Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sermon for January 9th 2001 - Flesherton Pastoral Charge

Last week in my sermon I mused that now that we’ve moved through the Christmas season, and have arrived in the new year, we would in a few short days find ourselves confronted with the next season of displays and products. I said it wouldn’t be long before we find Valentines and Easter displays out in our stores and community ... on Tuesday morning I turned a corner in a grocery store and laughed as I found myself standing in front of a display of BOTH Valentines and Easter Chocolates ...

Such is the impact of our dominant consumerism in our communities and across our society. One season ends, and almost immediately, the preparation for the next is undertaken. Christmas displays are not even cleared away before the marketing of Valentines Day and Easter have begun ... such is the day to day reality that we live within, and likely seldom think twice about it.

In the wake of this experience, I revisited an essay by theologian Walter Brueggeman about the tension our culture has created around the ideas of abundance and scarcity. Brueggeman, in the essay “The Liturgy of Abundance, the myth of scarcity” notes that research within the church has found that many of the preachers and teachers who want to raise the issue of stewardship within their respective flocks are doing a good job addressing the issue. The problem, according to the research Brueggeman is citing does not lie with the pulpit, or with the folks who stand here ... instead Brueggeman writes:

“Folks do not get it. Though many of us are well intentioned, we have invested our lives in consumerism. We have a love affair with “more” – and we will never have enough. Consumerism is not simply a marketing strategy. It has become a demonic spiritual force among us, and the theological question facing us is whether the gospel has the power to help us withstand it.” (pg 69)

Brueggeman notes that we live in a world of abundance, but our inclination is complicated and hindered by our consumerist culture. Instead of seeing the abundance, we are conditioned by the rampant consumerism to see and believe that we live in a world of scarcity.

Marketing agencies bank on this notion when they hype a product and encourage consumer demand for something ... the list from Cabbage Patch kids through to Tickle Me Elmo and on to the latest electronics is long, and in turn it has given rise to the legacy of line ups, mobs, and even violence (this past year in the US a story of a woman opening fire with a handgun at a Black Friday sale following Thanksgiving, really didn’t come as a suprise to commentators). We think only in terms of getting the supposedly scarce item, and act accordingly. We fail to see abundance.

So, in the church, with our theology of Abundance, we stand in a place different and removed from the dominant philosophy of our culture.

I remember as an undergrad at McMaster having one of our profs talk about the many metaphors and meanings of water in Christian Church history and theology. He began with the word “water” on the centre of the board, then encouraged us to make connections to that word ... the board began to fill quickly as he wrote other words, drew arrows connecting them, and soon outlines a massive web of inter-related and connected ideas ... Baptism, planting, washing, ... on and on it went, word after word after word ... the he stopped and began to talk about the centrality of water and its life giving attributes to ALL aspects of the Christian Church.

This centrality of water, is ultimately about the abundance that God offers – the very heart of Christian Theology and understanding. Water and life is to be found in God’s presence in abundance.

We are to understand ourselves as a people of abundance!

Brueggeman picks up on this notion in his essay, when he acknowledges that Jesus celebrated and highlighted that abundance by the actions of his ministry:

“performing what the Bible calls – ‘wonders and signs’ was another way in which Jesus enacted his mother’s song. These signs – or miracles – may seem odd to us, but in fact they are typical gifts we receive when the world gets reorganized and placed under the sovereignty of God. Everywhere Jesus goes the world is rearranged: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are freed from debt. The forgiveness of debt is listed last because it is the hardest thing to do – harder even than raising the dead to life. Jesus left ordinary people dazzled, amazed and grateful; he left powerful people angry and upset, because everytime he performed a wonder, they lost a little of their clout. The wonders of the new age of the coming of God’s kingdom may scandalize and upset us. They dazzle us, but they also make us nervous.” (pg 74)

The location of Jesus’ healings along side the springs in and around Jerusalem are all about increasing the effect of his revelation of the Kingdom of God found in our midst. The springs were regarded as something precious because water was and remains a resource to be protected and treasured. Jesus consciously chose these locations to openly celebrate the Kingdom of God, and more importantly, to celebrate and HIGHLIGHT the abundance God offers.

This idea of abundance, one that is so central to Christian theology and self understanding, runs counter to much of what our society and culture are about. Brueggeman hits this idea when he writes:

“According to a bumper sticker, ‘whoever dies with the most toys wins.’ There are no gifts to be given because there is no giver. We end up only with whatever we manage to get for ourselves. This story ends only in despair. It give us a present tense of anxiety, fear, greed and brutality. It produces child and wife abuse, indifference to the poor, the buildup of armaments, divisions between peoples, and environmental racism. It tells us not to care about anyone but ourselves – and it is the prevailing creed of western culture and society.” (pg 72)

So, in the Church we are called to affirm God’s abundance.

In our Baptism we are to rejoice, not that a tiny trickle of water is flicked on our scalps, but that we are immersed in the abundant waters that flow as a gift from God.

In communion, we are to rejoice not that a tiny piece of bread and a little taste of juice are offered, but that loaves bread and jugs of wine abound for ALL people.

As a church, we are to stop seeing scarcity where there is abundance.
Brueggeman challenges us to reorient our thinking by asking the simple question: “wouldn’t it be wonderful if liberal and conservative church people who love to quarrel with each other came to a common realization that the real issue confronting us is whether the news of God’s abundance can be trusted in the fact of the story of scarcity?” (pg 72-73)

Scripturally there is every indication that we live in a world of abundance. Our hymns, our readings, our imagery – ALL of it, is about abundance. But if you really listen to the majority of conversations in and around the modern Church, you will hear people bemoaning and lamenting the percieved scarcity that we are experiencing.

We focus on what we’ve lost, rather than what we are still capable of doing.

We count the numbers of those who have wandered elsewhere rather than counting the people who are here and encouraging creative and transformative faith experiences.

We focus on what we feel needs protecting, rather than allowing God to generously pour out the abundant blessings, and letting them flow over and around us ...

Today as we remember Jesus’ Baptism and prepare to break bread and share the cup it is vital that we also remember that:
“Jesus took, blessed, broke, and gave the bread. These are the four decisive verbs of our sacramental existence. Jesus conducted a Eucharist, a gratitude. He demonstated that the world is filled with abundance and freighted with generosity. If bread is broken and shared, there is enough for all. Jesus is engaged in the sacramental, subversive reordering of public reality.” (pg 74)

We live in a world of abundance. Despite the reassurances of our society and our consumerist culture, we live in a world of abundance. In the midst of reading Bruggeman’s essay I found an affirmation in another writer who notes that our notion of abundance comes from within. If we can find within ourselves the idea that we live in a world of abundance, we will be open to seeing THAT abundance all around us.

Buddhist philosophers would say it is being fully aware of the world around us, and appreciating what it offers us allows us to find, experience and live a place of abundance.

That is the heart of Jesus’ ministry. God is ALL about abundance, the scarcity exists in us. There is enough for all of us. Too often though we temper our proclamations of abundance by saying, “but”.

We extend the invitation by saying – “You can experience the life-giving power of God, - BUT first you must...”

In the face of God’s life giving spirit of abundance revealed through our baptism, and through the breaking of the bread and the extravagent pouring out of the cup, there are no buts ... there is only the abundance of life ...

May it be so, thanks be to God ... let us pray !

(Bruggeman quotations are from Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope Augsburg Fortress, 2000)

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