A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The Lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent are here.
Abundance or scarcity? How do you see the world? Go back with me to the beginning of 2020. We are all just beginning to notice this deadly virus in the world and someone somewhere decided that they needed to stockpile toilet paper because their understanding of virus meant a lot of trips to the necessary room (that was my grandmother’s polite way of saying the bath room). And then someone saw that person leaving the store with a cart full of toilet paper and thought “hey, maybe I need a lot of TP, too.” And then another person took a picture of a cart load of TP and the empty shelf in the store and posted it on social media and the Great TP shortage of 2020 was created. Not because there wasn’t enough to go around but because some folks feared running out and took more than they needed. How did you react: buying just what you needed or buying all you could? And although this is something we can look back on with a chuckle, it reveals if we view the world with an attitude of abundance or scarcity.
In the time that Jesus, fully God and fully human, walked this earth, he showed us, in flesh and blood, what it looks like to be Kingdom People. God, the One who created us, came to be one of us, to show us the life we are created for: a life of abundance and generosity. Before I go any further, however, I want us to be clear about what abundance in God’s Kingdom is. It is a unending supply of what we need to be God’s beloved children. It is not getting everything we want. And it is not excess.
Scarcity is based in fear – fear of not getting what we want or losing what we have. And this fear leads us to look out only for ourselves, making sure our wants are satisfied at the expense of those around us. Is it a wonder then why Jesus says so often, “do not be afraid?”
Abundance is about community and love and compassion, it is about giving not getting.
In today’s gospel story, we are shown how abundance and scarcity are lived. Jesus and the disciples, including the women who lived faithfully with Jesus despite their culture denying them the title ‘disciple’, are in the final part of their journey toward Jerusalem and Jesus’ death. Jesus has tried so diligently to prepare them for what is to come and yet they are unable to receive what he’s told them because they are too caught up in getting what they want and not losing what they have. Peter scolds Jesus for talking about his death. Others debate who will be the greatest and who’s turn it was to bring lunch. One plots how to gain financially. And one, Mary, has eyes to see and ears to hear and gives in abundance.
Mary, the one who sat at Jesus’ feet, was able to step into the anguish Jesus had to be feeling in anticipation of what was to come and instead of trying to talk him out of it, she was present to him, offering not only herself but the oil used for burial preparation as if to say, “I am with you in what you must do, I will not leave you.” Mary is living out the very life Jesus had been teaching his followers – a life shaped and guided by the doggedness of God’s love.
Judas, in contrast, is the epitome of all that Jesus had been trying to counter with his teaching. Judas tried to use his religious dogma to justify and coverup his own bad behavior. Life to Judas was a transactional way of getting the upper hand on everyone and every situation.
And we cannot ignore that Jesus had invited them both to be his followers and he will wash the feet of both of them. God’s gift of life and salvation and love is offered to all and when we receive the gift we are to do the same.
Living in the abundance of God’s Kingdom isn’t about getting for our own personal gain but receiving so that we can give with the wisdom that Mary shows. Mary had grown beyond the dogmatic checklist of right and wrong into the wisdom of righteousness, discerning with God’s help how to BE a beloved child of God’s Kingdom, living the abundant life we are created for.
Jesus sums up the entirety of the law with Loving God and our neighbor and ourselves. We can have the entire canon of scripture memorized and be known as a walking commentary but if we don’t love, we are not living in abundance. Jesus invites us to live in the doggedness of God’s love rather than under the dogma of the human interpretation of God’s rules.
When we keep our fists tightly closed around what we are holding onto for ourselves – not just stuff, but our attitudes and thoughts and way of seeing the world, we cannot receive. Love enables us to live abundantly, receiving and giving with open hands, wanting for others what we have received.
Yes, sometimes our giving looks like giving money to assist the poor among us; and sometimes giving looks like sitting with someone in pain and sorrow;
sometimes giving looks like rejoicing with those who are celebrating;
sometimes giving looks like walking together as we face the consequences of poor decisions;
sometimes it looks like cheering someone on as they face a challenging situation;
sometimes it looks like being happy for what someone else has even if we don’t have it, too.
sometimes it looks like serving in a worship service or leading a ministry group or hosting a bible study group and sometimes it looks like praying for those who serve and lead and host;
sometimes it looks like praying for people we don’t know in a country far away who are suffering the ravages of war and praying for those who started the war;
sometimes it looks like packing meals for strangers seeking a better life or backpacks for kids who might not have much to eat at home;
sometimes it looks like making a prayer shawl that will bring comfort to someone.
sometimes it looks like providing a family a safe space to eat and sleep;
sometimes it looks like crockpots of soup and fresh bread so we can fellowship and learn together;
sometimes it looks like giving someone a ride so they can participate in worship and fellowship and learning.
sometimes it looks like shared snacks and laughter on the deck;
sometimes it looks like cleaning the kitchen and taking out the trash;
sometimes it looks like finger sandwiches at a funeral reception as we mourn together as a community.
Giving can be as complex as funding a foundation that will provide for others long into the future and it can be as simple as a text message hug. And our giving must always look like being in relationship with God and each other. It is the wisdom we gain sitting at Jesus’ feet that enables us to discern how we are to give of what we have received.
Let me go back to what I said at the beginning – that abundance is not getting everything we want – perhaps in God’s kingdom when we truly live as Kingdom people, generous with ourselves and our gifts so that everyone has what they need, when we live with an attitude of abundance, we come to want what God wants. As Kingdom People we want everyone to know that they are beloved children of God. So, perhaps, in God’s Kingdom, and as Kingdom People we do get all that we want and more. Amen.