September 1, 2019
At one time, the whole Earth spoke the same language. It so happened that as they moved out of the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled down. They said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and fire them well.” They used brick for stone and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower that reaches Heaven. Let’s make ourselves famous so we won’t be scattered here and there across the Earth.” God came down to look over the city and the tower those people had built. God took one look and said, “One people, one language; why, this is only a first step. No telling what they’ll come up with next—they’ll stop at nothing!
Genesis 11: 1-9 The Message
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Philippians 4: 6-7 The Message
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a participant in the Academy for Spiritual Formation, and that we follow a monastic rhythm and have worship three times a day. We take turns leading worship, giving the message, and presiding at Communion. I’d guess that two thirds of us are pastors, and no one’s more critical about how worship is done than clergy. One of the pastors who gave the sermon at our last session said that he was relieved that it was also Communion, because people are more forgiving on Communion Sunday if the message is less than riveting because they have Communion to look forward to afterwards. He got a big laugh. Today is Communion Sunday… and it’s the beginning of a sermon series called “Moving Out of Scare City.” It’s a play on the word “scarcity,” a word that means there is not enough. Scarcity is a cultural epidemic, fueled by advertisers and the current political administration. Churches have also been seduced by this cultural fear that there isn’t enough… that the proverbial wolf is always at the door. But success and prosperity aren’t gospel values, and not gospel promises, although if you listen to televangelist Joel Olsteen, you could start to believe, as he does, that “the reward of material gain is the will of God for faithful Christians.” It does seem that among the richest and most powerful people there’s a scarcity of compassion and generosity. Forbes Magazine recently reported, “The 85 richest people in the world have as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest.”
The first scripture Michael read is from the book of Genesis, which is the story of God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery and into freedom and into the kind of life God dreamed for them; a life of love and generosity and faithfulness to God and to all others, including people outside their ethnicity and religion. But scarcity had been a common refrain among the Israelites in the desert. God provided manna for them, with the strict instruction that they were only to gather what they could eat each day, but the people gathered more than that and the excess turned to maggots. This is one of the first biblical lessons about God’s abundance versus the human desire to have more. In this scripture, we hear that the desire for more success and fame and power blinded the Israelites to the abundant blessings of God. Earlier in the book of Genesis chapter 9, we hear God’s blessings for Noah and his family. “God said to them, ‘Be fertile, multiply, and fill the earth. All of the animals on the earth will fear you – all the birds in the skies, everything crawling on the ground, and all of the sea’s fish. They are in your power. Everything that lives and moves will be your food. Just as I gave you the green grasses, I now give you everything.’” But the Israelite’s desire for more was stronger than all that God had provided.
“There is nothing new under the sun” the author of Ecclesiastes prophesied. Buying into cultural pressure for more success and fame and security, and the fear of scarcity are nothing new. They’re part of humanity’s struggle to survive. But there’s a kind of curse attached because always needing more and constantly fearing there’s not enough, can easily replace gratitude for all God has given you, and trust that God will give you more than enough for yourself… that there will be enough for everyone every day. “Give us this day our daily bread” Jesus taught… and I wonder if He was thinking about His ancestors gathering more manna in the desert than they needed because they were looking ahead to the possibility of scarcity. It seems that Jesus’ prayer of “give us today our daily bread” was a teaching moment to connect our need to eat this day with the world’s need to eat this day. The Lord’s Prayer suggests that food is a justice issue. The Commandments God gave to Moses are also about justice, about love for God, and love and justice for the neighbor. But if you’re in the mindset of scarcity, it’s hard to be thinking about a neighbor’s needs.
