Knowing and Sharing Your Abundance
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2 Corinthians 8: 1-15
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; 2for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— 5and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you.
7Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. 8I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— 11now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”
Exodus 16, selected verses
The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” ...
11The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12“I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“
13In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’“ 17The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. 19And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” 20But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. 21Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
31The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.
Since it's summer, when I think of abundance, I think of what that meant in the church in the farming community where I grew up. It was not at all unusual to come out to your car after church and find a big brown paper bag full of zucchini in your backseat, and usually at least one of those zucchini would be the size of a baseball bat. Someone always had a bumper crop of zucchini and probably every car in the parking lot got a bag. That's abundance.
People had a clear idea of what their abundance was, and so sharing their abundance was natural and easy, and having enough, but not too much was what was expected.
The questions I'd like to explore this morning are
how do you know and recognize your abundance?
what do you have in abundance?
and, how do you share your abundance?
The scripture readings this morning offer us some perspective on what abundance means.
The first thing I noticed in the story from Exodus is the struggle the children of Israel have in remembering the reality of what the good old days were like. They start off by complaining that in the good old days, a month and a half ago, when they were slaves in Egypt, … and nothing I've ever read makes me think that was a pleasant situation, … they were able to "sit by the fleshpots and eat their fill of bread." So, one problem with knowing what we have in abundance is that we cling to a distorted view of our past or current situation, or even harder, we let our memories of "how things used to be" constrain the way we see and are today. We rewrite our history all the time to keep from confronting those unpleasant truths. Wow, when we were slaves we could sit by the fleshpots and eat our fill.
My daughter will tell you that we have long had a "no whining" rule in our house, and I want to invoke it with the children of Israel. Yes, now that you are free from slavery—do you remember this great gift?... you have to face the challenges and responsibilities of your freedom. The children of Israel, rather than rejoicing in their freedom, were whining and stuck in a scarcity mode. As we struggle to free ourselves from anything that enslaves us, the challenges and responsibilities of our new freedom seem overwhelming. What is it that enslaves or blinds you so that you don't or can't see or recognize your current abundance?
The second thing I noticed in this story is how hard it was for the children of Israel to know what was enough. The instructions were very clear about gathering the manna. Gather one omer per person. For the curious, I did the research and an omer, which was a unit of measurement, is about a gallon. That seems like a lot to eat for one day, even if we think of manna as being something more like rice crispies that would melt in the day. But some people were not content with that and had to gather more and it spoiled, because it was too much, not just enough.
We struggle with this question of "enough" in our country today, and particularly when we hear about some of the 1% who seem to think that they will never have enough wealth, status, or power. Relative to the rest of the world, even most of us here today are wealthy beyond their imaginings. But like the children of Israel we reframe our story. Money is not the only way to count what is not enough.
We all have areas of our lives where we experience scarcity, and when we focus on those areas, the psychology of that focusing is that we strengthen those feelings of scarcity. Now, instead of thinking about enough and the corresponding knee-jerk reaction in those areas where we think, "I don't have enough!" I'd like us to pause, take a deep breath, shift our focus, and ask: what do you have in abundance in your life?
What is plentiful, what do you have in a bountiful supply?
Where do you feel blessed? What do you feel grateful for?
When I answered those questions for myself, thinking back over this week, I am blessed by the Flunking Sainthood book group, and our discussions and the spiritual practices we are exploring and sharing and supporting in one another. I am blessed by and grateful for the love of my family: my mother, my partner, and my daughter who are all such gifts to me and to the world. I am blessed in having colleagues and friends with whom I can share my joys, as well as my sorrows. My raspberry bushes are beginning their season of abundance, and I've had berries for breakfast every morning, and the lavender bush in my front yard is filled with blossoms. I have money in the bank to pay my bills and to fund our summer plans, and money to donate to organizations that have nurtured me.
One of the blessings of the past week was reading a book just published by my friend and teacher Kirk Jones, called The Sacred Seven It was timely to read this. He writes:
Our souls are made to soar; that's why freedom feels so good.
