From Scarcity to Abundance
a message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: “God Transforms Reality”
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
February 7, 2021
Mark 8:1-9 NRSV
In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, 2 “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.” 4 His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” 5 He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. 7 They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. 8 They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.
Lent is coming soon. If I were to invite you to join me in a small fundraising project for Lent that only asked for pennies a day, how many of you would be willing to join me? Only pennies a day! Raise your hand? Here’s how it works. The first day we give one penny. Each day we would double the pennies we give. So the second day it would be two pennies, the third day four pennies and so on until Palm Sunday. Not too much to ask right? Well, before you fully commit, those of you who like me are eager to give to missions but aren’t so good at math might want to reconsider before you raise your hand. If you simply doubled your pennies each day for every day in Lent by the end it would amount to somewhere north of 2 billion dollars. Really! If you don’t believe me, pull out the calculator on your phone and double your pennies for forty days and see. Multiplication is a powerful thing.
Now, division is too. And we know something about division these days. We are divided about many things. It seems that all we talk about is what divides us, but we never seem to talk to understand the other person. We only seem to deny their point of view, deflect to “what-about-isms,” or “it’s not my fault-isms.” Why is that? Why don’t we ever listen to each other to understand? The only thing division seems to increase is anger, fear, and despair. So, which should we be working at? Multiplication or division?
The Biblical story this morning is about multiplication. You know the story. Jesus goes out into a desert, the crowds follow him. This is like a rerun of a television show. Mark tells this same basic story just 2 chapters earlier. In Chapter 6 Jesus goes out into the desert, and people go with him. It gets late, the people are hungry, the disciples tell Jesus to send them away to get something to eat. Jesus tells the disciples to feed them, they say we only have a few loaves and fish. He says bring them here. He takes them, blesses them, breaks them, and passes them out and lo, and behold, there is enough for everyone - with 12 baskets left over. Talk about a case of overcatering!
Now, since this is a repeat of that story you would think the disciples had learned something. You would think this time when Jesus said, “these folks are gonna be “hongry” [That’s the way an old black cook I worked with in the Holiday Inn in Vero Beach used to say it], that the disciples would say, “Wait a minute, we’ve seen this before. Jesus, let us gather up a few things, you bless them, and we’ll distribute them, and voila’ – there will be too much to eat.” But no! They say the same thing. “How can we feed these people with bread here in the DESERT?”
Now, these are Jewish disciples. Wouldn’t you think that if they didn’t remember what happened just 2 chapters ago, they would remember the book of Exodus? You would think that they would remember their Hebrew ancestors escaping slavery from Egypt, and fearing starvation in a DESERT that they would remember God provided MANNA – bread from heaven?” That’s what Mark is subtly, or not so subtly implying.
Then, just to make it interesting, the disciples say – “pffft, all we have is SEVEN loaves of bread.” [ Any Jew worth his salt knows that 7 is the number meaning “perfection!” ] After all, God created the world in – how many days? So, we have the perfect number of loaves to feed this “hongry” crowd! Just like the last time, Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks for them, breaks them, and distributes them?
Can I get a witness from the faithful? When does this happen in the Church? Right! Communion! Eucharist! The Lord’s Supper! What we are going to do when I finally stop talking? I know, “smart guy,” we’re going to say, “thank the Lord, he stopped talking.” No! We are going to take a morsel of bread and a thimble cup of drink and celebrate! Why don’t Jesus’ disciples understand this? [ Long pause to remember WE are supposedly Jesus’ disciples too. Do we understand this? Hmm. ]
But let’s be honest, you can’t really blame the disciples for being, well, slow. You see they had lived their whole lives in a system that controlled the way they thought. We might call it “The Myth of Scarcity.” You see the Myth of Scarcity tells us there isn’t enough: There isn’t enough food. There isn’t enough land. There isn’t enough power to change things. This myth was enforced and reinforced by the Empire of Rome.
