6 August, 2011 14:58


PROPER 13, Year A

Isaiah 55:1-5 Matthew 14:13-21

I made a terrible mistake this week. I looked at my past sermons on these texts before writing my sermon. And I liked the one from 1999 so well that I’m going to preach it again, with only minor modifications. . .

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

Isaiah’s question leaped off the page for me again this week. The question is one that I don’t remember asking myself when I was young.

I’ll bet that many of you grew up, like I did, fully immersed in the work ethic, haunted by the shadow or the real experience of the depression. I learned the value of hard work and sensible money management practically by osmosis – merely by living in the same house with my parents.

About the time I hit mid-life and started asking lots of questions about what I was doing and why, our society had become more and more a full-blown consumer society. I see this especially when I look at my son’s generation. They buy what they want now, now, whether they can afford it or not; they seem comfortable owing large sums of consumer debt. It seems that if they learned by osmosis, it was from TV rather than from their parents.

And yet, as I started to ask myself questions I found I had in fact also moved some distance from the lessons my parents taught. I too have been changed by the culture around me.

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

Why did I compete in the workplace for better jobs to have more money to buy more stuff? Why do I want things I don’t need? Why do I spend money on things that aren’t necessary, that don’t satisfy me, and that don’t enrich my life or the lives of others?

Two reasons spring to mind quickly. One is mindlessness; the other is an underlying fear of scarcity.

Mindlessness covers a multitude of sins. Mainly it means not paying attention, not planning ahead, not thinking. I’m strolling through a store, see T-shirts on sale, think, “What a good deal!” buy two and take them home. Maybe I’m so mindless that when I throw the two new ones on top of the pile I already own, I don’t even notice that there are enough there for three people.

Mindlessness is being so busy and distracted that I don’t even bother to ask, “What do I need?” We own so much stuff, and see so much more stuff in the stores, and are urged to buy more that we don’t even ask the question, “Do I have enough?” Maybe we don’t even know what is enough.

Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin wrote a book in 1992 called Your Money or Your Life. They had figured out how to live well on about $6,000 per year each, after giving up stressful, high paying jobs. They now work strictly in the non-profit sector doing things they feel good about without taking any pay.

The book lays out a process for others to do the same – not in the sense of making the same choices they did, but in the sense of freeing themselves from slavery to the need for money.

One of their chapters is entitled “How Much is Enough? The Nature of Fulfillment”. I wish I’d written it. Listen.

“What is fulfillment? Whether in the sense of accomplishing a goal or enjoying a moment of real contentment, fulfillment is that experience of deep satisfaction when you can say, Aaaahh…that was a delicious meal, a job well done, or a purchase worth the money. To find fulfillment, though, you need to know what you are looking for. It’s fairly easy to know what fulfillment is in terms of food or other temporary pleasures. But to have fulfillment in the larger sense, to have a fulfilled life, you need to have a sense of purpose, a dream of what a good life might be.”

In order to define purpose – the meaning you ascribe to actions, the authors tell this story:

“There were three stone cutters, each chipping away at a large block. A passerby approaches the first stonecutter and asks, “Excuse me, what are you doing?” The stonecutter replies rather gruffly, “I’m chipping away at this big hunk of stone. When asked the same question, the second stone cutter looks up with a mixture of pride and resignation and says, “Why, I’m earning a living to take care of my wife and children.” Moving to the third worker, our questioner asks, “And what are you doing?” The third stonecutter looks up, his face shining, and says with reverence, “I’m building a cathedral!”

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

The second answer I mentioned was a fear of scarcity. For folks who lived through the depression this may be a real fear based on experience, but what about people born after the 30’s?

· We learned this fear from our parents, who did live through the depression.

· Fear of scarcity is built into our advertising – even built into all aspects of society through competition, win/lose attitudes, hierarchical structures that allow only so much room at the top, etc.

· More significant, especially for Christians is that fear of scarcity is also built into some of our traditional theology.

Let me oversimplify for the sake of clarity. You know the old saw – that people can be divided into two groups, those who see the glass half-full, and those who see the glass half-empty. Well, Christians can be divided into two groups too – those who see the universe as abundant, full of good things for us to enjoy and for which we thank the creator unceasingly, and those who see it as a world full of sin, suffering, and scarcity, which by the way, we deserve.

These two views are sometimes called the Creation model and the Sin/Redemption model of Christianity. One grows out of the first story in Genesis, where God creates a beautiful and abundant universe, creates man and woman, and sees that it is all very good.

The other grows out of the second story in Genesis, where Adam and Eve are expelled from the abundance of the garden to eke out a living from the sweat of their labor.

Ever since the 5th Century, when Augustine formulated his interpretation of the Adam and Eve story into the doctrine of Original Sin, the Sin/Redemption model has dominated our tradition.

Matthew Fox brought this to public attention in the 80’s in a book called Original Blessing, where he articulates more fully the Creation model of Christianity and how threads of this view have always existed along with the dominant model. One of the tenets of the Creation model is that there is enough. There is enough food to feed the world, There is enough material for clothing. There’s enough love to go around. There’s enough of everything we need to live abundantly.

Why is it so hard for us to believe this? Think for a moment about which of your actions and choices might be different if you really, truly, believed that there’s enough of everything?

In his book, Conversations with God, Neal Donald Walsch says this: “The human consciousness of insufficiency – of “not enoughness” – is the root cause of all worry, all pressure, all competition, all jealousy, all anger, all conflict, and ultimately, all killing on your planet.”

I would add that this is also what allows politicians and demagogues to spread fear and hatred. If you consider the big debates in politics today, whether immigration, tax reform, or fights over the spending cuts and tax cuts, you will discover that a fear of scarcity and personal greed are driving factors.

The more I study the Gospels, the more I like the disciples. They’re just like us! O dear, O dear, they fret – how is this huge crowd going to get dinner? Let’s send them off to fend for themselves.

When Jesus tells them to feed the crowd, they are convinced that what they have is not enough. They are operating out of the scarcity model and this brings them worry and concern. Jesus, the Master, assumes that what they have will be enough. He gives thanks for what they have in blessing the food and gives it to the disciples for distribution. He has no worry.

Has anyone here been to a potluck where you actually ran out of food? If you’re the one in charge of a potluck next week, will you worry about running out? I would too, even though I know I shouldn’t.

While I’m much more often like the disciples than like Jesus, I have found that when I know what is enough for me, my needs are less than I’d thought. Does this make sense? If I pay attention and am mindful of what I really need, I discover I can live very well on less – less labor, less money, less food, less stuff, less worry.

The people gathered to hear Jesus teach were not focused on food for their bellies. They weren’t worried about their next meal – so all they ate was what they needed in order to stay in their places and listen to Jesus.

My purpose is not to explain away the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. Rather it’s to remind us that the miracle is available to us too. Try it and see. Cultivate mindfulness in the coming weeks by continually asking yourself two questions:

· What do I need for an abundant life?

· How much is enough?

When you have answered these questions fully, you can then ask the third: what in the world am I going to do with the 12 baskets full that are left over? AMEN

Lynn Naeckel +

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