Listen to all the hype we get from the marketers, both commercial and political. They pay good money for advertisements meant to shape your decisions, not for your good and often in direct contradiction to what is best for you. Though we like to boast of a culture that adheres to a notion of free enterprise, we are emotionally susceptible to the principle of scarcity. The fear of something possibly being in short supply, whether it is or not, makes for increased profits. It is the scarcity principle that drives our economy. Most recent is the sharp rise in crude oil prices due to the fear of disruption in the flow of sweet crude from Lybia. Did you notice, it wasn’t the disruption of the supply, it was the fear of it that causes the commotion.
Caught Between Two Principles Matthew 6:25-34
Mark says it happened on the beach. Luke declares that Jesus was standing on level ground but Matthew seems to have the popular support for his contention that Jesus went up the hill to preach the Sermon on the Mount. But then there is the other niggling question: to whom did Jesus speak? Luke’s recollection was that Jesus spoke to a group of his disciples larger
than just the twelve identified by Matthew plus a great number of other people from the whole region. Mark’s take on the setting was that because of the great crush of people from all around the region the disciple’s were charged with acquiring a boat to keep Jesus at a safe distance from the people who were clamoring to touch him. With Matthew you’d have to believe that Jesus limited his audience to his immediate followers, the disciples, leaving the crowd to speak privately with them. That is until you read at the conclusion of the Sermon how the people were astonished with his teaching.
The verses I’ve been looking at this week come two thirds of the way in. Beginning in the sixth chapter with Jesus saying: 25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
I guess you could subtitle this section “What, me worry!” The words of the text seem to say that Jesus was concerned that people were worrying too much. I think that may be a bit simplistic. But he does say that we are to not worry about life, about what we eat or whether we will have anything to drink; that we aren’t to worry about our bodies or what we put on our bodies. Jesus says that worry doesn’t increase longevity, or, depending on your translation, your stature. He points to how in nature the birds thrive without store houses and grass grows prolifically for a season and then dies off. And then comes the theology: “…if God so clothes the grass of the field…will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Each day brings new things to worry about. It becomes a never ending struggle.
Can you imagine a more contemporary description. Help me identify some things that cause us to worry today.
How about the national debt? Are we a bankrupt nation? Are those to whom we pay enormous debt service about to foreclose? How about Federal and State budgets and their respective deficits? Or what about the condition of the people who are dependent on state and federal programs that provide food, shelter, health care. We’ve got space weather with eruptions on the Sun threatening our electronic economic universe and global warming with resulting changes in moisture and temperature distributions. And what about Afghanistan, or Libya, or Pakistan, or the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt? Is spending over $900 billion a year enough for national defense given that is seven times more than our closes competitor?
On a personal level do we worry about getting enough fiber in our diet, consuming too much salt or inadequate amounts complete protein? Are our cell phones effecting our brains? Do we obsess over being in style? What about working out to keep our bodies healthy and in shape?
Stop. Look. Listen to all the hype we get from the marketers, both commercial and political. They pay good money for advertisements meant to shape your decisions, not for your good and often in direct contradiction to what is best for you. Though we like to boast of a culture that adheres to a notion of free enterprise, we are emotionally susceptible to the principle of scarcity. The fear of something possibly being in short supply, whether it is or not, makes for increased profits. It is the scarcity principle that drives our economy. Most recent is the sharp rise in crude oil prices due to the fear of disruption in the flow of sweet crude from Lybia. Did you notice, it wasn’t the disruption of the supply, it was the fear of it that causes the commotion. Some businesses purchase huge quantities of a particular commodity in order to create a false sense of scarcity and the knowledge of the newly limited supply results in an increase of an item’s perceived value and people’s insatiable desire to acquire it. The diamond business is based upon just such a model. The appeal is to fear and greed. It is true with almost anything you can imagine in a human being’s life. It even plays a role when parents try to separate one of their children from romantic involvement with a person they consider inappropriate. Now that’s a lost cause.
If something is scarce, or may become scare in the future, then we think we need to get it while it is available and hoard it to sell at a profit later or store it for our own use. Two winters ago people around here were buying up snow blowers at retail prices and then selling them at a profit. The principle of scarcity discourages sharing, the sharing of ideas, opportunities and resources. It makes us afraid that someone else may have more, succeed more, achieve more and that could consequently lower our worth and value.
The reality is that working from the scarcity principle is self defeating over the long haul – few seem to want to look down the road far enough to see what they are creating. Accumulating and hoarding in fact accentuates the sense of scarcity, widening the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, limiting attainability to a small number of people and eventually reducing the value and desirability of the commodity.
Operating side by side with the scarcity principle is another, an abundance principle. It is built on the idea that there is enough, even more than enough, to go around and that the world is always creating new opportunities and fresh challenges. There is room for everyone to benefit equally and works from the premise that the more you give, the more you receive. Some years ago we learned that in a world marked by starvation there was adequate supplies of food, but food itself was being used as a weapon. By being generous we will discover generosity; by helping another we will receive help in our time of need, and by giving from our abundance we will never experience lack.
When we operate out of fear we turn inward and focus on ourselves. Functioning from the abundance principle encourages us to take only what we need and share the rest, which benefits not only ourselves but everyone around us. We’ve got a choice placed before us and it impacts every part of our lives, we can live from the abundance principle which is built on faith and equality or the scarcity principle based on fear and greed. The scarcity principle regards only commodities, matter of fact it turns people into commodities. The abundance principle values people. And this is true on the personal, family and societal levels. It is what healthy, happy and truly successful people already know.
So what’s Jesus’ point? Our worrying does two things. It witnesses to our lack of trust in God and it distracts us from being about the work of God’s kingdom. Jesus called his followers to shed the scarcity principle and embrace the principle of abundance. He calls the church to do ministry from a spirit of abundance. When the church operates out of scarcity we fear a deficit of resources, people, experience, participation and vision and we become more focused on our budget than what the church is indeed called to do and be. If we only had more money, more space, more staff, more opportunities…–who are we kidding.
We need to be reminded that this promise that Jesus shared with the people who gathered around him, about not worrying about what is truly inconsequential and acting out of the abundance of God’s provision for us extends to our worshipping community and our opportunity to serve the Kingdom of God, our neighborhood and those of our meeting. It is so easy to focus on what we fear we lack, compare what resources we have with those who obviously have more. The truth is that God gives us what we need, what we can reasonable use and the opportunities to do it.
What, do we fear that we are only a two talent church when we compare and contrast ourselves with those we perceive to be ten talent churches? Being the church in the world isn’t about being in competition with other churches. We each have our own calling and each have the very same promise of God’s abundance out of which we live and serve.
Jesus said it this way: “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing,… (rather)… strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you …”