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Great Themes of the Bible: Abundance

A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on November 18, 2012.

John 6:1-15

Meditation Text:

The greatest lesson a soul has to learn is that God, and God alone, is enough for all its needs.  This is the lesson that all God’s dealings with us are meant to teach, and this is the crowning discovery of our entire Christian life.  God is enough!  –Hannah Whitall Smith

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them.  He created the sun to light the day.  He created the moon to light the night.  As he proceeded through that first week of creation, there were all manner of plants created and also the beasts of the field.  By the time he came to the creation of Adam and Eve, he provided for them a world of abundance.  Everything they could have imagined and needed was there.  He gave them dominion over it all.  He gave them dominion over a world full of all the resources one could possibly need.  Ever since then, every crop, every gallon of fuel that we have discovered, every ounce of steel, aluminum, and ore that has been mined come from the same creation.  For all of time, the creation that God gave to Adam and Eve has been given to us and we continue to have an abundance of everything imaginable. 

Here, at the very beginning of scripture in those first words in the first chapter, we already have the beginning of a theme which will run throughout the Bible.  It surfaces time and time again, and we are reminded that God provides.  In a world that constantly fills us with fear about scarcity, it is good to remember that we worship, we serve, and we are loved by a God of abundance. 

If we follow the threads as they work through scripture, we find that we cannot leave the Book of Genesis.  The children of Israel find themselves in famine and they go to Egypt to see if there might be food there and they discover their brother, Joseph.  In one fell swoop, God has not only taken what they intended for evil and turned it into good for them, but he has also taken what looked like scarcity and turned it into plenty.  Joseph was the one who interpreted Pharaoh’s dream of seven skinny cows and seven lean years and filled the storehouses of Egypt so that all the citizens of Egypt and all the children of Israel had more than enough to eat.  That was the God of abundance.

We move to the Book of Exodus and now the children of Israel are slaves and Moses is called to deliver them.  God says, “I want to take you to a land flowing with milk and honey.”  Of course, on the way, they have been slaves.  It was not an era of plentiful ice wherever you wanted it or refrigeration, and soon they ran out of supplies.  They were without and we know the story of manna that was provided six days a week.  On the sixth day, there was enough to collect to carry them over to the seventh day.  There was so much manna that they got tired of it, and they said, “Give us something else.”  So God provided quail.

The experience of God’s providing enough for God’s children even led the Psalmist to say that God is the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  He has it all in his hands.  It is all there for the provision of his children.

We move into the New Testament.  Do you realize that the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels is the Feeding of the Multitude?  That was the only miracle that left an impression on all four of the writers.  How many?  Four thousand.  Five thousand.  One time it says 5,000 not counting women and children.  There is nothing there in that Galilean hillside.  The crowd was commanded to sit down.  All the food they had was just the fish from the little boy.  Somehow there was not only enough to feed the thousands of people that were there but there were 12 baskets—not platefuls, not Tupperware tubs—but 12 baskets of food left over.  Even the leftovers were abundant.

We could follow the theme through scripture and we would expect to find things like God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s justice, and God’s holiness, but we are not paying attention if we don’t notice that scripture also contains the story of God’s abundance.  God provides. 

It is a multi-layered story much like a symphony of Beethoven.  You have to listen all the way through, find the variations, and follow the different things that are a part of this story or you will miss part of it.  Sometimes God’s people receive abundance.  The children of Israel in the wilderness received.  The crowd there on the hillside with Jesus received.  But there are times when God’s people are the channel of abundance.

In the 36th chapter of Exodus, they were going to build the tabernacle, the traveling worship center that they carried with them as they made their way toward the land flowing with milk and honey.  There is chapter after chapter after chapter of the things they are supposed to build and the materials it is going to take.  So they take up an offering.  Remember they were slaves.  Now we are told in that great language of the King James Bible that they did despoil the Egyptians.  They took some stuff with them.  But they were former slaves.  Out there in the wilderness, they take up an offering that will provide all the materials to be able to put together the tabernacle. 

Near the end of the 36th chapter, they have collected so much that Moses has to say to the people, “Stop!  Don’t give any more.  We’ve got too much.”  Sometimes the children of God are the channels of abundance.

In the 4th chapter of Acts, it is just after the church has begun at Pentecost.  There are now thousands of people who are part of a fellowship, a family of faith together.  Many of them come with nothing.  Luke, who writes the Book of Acts, tells us that they pooled all their resources and no one lacked anything.  There are even some who interpret the Feeding of the Multitude as a miracle of sharing.

William Barclay, the great British Bible scholar of the last century, put forth that what really happened was that people were so inspired by the little boy bringing out what he had that they began to reach into the folds of their robes and under their garments.  By the time they had brought everything out, there was so much that they had 12 basketfuls left over.  I think if that were the point of the story, it would probably be told differently but it could have happened that way. 

