What sustains you?
Sermon by Clare Heard, Sunday 12 August 2018, Trinity 11, United Benefice of Holland Park
I want to start today by asking you 2 questions.
Firstly, what sustains you? When things are tough, when you are tired or sad, what is it that sustains you?
Secondly, do you think we have enough in this world to go around? What I mean by this is – do you see the world as a place of scarcity, where we have to compete for resources, or as a place of abundance, where there is plenty for everyone?
Ok- let’s go back to the first question – what sustains you?
If there is a single theme which we can track through the readings we have heard today, it is that of sustenance.
Elijah is sustained with cake and water, which gives him strength to continue on his journey.
Paul asks the Ephesians to share with the needy, and not only material things, but also to share grace, kindness and love for one another. To sustain each other spiritually as well as physically.
And then in the gospel reading, Jesus refers to himself as the Bread of Life. The one who gives life and ultimately sustains us all.
By referring to himself as the bread of life, Jesus echoes the story of the Israelites in the wilderness, receiving manna – the bread from heaven.
In the wilderness, the Israelites were hungry and not trusting in God to provide for them. The provision of manna, was not only about the physical nourishment of God’s people, but also about them learning to trust God. If you remember, they were commanded to only collect what they could eat that day, anything extra went rotten overnight – they had to trust God on a daily basis to provide for their needs.
As Deuteronomy said: God did this “in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).
The manna story was not simply that God fed Israel, but that eating manna was akin to learning God’s wisdom and abiding by God’s law.
In the same way, the word John uses, which is translated “believe”, in the gospel we heard today, is more commonly used to convey a trusting relationship. Jesus is telling the people, they need to trust him and believe in his words and signs, just as the Israelites had to learn to trust God in the desert.
I wonder whether you ever feel that God sustains you? Whether you feel able to trust Jesus to provide the sustenance you need?
And this leads to my second question – do you have a worldview of abundance or scarcity?
Research has shown that the majority of people have a world view of scarcity, and this is propagated by our capitalist system, the idea of competition, of always needing to make sure you have enough for yourself in case you run out. For most of us, this is the way our brains work. We don’t like to share, we want to win, we are afraid we won’t have enough.
A worldview of scarcity moves us towards anxiety, possessiveness and consumerism – it is based on a fear of losing and is inherently insecure and grabbing. And this is what our political system and much of our country believe – that there is not enough to go around, viewing others as a threat to what is rightfully ours.
We need to notice once again the ironies, and even shortcomings, of our economic systems. The irony of capitalism is that it has given us solutions for the problem of scarcity by providing us with an unparalleled abundance!
For example: The US agricultural industry has become so efficient that it alone has been able to produce enough food now to feed the entire world. In other words, we have achieved the abundance that God created for us on this earth. But what do we do with that abundance?
Because our economy assumes scarcity, we don’t know how to deal with such abundance. EU farmers burn crops and let them rot in silos to confirm our scarcity principals. We pay farmers to let fields go fallow. And, worst of all, we underinflate the prices for farmers selling food, putting the dedicated farmers at risk to survive.
So even when we achieve abundance, our economic assumptions about scarcity don’t know how to deal with it.
This assumption of scarcity flies in the face of our belief in a God of abundant love. The Bread stories – both feeding the 5000, which we heard 2 weeks ago, and the Manna in the wilderness - demonstrate the abundance of God’s provision for us. They demonstrate God’s commitment to feed the hungry even in the midst of circumstances in which that seems impossible. They demonstrate God’s persistence in showing God’s people that they will always be provided for, cared for, fed in ways that satisfy our basic hunger, but also our hunger for trust, for relationship, for belonging, and for community.
If we view the world as coming from a God of infinite resource and love, it frees us to trust that there will be enough for everyone, and more than enough.
Yes, we may need to sometimes look at things in a different way – be creative, imaginative and maybe sometimes a little less selfish, but a worldview of abundance frees us from the fear of losing out. Jesus came to show us a new way, a risky, extravagant, compassionate way, when he went to the cross and broke his body for us in the same way as he broke bread. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life,” was never meant to be a word of condemnation and exclusion but a word of commendation and inclusion. Not a word of condition and uncertainty but a word of absolute confidence in our God who sustains us. Jesus is the bread of life, who can finally satisfy us, who demonstrates God’s abundant love for us and offers us all the sustenance that we need. All he asks from us, is that we learn to trust him to do this. So back to my original question - What sustains you? Can you trust God to sustain you? And are you willing to receive God’s abundant love and share it with the world that others may also receive sustenance and love?
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
References: Steven Covey – 7 habits of highly effective people Richard Rohr Karoline Lewis Susan Hylen Rev Chris Eyden