God’s abundance is enough for all; how will we live as if we truly believed that?
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 17 B
Texts: John 6:1-15 (16-21 saved for next week); Ephesians 3:14-21; 2 Samuel 11:1-15
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
I gave away well over half of my clothes last week. I didn’t plan to.
I meant to go through my closet and drawers and give the things I never wear anymore to Central Lutheran Church’s Free Store. I cling far too hopefully to clothes I used to fit into, far too sentimentally to clothes I think I might wear again. But after 35 years of adulthood, I finally took the time to thin out. I couldn’t believe how much it ended up being. Shirts, jeans, socks, belts, shoes, dress clothes. 205 pieces of clothing.
I don’t tell you this as a point of pride, or for your praise. You would do better to wonder what it is about your pastor that makes him stubbornly refuse to act for over four decades of John the Baptist’s urging every Advent, and give one of his two coats to someone who has none. Or why when so many have nearly nothing, your pastor accumulated more than twice the clothes he needed, but didn’t wear them for years.
A simple reason is that I could.
Mary and I had lean years, especially when the children were young, but we were blessed that we always could provide for the family. As we both grew older, both with steady incomes, more and more I didn’t have to decide not to buy that pair of jeans (even though I had some already) or that shirt. Over time, bit by bit, I accumulated.
But there is also something in me that doesn’t want to let go of things. A subtle fear that one day I might need it, or regret not having it. In this land of great abundance, I act as if have a deep-rooted fear of scarcity. What if one day I don’t have what I want?
This story of abundant food shared with thousands, revealing Jesus as God-with-us, says there’s a different way to be. I could live in this abundant world as if there is nothing to fear, no need to hoard. I could become someone who doesn’t wait forty years to find the freedom and lightness of not clinging to things that others could find life in.
Today Paul says God, by the power at work within each of us, is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.
This story of thousands fed by a meager lunch proclaims God provides more than enough resources here to feed and clothe everyone. Our weak imagination matches the disciples’. We see only limits to what we can do, with the resources available, to feed everyone, let everyone live a full and abundant life. But God-with-us takes what looks like nothing and feeds everyone. “As much as they wanted,” John says.
This story of thousands fed proclaims God also provides abundant community. These thousands came from all social strata, but now they are at table together, sharing a meal. We limit who is in our family, whom we will eat with. But God-with-us makes a table big enough for all to gather, and share, and know each other as blessed and loved. No one is alone.
This story of an exhausted Jesus feeding thousands also proclaims that God has abundant love, abundant grace, abundant God for all. This act of self-giving love foreshadows the love for the universe that will be revealed on the cross. We limit God’s love and grace, sometimes for ourselves, many times for others. But God-with-us sees no limits, not even the limit of death, and pours out love for the whole creation.
If this is true, why do I cling so tightly to things, and to my social circle, and even to God’s love?
I can’t speak to whether all this is true for you, but it is for me. This is a trap of privilege. Living a privileged life means I can hear of God’s abundance shown in a massive feast and spiritualize it, keep hoarding my possessions, give away a little to feel good. I can limit who’s in my community, and not face that people suffer because of me. I can imagine God only loves those I love, or who see God as I do. And my culture would call me respectable in all this.
Privilege means you can have all you want, and not have to worry about what cost that brings to another person. This terrible story of King David’s rape of a neighbor woman and murder of her husband begins with his abuse of royal privilege. Next week we’ll hear God speak through Nathan and say to the king, “I gave you everything, I made you king. If that had been too little, I would have given you more. But you still destroyed these people’s lives for your own greed.”
Jesus came that all might have life, and have it abundantly.
But Jesus doesn’t promise believers will become rich people, isolated people. Jesus promises walking his way leads to a life that is actually rich, not in possessions and self-centeredness, but in a life that’s truly full and joyful.
In our abundant land, with many of us having more than enough to eat, 40 percent of America’s food gets thrown away. And millions starve in our own country. Jesus’ way is that everyone has as much as they want to eat, and then he has the disciples gather the leftovers, so nothing is wasted. Which is a world you’d rather live in?
In our privileged lives we can pick our friends and acquaintances, and ignore, if we choose, anyone we we don’t want to deal with, anyone we don’t like, anyone who doesn’t share our faith. And millions are lonely, millions suffer under the eyes of those doing well, and religious hatred is destroying our world. Jesus’ way is that every one of God’s creatures are in this together, all belong, all are fed, all thrive, all are loved by God. Which is a world you’d rather live in?
Our new loan program here follows Jesus’ way. When you have more than enough, you don’t build a wall, we’re saying with Longer Table Lending. You build a longer table.
Because that’s where abundance is found. In the freedom and lightness of sharing – your possessions, life, and even God’s love – with all your neighbors. It’s more than just finding abundant food and resources. It’s finding abundant numbers of your community. It’s finding an abundant scope to God’s love.
This story of God’s abundance poured out on thousands is a great challenge to me. Maybe to you, too.
I could leave here today and do nothing. See what Jesus did and what it means, and fall back into my old habits. As if I deserve it.
If you’re like me, so could you. Today’s sermon could be like any other you heard and then did nothing. God’s rich abundance of resources, community, and love, intended for all could be something you delight in but that doesn’t change anything about you.
I know myself well: if I’d been in the crowd that day, hungry, and heard they were giving out food, for much of my life my first thought would’ve been “I’ll bet that basket doesn’t get all the way over here.” I’d worry about getting my share. The fact that I have every reason to be thankful to God every minute of my life for my blessings makes that reaction obscene. But the grace of the Spirit’s working in me over these years means I’m learning to let go of these old ways and find abundant life in Jesus’ way.
So it comes to this: God is able to accomplish for you and for this world abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine. I could walk away and do nothing about how my life reflects that. So could you.
The question is, will you?
In the name of Jesus. Amen