This past Sunday, I was moved by my dear wife, who may have surprised some of you (and certainly herself) by making a witness and a plea after the sermon. She wanted the church to know that the committee that she co-chairs had a vision for something we do each summer, Vacation Bible School. The committee wanted to promote the VBS among the children in our neighborhood, but knew they needed more people to volunteer to lead groups in order to make it happen. Though VBS had for the past few years been a powerful and fun experience for the children of the families of the church, it had the potential to be even more than that—a tool to spread the message and love of Christ to our neighbors.
The congregation responded in a big way. Around 20 people who hadn’t been involved in VBS last year volunteered to make it happen. A generous financial contribution doubled the committee’s budget for the event. The enthusiasm that was generated was an exciting reminder that the Spirit sometimes moves us to step outside our comfort zones.
Lara challenged what Walter Bruggemann called the “theology of scarcity and anxiety” when she so boldly proclaimed that she believed we could do more. She held out the alternative viewpoint—the one articulated by Jesus in the gospels, called the theology of abundance and trust. This paradigm shift is found commonly in the Bible. One of the few stories common to all four gospels has Jesus in the wilderness preaching to the multitudes, when the disciples point out the obvious-the people are hungry and they had nothing to feed them. A gift of a few loaves and fishes was rendered, but it was pointed out that it was not enough to feed so many. Mark relates that Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it. The small gift fed many thousands of people, and there were 12 baskets (enough for all the tribes of Israel) left over. The Greek verb used in Mark’s description of the event, “give thanks,” is Eucharist. Today, that’s what we call the celebration of communion. The sacrament is literally named “Give Thanks.” When we take up this posture of thankfulness and trust in God’s abundance, miraculous things happen.
Walter Bruggemann mentioned (and if this doesn’t make sense to you, ask Karen Manera or Carol Ghere—they were there too) that it is the trust and abundance message imbedded in the Gospel that challenges the presumed “truth” of the age that we live in the midst of scarcity and our appropriate response should be anxiety and accumulation (read, hording.) Instead, when we gather to Eucharist , we are collectively defying that theology of scarcity, anxiety, and accumulation. We respond by rendering gifts as a reflection of our trust in God’s abundance and provision.
The truth of the matter is that we have oriented our budget for the year around what has been pledged and a conservative estimate of what we will receive in non-pledged giving to the church. This has meant that we have not been able to fit the entire amount that we have been asked to give to ministries outside the four walls of our church into that budget. One might say we look at the loaves and fishes we have, and we look at the $63,000 of our apportionment, and we realize we can’t provide for all of it with what we might “realistically expect” to be given through this church. However, the other “truth of the matter” is that we trust in God’s abundance and provision, and we know that if we provide opportunities for those in our midst to offer “loaves and fishes” to the hands of Jesus, they will be multiplied, and they will be enough. In fact—they might just overflow. So, beginning this month, we will provide an opportunity to you to give toward these ministries when we Eucharist. Baskets will be on the far sides of the chancel to take a special offering toward one of these ministries outside the walls of our church included in our apportionment, which will be elaborated upon in the bulletin. What better time is there, after we have received God’s sustaining and transforming gifts of bread and wine, to entrust our own gifts to the hands of the one who broke the bread and fed the multitudes?