I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly. — John 10:10b
The driving force of American consumerism is the idea, well-woven into our culture, of scarcity. It is a principle that is drilled into our brains from early on; we are told, over and over, until we start telling ourselves, and our children, that there are not enough resources. There is not enough money. There is not enough time. Eventually the message gets translated into the notion that we are not enough: not attractive enough, not good enough — and then, we are told, if we buy something new, we will feel better; we will feel that sense of “enough.” And yet it doesn’t work; we are left still feeling an inner hunger … so we go off and buy something else — all to the benefit of “the economy,” to pad someone else’s pockets, and all too often, to wreak more harm on the environment and on the world’s most vulnerable people, who are disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution, drought, famine, and climate change.
But what if the “driving principle” of consumerism is a falsehood? What if the true operating principle of the universe is not scarcity, but abundance?
Jesus said: I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly. — John 10:10b
The sower, of Jesus’ most famous agricultural parable of the kingdom, spreads the seed everywhere, and this mimics the methods of nature, which produce hundreds of times more seed than will ever sprout — and the rest isn’t wasted; it simply decomposes and becomes food for some other form of life, as does everything. The planet itself is one great living organism, composed of many interconnected systems, with every molecule endlessly recycled — water, oxygen, carbon, and so on. Bodies heal; out of death comes new life. Whether on a microscopic or macroscopic level, whether individually, communally, or on a global scale, in a point of time, over a season, or over centuries of history, in both the Bible and in science, the principle of abundance is played out before the eyes, minds and hearts of those who listen and who hear the invitation to adopt God’s perspective.
Don’t get me wrong. By asserting this, I do not intend to claim that climate change is “fake news.” Like the reality of Jesus’ death in the opening story read for us from Luke, it is a reality that is hard to accept, but into which we must learn to live. However, into these challenging, and fear-inducing, realities, Jesus enters and says “peace.”
This message of “peace” is startling, comforting, and disturbing. It is startling, because it is unexpected. It is comforting, because of our grief and fear. And it is disturbing, because true peace means justice, and justice demands something from us; it shakes us out of cynicism and calls us to action.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why a resurrected Jesus would ask for something to eat? His body would not need it. Perhaps, as many propose, he was reassuring his disciples that he was real and not a ghost. But perhaps, also, he was calling to their minds all the other times they had eaten together, and the times that he fed others — the crowd of 5,000 with the five loaves and two fish, where all ate until they were satisfied and there still was plenty left over, and the little girl that he brought back to life, taking her hand and lifting her up, and then saying, “Give her something to eat.” There is something sacred in the act of eating together, acknowledging our shared vulnerability, our connection to the earth and to the people who labor to grow the food that we eat.
The spoken liturgy for today comes from an ecumencal website called Creation Justice Ministries. Their materials pose these questions: “What kind of response other than fear can we make to Jesus’ call for peace and request for food? We can feed (i.e. giving good food to others); we can eat in community (as Jesus ate in the disciples’ presence), we can create hope (by sharing the news that there is life after death), and we can give nourishment to God (through our just relationships with God, one another, and all creation).”
Look around. We gather together in this beautiful setting, under oak trees, a stone’s throw from the Russian River, surrounded by vineyards and farmlands. It is a delicate ecosystem that needs careful attention so that it does not fall out of balance. Patterns of drought, flood, and temperature fluctuation impact what can be grown here. The level of pollution in the air, water and soil impact the quality of food and the quality of life. Disruptions in the system, locally and globally, disproportionately affect the world’s most vulnerable people: those who labor, the most impoverished, those who cannot move to a safer place. Disruptions in the global food supply can lead to political instability and violence, and are a key factor in our current migration crisis. Our lifestyle choices around food can make a difference.
So what can we do? A list from the ClimateJustice.org website includes these suggestions:
1. Eat organic food wherever possible (I do this, not only for my own health, but out of concern for the health of those who work in the fields; I don’t want the people to be sprayed with chemicals; I want their working conditions to be safe and healthy). 2. Eat food that is grown close to where you live. 3. Be intentional when choosing to eat meat, and support local farmers who are committed to sustainably raising their animals. 4. Compost food waste. 5. Grow some of your own food. 6. Support your denomination’s hunger programs. 7. Advocate for justice and sustainability in both agricultural and climate policies.
I was astounded to learn, a few years ago, that there is still enough food to feed the whole world. It is a matter of distribution, the willingness to share. The obstacle lies in our own hearts.
Some believe that the miracle behind the feeding of the 5,000 was that Jesus lifted up what was offered to God, and that the loaves and fishes supernaturally multiplied themselves. Others believe that the miracle happened because people in the crowd saw the sharing, and reached into their own pockets and started sharing what they had. Whatever the mechanism, Jesus asked the disciples to pick up and count the leftovers, so that a lesson would not be lost on them: God provides, from the greatest to the least of us. We need not look upon our neighbors in need with suspicion, nor hold tightly onto what we have out of greed or fear. We are to lift up what we have and offer it to God’s service for the benefit of our whole human family. We are to trust in God’s principle of abundance. We are to work for justice, not just for ourselves, but for all of God’s children, and for all the earth. We are to trust in the God who will transform our efforts into love and healing. And in so doing, we will find ourselves fed and filled with “enough,” ready and able to carry on, by God’s grace. Amen.