In all of these last cases, the people of God are the channel of abundance.  God is like a wise parent who, not only in loving his children wants to give to them, but wants them to be able to participate in the spirit of abundance as well. 

As we approach the Christmas season, many families will take their children and will provide gifts for them because they love them.  But isn’t there a point where we want our children to learn how to give gifts as well so that they not only experience Christmas as receiving but Christmas as part of being able to express their love to others in their giving.  This is all God does for us in these multi-layers of the story of abundance.  Sometimes it is given to us and sometimes we participate.

All of this flies in the face of a world of scarcity.  If we were to examine the generations that we represent here today, there are those who still remember the Depression where there was not much of anything.  There are those who remember World War II and rationing.  There are those who remember the 1970’s that started with gas and oil shortages and long lines at the gas stations, but it seemed for a while that there was a rotating shortage of something all the time.  Since 2008 when the economy changed, many have had less than they did before.

What do we believe in?  Do we believe in the demons of scarcity that are running amuck in the world or do we believe in the abundance of God?  Do we believe that God provides and that God is able?  

Have you ever committed yourself to pray for something?  A lot of times it is thanksgiving after illness.  I am not going to let a day go by that I don’t thank God for this.  I am going to pray for this every day for the rest of my life.  Sooner or later, we run into one of those days when we forget. 

Maybe today we have failed to pray for daily bread but we have already eaten it.  Even though we may have failed to pray for other things, we have not only received daily bread but we have risen from nightly shelter.  For few of us, the clothes that we have on our backs would represent all the clothes that we have.  Some of us not only have multiple clothes but we have multiple closets.  We have received forgiveness in such supply that there is enough that bubbles over in our lives that we can give forgiveness even to those who have sinned against us.  In abundance, God has given us so many things. 

I know there may be pressures about tomorrow and what we may need tomorrow, but today in this moment, what do we lack?  Will we be afraid of the demons of scarcity or will we trust in the God of abundance? 

It is a multi-layered theme through scripture, but one of the other layers is that God’s abundance is most often given in doses.  It is given in doses so that the children of God might learn faith and learn to trust in God.  If we were to be given storehouses of everything we always needed now, soon we would trust in the storehouse and not in the God who provides.

Manna was given daily.  Quail were given daily.  In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for daily bread.  I ask again, if that is the way God gives, then what do we lack today? 

The stories of scripture are one thing, but what is important to us is that the real nature of God’s abundance comes upon us.  We can leave this place today as children of God who are filled with faith, trusting in the goodness and abundance of God.  If we leave complaining about what we don’t have, then we have probably made the wrong comparisons.  If we leave thinking that in this moment we don’t have enough, then perhaps we have wanted too much.

Opposites are sometimes obvious.  The opposite of hot is cold.  The opposite of up is down.  The opposite of my right is my left.  We often think that the opposite of generosity is greed.  It is as if we think the opposite of generosity is Ebenezer Scrooge counting gold coins in a lonely mansions, simply trying to hold onto every penny.  But I am convinced that is not the most common opposite of generosity.  The most common opposite of generosity is fear.  We find ourselves haunted by dreams in which there is not enough and it chases away our faith in God. 

We are in the midst of what we call our stewardship emphasis.  Perhaps you received your card in the mail or there is one in the pew rack in front of you.  There is nothing on this card to indicate pledging an amount.  We are not trying to pledge the budget.  We are not asking anyone to give a particular amount of money.  We are asking people to take the card, examine their own lives, indicate if there is something on the card that expresses your desire to be a generous person, and commit to it. 

I would say I bet, but I was once told that is unseemly for a minister to say in a sermon.  But I will assume that one of the reasons why many people do not turn in that card is not because they are greedy but because they fear.  If I commit myself to a certain level of generosity, I fear that there may not be enough to live up to it.  That is why the card is not about money.  The card is about discipleship.  The card is about faith.  The card is about praying to the God of abundance and making a decision about what my life would look like if I truly had faith in that God.  It is a personal commitment to a journey of generosity and that is it.  

Which of us as God’s children, don’t need to make that journey?  Which of us don’t need to stop, reflect, pray, and consider whether or not the stories of God’s abundance are merely written in a book that we revere or whether they are real experiences of faith that translate from these pages to my heart?  Will we listen to the demons of scarcity or will we believe in the God of abundance?

Here we are on the eve of the week in which we give thanks for everything.  How in this week, in particular, could we not believe that God has provided and that God will provide still?  How could we not believe that the stories of scripture are real and they continue in our own lives?  Each of us can probably give testimony to some moment in life when it looked like there just wasn’t going to be enough and here we are fed, clothed, sheltered, and ready to trust God one more time.  We serve a loving, good, and abundant God.