From Scarcity to Abundance

Homily for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12)
St. John’s Episcopal Church
July 29, 2018

Readings:

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

Collect for the Day:  O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Listen to the Sermon Here

A few years ago, on a brisk autumn morning, I pulled up to the church I was serving and saw a line at least 30 people deep stretching out onto the sidewalk behind the still-locked food pantry doors.  It wasn’t even time to open yet.  As I slipped in through the back doors off the parking lot, one of the set-up volunteers greeted me with bad news: “the power went out last night, and a lot of our food was spoiled and has to be thrown away.  We aren’t going to be able to feed everyone today.”

A few weeks ago, I was in the media section at General Convention, preparing to listen to some deep theological conversation as the House of Bishops discussed resolutions about expanding the language of our liturgy and affirming marriage rites for all people.  Before they even began to speak, the update came from the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance that there wasn’t any money remaining to be allocated for prayer book revision.  Almost immediately, someone tweeted, “Prayer book revision dies for lack of funding.”

In the Gospel according to John, Jesus looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him and so he asked Philip a rhetorical question, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” But Philip, in his anxiety, replied to a different question entirely: “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

Yet today in our Collect today, we pray:

with you as our ruler and guide, may we pass through things temporal,
so that we do not lose things eternal

What is it about our temporal, earthly lives that makes us live in want of power and in fear of scarcity?  Our first lesson…even more poignant in the age of #metoo…tells the tale of a powerful ruler, so fearful of losing the woman he seduced and impregnated that he sends her husband off to battle in a precarious position, setting him up to be killed.  I’d love to think society has come a long way, but that could just as easily be a news headline today.

While power craves more of itself, the rest of our lives function on scarcity: it seems that there is never enough money to go around, enough food to feed the hungry, enough jobs for those who yearn to work, enough space in our country for those seeking asylum, enough room in our hearts for those whom the world has cast aside.

The love of power and the economy of scarcity drive so many of our decisions: from business models to public policy and yes…if we aren’t careful…even the way in which we are church together.

When power and scarcity get the best of us, we often buckle down and try to fix things ourselves.  We slice the pie thinner and thinner so that we can preserve what we have and give away only what we must.  We set our own course and sail on until the sea becomes rough and the winds begin to toss us, then we become terrified.  We start rowing as hard as we can against a stormy sea and when we start to panic, only then do we call out, “Where is God?”

In our beleaguered state, we can begin to buy-in to the economy of scarcity and the abuse of power as “just the way things are” in this world in which we live.  But it isn’t the only way, or the permanent way and it certainly isn’t God’s way.  God’s way, as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is fond of saying, is the Way of Love.

with you as our ruler and guide, may we pass through things temporal,
so that we do not lose things eternal

Today’s lessons are filled with human beings acting on their own power, caught up in the chaos of feeling overwhelmed, feeling the paralysis of need and oppression, giving in to the panic when the storms of life are brewing, forgetting amid all these changes and chances of our human lives the eternal truth that God is Love, and that we are grounded in that love.  These powers and principalities do not need to define us.  We need to be reminded, just as the Church in Ephesus was reminded, of the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.

The Good News is that even today, God is still doing what God does throughout history.  God works through us, in all our human failings and complexities, in ways incomprehensible to human logic.  Through David and Bathsheba is born Solomon the wise, and so it goes for the 28 generations recounted in the Gospel of Matthew which eventually lead to a stable in Bethlehem and the birth of a baby without any hint of human power but overflowing with divine love so abundant that it will redeem the world.  In today’s Gospel, that same incarnate God-made-human in Jesus sees the hunger of the world and knows how to feed the multitudes.  Jesus hears panic on the seas and insures a safe arrival on shore.  Jesus is never working on scarce resources.  Jesus is always living in the abundance of love.

When Jesus holds that ordinary gift of loaves and fishes given from the hands of a child, what is the first thing he does?  He gives thanks.  When Jesus realizes that people have him confused with an earthly king, what does he do? He withdraws to the mountain by himself.  When Jesus hears and sees the fears of his friends on the stormy sea what does he do?  He moves toward them and reminds them, “It is I; do not be afraid!” as he sets their feet on dry land.

Jesus gives thanks; he moves away from the world’s power, he moves into deeper relationship with God and with others.  This isn’t a remote, historic miracle.  This is Jesus’ Way of Love:

with you as our ruler and guide, may we pass through things temporal,
so that we do not lose things eternal

On that chilly November day, we opened the food pantry doors and let people pour into a warm parish hall.  Together we made coffee and put out donated pastries and began to fill the shelves with the food we had.  We paused to pray, and invited God’s abundance into our midst.  I cannot explain how and why it was that the very last cans and boxes from back of the very last shelves were placed in the very last hands of those who were there, but there was enough that day for everyone who needed to be fed.  And before we closed the doors, new bags of donations were already on the doorstep waiting for the next week.

We walked the Way of Love.

In that hushed space in the House of Bishops…just as it happened the previous day in the House of Deputies…everyone paused business, and we prayed.  Eventually people spoke, people listened and new ways forward began to emerge.  We didn’t cave to social media hype.  We created a wider path…a “via comprehensiva”… that invited us to live more fully into prayer, new language, deep inclusion, open conversation and relationship as a whole body.  We turned a corner, moving deeper into possibility and away from blame.

We walked the Way of Love.

On that grassy mountainside, the young boy gave his lunch, and the disciples gave in to trust, and Jesus gave thanks to God.  People sat, and shared, and were fed.  And when they were satisfied, Jesus told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” Meanwhile Jesus, instead of letting that crowd-talk go to his head, went up the mountain to spend holy time in the presence of God, modeling for us how to continually place our lives into the abundant care and keeping of our heavenly Father.

Whenever we share in God’s abundance, we walk in the Way of Love.

How will we open our hearts to abundance this week?  When will we step aside from our fears and stop thinking in terms of scarcity?  Where and with whom will we choose to walk the way of love?  I hope that we will do exactly as Jesus has taught us:  through thanks, through prayer, through relationship. We will pass through things temporal and keep our vision on things eternal, with God’s help.

Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly more than all we can ask or imagine, be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

FollowMeSaintJohns

Stained Glass Window, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Richmond VA

About harasprice

Social worker, professor, seminarian in The Episcopal Church, student, parent, teacher, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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2 Responses to From Scarcity to Abundance

  1. JVB says:

    Powerful teaching, keen exegesis, and an even more important lesson for all who are disciples! I also preached on today’s Gospel this morning, and our POVs are quite similar. Three cheers, S.K.P. Maurice!
    JVB

    • harasprice says:

      Challenging and wonderful texts from which to preach! Thanks for reading…please send me yours when it is posted/recorded. I’m sure it was equally filled with inspiration and spoke to the hearts of those who listened. Blessings this Sunday!

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