The Truth of Abundance and the Myth of Scarcity

SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY

Isaiah 62:1-5

Psalm 36:5-10

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

John 2:1-11

Prayer of the Day: Lord God, source of every blessing, you showed forth your glory and led many to faith by the works of your Son, who brought gladness and salvation to his people. Transform us by the Spirit of his love, that we may find our life together in him, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“You have kept the good wine until now.” John 2:10.

According to our gospel lesson, Jesus produced at least 120 and perhaps as much as 180 gallons of wine. That is a lot of wine for what must have been a modest wedding reception. And it was good wine, too-not the box variety. John the Evangelist tells us that this was Jesus’ first sign that God provides freely and abundantly all that we need, not merely to survive but to thrive. And that is good news for a generation convinced that we are running out of everything and that we do not have enough of anything. We have been convinced that the world is a shrinking pie among a growing number of hungry mouths to be fed. If you are smart, you will grab your slice before it is all gone. That is why we cannot afford to provide health care and housing for our poor at home, sanctuary for people coming to our shores fleeing violence and starvation or relief to needy populations around the world. The world simply cannot afford the poor.

Jesus would have us know that it is quite the other way around. The world can, in fact, provide more than adequately to feed human need. It cannot, however, afford to feed the bottomless pit of human greed. The earth and its ecosystems are not threatened by our basic needs for food and shelter. They are threatened rather by an economic system that survives by exploiting greed for profit, creating ever more markets for luxury goods and services designed to stimulate an insatiable thirst for “more.” This unrestrained pursuit of bigger homes, flashier cars, more exotic vacations and more sophisticated gadgets to feed corporate gain is finally unsustainable. Put simply, the world cannot afford the rich. The prophets of the Hebrew scriptures understood this well as did Mary the Mother of our Lord who sings of the day when God will level the field:

“[God] has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.”  Luke 1:51-53.

The good news for a world convinced it is running out of everything is that it does, in fact, have enough and to spare. This lesson, graphically illustrated during the wedding at Cana, will be repeated at the feeding of the of the five thousand, with the healing of the man born blind, the raising of Lazarus and, most compellingly, in the resurrection of Jesus. When it seems that the tank is empty, the road at a dead end and no way forward exists, God supplies for the need, opens up new possibilities and reveals a way through the impenetrable darkness we could not have foreseen on our own. For our part, we need simply to believe and trust. “We walk by faith and not by sight” as the Apostle Paul reminds us. II Corinthians 5:7.

Faith, however, is not a fatalistic resignation to what is waiting for God to fix it. As the Apostle James reminds us, “faith without works is dead.” James 2:17. It is because we believe that God is capable of providing all we need to live abundantly that we can afford to live generously. It is because we believe that God provides all that we need to live well that we can respond faithfully to the call for reparations to people of color for past and present injustice and inequality. It is because we believe that the earth is the Lord’s that we resist the temptation to guard jealously humanly drawn national borders and welcome the stranger into our midst. It is because we believe that God’s grace is inexhaustible that we dare to hope for a better future when all the indicators are to the contrary. As Martin Luther puts it, “Faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing.”[1]

In this vein, I recall a visit I made to an aged pastor in a Brooklyn nursing home during my internship. He was a delightful gentleman from the Haugean pietist tradition with a deep faith and a quick wit. On parting, he always reminded me, “remember to say your prayers.” “Will do,” I always replied. One day I added on, “and you too.” “Oh, I’ll pray alright,” he replied. “That’s about all that’s left of my ministry.” Then he added, “and the funny thing is, I’ve never felt more productive!” This old child of God understood that, even as he drew near to the frontiers of death and had seemingly so little to offer, the good wine keeps on flowing and God always saves the best wine for last.

This ancient Passover liturgy reflects both the gratitude for and confidence in God’s generosity that should be reflected in our lives.

Dayenu (It Would Have Sufficed)

If He had brought us out from Egypt,and had not carried out judgments against them – It would have sufficed!I

f He had carried out judgments against them,and not against their idols – It would have sufficed!

If He had destroyed their idols,and had not smitten their first-born – It would have sufficed!

If He had smitten their first-born,and had not given us their wealth – It would have sufficed! Dayenu, it would have sufficed!

 If He had given us their wealth,and had not split the sea for us – It would have sufficed!

If He had split the sea for us,and had not taken us through it on dry land – It would have sufficed!

If He had taken us through the sea on dry land,and had not drowned our oppressors in it – It would have sufficed!

If He had drowned our oppressors in it,and had not supplied our needs in the desert for forty years – It would have sufficed! Dayenu, it would have sufficed!

If He had supplied our needs in the desert for forty years,and had not fed us the manna – It would have sufficed!

If He had fed us the manna,and had not given us the Shabbat – It would have sufficed!

If He had given us the Shabbat,and had not brought us before Mount Sinai – It would have sufficed!

If He had brought us before Mount Sinai,and had not given us the Torah – It would have sufficed! Dayenu, it would have sufficed!

If He had given us the Torah,and had not brought us into the land of Israel – It would have sufficed!

If He had brought us into the land of Israel,and not built for us the Holy Temple – It would have sufficed! Dayenu, it would have sufficed!

Source: Hebrew Children’s Songs; Translation source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dayenu


[1] I understand that there is some doubt as to whether Martin Luther actually said this. I am not overly concerned with that. I am reminded of the day I came home for Thanksgiving during my freshman year of college, filled with all the heady arrogance that goes with youth and a little bit of knowledge. At that time, I informed my mother in an erudite show of collegiate pride, that her favorite quote of Winston Churchill was not actually spoken by him. Without missing a beat, Mom replied, “Well, if he didn’t say that he should have.”

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