Sermon for Nov. 11, 2018 -- The Myth of Scarcity


-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 11-11-2018 Pardeeville

(Genesis 1:26-31 and Luke 9:12-17)


          We hear it in different ways all the time…there isn’t enough.  Television advertisers spend about 70 billion dollars a year, much of it designed to convince us to buy things we may not actually need because “we’re worth it” or “we deserve it”.  If you believe all the things the world bombards us with each and every day, you’ll convince yourself that it’s true…that there really isn’t enough and that we have to have more.  But there’s one problem…it’s a myth, the myth of scarcity.  By myth I don’t mean any kind of traditional story intended to explain a historical event.  I mean myth in the sense that it is a belief that is unfounded…that it’s not based in fact.  Scarcity is a framework of thinking there’s only so much and we need to get as much as we can.  To accept the myth of scarcity is to believe that you do not have enough.  Sorry…but that’s simply not true.

          The flip side of scarcity is abundance.  This is the concept that there is enough…plenty in fact.  In this morning’s scripture readings we see abundance in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  In the Genesis passage, we discover that, of these two ways of thinking, abundance was here first.  By the way, did you know that the trouble in the Garden of Eden wasn’t caused by an apple?  It was a green pair!  What we heard this morning was the end of the first creation story in the book of Genesis.  More specifically, it’s the story of how God created human beings…the areas God chose to put us in charge of…and all the things that God provided that help us to do what God has asked us to do.

          Think about how much God gave to Adam and Eve.  They had an abundance of everything.  They lived in a garden for crying out loud!  The weather was perfect every day.  They had all the food they needed.  That’s why we call it paradise.  God only required one thing.  God asked Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit from a certain tree.  And even though they had plenty of everything, Adam and Eve thought they needed more and they ate from that tree.  In so doing, they created scarcity.  It has become a part of our human nature.  Adam and Eve convinced themselves that they did not have enough.  And the notion of scarcity still exists today. 

          We also heard a New Testament version of abundance this morning from the Gospel according to Luke.  Shortly before this passage, Jesus had sent the disciples into the surrounding villages.  He had commissioned them to preach the good news.  Jesus had given them authority over evil spirits and the capability to heal people in his name.  When the disciples returned from their mission trips, they were eager to tell Jesus everything that happened to them…the successes and the rest.  They wanted to share these marvelous experiences not only with Jesus but with each other.  In doing so, the disciples hoped to learn a few tips that might make future excursions even more successful.  And so the plan was to find a quiet place to do all this debriefing.  They headed east toward the town of Bethsaida where they planned to share their recent adventures with each other. 

          But you know what they say about the best laid plans.  Only one thing changed but it greatly altered what they wanted to do.  They would not be alone.  They would not be able to share their experiences right away.  One of the larger crowds recorded in the New Testament gathered.  They came out to the very same place where Jesus and his disciples were.  Jesus quickly put aside his own plans and ministered to the crowd.  He taught them and healed those who were sick.  And, as you might imagine, with more than five thousand people assembled, it took some time to get it all done.  Now the sun was on its way down.  With daylight fading, the disciples decided it would be best to disperse the crowd so everyone could at least find a place to stay and get something to eat.  When they approached Jesus and asked him to wrap things up…to send the crowd on its way…they had no idea that Jesus would turn things around on them.  The disciples wanted Jesus to stop so the people could get something to eat.  Jesus told them, “Why don’t you give them something to eat.”  What?!  How are we supposed to do that?  They inventoried what was available and all they could come up with was a young boy who had five loaves of bread and a couple of fish.  But what good would that do against an army of five thousand people?  All the disciples could see at this point in the story is a huge task in front of them and very few resources.  All they could see was scarcity. 

          The disciples just couldn’t imagine a way to feed the crowd with what was available…gave up right away in fact.  And when they balked at knowing how to handle things, Jesus probably rolled his eyes.  The disciples weren’t making any connections to their previous experiences.  Jesus had just sent them out on mission trips to the surrounding villages and territories.  There the disciples preached about the kingdom of God.  They healed the sick and cast out demons in the name of Jesus.  They in fact learned first-hand the power of Jesus’ name and the remarkable things that were possible.  But now, presented with the daunting task of feeding a large crowd, the disciples were ready to fold up their tent and go home.  They had raised the white flag.  They had declared openly to Jesus that there wasn’t enough…that they didn’t think feeding such a large group of people was possible.

          Jesus, on the other hand, showed compassion for the crowd.  He had spent most of that day teaching and ministering to their needs…healing them, encouraging them…and now it was time to feed them.  But rather than keeping his disciples from participating in this moment, Jesus chose to include them in the miracle he was about to perform.  He told the disciples to get everyone comfortable.  It took a while but they got everyone settled on the ground.  They split this large group into about a hundred or so smaller groups.  Then, in front of everyone gathered there that day, Jesus took the food that was available, five loaves of bread and two fish that a young boy had offered, and he gave thanks to God.  He took the ordinary things in life in their scarcity and transformed them into God’s generosity.  The outcome was this:  everyone ate and had enough.  That would be remarkable in and of itself but there were twelve baskets of leftovers when people had finished!

          We seem to easily fall into the trap of scarcity even today…unwilling or unable to see the abundance around us.  Instead noticing only the scarcity.  Several years ago, I came across a video on the internet called “Celebrate what’s right with the world.”  The title itself shares a certain similarity with the tension between scarcity and abundance.  The man who narrated this video was Dewitt Jones, a former photographer for National Geographic Magazine.  He said that job changed his life.  Celebrate what’s right with the world is the vison of National Geographic.  That’s what they told him each time they sent him somewhere to take pictures.  And, simply put, if you expect to find what’s right with the world, it appears!  In this video, Dewitt Jones talks about the difference between what National Geographic expected and everything we are exposed to from childhood.  Eat or be eaten.  My win is your loss.  Second place is the first loser.  These things show us a world built only on fear, scarcity, and competition.

          What he found in nature though…in direct contrast to what the world would have us believe, is that there is incredible beauty everywhere if you’re open enough to see it…if you’re willing to see the abundance of beauty in nature.  And something he said in this short video really drives that point home for me.  He said, “Nature never stood in front of a forest and said, ‘There’s only one great photograph here.  One photographer will find it and the rest will be hopeless losers.’”  Not at all!  Nature asks, “How many rolls of film have you got?  I’ll fill them all up with layers of beauty and possibility beyond what you can imagine.  There is abundance in nature.  There is abundance in our lives too.

          What we’ve heard this morning is a brief history of scarcity and abundance.  Adam and Eve lived in abundance but managed to turn it into scarcity.  Jesus was confronted with scarcity and turned it back into abundance.  Something else that Dewitt Joes said was this:  “Our vision controls our reality.”  So be glad that God created us to live in abundance and don’t believe it every time the world tries to frighten us into thinking we don’t have enough…or that we’ll never have enough.  Trust God to provide everything we need in abundance.  For that…and for so much more…thanks be to God!

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