Guest Speaker: Rev. John Bannerman (Presbyterian World Service & Development)
Today, we have a guest speaker from PWS&D (Presbyterian World Service & Development). It is an arm of our denomination for helping people who are in need. So today we are collecting a special offering for Malawi, and the effects of Cyclone Idai. So now, Reverend John Bannerman, a senior pastor at Chalmers Presbyterian Church in London, will come up so let us welcome him and listen to his message.
It is just wonderful to be here to worship God together with all of you. What a rich and beautiful morning I’ve already enjoyed. And the music, your singing, the instrumentalists, the choir, as you lift your voices in song and praise to God, it is just so wonderful. So I want to thank you for your welcome and your invitation. Also for the hospitality, I was enjoying some delicious, a little bit hot, but delicious food between the two worship services. And a real delight to be here, to worship and to share with you. I want to give a message and preach a sermon, but also include some stories or some information about Presbyterian World Service and Development. So I hope with the help of a few slides and a bit more information in a few minutes you’ll also have a slightly better sense of what PWS&D is all about, but essentially also want to proclaim the Word and I’ll be working from Exodus 16, but I’ll also be drawing from the gospel of John 6, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and multiplying the loaves and the fishes.
Manna in the Book of Exodus
I’ll begin though with the book of Exodus and with the reading you just heard moments ago. The people of God, the Israelites were out in the wilderness. They were wandering through the wilderness, and and at this particular point on their journey, they began to complain and their complaints sounded something like this: “At least in Egypt, we had our fill of bread. Out here in the wilderness, we are starving to death.”. As someone said, “A food crisis then became a crisis of faith”, and yet somehow God’s Word and God’s actions combined to proclaim “I will provide” says the Lord. God nevertheless provided for God’s people. The quail and the manna will be a sign of the Lord’s care for his people. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God, the Bible says. As one writer put it, they will know provision instead of poverty and food instead of famine. And so will we. We will know God’s providence. We will know God’s care. We know that God provides. God bestows blessing upon blessing. Do we have eyes to see, ears to hear, spirits to discern, the presence and the provision of the Living God?
God Provides for Us Today
I firmly believe that this account of the Manna being given to God’s people is not to be relegated to the past. The God of the Exodus, the God of Moses and Miriam, the God of the burning Bush, the God who rained manna from heaven is the living God, the God of yesterday, the God of today and the God of tomorrow. The God who provides for us on the journey of faith. To share a brief story, it’s a very mundane story in a way, and yet not. A distraught single parent came to the church office seeking help, seeking financial assistance for a down payment, a deposit for her apartment. She had a child, she had a new job, but she still needed some assistance. The congregation that she approached could help but only help a little bit and so other congregations in the community were urged to participate to support her and the local church asked her to call back the very next week just to give them an update on how things were going. Well, the good news is, a number of churches came through. They did support and help her, and in response, this young mother, this young woman said, “God provided.” God, provided. The book of Exodus, knows God in plague and pestilence, burning bush and mountain, water from the rock and manna from heaven. Praise God. In events and experiences, in words and wonders, in deeds and in daily duties, God provided, and friends, I believe God still provides out of God’s abundant love.
Who is God?
There’s a biblical commentator on the book of Exodus, his name is Terrence Fretheim, and he wrote: “The people of God do not live by bread alone, but they cannot live without bread either. The increasing gap between rich and poor in modern societies is certainly in part due to the hoarding of Manna.”. And he continues, “The world of God’s creation, including the distribution of food resources, is to be so structured that those who gather little have no lack.”. I heard Doug Meeks, a theologian in the States speak several years ago and he asked this question. He asked, “Who is God?”. That’s a big question. Who is God? And this is what he said in response: “God is the giver of Bread.”. Who is God, we ask? God is the giver of bread. This loaf of bread that I brought with me today from London, Ontario is a gift from God. It smells pretty good too. I guess it’s still pretty fresh. It’s a gift from God. The Bible says that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. If we think about it, all that we have and all that we are, our gifts from our creator, redeemer, sustainer, God. We remember God’s provision of manna from heaven for God’s people as they, in a way, as we wandered in the wilderness and I say today, praise God, who still provides for us on the way, on the way of Jesus Christ. With the gift of bread in hand, both figuratively and literally, we praise God from whom all blessings flow. Today in this worship time we celebrate the faithfulness of the God who provides.
