The Big House

Read John 14:1-3

There are many varieties of houses in this world. Some people live in small, one-room homes while others have places to live which have over twenty rooms. The materials used to build houses may depend on factors  such as location, climate, resource availability, financial resources, and/or the owner’s needs. Some houses are single-storied, while others have two or more stories. Just as individuals vary, so do the houses in which each person lives.

In an attempt to reduce the anxiety of his disciples, Jesus tells them about a house with plenty of room which he is going to prepare for them and others. Prior to this passage, Jesus had told his disciples that he would not be with them much longer. After having followed Jesus around for almost three years, the disciples want to follow him wherever he is going next. They are afraid of being left on their own. So Jesus assured them that he is going to prepare their place where the Father dwells. He also tells them that there is plenty of room for them and he will return to take them to the place.

During Advent, part of our focus was on this promise of Jesus’s return. In today’s passage we hear of this promised return. The promise speaks of a big house where all are welcomed. Through other passages in Scripture, we gain an understanding that there will be abundance at this place. Sadness, pain, and suffering will be replaced with joy and uninhibited life. The place of Jesus’s promise is clearly a place we all would desire to experience. This place is also a home to which we should want to invite others.

Audio Adrenaline captured the promise of Jesus and created images to which we can relate today in their song, Big House. I invite you to consider the promise, the invitation, and the images which form in your mind as you listen to this song today.

Abundance

Read Luke 12:13-21

In the musical, Hello Dolly, Dolly Levi teaches Horace Vandergelder a lesson about greed. Vandergelder was a wealthy businessman from Yonkers, NY. He paid his workers a minimal wage and hoarded his money. Dolly Levi was a widowed arranger of lives who set her sights on becoming the next Mrs. Vandergalder. Dolly’s famous line in regard to greed is, ” Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.”

Jesus had thoughts about greed as well. In the passage from Luke, Jesus warns about greed and then illustrates the warning through the use of a parable. When receiving an abundance, instead of hoarding it with the intention of using it on one’s self, the Lord indicates it is better to use it to provide life. Jesus’s story demonstrates the folly of storing up abundance for the future since no one but God knows what lies ahead.

As Dolly Levi and Jesus indicate, abundance should be used for good. Many individuals who lived through the Great Depression and other  economic downturns became accustomed to building up reserves in case there is a repeat of circumstances. This is sound logic and does not go against Jesus’s teaching. However, if an abundance is received or accumulated beyond a reasonable safeguard, then the abundance must be utilized to benefit others in any multitude of ways. When someone chooses not to do this, they move into a lifestyle based on greed which is self-serving and not serving the Lord.

Give Thanks

Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Deuteronomy 8:1-10

Today our nation pauses to give thanks for all the abundance and positive aspects of our lives, This particular year has been a very difficult one for our nation and our world. The global pandemic has touched every one of us in some manner. In addition to the effects of the virus, we have witnessed all forms of disasters. The economy has taken a heavy hit with a record number of unemployed and hundreds of small businesses, and even some long-existing corporations, closing or declaring bankruptcy. Our country has experienced violence, protests, and a very contentious election cycle. This year’s events could easily cause people to ask what there is to be thankful for as we reflect. Yet we are not the first group to encounter a year of significant hardship and pain. Folklore indicates that after a year of death and great hardships in the New World, a surviving group of Puritan settlers held a festival of thanksgiving in their new land. The story even includes an invitation to Native Americans who had provided the newcomers with skills that aided in their survival. These settlers gave thanks for what they had been given which allowed them to live.

In today’s  passage, the Israelites are preparing to arrive in a land which God had promised them. Moses speaks to them about their journey through the wilderness. He reminds them of all which God had done for them during this leg of their journey. He tells them to keep God’s commands as a response of thanks to God. Then Moses speaks to the people about their entrance into a land full of abundance. Again, he tells them to keep God’s commands in this new land. He instructs them to offer praise to God for this land of abundance once they have been filled. They had experienced many years of hardship and God provided during those years. They would experience a land of great abundance which God has provided now. Moses makes it clear that God’s giving in both situations should give reason for the people to offer thanks both in praise and in action.

Now we pause for one day, like many generations before us in this land and others throughout the world. During this year’s hardships, God has provided. Through people reaching out to assist during a natural disaster, God provides. In the dedicated service of healthcare workers, emergency responders, teachers, grocery store employees, delivery drivers, restaurant employees, and countless others, God provides. The hundreds of researchers and health science departments who have worked tirelessly for answers, God provides. This is when we must take time to reflect on God’s abundance and offer our thanks in praise and action.  We have even more reason to do so when life is difficult. 

