Many of you know that I took off after church two weeks ago today for a 10 day road trip vacation. It’s a straight shot up Interstate 15 to get from Southern California, one of the most beautiful regions of the United States, to Southwestern Montana, another one of the most beautiful regions of the United States. Unfortunately, to get from here to there, there is also a stretch of road extending from Apple Valley to Las Vegas and southern Nevada, as it crosses the Mojave Desert, which is… well, let’s just say not one of the most beautiful regions in the United States.
I was reminded of that as we were heading home this past Tuesday, and we had to stop for gas out in Baker … in the middle of the desert… on the last day of July… in the middle of the afternoon. When I stopped the car, and pushed the door open against the unrelenting winds, and the 120° temperature, and the merciless sun beating down, all of the joy and relaxed feelings and good vibes of my vacation seemed to drain away. “Why Lord,” I wondered, “did you bring me out to this god-forsaken place?”
In fact, I suppose I felt something like those Israelites must have felt fleeing from Egypt in this morning’s first reading from the book of Exodus. We heard a part of one of the most well-known stories in all the Bible, as Moses led the children of Israel out of their bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt and into the Promised Land. Of course, to get there, they had to cross through the wilderness – the desert – of the Sinai Peninsula… a part of the world which, in many ways, resembles the Mojave Desert right here in California.
As today’s story tells us, no sooner had Moses gotten those folks out of Egypt and away from Pharaoh’s grasp than they started to complain. Here they had been a part of one of God’s greatest miracles of all time, as God had led them out of Egypt and through the Red Sea on dry ground. And as soon as they were in the clear – and the first time their stomachs began to grumble a little bit – so did they. “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt,” they cried out against Moses, “for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” It didn’t seem to matter that, back in Egypt, they had been slaves for hundreds of years, forced to make bricks from mud and straw. It didn’t matter that they hadn’t been allowed to practice their religion openly for generations. Some people, it seems, are just born complainers.
You know some of those folks, I bet… I know that I do… people who always complain about everything. Maybe it’s somebody you’ve worked with over the years, who never has a good word to say about anyone or anything. Or maybe it’s that cranky relative, who fills up every waking moment with stories of all the health problems they’ve had to endure for the past 75 years. Or maybe it’s that neighbor next door, for whom the summers are always too hot, the winters are too cold, the teenagers always drive by too fast, the dogs bark too loud, and the post office must be stealing their mail because they never get any letters any more. I know this will come as a shock to many of you, but some of those folks even end up in churches.
You see, I think there are two ways to put the world together. You can operate out of a mentality of scarcity – where there’s never enough – which, by the way, has nothing to do with how much money is in your bank account. The urban legend is that mega-millionaire John D. Rockefeller, who was undoubtedly the richest person in the world in his day, was once asked, “How much money would it take for you to feel like you finally have enough?” And his response was, “Just a little bit more.”
Or you can operate out of a spirit of abundance…which isn’t about believing that you have more than you need, but rather about believing that what you have is enough.
The Israelites in the wilderness who were complaining to Moses were definitely “scarcity people”, for whom what they had was never enough. It wasn’t enough that the angel of death had passed over their houses in Egypt. It was enough that they had escaped Pharaoh’s armies. It wasn’t enough that Moses had been able to strike a rock and have fresh water gush forth. And so now, it wasn’t enough that they had to endure a little bit of hunger. They wanted something to eat… and they wanted it NOW.
And so, to remind those people of the graciousness which had continually been poured upon them in such abundance, God once again showered them with love. “Do you want food?” God asked them. “I will send manna from heaven fresh every morning.” “Do you want meat to eat? I will litter the ground with quail every night.” There was only one catch. The manna would stay fresh only for that day. The quail would be edible only that one night. Nothing could be carried over. And tomorrow, the people of Israel would once again be dependent on God’s gracious gifts to carry them through the day.
We live in a world filled with people selling scarcity. Those messages bombard us from every angle. Our media, our culture, our politicians, all tell us that what we have isn’t enough. And so, out of fear that we might go without, we need more and more and more. And then that spirit of scarcity begins to creep into our faith life as well. And before you know it, we have convinced ourselves that there isn’t enough there to go around either… not enough God to go around, not enough grace, not enough hope, not enough mercy, not enough justice, not enough peace. And then once it has infected our faith life, it begins to infect our church life as well, as we start to believe things like: there’s not enough money, or there’s not enough time, or there’s not enough people, or there’s not enough resources. And we begin to hear and say things like, “You know, we’re just a small piece of a much bigger puzzle here at Church of Our Saviour. God shouldn’t expect all that much from us. We need to take care of ourselves before we worry about taking care of anyone else.”
And it is into that world that God say, “Enough!” “Really… enough IS enough.” God invites us to step away from our mentality of scarcity, and embrace instead a mentality of abundance… of “enough-ness.”
The lesson which we heard from the 6th chapter of John’s gospel carries out that same theme. If you were in church last Sunday, perhaps you remember the story of Jesus feeding a crowd of 5000 people with just five barley loaves and two fish. But that doesn’t seem to have been enough, for now the crowds have followed Jesus and his disciples around to the other side of the lake. And Jesus says to them, “You know… if you were paying attention back there on the other side of the lake, you would have figured out that I gave you everything you really need.” But the crowd still doesn’t get it, and so they cry out, “Sir, give us this bread always.” You see, they’re still operating out of that scarcity mentality, where they can’t get enough. (Some people, it seems, are particularly slow learners.) So Jesus puts it as plainly as he can: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus says to them, “Set aside your scarcity mentality, and enter in to that abundant life I am offering.”
I guess that same question is set before us this morning. “Are we willing to make that same leap of faith, to set aside our own reliance on wanting more and more and more, and accept that abundant life – that life of “enough-ness” – which Jesus is offering to us?” I know it sounds like an easy choice. But let me remind you… there is a price to be paid for choosing to be less self-reliant. It means giving up control over much of our lives. It means allowing God in to those deepest, darkest parts of our selves. It means allowing others to share the load when we find we can’t carry it all by ourselves. That’s the challenge of this morning’s lessons for all of us.
As we gather around this table this morning, I invite you to bring along your own scarcity mentality… to bring along your own endless search for more in your life… to bring along your own feelings of inadequacy and insufficiency… and to lay them on the altar. And as those now-empty hands are opened, God will fill you with abundance in the form of bread and wine. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Today, may you experience that abundance in your own life… may you feel the power and presence and “enough-ness” of God… and may your life be changed forever.