“I didn’t get enough sleep.” “I don’t have enough time.” Do those sentences sound familiar to anyone? According to one NYC psychotherapist, those two sentences represent two toxic thoughts that influence the way we live every day. “Before we sit up in bed,” she writes, “before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something.” Is that you? I certainly have the “not-enough-sleep” thought often enough. Well, if it does sound like you, then you’re operating under what she calls a “default mode of scarcity.” If these are the first thoughts we have when we wake up in the morning–not enough sleep, not enough time–then we spend the rest of our days, perhaps the rest of our lives, trying to make up for our inadequacies.
We live with the fear of losing and of not, ever, having or getting enough.
I wonder if the disciples on the shore that day were operating under a default mode of scarcity when they urged Jesus to send the hungry crowds away. “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish,” they said. In other words, “We don’t have enough.” We can’t really blame them. Seven loaves and a few small fish? 5000 people? It simply doesn’t add up. There wasn’t enough.
Jesus, however, challenges this default mode of scarcity. With this miracle of the feeding of the 5000, Jesus showed both the crowd and the disciples what it was like to have enough. For maybe the first time in some of their lives, they ate and were filled. All of them. At a time when food was perhaps scarce, their bellies were full.
If I don’t still struggle myself with this default mode of scarcity every day, especially when it comes to not enough sleep, then there has been at least one specific time I can think of when I did. Some of you are aware that about three years ago I helped open a soup kitchen across town. I had laid a lot of groundwork leading up to the opening, but I was still very nervous. Though we had advertised the new soup kitchen to the community, though we had volunteers,we had no budget for it. All the food we would serve was to be donated. And we would potentially need to feed over 100 hungry people. And we were promising to feed them with absolutely nothing, not even seven loaves and a few small fish.
One of the ways soup kitchens operate is by collecting food that will otherwise be thrown away–produce that is not pretty enough to sell on a grocery store shelf, but is still fine to eat; meat that will expire soon, but that is still edible. I was told that I could pick up such food from a local grocery store but not until the day before we were supposed to serve our first meal. Would there be enough? I drove to the store that day, pulled up to the loading dock around back and what I found blew me away–vegetables, fruit, milk, sandwiches, pizzas, cookies, bread, pastries, you name it–it was all there for the taking and for the feeding. We had enough after all–more than enough, actually.
There are at least two lessons to be learned from what Jesus does with the loaves and fishes. First, God really is a great provider. God really can take a little bit and stretch it to the extreme. Holy Trinity actually gave a donation to that soup kitchen from the Souper Bowl of Caring event. I guarantee you that a dollar goes much further at a soup kitchen that you could ever imagine.
The second lesson Jesus teaches us is that what’s “enough” is a mindset. What if the miracle that day by the lakeshore weren’t the magical-like abracadabra multiplication of loaves and fishes, but, rather, the opening of hearts and lunchboxes? As theologian William Barclay suggests, the crowds were traveling. It was highly unlikely that they had not packed their lunches. Yes, they were hungry, but they were also selfish. It wasn’t until Jesus offered up what he and the disciples had, quite willingly and with a smile, that the rest of the crowd followed suit, pulling out of their lunchboxes everything they had, sharing it with one another, so that there really was enough. What if the miracle of the soup kitchen is not that you can feed so many people with so few resources, which is true, but that the resources are shared, given so willingly?
One of the things that surprised me with the soup kitchen experience was the collaboration among soup kitchens. “You need meat? Okay, we’ve got extra, and we’ll send it over.” “You need some volunteers? We’ve got plenty. John will come chop vegetables for you.” The default mode at a soup kitchen is not one of scarcity, but one of abundance. It’s not, “We don’t have enough,” but “Look at what we have!” and, “Look at what we can share!”
When you realize that you really do have enough, especially when you combine resources, especially when you realize that God really does provide, something no short of miraculous happens. You release the tight grip on what you have, and you give up on the fear of what you don’t have. Trusting that God provides and that you have enough frees you to give.
We are entering the season of the church year that’s often called “stewardship season.” We will gather at the end of September–September 24, to be exact–to hear about our mission plan for 2018 and then, at the end of October, we will collect pledges of time, talent, and treasure necessary to fulfill that mission. Stewardship usually causes some anxiety because, well, let’s face it, no one likes to talk about money, much less be asked for money. Plus, our culture conditions us to operate under the default mode of scarcity. We are bombarded with messages that tell us we don’t have enough–that we need this product or that item, and that without those specific things, our lives will be incomplete, lacking in worth.
But remember? Jesus changes our default mode. When we operate the way Jesus operates, we go from thinking “I’ll just skip that Sunday because I don’t have enough to give” to “Oh, my goodness, I really do have enough in my life. Actually, I have twelve baskets more than what I need. I would love to share what I have.”
It’s very counter-cultural, this thinking. In fact, in Mark’s version of the same story of loaves and fishes, the disciples forget, almost immediately, that they had had, in that moment, enough. They got into a boat with Jesus, they had forgotten to bring any bread. They had one loaf with them and they started to complain about not having enough. “Why are you talking about having no bread?” Jesus asked them, and reminded them of the leftovers from the meal on the shore of the lake. Like the disciples, we forget so quickly, and we’re constantly working against that default mode of scarcity.
It’s why we need reminders. It’s why we come here every week to a meal where there is always enough. In fact, my first Sunday here, Steve was the assisting minister. We were in the middle of communion when he suggested that I was perhaps giving out pieces of bread that were a bit too big; that we might not have enough. So I gave out smaller pieces and we didn’t run out. On subsequent Sundays, something miraculous happened through the hands of the altar guild–more bread began appearing on the table so that now I can give you as much bread as I want! We always have leftovers.
Dear friends, we live in a hungry world–a world that is lonely, and hungry for fellowship; a world that is sad and hungry for joy; a world that is ignorant and hungry for knowledge; a world that is scared and hungry for comfort; a world that is starving and hungry for food. But we are the church and we have both the ability and the responsibility to meet the world’s hunger in all its many forms. As Jesus told his disciples that day, “You give them something to eat.”
“You give them something to eat,” Jesus said. We can do it. We have enough.