Scarcity: Everything Jesus Taught about the American Way

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As Americans, most of us wrestle with some level of a fear of there not being enough. We worry there won’t be enough for us, or that there won’t be enough to go around. The truth is this fear isn’t unfounded.  The competition that is at the core of our economy as Americans virtually assures that some will not have enough. For those who struggle each day to get food on the table or to make rent, scarcity isn’t a distant fear, it is is a reality.  This is the kind of hardship we have been talking about the past few weeks when we looked at what Jesus taught about social justice, and our call and responsibility to help those who need us.

But for today, I want us to focus on the fear of scarcity that isn’t grounded in a daily struggle to make ends meet. This is the kind of fear that shows up in us when we aren’t experiencing an actual hardship, but we still have a nagging feeling that there won’t be enough.  We hold on tight to what we have, we protect what’s ours, we worry about me and mine. When this happens, there really is enough for what we need, but we make decisions as if there isn’t. This is what we will call the scarcity mindset.

The scarcity mindset believes there will never be enough, and acts based on this perception of lack, whether there is truly a lack of resources or not.

What’s interesting about this scarcity mindset of ours is that it often shows up in places it shouldn’t. It creeps into other areas of our lives where it was never meant to be. To make it more complicated, our fear of scarcity does not only apply to the material things like money, food, or clothing, but also to immaterial things like how much time we have, or space that we are in, or the attention of people we need. We worry that there won’t be enough of these things too. We  become convinced there is just not enough time to do what needs to be done, or that if we have to share the attention of someone we need with other people that there won’t be enough for us.  When we apply our perception scarcity to things like these, it’s easy for it to affect how we see just about anything.

Here is where a scarcity mindset really gets us in trouble. As scarcity mindset  affects the rest of our life,  it shows up in our faith. It shows up in our church. But this is one of those American way values that has no place in our churches.

Scarcity is real in the world.  But it’s not real in the church.

It’s easy for us to become convinced that there isn’t enough to go around for us as a church, and even for us as Christians, but that’s simply not how Jesus worked. Jesus operated from abundance.

Let’s take a look at this story from Matthew 14:13-21:

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

Everywhere Jesus went, crowds followed him. Some followed him because they had heard the stories and wanted to see if it was true. Some believed he was the Messiah. Some were at the last shred of their hope, looking for any possibility of healing. Jesus was taking a few minutes alone from the demands of the crowd, but the people came and found him. He wasn’t put out, instead it says “he had compassion for them.”

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’

This would have been any of us, right? There are a bunch of people here, and it is getting late, and we know they are going to get hungry, but they didn’t sign up to stay for dinner. Let’s flash the lights a few times so people know it’s time to head home and find some food. We certainly don’t have enough to feed them. But what does Jesus say:

 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”

Jesus tells the disciples they shouldn’t send the crowd away, but instead give them dinner. I always wonder how the disciples felt when Jesus would say things like this. Jesus, that sounds great and all, and we would love to host a spontaneous picnic for 5000 people, but we definitely don’t have enough. All we have are a few loaves of bread and some fish.

And he said, “Bring them here to me.”  Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Jesus doesn’t waste a minute. He takes the bread and fish and in one of his great miracles turns it into food for the multitudes. With Jesus, 5 loaves and 2 fish was more than enough. The disciples had seen the crowd and knew there just wasn’t enough, so ministry time was over, and wanted to send them all home. Jesus saw the crowd too. But he knew what the disciples didn’t. That when Jesus gets involved, there is always enough.

Jesus didn’t worry about a lack of resources, or time, space, or even food. Jesus didn’t weigh the opportunity cost of feeding the crowds, or sulk that he wasn’t getting the time alone he knew he needed. For Jesus, when it comes to making disciples, there is more than enough to go around. He doesn’t make his decisions from a position of scarcity, but from a perspective of the abundance of God’s grace.

There is more than enough to go around when Jesus gets involved.

What does this mean for us?

