Living in Abundance (Ken Pennings) 1.20.19

The universe is ever creating, ever giving itself to us, so that we might give in return.

Audio version of Living in Abundance

Many Protestant congregations use the Revised Common Lectionary for Scripture readings in Sunday worship. For each Sunday of the year, at least four different Scripture texts are suggested for reading and/or reflection.

The goal is that over the course of three years, a congregation is able to hear the voices of most of the Biblical writers.

Preachers who use the lectionary may preach from only one suggested text, or they may attempt to use two or more of the texts and weave them together around a common theme.

You heard Vicki, Bruce and Deb read three of the lectionary texts for today.

The theme I was hoping you heard in the babble of the three readers this morning is the theme of “abundance.” Did you hear in Bruce’s reading the abundance of wine at the wedding feast in Cana? Did you hear in Deb’s reading the abundance of love, light and life in the household of God? Did you hear in Vicki’s reading the abundance of gifts and ministries offered by the Holy Spirit to the members of Christ’s Church for the common good?

By layering the readings one on top of the other, I knew we would lose some of the content of these texts, but perhaps gain a sense of a unifying theme that tie them together.

Now I’d like to focus on two things: first some general reflections on how we experience God’s abundance in our lives. But then I’d like to share how the story of the wedding feast at Cana pictures abundance not only for ourselves, but also for everyone and everything else.

I’m fascinated by the use of the term “abundant” or “abundance” in Scripture. We read of the abundance of all kinds of material possessions: riches, food, wine, spices, animals, silver, gold, iron, brass, precious stones, timber. We read of the abundance of nature: of the seas, of the skies, and of treasures hid in the sand. We read of the abundance of weapons and the spoils of war. We read even of the abundance of wives! But we read also of the abundance of non-material blessings: the abundance of God’s love, light, life, joy, peace, goodness, righteousness, grace, glory, and honor.

I love how Scripture reminds us that it is from God we receive an abundance of material blessings and non-material blessings!

I consulted this week with my dear friend, Sr. Marie Louise, who is a Sinsinawa Dominican, and a recognized authority in “the Universe Story,” which is the story from which “the Christian Story,” and all other stories of faith traditions emerge: “In what ways are you aware of the abundance of God in your life?”

She responded, “Well, right now I’m looking out my window at the abundance of leaves still clinging to a tree and the abundance of light that allows me to look on the beauty of that tree. I’m aware of the abundance of gifts in the people of God. So many ways people share themselves with one another to make the world a better place for all. I’m aware of the abundance of care for migrants and immigrants through places like Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, offering the most vulnerable in our society food, shelter, clothing, medical attention, and transportation, and all by volunteers who live very simply so others may simply live.”

Louie continued, “Perhaps the most important thing to remember about abundance is that it’s right here right now. It is not in the past or in the future. Right here, in this very moment, I have everything I need.”

Then, of course, I asked her if she was interested in preaching at ORUCC today!

I’ve also been strengthened by the daily affirmations created by Louise Hay, affirmations which are all about finding everything we need, right here, in this present moment.

“I am surrounded by love. All is well.”

“I feel safe in the rhythm and flow of ever-changing life.”

“I am in perfect health.”

“I now choose to release all hurt and resentment.”

“We are all family and the planet is our home.”

“I am beautiful and everybody loves me.”

“I am an open channel for creative ideas.”

“Life supports me in every possible way.”

“I am one with the very power that created me.”

And I created one of my own last night at the retreat at Pilgrim Center where I typically fret about not getting enough sleep: “I am getting all the sleep I need. I am well rested, and will be ready to start my day tomorrow.”

Last month, at the start of my appointment, my massage therapist asked, “So Ken, how are you doing, and how can I help you today?” I shared about a couple of huge stresses in my life, and he replied, “I’m not sure a massage can help with that, but here’s what I know: the universe has everything you could possibly need right now. As I massage your muscles, you may be better able to release the negative energy before it goes deeper into your soul, your psyche, and your body. And you may be better able to receive the positive energy that the universe is offering you right now.”

Wow, I thought, I really needed to be reminded of that today!

When the concerns of life weigh heavily upon us, it helps to remember all that is ours in the abundance of light to see, air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, and snow to shovel! The universe offers an abundance of love, health, safety, companionship, rest and recreation. The universe is ever creating, ever giving of itself to us, so that we might give in return.

Scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann believes the Bible dismisses what he calls the myth of scarcity and affirms the liturgy of God’s abundance.

He traces how the Bible starts out with a liturgy of abundance. Genesis 1 is a song of praise for God’s generosity. It tells how well the world is ordered. It keeps saying, “It is good, it is good, it is very good.” It declares that God blesses the plants, animals, fish, birds and humans, and says to them, “Be fruitful and multiply.” In an orgy of fruitfulness, everything in its kind is to multiply the overflowing goodness that pours from God’s creative spirit. And then the creation story ends in Sabbath. God is so overrun with fruitfulness that God says, “I’ve got to take a break from all this. I’ve got to get out of the office.”

Brueggemann continues: Throughout Genesis, Blessing is the force of well-being active in the world, and faith is the awareness that creation is the gift that keeps on giving. That awareness dominates Genesis until its 47th chapter. In that chapter Pharaoh dreams that there will be a famine in the land. So Pharaoh gets organized to administer, control, and monopolize the food supply. Pharaoh introduces the principle of scarcity into the world economy. For the first time in the Bible, someone says, “There’s not enough. Let’s get everything we possibly can, and then determine who’s worthy to receive it.”

