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Thursday, 20 July 2017

Economies of scarcity and abundance

Here is my sermon from today's Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook:

The disciples were in a place of scarcity – ‘we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.’ Jesus says that the place of scarcity can be the place to find abundance – ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch’ (Luke 5. 1 - 11). When the disciples do as Jesus requests, they receive abundance – ‘they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.’ In order to receive God’s abundance, they have to utilize their abilities, skills or gifts as fishermen by sailing out into the deep water and putting down their nets.

The disciples found that the place of scarcity is the place where abundance can be found and this is also the witness of scripture. Sam Wells, the Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, has said that ‘the Old Testament was written because God’s people in exile found it not a time of despair but one of renewal, not a time simply of losing the land but more wonderfully of gaining a new and deeper relationship with God.’ ‘The New Testament was written because the early Christians found that the execution of their Lord and Saviour was not the end of the story but the beginning, that his agony was the foretaste of glory, that his killers meant it for evil but God meant it for good.’

The key for the disciples in moving from scarcity to abundance was the use of their skills and abilities – their God-given gifts. John McKnight and Peter Block are pioneers of asset-based community development. In their book ‘The Abundant Community’ they talk about our consumer society as an economy of scarcity because it ‘constantly tells us that we are insufficient and that we must purchase what we need from specialists and systems outside of our immediate community.’ Instead, they argue that ‘we can do unbelievable things by starting with our assets, not our deficits. We all have gifts to offer, even the most seemingly marginal among us. Using our particular assets (our skills, experience, insights and ideas) we have the God-given power to create a hope-filled life and can be the architects of the future where we want to live.’

This is true too for churches, which thrive when the gifts of all their members are released and they build on one another’s assets. The currency of the kingdom of God is of things that never run out. ‘The secret of happiness is learning to love the things God gives us in plenty. There’s no global shortage of friendship, kindness, generosity, sympathy, creativity, faithfulness, laughter, love. These are the currency of abundance.

The Church of today needs to rediscover his teaching because God gives us the abundance of the kingdom to renew the poverty of the church. In our generation God has given his Church a financial crisis, and this can only be for one reason: to teach us that abundance does not lie in financial security, and to show us that only in relationships of mutual interdependence, relationships that money obscures as often as it enables, does abundant life lie.

We are part of HeartEdge, a growing ecumenical network of churches and other organisations working across the UK and overseas, initiated by St Martin-in-the-Fields and launched here, at St Stephen Walbrook, in February, which is seeking to do just that; to support the Church through rediscovery of this teaching.

The challenge for us as a church and as individuals is this, Are we going to live in the economy of scarcity, ‘the economy that is fine as far as it goes, but turns out not to go very far – the economy that only includes certain people, only buys certain things, only lasts a limited length of time – the economy of anxiety and scarcity?’ Or are we going to live in the economy of abundance, ‘the economy where the only use of wealth is to make friends and set people free, the economy in which you are never homeless and you cannot be destitute because you have spent your time and money making friends who will always welcome you into their homes – the economy of abundance, where generosity is the best investment? Which is it to be?’ If we live in the economy of scarcity we will spend our lives fearing for our jobs, our livelihoods, our reputations, our health, our families, our lives themselves. If we live in the economy of abundance we won’t fear anything. We’ll have the things that money can’t buy and we’ll know the things that hardship and even death can’t take away from us. We’ll have learned to love the things God gives us in plenty. We will be living truly abundant life.


Simon Lole - The Father's Love.

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