand piece of music. This particular experience certainly seemed like a direct revelation of God. A woman feels a compulsion to see her ex-husband, a compulsion that is too strong to ignore, and she and the children go to his home and find him in the midst of a heart attack and save his life? How else do you explain it? Holy smokes! God was there!
Have you ever had what you felt in your heart of hearts was an experience of God? I actually hear about them from people quite often.
Imagine you are a Jew in Palestine a little more than 2000 years ago. You hear about a man named Jesus who is teaching and healing in the region around the Sea of Galilee and you decide you want to hear him. Is he really a man sent from God? You donít know. You only know him by reputation. You want to find out for yourself.
So, you head out with the crowd. There on a hillside you find Jesus, his disciples and many others. Jesus is teaching and healing people well on in to the afternoon. People are sitting there with their mouths open in awe at his wisdom and his acts of healing. It is a wonderful event, all that you had hoped it would be. However, your stomach begins to growl and you really didnít come prepared to stay this long.
You begin to notice other people talking about how they are hungry, too. Actually, there are at least 5000 hungry men, plus women and children and you are not the only one without a lunch. Then you wonder how this is all going to turn out.
You hear Jesus say to one of his men, "How are we to buy bread so that these people may eat?" But even if they could come up with the money to buy enough food, where are they going to come up with that food, because they are far from any village that would have it. In fact there are so many people there on that hillside that all the shops in ĎTiberius by the seaí would not be able to supply it. "Be realistic," says one of Jesusí men, "say a benediction and send them on their way."
But then another of those Jesus associates said, "Here is a boy with five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many people?" "It is so little."
Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." Then the Teacher did something quite extraordinary. Jesus took the loaves and the fish, said a prayer over them and then began to hand it out. And just as much as he handed out and the people ate it, there was more to be handed out. Five barley loaves and two small fish and thousands of people are being fed. Thatís impossible, you think as you reach out for your share. Itís impossible, fish and bread donít multiply. But it happened. From very little, it was multiplied so that everyone had enough and they gathered up what was left over so that none was wasted.
And you and at least 5000 others sit there in stunned silence. Then somebody whispers, "Holy smokes. Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world." Somebody else says, "This is the long awaited king." And you begin to get the feeling that the crowd is going to turn in to a mob. Not a mob bent on destruction, but a mob intent on making Jesus their king. And you are one of those people, but when you get up to join in, you find that the Teacher is gone. And you pause for a moment and think to yourself, "God was here. I have experienced the presence of God."
That is the impact that Jesus had on people. They came to see a simple carpenter but instead found themselves in the presence of the one who created the universe. Jesus was a wise Teacher, but he was much more than that. He was a healer. But he was more than a great physician. He was a man who could give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. He could still a storm, walk on water, cause ordinary bread to multiply, and even raise the dead. What could be said in his presence, except, "Holy smokes. Here is God."
We live in the information age. At one time it was thought that knowledge was power. If a person had the right data and the correct information, he or she could use that knowledge to make the world a better place. Now we have so much knowledge, but it seems that people are more passive. The electronic media brings us so much knowledge about weather, economics, politics, wars, and famines that it can lead to paralysis instead of empowerment.
When faced with crises, famine, or AIDS in Africa, there is the temptation to ask, "In the face of so much, what can we do?" Rather than moving toward action, we are tempted by inertia. The pursuit of trivia can be more appealing than the pursuit of answers to problems and solutions to crises.
The Gospel of John is all about knowledge as power. It is about the way, the truth, and the life. It is a knowledge that is expressly relational and deeply passionate. The paralyzing situation on the hilltop with 5000+ hungry people is dealt with by Jesus-the end of human knowledge is the beginning of loveís knowledge, and that is enough to feed a multitude. It was only a little, but it was enough, more than enough.
Barbara Wilson, part of the last congregation I served was at the time a mature woman in her late 60ís. She saw a need as she learned more and more about grandmothers in Africa and the devastating situation they were facing upon the death of their children with AIDS, then left raising their own grandchildren and the work of the Stephen Lewis Foundation. She did what you could call a little thing. She talked to others. She made connections with the Anglican congregation in Brampton and they made connections and those Brampton grandmothers formed a local group which has raised $40,000 in the last 8 years. Because of the awareness of the Brampton group, a group in Malton was begun. Barbís small idea has grown in an extraordinary way.
You could put the philosophy of the way of working of grandmothers to grandmothers as small gifts growing big results. "Our work is with the poorest of the poor, and one by one, we can help then turn their lives around. Support one grandmother, and you are making a difference in the lives of generations."
In 1976, when Millard and Linda Fuller began Habitat for Humanity, there were few resources and a great need for affordable and decent housing for the working poor. With a few tools and a small group of volunteers, it would have been easy to ask, "What are they among so many?" Yet the passion for justice grounded in the incarnation of Jesus compelled them forward. Today Habitat for Humanity serves as a clear testimony to the multiplying power of loveís knowledge.
All around us are those with knowledge of human need but with few resources. There are countless small congregations in Caledon. There are people on limited incomes. Iím told there is the reality of homeless and those who are precariously housed. There are those with physical or mental handicaps. In the face of it, all our individual church resources are like a drop in the bucket. Yet as this passage vividly portrays, in the hands of Jesus, little can become much, the few can become the many, and the weak can become strong.
This week I got to see the work of the Exchange in Bolton. There you can see the result of many small churches and people of good will working together. Through the collective, people are being fed, lives are being healed, the cast off are being cared for, with the little we have, it is enough. Holy smoke! God is here! Or the words of our speaker at the covenanting service 2 weeks ago. Awesome! Miracles are happening!
Acknowledging Inspiration from:
Cheryl Bridges Johns, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, p. 284-289
Holy Smokes! God is Here, Sermonshop.com, story from the Rev. Lynne Bandy