You can trust…the God of abundance…or the disciples of scarcity.
The disciples said, “Send the crowds away.” (Matt 14:15)
Jesus said, ‘They need not go away” (Matt 14:16)
It was late in the day so everyone was tired and hungry.
The disciples said there is not enough food.
But Jesus called his disciples to trust him and to become hosts for those in need.
Five thousand hungry men (and who knows how many hungry women and children) were fed, and 12 baskets of food remained – one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel.
But we understand the disciples’ perspective.
We fear that there will not be enough for us so we must always be trying to get more. And protecting what we believe is ours.
In last week’s tax cut debate, here in the wealthiest nation of the world, we heard the voices of the disciples over and over again. “This money is ours. Send those other people away”
But the politicians aren’t alone. We join the cry.
“If too many foreigners come into the US then there will not be enough jobs for all of us.”
“If those people become our neighbors then our property values will go down.”
We strain our relationships with family members as we grab anxiously at family heirlooms and “our inheritance”.
And the church struggles with lay people sharing leadership, fearing that lay people doing more might jeopardize the role of ordained ministers.
Moments of brutal honesty force us to admit that our fear of scarcity fuels our racism, our sexism and much of our bad behavior toward our neighbors. Often we cover our fear with excuses. We say that women are too emotionally unstable for certain jobs or people with darker skin aren’t smart enough to study here. People who question us are out to get us so we must look out for ourselves.
All in stark contrast to the message of the God we say we trust.
Today’s good news story of God’s bounty is not a fluke. The New Testament’s six variations of the loaves and fishes story show its profound importance to the early Christian Community.
And as this morning’s lesson from Nehemiah reminded us, centuries before, God cared for the Israelites for 40 years in the wilderness—giving them manna to eat and water for their thirst.
According to the book of Exodus, God rained bread down from heaven for the Israelites to eat. And each morning the Israelites gathered it, some more and some less. “But when they measured it…”those who gathered much had nothing over and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.” (Ex.16: 18)
God’s abundance (despite our disbelief) shines throughout the Biblical story. Deuteronomy’s promises of “a good land, a land with flowing streams…a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing…” (Deut. 8:7 ff.) and Isaiah’s eschatological prediction for all peoples of “a feast of rich foods, a feast of well-aged wines and of rich food filled with marrow” (Isaiah 25:6 ff.) reveal God’s design for us.
From the richness of creation to water turned into wine, nets over-flowing with fish, and broken people made whole. Consistently, God’s people get what they need.
Yet by now you might be thinking, I know those stories, but just look at the need in the world around us and let me tell you about my own life. There have been plenty of things that I needed, maybe medical care, maybe a sense of security…and I didn’t get them.
Accepting our losses is an important element of the road to maturity. Judith Viorst, author of the bestseller Necessary Losses says that, “We grow by losing and leaving and letting go…We must confront…all that we never will have and never will be”.
Unfortunately, we also have a very distorted sense of our need. Our devotion to consumerism tricks us into believing that every want is a need and there is no such thing as “too much”. Meanwhile, our economic system turns upon the assumption of limited resources and a notion that greed is good.
But God knows our real needs.
And the journey of faith is one of accepting that only God can make us whole.
Like the disciples, we see need around us and we know our own hunger. And like the disciples, God is with us.
What if we believed that God provided enough Manna? What if we believed in the miracle of the loaves and the fish? What if we believed that God has given all of us, rich and poor, all the gifts that we need to be a community of abundance?
Maybe we should spend more time identifying God’s abundance. In the process, we might be transformed from hoarders of scarce resources to people of possibility. People of resurrection and new life.
For example, we could spend less time naming peoples’ neediness (“the hungry”, the homeless” – you know the list) and more time identifying their strengths (community organizer, doting mother, problem solver, etc.). We could imagine every needy person in our life as a potential partner.
Today we pray for the church. What if all of us in the institutional church trusted that through our Baptisms God provides more than enough ministry for us to do?
We could determine the types of ministry uniquely to be done by ordained ministers, and the kinds of ministry that can only be done by non-ordained ministers…then get on with dividing up the rest of the work based upon the different gifts that God has given us.
Imagine how much more we would accomplish in Jesus’ name!
And what if this country’s primary goal for social policy and taxation was the well being of all of our citizens? What if we looked at our income and skills as gifts from God’s abundance rather than evidence of our own achievement?
We could take what we need, instead of all that we can get. Despite the current lack of rain, some of us have not yet tried to conserve water, exacerbating the drought for all of us. And the incredible growth in the stock market means only a widening gap between rich and poor for millions of Americans.
The Biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, wrote recently, “Christians have a long history of trying to squeeze Jesus out of public life and reduce him to a private little savior. But to do this is to ignore what the Bible really says. Jesus talks a great deal about the kingdom of God — and what he means by that is a public life reorganized toward neighborliness.”
What if, as Brueggemann goes on to suggest, “Jesus transforms the economy by blessing it and breaking it beyond self interest”?
To be faithful to the Gospel we have no choice. Like the disciples, Jesus calls us to share God’s abundance. The disciples served as God’s hands, giving bread and fish to the crowds.
In exchange, God promises no worldly success, but consistently offers abundance to the faithful.
And so in this service of Holy Eucharist we move toward the breaking of the bread. And then we will leave this place for the hungry crowds in our offices, on the streets of our cities and in our homes.
Will you respond…trusting in scarcity…or abundance?