Sunday's Sermon -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
“And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.”
My sermon title today is “Abundance, Not Scarcity.”
As today’s gospel lesson begins, the disciples are not feeling a sense of abundance. On the contrary, the disciples are very concerned about the hungry crowd. They are feeling a sense of scarcity.
A great multitude of people has followed Jesus, five thousand men, not counting women and children. All day long the disciples have assisted Jesus in his ministry. When evening comes, the disciples recognize the precarious situation, thousands of people far from town with no plan for supper. They say to Jesus, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves."
Jesus replies, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."
Scholar Barbara Brown Taylor writes, "Jesus operated out of a sense of plenty. He looked at the same things the disciples looked at, but where they saw not enough, he saw plenty: plenty of time, plenty of food, and plenty of possibilities with the resources at hand." Jesus operated out of a sense of abundance.
If you and I had been there, we probably also would have been distressed by Jesus’ response, "you give them something to eat." If we think about what Jesus said, it really made no sense. "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish" – in this situation, a feeling of scarcity is a very natural thing.
At that critical moment Jesus does something that is not natural, something that is quite miraculous.
With the help of his disciples, Jesus orders the crowd to take a seat in the grass. Taking the five loaves and two fish, he looks up to heaven, blesses and breaks the loaves. Fish and bread are distributed, and suddenly there are more fillets and loaves than were there before.
The crowd numbers five thousand men, with women and children besides. Yet all eat and are filled. They collect what is left over, and there are twelve baskets full of broken pieces, far more than Jesus started with.
What really happened that day? I know a true miracle happened, a miracle of sharing and abundance. Scholars have long debated what exactly happened that day, was there an almost magical miracle of the fish and bread multiplying or was it more of a miracle of sharing among those gathered. I have very little interest in that debate.
What I do know is that Jesus changed a situation of scarcity into one of plenty, one of abundance, just like he can and does for every one of us every day. As Christians, we can live in the midst of God’s abundant love for us, no matter what our physical surroundings or situation indicates. Thus, we have a choice – to live in scarcity or to live in abundance.
We, you and I, have a choice to live lives of scarcity or to live lives of abundance. If we live in scarcity, we live in fear – fear for ourselves, our families, our congregation, our community. Will we have enough to eat, a safe place to stay, our health, a job? There is a lot of which to be fearful.
Jesus offers us a different life, a life of abundance and plenty, not scarcity. When we live in Jesus’ love, we can live in the confidence of that love, in the safety of God’s love. And in that confidence and safety, we can live lives of abundance, whether we are rich or poor, no matter what our physical situation is.
Whenever I read today’s Gospel, the story of the Feeding of the 5,000, a story found in all four gospels, whenever I read this story I think of the women of Divine Light Lutheran Church in Lima, Peru.
Some years ago Kris and I worshipped at Divine Light, Lux Divina, Lutheran Church in the Pueblo Joven Marquez neighborhood of Lima, Peru. There we witnessed the amazing food outreach led by the women of this congregation, a volunteer effort which feeds hundreds of people in their neighborhood six days a week.
Pueblo Joven Marquez is a desperately poor neighborhood built almost overnight on a garbage dump. Nearly 5,000 people live there in small homes made of adobe and tin.
The food kitchen began with the help of Lutheran World Relief and continues with support from the ELCA World Hunger Appeal and our regular benevolence giving, which was, of course, the reason Kris and I visited, to see our World Hunger and benevolence funds at work.
And what a work it is! In the beginning, the women of Divine Light Church called a community meeting, took an offering, and the food kitchen was begun. At the time we visited 38 volunteer mothers ran the kitchen, three working each day. They provide more than 175 breakfasts each day and take home dinners for more than 150 families. If enough funds are not available from outside sources, the volunteers make up the difference from their own meager funds.
There are other food kitchens in the Marquez neighborhood, but the Lutherans are known for serving good food! Consuelo Trigo de Brading, the village social worker who founded the food kitchen and is a member of Divine Light Church and was our host that morning, told us that “Other food kitchens serve bad food just because people are poor. Their food is not fit for Christians.”
As Trigo introduced their work to us, she said, “In the midst of our own poverty, we have solidarity with those who have even less.”
Breakfast each day consists of milk, cereal and bread. The ELCA provides funds each month so that the children always have milk for breakfast. Dinners are provided for take-home. People pay about $0.40 per person for the take-home food, about one-third of what it would cost to prepare a similar meal at home, but no one is turned away if they cannot pay. The Canadian government provides rice and the ELCA World Hunger Appeal provides a small grant for the overall program.
Four women members of Divine Light Church make up the board of the food kitchen. They meet every 15 days to look at community problems. When they decide to work on a problem, they pool their own meager resources. Trigo told us that she and her husband live on a pension of about $29 US per month of which she gives 30% to her congregation and survives on the rest, despite regular record inflation in Peru! Let me repeat that so it really sinks in – Trigo told us that she and her husband live on a pension of about $29 US per month of which she gives 30% to her congregation! What an example of living a life of abundance!
The same women who run the food kitchen are also the core of Divine Light’s congregational leaders. The congregation began more than 40 years ago in the home of one of their members. Some years later they moved into the building where Kris and I visited, a simple building with just two rooms, one for worship, Sunday School and meals and the other a kitchen.
During the worship service that November Sunday, the women reflected on their faith and lives. The service was officially led by a male lay pastor from a neighboring congregation, since their pastor was away that Sunday, but the local women quickly took over and provided the reflections on the text for the day, Mark 12: 41 – 44, a text many know as the “Widow’s Mite.”
In her reflections, the founder of the congregation said, “I am a widow. I put my faith in Christ. God gives us grace to share with others. I have fought hard in my life. Now, I am evangelizing the community.” Another woman added, “Because of God’s Word we handle our problems.”
The photo on the screen today is of the two burner gas stove in the Divine Light Church Kitchen, the stove from which so many are fed. Listening to the witness for Christ from these women and looking at this stove from which so many are fed, Kris and I and the rest of our group were moved to tears.
As I reflected again this week on the story of the Feeding of the 5,000 and on the women of Divine Light Lutheran Church, I thought again of how this is a miracle about the abundance of God’s love for us.
The women of Divine Light Lutheran Church know this well. As we left Divine Light Church that Sunday in November, the congregation secretary left us with these words, “It is hard and painful to be poor in Peru, but we hold onto faith. Love will triumph. Love will break barriers. Christ unites us no matter what.”
“Christ unites us no matter what. Love will triumph.” Said by women far poorer in material goods than anyone hearing this sermon.
Let’s follow their and Jesus’ example, living our lives in the abundance of God’s love for us, no matter what the physical situation in which we live. Christ does unite us no matter what and God’s abundant love for us in Jesus Christ will always triumph – in the miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000 and in the ongoing miracle of the women of Divine Light Church feeding their community in love.
Christ unites us no matter what. Love will triumph. Let’s live this together.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, Santa Monica, California