And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. Luke 9:16-17, NRSV
When Elijah meets the widow of Zarephath, as the story is told to us in First Kings, he asks to be fed from the very last of her stores. She explains to him that she’s gathering wood for the fire she’ll make to cook the last meal she expects to eat before she and her son die of starvation. Still, he asks her to make him some bread.
Even though Elijah promises that she won’t run out of flour and oil, how can she know this is true? The first miracle of the story is that she shares the very last that she has with this entitled man who is asking for food and drink. In my opinion it overshadows the other miracles that follow – the never-empty jugs of oil and flour – because for the first miracle to be effective, the widow must first make the most daring risk.
This miracle replays often in the Church but often we do not perceive it. In the face of diminished resources, I have seen parishes get creative, roll up their sleeves, reach out to ministry partners, and find new ways to engage God's mission. In situations where a need emerged which captured a parish's imagination, I have seen members volunteer their ideas, their wisdom, to help a parish move beyond its capacity. I have seen vestries take risks in order to extend more services, more ministry in their communities, even if the path to staffing or funding it wasn’t immediately clear.
As we have engaged our diocesan Shaped by Faith initiative, we have found new mission partners to start the Alliance of Affirming Churches in Hershey/Hummelstown to reach out to the LGBTQ+ community. As we carefully emerge from a global pandemic, we are partnering with Derry Presbyterian on the resettlement of a refugee family, our Ronald McDonald House Meal Ministry has restarted, our Pastoral Care Team is reaching out through their Card Ministry, and our Tabitha Stitchers are back to creating beautiful prayer shawls for those in need and quilts for our children being baptized.
In every one of these circumstances, miracles were present, because in every one of these circumstances God provided more than enough. More than enough people to do the work, more than enough money to cover the costs, more than enough creativity to carry the mission forward. Even when we feel depleted, there is more than enough.
Maybe the recent pandemic has made you wonder how we will be able to continue providing ministry and pay the bills. Maybe you have had to make serious adjustments in your own household budget or your plans. But God's abundance is found when our faith meets the places where are called into ministry because our individual gifts are combined into a collective community whose capacity is beyond our imagination. There will be more than enough because our faith will unlock the generosity of others. Expect miracles.