Now what we need to understand is that the religion of Jesus and the disciples stands as a counter narrative to the Empire of Rome. Empires came and went but the God of Israel, known as Yahweh, continually spoke through the prophets and through the Scriptures to say these Empires and their narrative of scarcity were not God’s narrative. The narrative of the whole Jewish people is based on the experience of escaping slavery in Egypt. The book of Exodus is the real foundational story of the people who came to be known as Israelites, as Jewish. The stories in Genesis were written long after the people of Israel escaped the bondage of Pharaoh. We think of the Bible as written in historic sequence, from Genesis to Revelation, but that isn’t so. The Hebrew people, as they were known before their liberation, became God’s people as they became aware that God had freed them by the leadership of Moses. The Jewish people are who they are because they were freed from Pharaoh’s enslavement.
Their narrative told them that God always provided plenty. When they whined about the lack of food and drink on their long journey to freedom, God provided bread in the morning, meat in the evening, and water from a rock. Even the Leaders of Israel were guilty of taking advantage of the myth of scarcity. Many centuries later, when they got back into Jerusalem from exile the powerful leaders began to take advantage of their own people. They took outrageous interest on loans and then when people couldn’t repay, the powerful leaders would take all their money, then all their land, and even their children as slaves. God called Nehemiah to gather the people, confront the leaders about their evil, and call them to stop doing it and to return all that they had taken from the people, and they did.
So today, when those who have controlled and dominated the economic systems tell us, there isn’t enough, we need to remember this is the myth of scarcity. God says there is enough. Scientists and economists tell us there is more than enough food - that no one has to go hungry in the world, yet millions do. Right here in our own nation 12 million children live in conditions of food insecurity. They go to bed at night hungry and unsure if they will have anything to eat the next day. And while it is great that we help with food through Arlington Community Services and Micah’s Backpack, the truth is we shouldn’t have to. We have accepted the myth that some people just don’t deserve to have enough, while we deserve all we can get, to the winner goes the spoils. Huzzah!
The point of this story from the Gospel of Mark is that God transforms the myths we live with. God transforms scarcity to abundance. Scarcity is the evil spirit of division. There isn’t enough food to feed these people. There aren’t enough vaccines for everyone. There isn’t enough health care for everyone. The myth of scarcity is the core of division. If there isn’t enough for everyone, and if I have mine, you can’t have any. If you have something it takes away from me. We say “everyone has the same opportunity.” If you don’t have what it’s I have its because you are lazy, or stupid, or racially inferior or in some way you are not deserving. No way I can let go of my loaves, even though they are molding in my pantry. I can’t reward your laziness, your racial inferiority, your unwillingness to do things the way I do them. That’s the voice of division. That’s the voice of scarcity. That’s the source of hatred, division, anger and the continued loss of community that is driving the chaos in this country. We need a miracle to change this. We need a Savior. We need a lesson in multiplication.
Oh, wait a minute. We have both right here. For 2000 years and more we’ve had God’s narrative. It is a narrative of abundance. God provides. The story shows us that we do our part, Jesus blesses it, and God multiplies it, and there is enough and more. There is an abundance. There are leftovers. When will we stop accepting the Empire’s myth and start working by God’s narrative of plenty? When will we stop telling others they don’t deserve a paycheck that provides enough for rent, food, healthcare, clothing, basic human needs and I say human rights - enough to live with dignity? When will we push to change the myth from scarcity to abundance? Jesus called those disciples to do their part, despite their fears, and he calls us today to be part of the miracle. The miracle isn’t the bread or the fish. The miracle is when we change our mindsets, from living by division, by scarcity, by fear and despair, and start living by God’s truth – there is abundance for ALL. When we start living that way, the miracle will happen again.
We are about reenact that miracle that Jesus did. We are about to remember what Jesus did, and what God did through Jesus. We are about to celebrate the wonderful abundance of God. We are about to take what we have, give thanks for it, ask Jesus to bless it and trust God to multiply it. Let us be disciples of the abundance of God’s Empire. There is plenty for ALL. AMEN.