July 3, 2016 Nancy Bancroft
Readings: Deuteronomy 26:1-1; Ephesians 1:15-23
Once upon a time there were five-year-old twin boys, one a pessimist and the other an optimist. Wondering how two boys who seemed so alike could be so different, their parents took them to a psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist took the pessimist to a room piled high with new toys, expecting the boy to be thrilled. But instead he burst into tears. Puzzled, the psychiatrist asked, “don’t you want to play with these toys?” “Yes,” the little boy bawled, “but if I did I’d only break them.”
Next the psychiatrist took the optimist to a room piled high with reeking manure. The boy yelped with delight, clambered to the top of the pile, and joyfully dug out scoop after scoop,
tossing the manure into the air with glee. “What on earth are you doing?” the psychiatrist asked. “Well,” said the boy, beaming, “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”
Pessimists and optimists can be described as people who have different world views. A pessimist has the perspective of scarcity, while an optimist sees life as abundance. And though we may identify ourselves as either closer towards the pessimist end of the scale or more on the optimist side, most of us, I think, depending on the issue, vacillate between the two poles.
Franciscan friar and author Richard Rohr states, “The flow of grace through us is largely blocked when we are living inside a worldview of scarcity, a feeling that there’s just not enough: enough of God, enough of me, enough food, enough mercy. . . The problem, “he says, “is exacerbated by the fact that the mind is apparently unable to imagine anything infinite or eternal. So it cannot imagine an infinite love or a God whose “love is everlasting” as the Psalms continually shout.”- The words of Richard Rohr. That is why Paul prays in his letter to the Ephesians, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”
Rohr goes on to talk about how Jesus is always trying to teach the apostles, move them from a world view of scarcity, to one of abundance. Rohr points to the “multiplication” of food stories in the Gospels, as examples of Jesus’ efforts. He continues by saying, “In the end there is always much food left over, which should communicate the point: reality always has more than enough of itself to give, it is an inherent overflowing.” To support his claim, Rohr exhorts us to “Observe the seeds, spermatozoa, and pollen of the natural world.”
“Our unhealthy economics and politics persist”, he says, “because even Christians largely operate out of a worldview of scarcity: (we believe) there is not enough land, healthcare, water, money, and housing for all of us; and in America there are never enough guns to keep us safe. Rohr ponders, in the midst of what he calls the structural stinginess and over-consumption of our present world, how we can possibly change consciousness and teach the mind to operate from mercy and graciousness? He believes that it will always be an uphill battle, and it will always depend upon a foundational and sustained conversion.
Rohr ends his short essay on scarcity versus abundance by suggesting that only a personal experience of unconditional, unearned, and infinite love and forgiveness can move us from the traditionally held worldview of scarcity to a divine world of infinite abundance; in other words, an experience of Mercy. “That’s when the doors of mercy blow wide open!” he says. That’s when we begin to understand the scale-breaking nature of the Gospel.
This is why Paul, likely while imprisoned in Rome, writes to the members of the church in Ephesus, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
What is this power that we have been given? Many of us take power for granted. As the CMP commercial says, we turn on a switch and it delivers the results. We, this living generation, have benefited most from the knowledge of harnessed wind, water, fossil fuels, and atoms. Scientists now juggle subatomic particles, speed on to superconductors, and, in a half dozen nanoseconds, store all the knowledge of an encyclopedia on a tiny piece of plastic. Knowing how to control the world in this way; to extract what we need from it, to take it apart and reassemble it, to change it into different forms, , to convert it to different functions, and to fabricate different products are all acts of power. Power is the ability to cause or to prevent change. It is not a power over, but rather a power to; a power to make a difference. The words power, potential and possibility all derive from the same Latin word that means “to be able.”
When I watch public television and see that a program that I am enjoying is airing in part because of a grant by some philanthropist, or I drive by the Dorothy Walker Bush wing of Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford, or I read about Bill and Melinda Gates devoting themselves and their personal fortune to improving the lives of children around the world I think, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be rich and to be able to contribute like that.” Then almost each time, my second thought is that being rich is relative. Compared to most of the world, I am rich. Though I realize that many people have a lot more wealth, even in the Biddeford-Saco area, I would be considered very comfortable. I have much more to share than many. I have much more to give than I do. My tendency is to come from a perception of scarcity, “When my portfolio reaches this point” or “When my retirement is secure.”
In the Old Testament reading of this morning, God urges us to recognize our blessings and to show our thankfulness by giving our first fruits. Not to wait until I think I have enough, but out of gratitude, generously giving first. And this is not just about money or goods. Perhaps our most precious commodity is time. Again, I tend to come from a perspective of scarcity: “When I have more time”, “After the gardening season”, “When this church gig is over”, then . . .” Yet once again I remember how we, at Union Church publicly describe ourselves; as an evolving community of faith that seeks to reflect the love and compassion of God through our conduct. We state that we follow the teaching of Jesus to love God, neighbor, and self. God bestows upon us power to live as Jesus did. We are truly able to forge new possibilities in our personal life with God, in our relations with family and friends, and in the wider community.
Today we celebrate the Fourth of July, our country’s birthday, and the independence of our nation. It is right and proper that we gather in our place of worship on this holiday and make of it a holy day; that we join our fellow citizens in expressing gratitude for this good earth and this good land, for the crops that are growing, for the advances of science, for the research teams in laboratories, for the artists and musicians in our culture. With all who remember the source from whom our blessings flow, we thank our God for family and friends, for life and health, and even for the burdens of the moment that are always filtered through the fingers of a loving God to bring us good. It is right and proper that the people of this nation, we among them, thank God with one heart and one voice for Abundance.
And, as we celebrate abundance and our independence, as we rejoice in our freedom, it’s important, I think, to recognize that freedom is power to. One of the best ways that we can show our gratitude for our lives of abundance is to remember that once, maybe many, many generations back, this land welcomed our ancestors and provided them with opportunities. We need to remember that there are still so many, many in need. The poem of Emma Lazarus on the back of today’s bulletin is an ode to the symbol of this great and prosperous country, the Statue of Liberty. On its base is the same message that we at Union Church proclaim, “All Are Welcome here.” We need to remind ourselves, in our gratitude, that we are all one family under God. The poetry of Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus, still has strong resistance from a stance of scarcity; not enough jobs, not enough resources, not enough security. But Jesus, who we proclaim to follow, never spurned the stranger or the foreigner, the publican, the sinner, the Samaritan, the Galilean, the deaf, the blind, the handicapped, not even thugs and thieves, nor prostitutes and criminals. Responding to their plea for mercy, Jesus said:
- to the prostitute, “Neither do I condemn you.”
- to the deaf, “Ephatha! Be opened!”
- to the tax collector, “Come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
- to the handicapped, “Arise, take up your bed and walk.”
- to the dying thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
- and to uneducated fishermen, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
We eat today, not by merit, but by mercy. We enjoy our families today, not by merit, but by mercy. We revel in abundance, not by merit, but by mercy. Let’s celebrate in gratitude not just for the things that can so easily be stripped away from us; let’s celebrate the generous mercy of our God. And let’s not forget, on this national holiday: we are one nation, under mercy. This whole blessed nation is “under God,” indeed – under God in mercy! The authors of the Declaration of Independence understood this. Those who wrote it and signed it were depending on the protection of the God of Mercy for the support and the preservation of the principles; the truths that they claimed are self-evident.
As we celebrate this July 4th, let us be able to say with them, “Appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world, for the rectitude of our intentions, with firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”