Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12, Year B
July 29, 2018
Lessons: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people recognize God’s abundance and trust there will always be enough and some to spare.
Key Scripture: But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he [Elisha] repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.'” 2 Kings 4:43
Doubting God’s abundance and buying into the scarcity mentality is nothing new; it’s been a part of human behavior for thousands of years. While many doubt, others have learned to see plenty wherever they look and in whatever their situation. What makes the difference?
Recent scientific research suggests humans are naturally geared toward empathy and generosity; it’s how our brains are wired. It would seem that selfishness, greed, and a scarcity mentality are largely the product of conditioning and teaching. In our predominant Western cultural narrative, for example, we are told that the person who has the most and the best is the winner. We are told to get all that we can for ourselves because there may not be enough if we don’t take care of Number One. Marketers spend billions of dollars convincing us that we need more, newer, and better stuff—no matter what the cost to our neighbors, our planet, and our overall well-being. We are conditioned to see ourselves as lacking and needy rather than as blessed and having enough. In short, many of us are being sold a lie and consuming it without question.
Have you ever noticed that it is often those who possess very little who are the most generous and joyful? Among some peoples and cultures, sharing comes naturally. If you have resources and someone in your family or tribe needs something, you use what you have to meet the immediate need, trusting that when you have great need, there will be others ready to help you. Meals are stretched to accommodate all who come to the table. If someone needs a place to stay, room is made. You wouldn’t think, for example, of sending a relative to a nearby hotel if you have room to spare in your own home. A web of connections and community is tightly woven to provide care and provision for everyone. No one is left behind, and the community members will sacrifice to try and provide something for everyone.
In these cultures, often in places where poverty is great and oppression is the reality of life, people know that the whole is stronger than any one of the parts and that in some cases their very survival depends on the strength of their shared life in community. Of necessity, they have not let go of their innate ability to have empathy for one another and to hold lightly to things and tightly to people. God’s provision and abundance are very real and not simply the stuff of Sunday school stories. And we who live in West have much to learn from our sisters and brothers whose experience is so different from our own.
Turning to the 2 Kings reading, I have no clue why the man from Baal-Shalishah had a difficult time wrapping his head and heart around Elisha’s directive to feed the people with the loaves of barley and grain that was his offering and why he couldn’t perceive God’s abundance working through his simple gift. His vision wasn’t big enough and his lens wasn’t wide enough for God’s plenty. But he learned, and we can learn, too.
We, you and I and all the members of the beloved community, can unlearn that cultural lie and see what God is truly capable of doing with, through, in, and even in spite of our meager gifts. Let’s challenge one another to bear witness to the stories of how God is at work and where we see gifts being multiplied. Miracles are truly all around us, and we are part of those miracles. God uses us and our gifts to accomplish the divine purpose; this is most certainly true. Let’s set this beautiful truth before our people so that they may eat and be fed, strengthened and sent, blessed to be a blessing. They are enough, and there is enough—and then some.
Consider inviting someone to give a testimony on how they have seen God’s abundance at work. You might use an interview format with some practice ahead of time. Then, invite worshipers to turn to the two or three people nearest them and try to brainstorm examples of God’s plenty in a world that hollers “scarcity.” If you have a Facebook page, invite people to submit their stories of abundance and plenty. Perhaps offer space in the prayers for thanksgivings for all of the good things of God.
Consider a commissioning at the end of worship to send people out on a mission to look for abundance and to collect their stories, images, and encounters for sharing in the weeks to come.
Note: We are entering five weeks of “bread lessons” from John. You might consider emphasizing a different type of bread each week. This week begin with Egyptian barley bread. Make some loaves and share the history. Provide a recipe and encourage households in your congregation to make their own barley bread this week.
How about some team-building exercises today? How can you show your youth that by working together they are enough and they have enough? One exercise that I like is to have each youth take a stack of sticky notes and invite them to write one thing they value in every other member of the group. Then, have them place their note on the back of each person. Once every person’s back has been filled with notes, have the youth form a circle and have them read the notes on the back of the person to their left. One sticky-note affirmation might be meager, but when they are collected and shared, a powerful witness emerges.
Spend some time debriefing about the exercise and how it felt to share the affirmations. Finish the time with prayer for each person and a sending blessing.
Make some “Beloved Community Snack Mix” this week for your children’s sermon. Plant some volunteers before worship and give them ingredients to bring forward. Start with a big bowl and some paper cups. Tell the children that it sure would be nice to have some snack mix. Ask the children if they have anything to use for snack mix. When they say they don’t have anything, begin asking the congregation. Have your secret volunteers bring forward ingredients one by one (raisins, Goldfish crackers, pretzels, M&Ms, and other ingredients that work for your context) to dump in the big bowl. Then scoop out a serving in a paper cup for each child. Tell them that when we all put our gifts to good use, there is enough for everyone. That’s how God works. Finish with a simple prayer and blessing.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Do you see abundance or scarcity around you? Do you see hope or despair? Is your glass half empty, half full, or overflowing? Perspective is everything. This week’s lessons invite us to see God’s plenty and potential everywhere we look. What will you see?
Stewardship at Home
This week in your household spend time talking about the gifts each member has to offer. How are you stronger together? What can you do together that you cannot do alone? Find ways to work together this week. Cook dinner together. Work in the yard together. Serve someone else together. Challenge each household member to look for signs of abundance in a world of scarcity. Spend one day counting the number of ads and messages to consume and spend that each member of the household encounters. How can you faithfully counter those messages with God’s good news of plenty?
Here’s a look back at our 2012 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/07/bread-water-and-signs-of-god/
Here’s a look back at our 2015 lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/07/a-simple-lesson-in-stewardship/
Photos: Jarkko Laine and Susan Ackeridge, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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