Nov 15 – From Scarcity to Abundance – See How They Love
A Part of the Series:
The year was one sixty five A.D. when the horrific Antonine epidemic broke out in the crowded city of Rome, the disease spread like wildfire, killing three thousand people a day. Wagonloads of bodies, both sick and dead, were carted out of the city to dump alongside the road. The weak fared the worst, of course, infants and slaves and the elderly. But over time, as people noticed how Christians were among the few who were willing to take in and care for those suffering from or left destitute by the plague, Christianity began to grow and thrive.
Almost a century later, another devastating plague infected the region, killing off again thousands of people. During this time, the bishop of Rome wrote a letter to the bishop of Antioch describing how the Roman congregation was supporting over 1500 widows and distressed persons. And then in a pastoral letter also written during this epidemic, the Bishop Dionysius described events in Alexandria saying at the first onset of the disease, they the pagans pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were even dead.
But Christians cared for the sick rather than deserting them. Dionysius writes, Most Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another, heedless of danger. They took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ.
Plagues were a huge factor in how Christianity went from this obscure and marginal movement to almost six million Christians by the year 300 A.D. as Christians cared for the sick, making themselves vulnerable to death. They actually found life.
But contrast that with the black death of 13 47, the most infamous plague outbreak of the medieval world, during which, instead of caring for the sick Christians, proclaimed that God was punishing them with wrath for their sin and trying to outrun God’s fury, Christians would flee plague stricken areas for safety. Scholar Samuel Cone Jr. writes, The black death unleashed hatred, blame and violence on a more horrific scale than any pandemic or epidemic in world history.
It was also a major factor in the decline of Christianity throughout the world. Today, we find ourselves in the midst of another world wide pandemic.
And so what will be written about us in the history books? The scripture from this morning is from what has been called by some history’s greatest sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, but Sermon on the Mount is not a very good title for it.
Instead, a better title for the sermon should perhaps be something like Jesus’s manifesto as he spends three full chapters teaching about the kingdom of God, what this world looks like when God’s peace, God’s dream is lived here and now.
The kingdom of God is the soap box upon which Jesus teaches, it’s the topic that once he gets started talking about, well, you might as well get comfortable.
So then why does it sound like Jesus is talking about my money?
I mean, he says we can’t serve both God and wealth. What does my money have to do with the Kingdom of God? Money isn’t spiritual. Money, especially in the hands of a preacher, is manipulative at best.
But I don’t think Jesus is talking to us about our money. I think he’s talking to us about our hearts. He’s just uses money as a way to get to our hearts because he knows that my money, your money is the thermometer that can give a pretty accurate reading on our hearts.
Now, the Hebrew understanding of a person’s heart was not medical. Jesus is not referring to the organ that pumps your blood that lives right here and keeps you alive.
He’s he’s talking about your center, the core of who you are, that place from which your motivation and your actions and your affections and your desires all emerge.
It’s your soul or your very being from where you express what you value, what you love.
Jesus is talking to us about our hearts. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be.
Also now, while actual savings accounts may have been few and far between in Jesus’s time, people did still save for the future, even if they had to bury their money in the dirt floor of their house. And they did like us. People tried to save their money. And Jesus isn’t saying that saving is always bad.
Jesus is speaking directly into the economy of the day and offering a different way to live, one in which you’re free from worrying about the future, one in which you can be fully present in.
Today, it’s an invitation into the economy of God’s kingdom, where the excess that you have for today is not hoarded and stored away for your own future security, but freely shared for another’s present needs.
And it’s not a new teaching as he so often does. Jesus is reaching back into the history of his people and expounding on a story that they already know.
It’s a story told by every Jewish parent to their children the story of who they are as the people of God.
He’s reminding them who they are and whose they are. And he’s taking them back to right after the people of Israel were rescued from slavery and found themselves wandering in the desert for 40 years.
In Exodus 16, the story goes that God provided meat and bread every day, but not enough to store up, but enough food for the day. Each day it says these are God’s instructions. Gather enough for each person, about two quarts per person. Gather enough for everyone in your tent. The people of Israel went to work and started gathering some more, some less. But when they measured out what they had gathered, those who gathered more had no extra and those who gathered less were short.
Each person had gathered as much as was needed. God was teaching the people of Israel to trust God to provide. But God was also teaching them what it means to care for one another, to consider the needs of the others before you consider your own.
Now, when some got worried that God might discontinue this food service and they started saving a few pieces of bread, they woke up the next day to find that it had already spoiled. God gave them food that lasted only 24 hours to make saving impossible, freeing their hearts to trust God and to love one another. Teaching them that to take extra for tomorrow was leaving someone without what was needed for today.
This is what the Kingdom of God looks like. It looks like everyone having enough for today. Everyone. Where your treasure is there your heart is also. Or, put in another way, you can’t serve God and wealth.
Therefore, Jesus says, don’t worry about your life. Right.
