And if you had to choose a single Bible passage to teach the lesson of God’s abundance, it might well be our gospel reading for this morning.
When he sees a large crowd coming, Jesus feels called to provide food for them. The question in Jesus’ mind is how.
Jesus asks Philip, “where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” It is a test, and Philip does not pass. Philip answers, We cannot do it. “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to eat a little.”
Andrew does better. Andrew volunteers that a boy has five loaves and two fish. But Andrew adds, “What are they among so many people?” We have something. But we do not have enough.
Jesus is calling Philip and Andrew to feed the crowd. But they do not know how, so they give up. They see the world in terms of scarcity, not divine abundance.
Jesus is different. Jesus leads with mission. Jesus steps out in faith. Jesus acts, confident that with God there is always a way, confident that God will provide whatever is needed. Jesus does not see a world of scarcity. Jesus celebrates God’s abundance.
The result is a miraculous feast. And at the end of the feast, they fill twelve baskets with the leftovers. Abundance indeed!
The lesson is clear enough. With Jesus, there is enough and to spare for us to do God’s work. That is a comfort.
When we make decisions, as individuals and as a Church, we have to ask how much will it cost. We have to ask if we have enough money to do whatever it is that we are considering doing. Thankfully our vestry takes that question very seriously.
But our gospel reading reminds us that the question about cost comes second, not first. The first question is, what is God calling us to do? After we answer that question, after we discern what God is calling us to do, then we ask, how can we make it happen?
As Christians, we do not begin by deciding what we can afford. We begin by discerning what we are called to do, and then we do our best to get it done.
We plan. We work. We try to figure out how many loaves and fish we can find. But in the end, we can trust that God will provide what we need. We can trust in God’s abundance. That is good news.
But one key to the good news of God’s abundance is that God’s abundance is a means to the end of doing God’s work. Abundance is not a goal in itself. That, too, is an important lesson to learn.
Some Christians say that God wants us to be rich, that we could all be rich if only we had enough faith. Our culture is not so different in one way. It too encourages us to seek as much wealth as we possibly can. It just leaves God out. At our worst, America is all about material abundance, about accumulating more and more stuff, about buying the very latest thing, about having more than our neighbors, no matter how much our neighbor has. All too often, the pursuit of happiness becomes the pursuit of stuff.
That is NOT what God’s abundance is about. That is NOT what our gospel reading is about.
Bread and fish is a pretty basic meal. Jesus could have done much better if he wanted to give the crowd an experience of fine dining. Jesus could have provided expensive wines and a rich assortment of meats. Jesus could have thrown in fancy spices. If Jesus really wanted to spoil them, he could have offered them ice cream and cookies.
The point of our passage is not quality food. The promise is not that God gives us good stuff so that we can eat, drink, and be merry. Virtually every night, I have a bigger, fancier, more expensive, more varied, more caloric meal than the people had at the feeding of the multitude.
The point of our passage is that God gives us what we need so that we can do God’s will, so that we can serve God’s people, so that we can seek justice and do mercy and walk humbly with our God.
In fact, for many of us, material abundance has stopped being a blessing and has become more of a curse. Of course, lots of people today, including lots of people in the United States, do not have enough. For them the promise of plenty is itself a great blessing, and hopefully we can do our small part to help that blessing come true.
But, I say again, for many of us, the problem is not too little, but too much. Food is the easiest example. Many of us eat more than we should. I certainly do, and normally regret it almost immediately. More food is not what I need.
What goes for food goes for material things more generally.
My family is not particularly rich. We moved about a year ago. We moved four times in the last eight years. Every time we moved, we shed some of our stuff. And still we are swimming in excess.
I have more than a thousand books. That is enough for something like twenty years even assuming I do not get any more books from any source the whole time. We have several dozen CDs that we have not listened to in a decade. I have something like two dozen shirts and a dozen pants that I have not worn in over a year.
But our basement is where it really gets bad. Last week, Carrie pulled out boxes and boxes of stuff. She found things we did not know we had. She found LOTS of things we haven’t used in years. She got rid of more than two carloads of stuff, and it barely made a dent.
When I think about all the excess stuff we have and all the excess food we eat, I think to myself, I do not need any more abundance, at least not more abundance of material goods.
But of course God’s abundance goes deeper than material goods.
In our gospel reading, the people surely welcomed the food that Jesus provided for them. But along with the food, Jesus also gave them a sign. “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’”
The material abundance that Jesus offered pointed beyond the fact of bread to the bread-giver, to Christ himself.
That is what we need today too, to see beyond our stuff to the one who makes all things possible. The real abundance that God offers us is relationship with God Himself.
Our reading from Ephesians describes the true abundance that comes from knowing God. The letter talks about “the riches of God’s glory.” It talks about the strength of our inner being that comes through the power of the Spirit. It talks about Christ dwelling in our hearts. It talks about being rooted and grounded in love. It talks about being filled with all the fullness of God.
That is the abundance for which we should strive and pray, the abundance that God offers to all of us, regardless of how much or how little stuff we have, the abundance that lasts.
And so, for the true abundance of God, the abundance that is being filled with the fullness of God, I give thanks.
In the name of Jesus Christ, the only one who offers us true abundance. Amen.