Abundance and Scarcity (sermon)

Thanksgiving Eve sermon
Deuteronomy 8:1-10
Philippians 4:4-9

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be faithful and fruitful in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

When looking over the scripture we read tonight, I was particularly caught by the verses in Deuteronomy about the land that the Israelites were going to inherit.  In the narrative of Deuteronomy, these words are spoken by Moses to the Israelite people just before they enter the promised land, and they must have sounded so good after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, on a nutritious but monotonous diet of manna and quail, of fighting with local tribes over wells when the rivers disappeared in the dry season.

Using Moses as a mouthpiece, God promises a land with springs and underground waters welling up both in valleys and in hills.  This is a land of wheat and barley, of grapes and fig trees and pomegranates, of olive orchards, of bread without scarcity.

Moses is describing all the foods of a feast, a feast rather like the kind we’ll be celebrating tomorrow.  But instead of cooking up the native foods of Canaan, we’ll use our own American produce, taken from fields of amber waves of grain and picked from fruited plains: turkey, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, cranberries, corn.  Like the Israelites, we too are living in a land that is positively overflowing with abundance.

We spend the whole day on Thanksgiving preparing a table that groans with the weight of abundance.  We tell each other everything we’re thankful for.  We spend time intentionally thinking about everything God’s given us.  We count our blessings.

But the very next day, we venture onto crazy roads and crowded parking lots and lengthy lines because we woke up and remembered all that stuff that actually, we still need.  Or think we need.  Or want to have, and hey, don’t we deserve to have what we want?

There are lots of problems with commercialism, but one of the biggest from our Christian perspective is that when we buy the belief that we don’t have everything we need, then our blessings aren’t enough.  Our security doesn’t come from God’s promises, but from stuff.  We can’t leave some surplus in our budget unspent. We can’t increase our giving.  We don’t have time to spare for volunteering.  We are haunted by images of scarcity, instead of uplifted by the promises of God’s abundance.

But God is enough.  God gives us enough.  Everyone here has enough food, enough love, enough shelter, enough clothing.

Christ is sufficient.  Everyone here has enough grace, enough Spirit, enough blessing.  We have enough.

That’s why Paul tells us to rejoice!  Rejoice in the Lord always!  Remember that these words are coming from a man in prison, so he has a special kind of authority that comes with experience when he encourages the Philippians to ask God for whatever they will, but most of all, to simply be filled with the peace of God, the peace that is enough.

With all of this in mind, I wrote for you all a Thanksgiving fable.  Here goes:

Once upon a time there was a man who decided to plant a tree in his yard.  He went to a peddler woman with a cart full of saplings, and narrowed his choice to two trees.  One had silvery grey back and broad silver green leaves, and the other was iron-grey and small-leaved and had thorns on its trunk.  “What kind of trees are these?” the man asked the peddler woman.

“One is called Abundance, and one is named Scarcity,” she told him.  “But I tell you, it would be better to plant one or the other, for the two do not grow well together.”

“Then I’ll take Scarcity,” said the man.  “It looks stronger.”

The peddler woman sold him the tree, saying, “Please note that my trees are rather special, and thrive not only on sunlight and rain, but on the thoughts in your head that particularly suit them.”

“I want my tree to grow into something grand,” said the man.  “What sort of thoughts does it thrive on?”

The woman smiled wryly.  “Scarcity is an easy keeper,” she said.  “Simply live as the world teaches you.”

So the man planted Scarcity in his yard, and listened to what the world had to teach him.  Though he earned a living wage, he was never satisfied, for he dwelt on the things that he didn’t have.  He embraced the belief that he was out for himself; that having more would make him happy; that he could never have enough.  In the world in which the man lived, which afforded honor and dignity and privilege to those with many possessions, the tree called Scarcity grew broad, dense, and strong.

One day, as the man stood in the shade of the tall, fine tree, he realized that he had spent his life in pursuit of things,  and that though he’d come to have many fine belongings, they never seemed to be enough, because they only reminded him of more and finer things he did not possess.  He realized that even though he’d believed the security of many possessions would make him happy, it never had.

With a heart full of grief, he went to get an axe and chop Scarcity down.  After hours of work, the man was exhausted, but he’d scarcely made a dent in the thick trunk.  He turned to go into his house for a drink and found the peddler woman who’d sold Scarcity to him leaning on his fence, watching him.

“Your tree had grown to be magnificent,” she said.  “Why are you chopping it down?”

“Because what makes it fine has made me weary and sad,” said the man.

“Wisely realized,” said the woman, “but I fear you won’t get very far with that axe.  That tree has grown to be much bigger and stronger than you are.  You may never succeed in bringing it down, and even if you do, you’ll be left with its roots in the ground, and if you labor to remove those, you’ll simply be left with a broken body and a gaping hole in the good earth.”

“What do you recommend?” asked the man.

“Plant this tree beside it,” said the woman, drawing the sapling called Abundance from her cart and handing it to him.  “If you nourish it faithfully, then eventually it will grow bigger than Scarcity, and soak the Sun from it, and draw water away from it, and one day Scarcity will die because Abundance has overcome it.”

“How do I nourish Abundance?” the man asked.

“Through the faithful practice of gratitude and generosity,” said the woman.  “You must practice giving of your time, your gifts, and your possessions, for giving will remind you of how much you’ve been given. You must mindfully give thanks, and name those blessings which you have already received before you make your request known to God. And when you waver, study the Word of God, which promises us that we will never run out of grace and reassures us that God’s forgiveness is sufficient.”

And the man did as she said, and Abundance grew taller and taller, until eventually it outgrew Scarcity.  And Scarcity withered and died, and its roots rotted in the ground and grew soft and porous, until one day, near the end of a long and blessed life, the man shuffled out, looked up at Scarcity’s shrunken height and soft bark, put out a hand, and pushed.  And Scarcity toppled down, while the silvery green leaves of Abundance seemed to laugh with joy in the wind.

Amen.

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