First, some of you here have a scarcity mindset when you think about God’s grace. This means you think there isn’t enough Jesus for you. That you have done too much, that if we really knew the things you have done in your life that we wouldn’t really believe that Jesus could forgive you and give you a second chance.

But there is no scarcity of grace.

As Christians, we believe that there is no sin so big that the grace of Jesus Christ isn’t bigger. There is always more than enough grace because of what Jesus did on the cross for you, and for me. There is more than enough Jesus to save you from your sin. There is more than enough Jesus for you.

The second one is much harder for us to talk about in our churches. This means that a scarcity mindset is not something we let affect how we do ministry as a church.

It is so tempting to let a fear of scarcity damage ministry, to let our fear that there won’t be enough for me and my program, my ministry group, my group of people that I hang out with on Sundays, make us want to send the crowds home so we can be alone.  It is tempting for us to miss seeing the abundance God has here in our church as a tool to reach others with the lifesaving grace of Christ.

Scarcity is real in the world. But it’s not real in the church.

Because there is always more than enough when Jesus gets involved. The same Jesus who took a few loaves of bread and some fish and fed the multitudes is at work in the church.

There is more than enough, because this is Jesus’ church.

This is Jesus’ church. Which means it’s not my church. And it’s not yours. It doesn’t mean we don’t belong to the church. But it does mean it is not our resource to be hoarded. This is the church of Jesus Christ, called to love and share the gospel with everyone we can.

You may be thinking at this point “there was more than enough when Jesus can do a miracle and make the fish and loaves enough to feed everyone, but if we only have 20 cookies, we only have 20 cookies. Sometimes there really isn’t enough.” And you are right. Sometimes we don’t have enough of the things we want. Maybe it’s something small, like the number of cookies. Maybe it’s something harder, like not having the funds we want for the budget. But at the end of the day all we really need to be a church is a few Jesus loving folks getting together in the same place to pray and to worship and to proclaim the word. Anything else we have – a building, a coffee pot, a beautiful sanctuary – is already abundance. But the kind of scarcity mindset that really gets us in trouble with our ministry as a church has less to do with budgets and cookies or having enough food for dinner anyway. It’s the other things. It’s our fear of scarcity of time. Or attention. Or space.

This isn’t something we wrestle with alone. This is a problem for every church. In my last congregation, and this is true, there was a box of tissues that would get moved around as people needed it, and one day I came into the building and the box of tissues was duct taped to the cabinet. Tissues. Duct taped to a cabinet. Some of you are thinking “that’s crazy!” and some of you might be thinking that maybe we need a little more duct tape around the church. We do this, all of us, in every church. We let our fear of scarcity spill over into our faith and our churches and the way we do ministry. But when Jesus gets involved, there is always more than enough.

What would it look like for us, as a church, if we really believed that?

It could mean as new people move in around the church, instead of worrying about what happens if they park in our parking lot, we would throw open the doors and welcome them in.

There is more than enough.

It could mean that when children come into the sanctuary and bring with them sticky hands and noise and wiggles, that we will welcome them in.

Because there is more than enough.

It could mean that as our ministries and programs grow because more people, by the grace of God, come through our doors to hear about Jesus, that we would be flexible together to make sure everyone has space in this giant building we are so blessed to have, even if it means sharing a room or even moving to a different room so that another program can grow.

Because there is more than enough.

It could mean that if you come into church and someone is sitting in the spot on the pew that you always sit in that you take a moment to praise God that that person has come to hear the gospel this morning, and you find another place to sit.

Because there is more than enough.

It will mean that as people bring the stories of their complicated lives, of decisions they aren’t proud God’s grace is always bigger than our sin, and that we can admit that we are in this together, and that no one gets it right.

There is more than enough.

Because this is Jesus church.

And he is more than enough than us.


About the Author

Megan Collins is the co-pastor of Maitland Presbyterian Church near Orlando, FL. Find her on Twitter @pastormegan

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