God’s Divine Multiplication for the World
If the first two slides can be brought up for the PWS&D selection, I’m only showing a few slides just to illustrate and to underline what I’m saying. Trusting in God’s providence and in God’s promise of abundant life in Christ. We can be bold in our witness and generous in our living and in our giving. Now, I haven’t read from the gospel of John 6 but I’m going to refer to when Jesus fed the 5,000. Sometimes we’re like the disciple Andrew. He sees five barley loaves and two fish and he looks out over a crowd of 5,000 hungry people and he asks a question that I might ask, maybe you would ask: “What are these meager gifts among so many?”. Five loaves and two fish. What is that amongst 5,000 hungry people? It makes me think of other questions we could ask. What are the resources of the people of the Presbyterian Church in Canada in the face of extreme and unacceptable levels of global hunger and poverty? What about your resources? What are the resources of God’s people here at St. Timothy Church in the face of all the needs and challenges in Toronto and beyond? What are five loaves and two fish in the hands of Jesus, the Christ? Well, according to the Gospel writer, according to John 6, Jesus takes the bread and what does he do? He gives thanks to God, and he breaks the bread and distributes the bread and the fish to the hungry crowd of people. To me, that sounds a lot like holy communion. What happens next in John 6, God mysteriously, miraculously multiplies the gift and the people are fed. God multiplies the gift and there is enough for all with bread left over. 12 baskets full! God’s love, God’s provision is from God’s abundance, and we say thanks be to God. With our abiding trust in God, the giver of Bread, the One who provides in abundance and with God’s call on our hearts to share our bread, our gifts, our resources. We too can participate in the mystery of God’s divine multiplication. Consider that this day. The work of Presbyterian World Service and Development is rooted and grounded in the God who reigns manna from heaven, the God who provides in abundance, and the God who multiplies our gifts.
Information on PWS&D
Now I’ve just taken part in my second meeting of the Presbyterian World Service and Development committee. It’s a committee that has representatives of our church from all across Canada. I attended my first meeting last year in October in Montreal and I was only able to go to day one, the meeting on Friday at our church office. But I’m learning so much about the relief and development work of our church, important work, vital work, exciting work that our, our church and our partners are doing in various parts of the world. It’s been just a wonderful experience so far and I just want to draw your attention. I’m delighted that you are already supporting the special offering for Malawi and you can read more on the bulletin insert that I believe is in front of you or is available at least, in response to the devastating impact of Cyclone Idai in Malawi and in Mozambique and also in Zimbabwe. Truly devastating. If you’ve been following the news, if you’ve been seeing any of the pictures, or hearing any of the stories and, and our church is stepping up, we’re going to offer ourselves, our gifts and then trust God to multiply our gifts. And the Government of Canada is participating by even matching the gifts that we give, at least up until a week from today, next Sunday, April 14th. So please consider this, take this information with you. I’m no expert on the work of PWS&D, but I would be more than delighted to speak with any or all of you after the service if you have ideas, questions, or suggestions for this important work that we do together. And I just want to make one other mention. Presbyterian World Service and Development is seeking in every congregation across our church, a PWS&D champion. Someone who has a passion for relief and development work done in the name of Christ, and who would be prepared to represent and advocate for the work of PWS&D right here at St. Timothy Church.
A Champion for Change
Perhaps you already have one or more people actively participating this, but if not, PWS&D is seeking a champion for change. Someone who can champion this work here at St Timothy’s and I’ll actually leave this with you as well as a source of information and more information is also available on the PWS&D website. I’m really enjoying my participation on the committee and, and these occasional opportunities to talk a little bit about the work of Presbyterian World Service and Development. I’m just going to share one anecdote, one story, in effect, from Malawi that really raises up for us the importance of what’s called “conservation agriculture”. And this is taken from the PWS&D website and it says: “Small changes are making big improvements in the lives of small scale farmers around the world. Support for PWS&D’s agriculture programs provides farmers with seeds, tools, fertilizer and training in innovative and sustainable farming practices.”.
There’s a particular story I want to highlight and it’s from a farmer, a woman in Malawi. For her, getting the chance to practice conservation agriculture was a dream come true. Faced as she was with poor rainfall and subsequent food shortages, she was anxious to try the sustainable farming technique that would help her soil retain moisture. When a PWS&D supported conservation agriculture project started in her village, she was the very first one to sign up. With time, her small conservation agriculture plot boasted almost as much maze as an entire acre of her land harvested the more traditional way. An amazing result. To her, the transformation of her dry parcel of land in Malawi, Africa was in her words, just like magic. From that moment, she knew that her method of farming had changed forever and for the good.
In the name of Jesus Christ, we thank God who provides in abundance and who invites us to participate in the miracle and the mystery of divine multiplication as we do God’s work together. The last set of slides will just remind us a bit more of the work of PWS&D. We dedicate ourselves and perhaps we dedicate ourselves afresh, to share our bread as God multiplies our gifts through Presbyterian World Service and Development and through mission-minded congregations like St. Timothy Presbyterian Church right here in Toronto. And I say with you, thanks be to God. Thanks be to God, the giver of Bread. We prayed through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. And I want to thank you for this opportunity to be with you and again, to share with you and to participate in God’s mission together. May the Lord bless you, and may the Lord watch over you, and may the Lord give you grace and peace today and in all the days to come and God’s people said, Amen.