May 6, 2012, Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

The Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B
May 6, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Brent Was

            “If you abide in me, and my word abides in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

            Ours is a God of abundance. Ask and you shall receive, look and you shall find, knock and the door will open, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…”  Ours is a God of abundance.

            Is that the story of the world?  Abundance?  When you read the paper or listen to the radio, do stories of abundance abound?  When you walk through the grocery store, or poke around online or watch television with the deluge of advertisements, is the primary message that there is plenty to go around, that there is enough for everybody to have everything they need and even everything they want?  No.  Not truthfully.  There is no consciousness of real abundance in our society.  Our society, our world, it would seem, doesn’t operate by leaning in faith into the everflowing stream of abundance, but rather it seems guided by a deep, pathological scarcity consciousness.  Certainly that is the basis of the free market, that the highest possible price is extracted due to actual or perceived scarcity.

            Now, our actions might appear as driven by visions of abundance, but in general they are not, it is an illusion. We act as if nothing will ever run out, we act like some resources are limitlessly abundant, for instance the vast bison herd across the middle of this country, or old growth forests across the West, the cod fishery off of Massachusetts or the fertility of the prairie’s soil communities.  These resources have been exploited as if there will be no end, but there is an end.  The bison are gone.  So are most of the old trees and the cod fishery collapsed, there are for commercial purposes no codfish left.  And the fertility of one of the three great prairie systems of the planet is draining into the Gulf of Mexico leaving a dead zone the size of New Jersey because the nitrate concentrations are so high.  Exploitation like this is not driven by visions of abundance, but by scarcity.  With a consciousness of abundance, there is no hurry, there is plenty to go around.  There is no need to develop the mostefficient extraction technology when there is no hurry, we can go easy.  With a scarcity consciousness, though, you’ve got to make your pile now, quick, before it runs out or worse, before someone else gets to it first.  Scarcity consciousness led us from ax to saw to chain saw to track mounted feller bunchers and Skycranes to denude our beautiful Cascades.  Scarcity consciousness led us from pick and shovel to pneumatic drill to open pit to mountain top removal to dig coal in West Virginia.  Take what you can as fast as you can and run.  That is scarcity consciousness and it is terrible for us.  Terrible.  It leads us to ugliness, greed, violence. It is the way of the world.  It is the way of death.

            So is everyone sufficiently depressed?  Yes.  It is depressing.  It is scary because things that seemed limitless, that seemed abundant are running out.  Think about peak oil.  Has anyone heard of that?  There are those who say that we are at the zenith of oil production, it is all down hill from here.  There is also peak water, it is running out in some places.  Volatility in grain markets holds whispers of peak wheat.  These are all products of scarcity consciousness; the way of the world.  Now I’m depressed…

Time and time again, Jesus told His disciples (that is us) to be in the world but not of the world.  Remember, much of Christ’s teaching has to do with the physical world and our relationship with it: with materials, with resources and wealth.  He taught, Give away everything and follow me.  Your staff and cloak, that is all you need.  The son of man has nowhere to lay his head.  And let us not forget the lilies of the fields, how splendidly God dresses them, and without worry.  This brings us back to our lesson this morning. “If you abide in me, and my word abides in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

What do these words mean?______  Is Jesus saying if we pray right we will get what we want?  Is He telling us that if we believe correctly all of our desires will be satisfied?  In a word, yes, that is what He is saying, and that is very good news.  What a promise of abundance.  Please do not get me wrong, I am not preaching some cheap prosperity gospel, a tawdry God-wants-you-to-be-rich or that wealth-is-a-sign-of God’s-favor theology that pervades some branches of the church.  No, not at all, that is ridiculous theology that is bad for us and the world and is not true to the Word of Our Lord.  But our God is a God of abundance, of plenty, and God is making a promise in these words, “If you abide in me, and my word abides in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  How do we make sense of this?

Are you all familiar with the film The Matrix?  It is a science fiction vision of a mythic dystopia involving the revelation of a messianic savior starring Keanu Reeves, of all people.  In an important scene Neo, the protagonist, asks, “What are you telling me, that I can dodge bullets?”  His mentor Morpheus, played by Lawernce Fishbourne, replies, “No, I am telling that when you are ready you won’t have too.”

 “If you abide in me, and my word abides in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” What Jesus is teaching is that if you really do it, that is if you really get it, if you really abide in God and if the Word, the Logos really abides in you, then do not worry about what you ask for because you are not going to ask for something that is not possible in God.  If you are actually in alignment with the true nature of things, if you are following the will of God what you see as options will be sustainable. You are not going to ask for more than what is needed because greed will be dead, avarice and gluttony will not be options.  Like Neo, when you are ready, you won’t need to worry, your wants will coincide with your needs, and your needs will be in alignment with what the planet can provide.

“Abide in me…”  Another way to say that is to dwell in, to live in, to inhabit.  Abide also means to continue without fading, or not being lost in something.   Eugene Peterson’s translation of the bible, The Message, is useful here.  In this version the verse reads, “…if you make yourself at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that what is asked will be listened to and acted upon.” 

Jesus, God, our God of abundance presents the nature of things as being sufficient.  There is enough to go around.  Enough food and water, land and energy, there is plenty of wealth and love and kindness and all of it to go around.  There is enough, albeit conditionally; so long as everyone abides in God, so long as everyone really takes into consideration the great commandment, to love God and love our neighbor, then it will be OK.  If we knew that by taking too much here we would leave someone else without enough, we wouldn’t do that.  Not intentionally.  Abiding in Christ we will make the right choice.  Abiding in Christ, we know that our country represents 5% of the world’s population and consumes 25% of the world’s resources and we know we have to change our ways. We would not eat meat at every meal, we would walk more, drive less.  We’d buy used things, or better, just buy less of everything.  Miraculously, divinely, the less we consume, the less material that is run through our household’s economy, the city’s or state’s or region’s economy, the simpler everything becomes, the less you want, the less you need, the more room you have for people, love, fun, the more room you even have for God.

This is such a liberating concept.  If we align ourselves with the will of God, if we relax ourselves enough to dwell in God and open ourselves enough to let the word of God dwell in us, then our own desires will be mediated by an agapic love of the world.  We’ll make better choices, we’ll make deeper sacrifices, we’ll abide in each other as Christ wishes us to do.

This is all great for those of those who own things.  Who control portions of wealth.  It should be easier to have abundance consciousness when we have an abundance (though those with the most, the 1%, seem the most infected with scarcity consciousness).  What I mean is, you cannot pray your way out of poverty.  And woe be to the person who instructs the poor to pray this way so that their wants and needs are modulated by a religious patina of the righteousness of poverty.  That is the same as preaching the virtues of silent suffering to the beaten spouse or abused child, or to focus on the future rewards of heaven and not on the injustices of the present moment. 

But look around.  Eugene is not one of the most prosperous cities in the world, I just moved from one of them, Boston, and this ain’t Boston, thanks be to God.  But we have enough here.  Look around this room.  We have an abundance of resources.  We have human energy here at intimidating levels.  We have incredible skills and dedication and compassion housed in this place.  And we have plenty of money.  Really, we have enough wealth, enough money in this church to do whatever we need to do, virtually everything we want to do and a lot of what we dream of doing.  The world of finances here have operated with a scarcity consciousness, the idea that we never have enough.  Truly, I believe that that time is passing.  It will take sacrifice, it will take prayerful decisions and family conversations, but we are growing together in our ministries, our generosity, in the depth of our corporate relationship with God and neighbor. This is a place of abundance.  “Those who abide in me and I in them will bear much fruit.”  The fruit is coming in.  Abide.  AMEN