So how do we move out of Scare City and into the abundant life Jesus promised? The apostle Paul addressed this in his letter to the church at Philippi. This is the second scripture Michael read, and it’s believed that Paul wrote this letter (or series of letters compiled into Philippians) from prison. He’d heard that the church was struggling with the sin of wanting more and more… (like the Israelites ignoring the goodness and abundance of God and instead putting their energy into building taller towers and a bigger name for themselves.) The church at Philippi was focused on getting more…. more security from hostility towards them from outside, more recognition for their righteousness, and more Christians wanting other Christians to be more like them. Paul wrote to the church about unity and unselfishness and the blessings of koinonia (which is Christian community.) Paul was sort of the “mother” of the church… always advising and cajoling and scolding and teaching. Towards the end of this letter, he changed his approach and wrote to them about how gratitude can change the heart and mind; about thankfulness turning us from an attitude of scarcity, to joy and mindfulness for the abundant goodness of God. “Be glad in the Lord always!” He wrote simply. “Again I say, be grateful! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.” Gratitude, Paul knew, is the combination that opens the “safe” to the riches of God, to the abundance of God’s blessings. Gratitude is how we move out of Scare City and into God’s reality… of the kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven.
Two days ago, I changed purses and in the front pocket of the purse I’m using this fall was a tiny little notebook. I knew immediately what it was! Almost a year ago everyone in the congregation was given a little notebook to keep a list of 1,000 blessings, 1,000 things we are grateful for. I’ve recently returned to this practice; in a journal every day I’m listing a handful of things I’m grateful for. I’m grateful that today is Communion Sunday. I need to be reminded that there is one loaf and one cup to feed us all. I’m grateful that although war rages all over the world, the Prince of Peace invites us to His table, to eat and drink and be transformed by His sacrificial love. And I’m grateful that although the loaves look small and the cups seem shallow there is more than enough for all of us.
The first hymn we sang today was Now Thank We All Our God. “Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices. Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices.”(This is from the website Patheos.) “Martin Rinkart lived from 1586-1649. He was a Protestant clergyman in Eilenburg, Saxony, during the Thirty Years War. Times were harsh as Protestants and Catholics killed one another over issues of faith, politics, and control. Eilenburg was a refuge for religious refugees, many of whom brought with them pestilence and plague that ravaged the town. During this difficult time, the lone surviving pastor, Rin-kart, who presided over nearly 4500 funerals, including his own wife’s, was inspired to the write the hymn, Now Thank We All Our God, by reading the words of Sirach (a book not included in the Hebrew Scriptures but in the Apocrypha.) ‘And now bless the God of all, who in every way does great things; who exalts our days from birth, and deals with us according to God’s mercy. May God give us gladness of heart, and grant that peace may be in our days in Israel, as in the days of old. May God entrust to us God’s mercy! And let God deliver us in our days!’ This was no Pollyanna ‘praise the Lord, anyway’ prayer of thanksgiving, comments the author of this article about Rin-kart. Nor is it a denial of life’s challenges. It is an acknowledgement that God’s providence gently moves through our lives, despite our current circumstances. Gratitude is the virtue of interconnectedness, reminding us that none of us stands alone. When we are grateful, we discover that we are never alone and that possibilities and that… God’s grace is constantly flowing through our lives. Gratitude reminds us that even in scarcity, we can experience love, beauty, wonder, and creativity.”
How do we move out of Scare City? Gratitude. Gratitude can move us out of Scare City and into the Kingdom of God… already begun but not yet here on earth as it is in heaven. Let’s pray. (Prayer from John van de Laar @ sacredise.com)
Worry and stress are not hard for us, God,
we do them without thinking.
There is always the potential of threat
to our security,
and we foolishly think that we could silence the fear
if we just had enough money
enough stored away for a rainy day.
It’s never enough though,
the voice of our fear will not be dismissed so easily.
But in the small, silent places within us is another voice;
One that beckons us into the foolishness of faith,
That points our gaze to the birds and flowers,
That, in unguarded moments, lets our muscles relax,
And our hearts lean into loved ones;
In unexpected whispers we hear it,
Calling us to remember Your promises,
And suddenly we discover
That it is enough. Amen.