Monday, August 4, 2008

Being "Half-full" People

Sermon preached at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene, August 3, 2008 (Proper 13A): Isaiah 55:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21

Living in the kingdom of God means we have many choices to make. Most of these choices have to do with the attitudes we have toward life, our philosophy of life, our worldview. These shape our actions.

When Jesus called people to repent because the kingdom was near, and when he asked people to follow him, what he was asking them to do was to change their minds, to look at the world in a different way. He asks us to do the same. In doing so he was and is echoing his ancestor Isaiah.

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!

The prophet Isaiah says a very non-sensical thing at the beginning of this morning’s first reading. He says

You that are without money, come, buy and eat!

Now that doesn’t make any sense at all. How can you buy and eat when you have no money?! The answer is God’s desire for a day when life’s necessities will be without price, when there will be an abundance for all.

But we live in the real world, don’t we? The necessities of life do cost money. But people of faith are called to live with their eyes on the prize—to have an attitude of abundance even in the midst of scarcity.

The Gospel story is clearly about this same desire of God’s.

We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.

The real world in which the disciples lived was a world of scarcity. There was not enough to feed the crowd. They wanted Jesus to do the realistic thing and send the crowd away. But Jesus says, “Bring what you have to me.” And scarcity becomes abundance.

One of those attitudes God wants us to have if we are to live in the kingdom of God is abundance. And we have to choose that attitude over having an outlook of scarcity. Yes, this is something like the old “seeing the glass half empty or half full.” We are called to be “half full” people.

This is not an easy thing to do. It takes a conscious effort to see the world through the eyes of abundance rather than the eyes of scarcity. We are taught that we should pay more attention to what we don’t have than what we do have. Almost all the messages we get—particularly from the advertising world—reinforce this outlook.

Among other things, this means that we are not thankful. We are the opposite; we are anxious. One of the great challenges of faith is to be a thankful person, no matter what your circumstances. And this often means letting go, or at least holding very, very lightly, what you do not have. Don’t let scarcity control your life.

Three ways this can make a difference in our lives right now.

Our city. We have problems. We have to be honest about that. Violence among our young people is epidemic; poverty reinforces that awful reality. Kids don’t have much respect for life because it doesn’t seem to be worth much.

We need to find ways to combat poverty and violence, concrete ways. Something beyond the concrete needs to happen as well, however—something internal, something spiritual. It’s an attitude of gratitude that our people need, being thankful for the life we have been given and trusting in God’s abundance.

We liberal/progressive folk tend to talk about the concrete things that need to happen to end violence and alleviate poverty. We think it should be a priority of government to do these things. And we are right.

But we also must pay attention to the spiritual need that is out there and the conversion from an outlook of scarcity to an outlook of abundance that needs to happen. We ought to be not only in the advocacy and service business, but in the conversion business as well.

But you may protest, how can someone living in poverty be grateful, how can they see life as being abundant rather than scarce? Sometimes I think such a person can do it more easily than middle class folks because middle class folks are so obsessed with what they don’t have. There’s always something more and better to own. Remember Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. This is what he was talking about.

We need to spread the good news of God’s abundant creation, of life-transforming gratitude. Then, of course, we need to back that up with the willingness to share.

A second way we need to move from scarcity to abundance—in our own parish.

Most of you will have gotten the letter by now that came with your mid-year giving report. It was not a good news letter. It was honest about how financially we are struggling, depleting our endowment fund at an alarming rate.

Your vestry and I hesitated to send such a letter because, although we wanted to be realistic, we didn’t want to cause a “parish funk.” Another way of putting it is that we didn’t want to trigger an attitude of scarcity.

In the situation we are in it would be right to be honest about where we are and to take seriously our stewardship, but it would be wrong to wring our hands, say, “Woe is us,” and begin to operate as if our resources were scarce.

In spite of where we are we need to maintain a positive attitude of gratitude. We have been given so much, all of us as individuals and us as a parish. Now is the time to be realistic, but it is not the time for anxiety. We will see this through? Why? Because we serve a good God who has given us great gifts. We are saved by God’s abundant generosity and we are called to live out of that abundant generosity, not anxious scarcity. Generosity will save us, not scarcity.

Third, personally. Jesus says in John’s Gospel

I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

It’s another way of talking about living in the kingdom of God—living in the kingdom of God is abundant living.

Abundant living does not start with acquiring anything. It starts with an attitude—the attitude of gratitude, the belief that God has given us abundant gifts, beginning with his generous love.

As followers of Jesus we believe that starting point makes all the difference in life. It enables us to continue to be grateful even when our circumstances are difficult. To use St. Paul’s words from last week, there is “nothing that can separate us from the love of God,” and so there is nothing that can separate us from gratitude.

Abundant living is how I look at life, not how life looks at me.

Again I have to emphasize that this is a deliberate, conscious choice, one we have to make over and over again, pretty much on a daily basis. We all live with enormous temptation to give into anxiety and an outlook of scarcity. We must fight that with all our might. It is the great spiritual struggle—abundance or scarcity, anxiety or gratitude.

In all these things we can keep coming back to this Altar. We are a Eucharistic people in order that we might be a thankful people, a “glass half full people.” Each week we come here to say “thank you,” no matter what has happened to us, and we enact God’s abundance in lifting up the food that is enough for all.

Let us keep our eyes on the prize—the abundance of God. Let us be a “glass half full” people.

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