This myth of scarcity is, in my opinion, exactly what’s behind the building of a wall on the border of Mexico. We don’t have enough. Keep out the strangers who will take our jobs and use up our resources. The myth of scarcity makes us fearful, greedy, mean and unneighborly!

Living according to the liturgy or celebration of abundance allows us to care for others as we have been cared for.

Our texts for the morning, and I’ll throw in another — the feeding of the 5000 with a little boy’s lunch – five loaves and two fishes – which is recorded in Mark’s Gospel — are examples of the new world coming into being through God, a world filled with abundance and freighted with generosity. If bread is broken and shared, there is enough for all.

If we’re willing to step out of our own little worlds and recognize our connectedness with everything else in the universe, we can affirm that we have everything we need right now, in this very moment. And if we take seriously our connection to every other being on the planet, not only will we have everything we need, but so will they!

Now back to the story Bruce read about the wedding feast at Cana…

Perhaps you’ll remember a sermon I preached six years ago in which I explained that John’s entire Gospel and all of the stories and speeches in it are richly symbolic and theological—and cannot be taken as literal or simply historical.  More than any other biblical writer, the author of the fourth Gospel seems to warn against, and show the absurdity of, that all-too-human tendency to seek to capture divine mystery in historically factual or literal propositional statements. We need to keep this in mind as we dive into this inaugural scene of Jesus’ public ministry in John’s Gospel.

The text reports a miracle, of course: the transformation of a large quantity of water (120 to 180 gallons) into wine.

But the meaning of this story does not depend upon its “happened-ness.” Instead, it is a “sign,” as John puts it. A sign of something altogether new that has happened in the coming of Jesus.

The story of the wedding feast at Cana signals how the early church understood who Jesus was and what he had come to do.  

Wedding banquets were the most festive occasions in the world of first-century Palestine, and they usually lasted for seven days. They featured dancing, wine, and vast quantities of food. In stark contrast to the lifestyles of the rich and famous, the normal peasant diet was meager: grains, vegetables, fruit, olives, eggs, and an occasional fish.  Meat and poultry were infrequently eaten, since people were reluctant to kill the few animals they had. But at a wedding banquet, there were copious amounts of food and drink of all kinds.

What would the coming of Jesus mean to peasants living under an oppressive regime? –That one’s life would not be defined any longer by position, status, wealth or power (or the lack thereof), but by being welcomed, accepted, loved, cherished, valued as a child of God.

And being loved like that is like eating, drinking and dancing for days and days on end, like being at a wedding feast where the host pulls out all the stops for every single one of the guests!  No one excluded, no one hungry, no one thirsty, an abundance for all!

The importance of a story like this is that those who had nothing had begun to live as though they had everything!

In knowing Jesus, not only would their own individual lives be transformed, but the lives of everyone in society would be transformed as well.

The first would be last, the last would be first; the mighty would get off their thrones; masters would wash the feet of their servants; women and children would be as valuable as men; the sick would be healed; the naked would be clothed; the homeless would be sheltered; the unemployed and underemployed would be paid living wages; sinners would be forgiven; the immigrant and stranger would be welcomed; and prisoners would be visited, released and welcomed home.

This new world order pictured by the wedding feast at Cana is exactly what Dr. King envisioned in the Beloved Community and the One World House where — “the [children] of former slaves and the [children] of former slave owners would sit down together at the table of brotherhood…

… little black boys and black girls … would join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

What is the significance of the wedding feast at Cana? That a society that has been dispensing selfishness, fear, racism, classism, scarcity and consumerism will begin dispensing something as delicious as the finest of wines.

Such a society transformed by the love of God will make friends of enemies, will include all and dismiss none, will wipe away all tears, calm all fears, and seek justice for the oppressed. And this outpouring of love, mercy and justice will keep giving and giving and giving and will never run out!

How does this look in the Church? It looks just like 1 Corinthians 12:1-10 where every single person is given a very important gift and ministry by the Holy Spirit so that everyone is equally valued, equally appreciated and equally served.

Imagine a church where we look around and realize we have absolutely everything we need in the gifts and ministries of each other!

Imagine a society where we love and serve in exactly the same way, a society not afraid of scarcity, but committed to an abundance for everyone and everything!

AMEN

Extra: A careful reading of the Bible reveals that the power of the future is not in the hands of those who believe in scarcity and monopolize the world’s resources; it is in the hands of those who trust God’s abundance.

The gifts of life are indeed given by a generous God. It’s a wonder, it’s a miracle, it’s an embarrassment, it’s irrational, but God’s abundance transcends the market economy.

People who think their lives consist of struggling to get more and more can never slow down because they won’t ever have enough.

But what of those who are experiencing an abundance of hunger, thirst, pain, loss, and suffering? What of the mother who has just lost her child? The inmate who has been wrongfully imprisoned? The Syrian in a refugee camp?

In a sermon he preached on the last Christmas before he died, Dr. King said, “…hate is too great a burden to bear.  Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering.  We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…. But be assured that … we will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience [and] we will win you in the process…” (Christmas Sermon for Peace, 24 Dec 1967).

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