It’s my observation that we are not accustomed to thinking of much of anything as ‘plentiful,’ these days — at least in our collective life in the church. At least not in terms of the things we long for or believe ourselves to need.
This came home to me this last Friday morning.
I was at my desk working on some writing when our custodian’s voice showed up in my doorway. He looked a little frantic as he exclaimed, “Pastor, you need to know. We only have four flushes left in the building!”
No doubt I looked a little bewildered as I tried to take in this odd piece of news. So he went on to explain that with the remodeling work being done in the kitchen, the water had to be shut off. We have a ‘plentiful’ amount of bathrooms in this old building: twelve to be exact. And many of them have more than one toilet. But only four are of the kind where they actually have tanks. So it was true that for a while on Friday morning, we did, indeed, have only four flushes left in the building. Not a one of which actually got used, by the way, before we could once again avail ourselves of one of the many at our disposal!
We tend to understand the world in terms of scarcity, don’t we, and perhaps this is not surprising at all in a time when many have declining numbers in worship, when resources are not as abundant as they once seemed to be, when young families are pulled in a thousand directions and Sunday morning with all of us is not often or not always a priority, when whole parts of buildings stand empty but still need to be heated and cooled and kept in good repair. One can, of course, make parallels of this for our lives anywhere in the world, but in terms of Jesus’ direction and invitation now, I expect this is enough. To be sure, to hear that ‘the harvest is plentiful’ is jarring to us when we cannot see it. Indeed, it is all the more disconcerting because no where does Jesus tell the disciples (at least in this section of Matthew’s Gospel) to go harvest and bring that harvest ‘in.’ No. Jesus just sends them out. Jesus just sends them out where it seems the only thing named that is actually plentiful is human suffering: those who are sick and dying or who have already died, those who are stricken by an isolating and debilitating skin disease, and those who are possessed by demons.
And it is so that even now, we still know this to be so, don’t we?
That each and all of our communities: all the places Jesus sends us still, they all boast of ‘plentiful’ human suffering.
And maybe before now we have been blinded by our own ‘plenty’ so as not to have to look out and realize the truth of where we are being sent.
Indeed, maybe before now we did not even have reason or cause to see the same kind of ‘plenty’ right here in our midst.
One just has to have the eyes, the imagination, the courage to see it.
One has to see it with the eyes of Jesus. And then move with the heart of Jesus toward it all in order to recognize that there is plenty of plenty all around.
And so I would offer a couple of stories now. One where a deep sense of scarcity still seems to be holding sway and one where there is and has been more than plenty.
The first is this.
I serve on the board of our local campus ministry.
The ministry has struggled for some time, failing to attract very many students. No doubt there have been a lot of reasons for this, not least of which is the world has changed, the demographic of students has changed, and our own ability or willingness to see it all as Jesus did has changed. And then there was Covid-19, which ground the whole thing to a halt.
And yes, there was always scarcity:
- We inherited an old building which was not built for such as this in the first place whose leaky roof never seemed to be able to be repaired satisfactorily, only to let in spring or fall rains once more, whichever rolled around next.
- As the larger church (and local congregations, too) had less and less to give, there were simply not enough resources to pay a full time pastor, much less invest in the life of the ministry in a way that was adequate to the challenge.
And no doubt, there has not always been plentiful enough imagination or hope or joy to see what has been actually plentiful all along!
And so the board decided unanimously the other day to put the whole ministry ‘on hold’ for the next school year so as to buy (plentiful) time for prayer and for wondering and for listening with the heart of Jesus to this hurting world we are called into, as the disciples were called to as well. To see if we might somehow discern the plenty in the future for the sake of students and faculty and the larger community.
I cannot say that we left that meeting with hopeful hearts, though, recognizing the challenge as huge and still believing our own resources are not plentiful enough to take it on. I do wonder what will happen, though, if we can only recognize that in God’s way of encountering the world, the harvest is always, always plentiful!
The second is this.
Yesterday, I went to the open house of a food pantry which has been serving the community for ten years.
It was born first in the heart of a teacher who every day was finding it necessary to feed hungry kids. Every day. And so when she retired, she looked at the world with the imagination of Jesus and heard the call to go where the hurt was.
- And she asked for space in the school system where she had long taught.
- And she spread the word through all the connections she had.
- And with others she wrote for grants and sought to fund the work.
- And they opened the doors to feed families who are served by the school district. A place where they could come and ‘shop’ for what they needed. And for ten years, even through those hard years when schools were not in session at all, they fed hungry families.
And through all of this last decade, there has been plenty.
More than plenty of food, of volunteers, of space and always, and always more than plenty of those they have been called to help feed.
Indeed, what would it look like if we had just a few more who saw the hurt in this world and just moved toward it as Jesus did and as Jesus called his disciples and all of us to do? How might we begin to see the plentiful harvest as God’s gift to us all?
So back to the story of the Friday morning with only four flushes left.
We spent a lot of energy wondering about and talking about and anticipating what would happen if we used up those four and were left with nothing! And then we didn’t even need them!
Indeed, I cannot help but wonder how much of that we do with other matters as well in our lives and in our life together: worrying about what is limited (only to discover we didn’t need it at all) instead of just moving out into the world trusting that as we follow the voice of Jesus all that is needed would be given.
Oh, I do wonder what would happen if we simply put our hearts to moving toward those Jesus calls us to today: all those who are part of the ‘plentiful harvest’ in the world who are suffering so, and we just used what we have been given to give them what is needed.
- How do you find yourselves thinking of the ‘plentiful harvest’ Jesus speaks of today?
- What examples of scarcity and plenty might you offer in your making this come alive for those who listen?
- Have you also found it to be so that we worry too much about having what we need when, in the end, we do not need it at all?