Scarcity Versus Abundance

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Matthew 14:13-21 (NIV)

During my professional career, I have attended many conferences and even helped plan a few. One of the challenges for conference planners is making sure there is the correct amount of space for the number of people who attend. This requires making projections and estimations. A colleague of mine used to always comment when we were in a room too small that the planners did not properly plan for success. Another way to look at situations like this is an attitude of scarcity versus an attitude of abundance.

The attitudes of scarcity and abundance are visible in the passage from Matthew today. Confronted with a resource supply issue, the disciples recommend that Jesus send away the crowd. They tell him that having only five loaves of bread and two fishes is not enough to meet the needs of the people. The disciples are focused on what they are lacking, an attitude of scarcity.

Jesus has a completely opposite analysis of the situation. When addressed by the disciples, he responds that they should take care of the people’s needs. In Jesus’s view, the disciples have everything necessary. When the disciples are unable to see the abundance of their resources, Jesus steps in and demonstrates this reality.

Like the conference planners and the disciples, we can easily fall into the trap of adopting a scarcity viewpoint. As we attempt to evaluate needs and then balance those against our perceived resources, we can tend to identify why something will not work instead of why it can work. We must be practical yet that does not mean we have to limit possibilities.

Another key factor which is present in Jesus’s example of an abundance attitude is the God factor. The God factor is the certainty that God is able to take what we have available and use it to meet the needs which are before us. Initiating this factor is possible through prayer and trust. Prayer is our communication of the need of which we are aware. Trust is belief that God is able to provide for the need. When the God factor is put in play, we discover we have abundance.

Enough?

When is enough enough?

This seems to be a question which infiltrates all aspects of life. The onset of consumerism since the Industrial Age has led to a viewpoint that a person can never have enough. In the Spring 1955 edition of the Journal of Retailing, Victor Lebrow who was a marketing consultant wrote:

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms.

Victor Lebrow

The added desire for instant gratification to this consumerist approach to life has created the dynamic of scarcity. People often look at life and say that “we do not have enough to…” A feeling of scarcity leads to hording, greed, and even violence as we strive to protect what we have or get what we do not have. Yet, perception and reality do not always align.

As a Christian, I am not immune to this battle for “enough.” Throughout the Christian Bible ample verses and stories speak to this dilemma. One is  found in the Hebrew Scriptures located in the story of the Hebrew journey from Egypt to the promise land. The people had been complaining to Moses about not having enough food to eat and how it was so much better back in Egypt. Moses was tired of their constant whining and blaming him for their plight. He decided to take the matter up with God and God made a promise to provide plenty of food for the people each day. You can find this story in Exodus 16. God did provide manna (a flaky substance) and quail every day. Clear instructions about the collection of this food were given:

Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.

Exodus 16:16

No one is to keep any of it until morning.

Exodus 16:19

Initially the results turned out wonderful.

And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

Exodus 16:18

Yet, the fear of scarcity set in and so…

However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.

Exodus 16:20

Jesus also tried to deal with this battle of scarcity dduringhis ministry. He incorporated the idea of having enough for each day in the prayer which he taught his disciples, a prayer which today is known as the Lord’s Prayer… “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)

From these examples, we come to see that we are provided with exactly what we need each day. We actually have an abundance of what we need. Now this may not mean we have everything which we want but there is a clear difference between “want” and “need.”

Yet, we tend to live in the attitude of scarcity and not one of abundance. We say things like…

“If I only had more time, I could get my work done and volunteer.”

“If I only had more money, I could pay my bills and give to support those with food insecurities.”

“If I only had more (fill in the blank), I could (fill in the second blank).”

According to Sentier Research as quoted in an article on seekingalpha.com, the median income in the United States in June 2018 was $62,175. Compare this with the country of Burundi which had a median income of $730. Some would have to argue that a majority in the United States could not claim scarcity in income. All of us know that money alone is not a gauge of abundance. Similar examples can be identified in other measurable aspects such as material goods, opportunities, skills, education, and environment. This is not intended to say that individuals in the United States which lack this abundance are not present. Median means that there are many who are below the numbers listed above. Nor am I arguing that there should be guilt associated with abundance. My point is when we adopt an attitude of scarcity, we tend to forget the abundance which is available to us.

This attitude does not confine itself to our personal lives. Our corporate experiences are infiltrated by this attitude as well. It seems natural since if we as individuals focus on scarcity, the groups which we are members of will also look through the lenses of scarcity. Whether it be government, organizations, or even the church, comments and approaches linked to a view of scarcity seem to be the modus operandi. A long list of reasons why something cannot happen is much more common than a list of ways to make it happen.

An attitude of scarcity results in us saying why we cannot do something. An attitude of abundance shows us why we can.

I encourage each one of you to adopt an attitude of abundance. See how this might change your perspective on life and thus, your life as a whole.