We never seem to have enough french fries for dinner. Although no one really goes hungry in our house, resentment lingers. It reminds me of those two siblings arguing over the last piece of cake. One says, “In Sunday School we learned that Jesus shares.” The other says, ” All right, you can be Jesus today.”
Scarcity and sharing. It makes me think of Pastor Mitri Raheb and the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem (and I don’t mean Bethlehem, PA).
As most of you know by now, a group from this church went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. On the last Sunday we were there, we left the 5 star hotel just a 10 minute walk from the old city of Jerusalem, boarded the bus and entered the twilight zone of West Bank occupation, security check points, and a wall at least 20 feet high that encircles Bethlehem – yes, the Bethlehem of Jesus’ birth – just 10 miles down the road from Jerusalem.
Talk about scarcity. The Palestinians in Bethlehem are cut off. The economy is beyond depression.The infrastructure is ruined. Travel is all but forbidden. The oppressive presence of Israeli soldiers (many of whom are hardly beyond their teen years) makes you feel you have stepped into some nether region.
And yet, in the middle of such scarcity, in the midst of such apparent hopelessness – it is no wonder, really why some Palestinians are driven to the despair of violence and hatred – sits the Christmas Church.
Pastor Mitri has invested his meager resources and created an oasis of peace, hospitality and creativity that draws both Christians and Muslims together in community, celebrates and develops the gifts of young people, giving them an alternative to violence. I wish you all could have seen this. Driven by his faith in a God of abundance, a God of love, a God of hope, a God of gifts – truly a miracle – new life from dry bones. It is defiant, it is powerful, it is joyful, it is beautiful.
I have seen this again and again in communities and in people; it seems as if they do not have enough, and yet out of scarcity comes abundance – something blooming in the dessert. In Bethlehem, off the beaten track in Nicaragua, in the “bush” of Ethiopia, in pockets around this city – places that are scare in resources, where there is clearly not enough, where there appears to be no capacity for change – and yet, things are happening that would so inspire you that you would never complain again.
Travelle is investing in East Cleveland, one of the poorest urban areas in America, and there is a stirring of transformation and it will happen. It will take place. Your investment in the One Great Hour of Sharing program supports the Self-Development of People projects in the inner city of Cleveland where entrepreneurs stand in the waste land of concentrated poverty and dream big.
For all those who still believe that Cleveland has all the capacity and all the resources to be a destination city again – all the signs suggest scarcity – and yet there is abundance – it is a faith thing really.
We are so shaped these days by a notion of scarcity – there is not enough to go around, programs have to be cut. We don’t have enough resources – life is tough, and the slices of the pie get thinner and so those who have, keep, and those who don’t, well, they get by the best they can. And there is a tendency to withdraw and move inward and hang on and hold tight, and protect, and not risk. And I believe what happens is that we move more and more into the silos of our isolation and fear.
But the Scriptures consistently challenge this notion. The Gospel of Jesus Christ judges seeing the world through the lenses of scarcity as, well, evil; not of God. In the Bible God is a big giver, almost wasteful with love and with gifts. Five loaves and two fish become a feast. More than enough. Just using what is present.
In the lectionary readings for this week, the prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34, which is our call to worship) speaks of a new covenant written on our hearts. A new orientation shaped by God’s abundant grace. You are God’s people. The gifts are yours. The power to move is yours as well.
The Psalm reading (51:1-12, which is our prayer of confession) is a call to repentance but the mood is one of trust. God will teach wisdom. You will be sustained. There is more than enough mercy to spread around. God is not limited and neither are you.
In the Hebrews reading (5:5-10) Christ has become your source of living life to the full, even in the midst of trying times. In the wilderness, when you are bitten but blessed, when the tables of your life have been turned over, and suffering is real – yes, in these places there is more than enough community, there is more than enough compassion, there is abundance. Offer what you have. Start from where you are. There is no other place.
In John’s Gospel (12:20-33) we are reminded “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain – but if it dies it bears much fruit. (V.24)” Even death is a journey into the full abundance, full measure of God. Even death doesn’t halt abundance.
Always, always, always the promise of God, that is ours in Jesus Christ, is one of abundance.
St. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of yourmind so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.(Rom 12:2)” What Paul is talking about is looking at your life, and at the world through the lenses not of scarcity but of abundance. There is enough. Use the gifts. Lighten your grip and open your hands to let go AND receive. Open your mind to learn, to think and to imagine. Open your eyes to see the gifts and to look for God. Open your heart to give.
All of this, the french fries, Pastor Mitri, the witness of scripture moves me towards the well known parable in Matthew 25 about the investment of talents. Yes, there is the frightful ending about the “outer darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth.” But don’t get distracted by that. The last servant perceived the master as hard – he saw the world through the lens of scarcity and fear and he created the hell of his own making. That’s his problem, not the master’s. The master is a gift giver and would have been satisfied if the servant would have placed the gift in the bank. The master doesn’t ask for much – just use what has been given. Did you know that a talent was worth more than 15 years wages of a laborer – that is abundance on steroids.
And the master says take, invest and return; it is all gift.
And so what do we learn about God and about the economy of God’s kingdom?
Well, it is utterly consistent with every other passage in scripture. God gives. God gives abundantly. All God yearns for you is to use your gift, whatever it is; offer it, risk it and see what happens. So you don’t have as much as someone else. Don’t waste your time digging your own hell, put it out there and see what happens – like Pastor Mitri.
Even scarcity is a blessing to be invested. Even pain can become a gift to be shared.
Enough words! Let’s live this parable and see what happens.
Anne, a little traveling music please. Ushers, pass out the red envelopes. Everyone who is here may take one, visitor and member alike – just one per person, and please do NOT open them until everyone has one.
[pause while red envelopes containing $50 bills are passed out to each person in the pews]
Okay, everyone open your envelopes!
[pause for buzz of excitement]
As the card inside your envelope explains:
In Matthew’s Gospel (25:14-30), a master gives money to servants and hopes to see a return. Here is $50. The Ministry of Justice and Mission hopes that you will do something creative with your gift so that God will be glorified. Take the $50 and invest it. Buy supplies with it. Make something you can sell. Use your imagination. Collaborate with others. Multiply your resources!
On Pentecost Sunday, May 31, return your $50 PLUS whatever additional money you have made. The initial investment of the Ministry of Justice and Mission will be repaid. All surplus will be directed to the mission and outreach programs of Forest Hill Church. The least you can do is bring back the original $50. But maybe you’ll participate in the joy of the abundance of God and make some money to enrich God’s world.
On May 31 there will be a celebration party in Fellowship Hall after church.
GOD BLESS YOU AND HAVE SOME FUN
Out of the abundance, risk, have some fun, live abundantly, return abundantly. I promise if you only bring back the original $50 you will not be thrown into the outer darkness because no one will really know or really care.
This might be seen as a big wasteful and risky give away. Yes, $50 isn’t a lot.
But, like Pastor Mitri who takes the meager resources and builds a place of abundant hope, like the women in Nicaragua, like the church leaders in Ethiopia, like the young entrepreneurs in inner city Cleveland, you and I can witness to the gospel truth of the Big Give – of abundance and hope and become the agents of abundance that chase away the demons of scarcity and fear.
God bless you.