So there’s this pandemic happening and we are literally all worried about our lives, not to mention I’ve got a kid going to college next year with three more behind him. And my husband and I already hold down two jobs and we really can’t take on another without breaking.
But these kids are so expensive and I’m not sure how we’re going to pay for it all. Frankly, I am worried, no matter what you say, Jesus, Jesus knows this.
The crowd he is speaking to is not wealthy at best. They are like me making it, but not saving it. But most of them did not know where their next meal might come from, where it might come. Historians estimate that ninety nine percent of the Jewish population lived below the poverty line.
The people to whom Jesus is speaking were poor. And yet Jesus says to them, therefore, do not worry. The key word being therefore, therefore, do not worry about your life.
For when God is your center, when God shapes your heart, you can’t help but to care for one another as you care for yourself. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, we do not need to worry about our life because we will all have enough the Kingdom of God.
Now, I can’t speak to the worries the people gathered on that mountain listening to Jesus must have felt. I have never felt the gnawing in my empty stomach as I worried that I cannot feed my children or myself.
But, I do know what it is to wake up in the middle of the night, overcome with anxiety, wondering what if rehashing a previous conversation worried about my health, about my children, about my husband. I do know what it is to walk through life, clouded in a haze of worry.
But, when I start digging and I dig a little deeper and I trace my worry to its roots, I find that say not having enough money to send my kids to college is actually not the real worry. It’s more about my worry of what will become of my children if they don’t have the opportunities that I had. Which, is really more about my worry about whether or not I’ve been a good enough parent. Which, is actually more about my worry about whether or not I’ve been responsible and worked hard enough. Which, is actually my worry about whether or not I am enough. Shoot.
And I can’t tell you how many times scripture makes it clear that I am enough. Actually, I did Google it so I can tell you and there are vast amounts of links to scriptures, 10 to 50 scriptures, telling you how worthy you are to God.
The bottom line is, my worry is a lie. And it’s a lie that closes us in on ourselves. It puts us in this position protecting ourselves and our possessions instead of in this position, open to others and all good and bad that might come. Studies have actually shown that as you let go of worry, your physical posture changes.
And so Jesus wakes us up from the lie of worry to the truth of God’s love. Saying look at the birds of the air, and they neither so nor reap, nor gather in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
I test this again and again throughout the gospels saying things like, don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep? Jesus gets creative with the animals. But his point always remains the same. Yes, I am enough. Yes, you are enough. Yes, I matter. And yes, you matter to God.
It’s true that right now nobody’s life is going according to plan. COVID cases are rising. We can’t make plans for the future, even Thanksgiving or Christmas, which are, by the way, right around the corner. Some of us have lost jobs. Grandchildren have dropped out of school. Spouses are still filing for divorce. People are getting cancer diagnoses.
But Jesus is inviting us to trust that God is for us, that even when we have no idea what tomorrow holds, we know that God’s unflinching posture toward us is love and compassion. Jesus is talking to us about our hearts and worry does not get to determine the shape of our hearts.
You know, the early church, it began in crowded, poverty stricken, disease ridden cities. Christians often had to meet in secret for fear of being put to death. There were no church budgets nor big donors funding programmatic ministries. And yet the church thrived. Right there, among those who had so very little, those who had every right in the world to worry about their lives.
And they thrived because they trusted that they mattered to God and that God was for them, and therefore they lived out of that love taking care of one another. Acts 4 says, now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.
And, man, they were generous, so generous, in fact, that the first church conflict happened when the daily distribution of food was getting too backed up and they needed more volunteers. That’s Acts, Chapter 6.
In the early epidemics, Christians risked their lives bringing the abandoned sick into their homes and nursing them back to health. And the church grew and thrived as they lived the kingdom of God.
We’re struggling right now and we can’t even see each other on a regular basis in person. And I wonder how not being able to regularly meet in person blinds us to some of the need in our community.
And so I want to invite you to check in with each other to call that person who maybe you’ve only seen them a few times, but they’re in the church directory. And say, hey, you know, this is awkward and I know we don’t know each other well, but you crossed my mind today and I just wanted to see how you’re holding up. Well, what if each time we prayed the Lord’s Prayer… we prayed “give us today our daily bread” and then we added… And God, you know, I’ve really got enough for today, so show me someone who doesn’t. And then, when that single parent we know from down the street pops into our head, we order takeout for the family and send the parent a text saying dinner tonight is covered. I don’t know how you are managing it all right now. I wanted to take something off your to do list.
This teaching of Jesus, it’s not a rebuke about how we spend or save our money. It’s an invitation to love. And what I believe is a compassionate voice, Jesus is talking to us about our hearts. Later in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us about his own heart. He says, “come to me, all of you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest, take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”.
The creator of all says, here is the core of my being, my inner self, my motivation, my desire, what gets me out of bed in the morning. Here is my heart. It’s love. See His open arms, see his compassionate love, feel the rest we receive when we are exhausted, the joyful life when we are at the end of ourselves.
See how he loves. See how he loves.