Perhaps the greatest continuing call of life is to remember our essence as soaring beings. It is all too easy, it seems, for us to live far below our high divine calling.
One way we do that is by allowing things to blind us or limit our vision. Take, for instance, the concepts of abundance and prosperity. For far too many of us those words bring to mind, first and foremost, images of material, especially monetary wealth. With that understanding in mind, we set out on acquiring as much as we can, to buy as much as we can, and then consciously and unconsciously compare ourselves to each other on the basis of what we have. To believe and behave in such a way is to live blinded by a golden blindfold.
Take off the golden blindfold. Abundance is not just about material possessions and prosperity is not just about money. Abundance and prosperity, more deeply and richly considered, are about vibrant health and vital relationships; our very souls overflowing with love, peace, and joy; and our minds and hearts being outlandishly blessed with lavish and limitless imagination and creativity.
Jones, Kirk Byron (2012-05-29). The Sacred Seven: How to Create, Manage, and Sustain a Fulfilling Life (Kindle Locations 429-447). Kindle Edition.
That is what happened to the children of Israel—they couldn't embrace their freedom and their divine call from God and were blinded by their fears. Recognizing and knowing our abundance means that we can claim how we are beloved children of God and that we are designed to love, to soar, to overflow with joy and peace, and to use our imaginations and creativity.
Then, if we can claim and know our abundance in so many areas, how do we apply that to what Paul is asking the church at Corinth to do, that is, to share your plenty in time of other's need?
In the letter to the Corinthians, Paul is trying to drum up support for a mission offering to support the church in Jerusalem where they were suffering a lot of persecution. Meg mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Paul's relationship with the church in Corinth was "fraught," and truly, as I first read this, and if this portion of the letter were delivered to me, my alert flags would go up. Really??? Because we excel in everything?!?! So, what do you want?
When I initially read this portion of Paul's letter, I thought his approach seemed more like a guilt trip. Motivating through guilt or in a way that deprives you and makes you feel your scarcity is not a sustainable practice. Rather, we want to be where "The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little."
But digging a little deeper, what Paul is doing is reminding the church in Corinth of their abundance. The Greek word that we read translated today as "excel" is more fully translated as to exceed or to abound, to have abundance, so when he writes: "Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking," he is reminding them: you have such abundance of faith, of knowledge, of enthusiasm, of being loved, so share that, and share it in a portable way that Titus can carry with him to Jerusalem.
So, I have two challenges for each of us: first, how can we share those things we identified as abundance in our lives? Let me offer some suggestions, many of which I have seen in action among you:
Say thank you to those who bless us, who pray for us, who care for us, who inspire us, who share their gifts.
Hug and say I love you to those who love us and whom we love.
Tell one other person about your faith: how you feel the steadfast and abundant love of God, and how you know that you are a beloved child of God.
And now for the hard ones:
Go out and play and enjoy and acknowledge the miracle that you are. How amazing that we can walk, talk, sing, savor good food, see and smell the flowers!
Look in the mirror and celebrate yourself, your gifts and the blessing you are to others. Know that God has given you gifts to share!
Use your gifts to create abundance, as the sermon hymn will remind us, a place at the table for everyone: create justice and joy!
The second challenge is after having identified your abundance, and the ways you can share it, I want you to think about how to make that sharing portable. How can you share your abundance beyond the people you see every day? How do you give people a big brown bag of zucchini if you can't go out and put it in their car? Human beings have come up with one creative solution for that, which is what moved us beyond a barter and exchange of physical goods for services society, and that's money. That was Paul's portable solution: give money to Titus and he will carry it and your greetings and love and enthusiasm to Jerusalem for you. We will certainly allow you to share your abundance today in that fashion when the morning offerings come. We can also make saying thank you or I love you portable: through the telephone and cards and email for example. What other portable ways of sharing abundance and your gifts can you think of? I'd be delighted to see where you have abundance and ideas for portable sharing in your comments on your gold cards.
Brothers and sisters, we are abundantly blessed in God's love and in this community. This week continue to identify where you have abundance and share your abundance with those in need, and God's steadfast and abounding love will continue to fill and amaze you. Amen.