Proper 13A Sermon (2002)

Proper 13 (July 31 – August 6)
Texts: Matthew 14:13-21;
Isa. 55:1-5; Rom. 9:1-5


Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? (Isa. 55:2)

This may be the question of our age. Ours is an age of consumerism. Our capitalist economics has helped create a situation of unparalleled production and availability of goods, such that we are most aptly called “consumers.” Notice that this is a term that can be used for eating; in fact, eating should still be considered the most basic form of human consumption. We consume food to survive. But our consumption has gone way beyond food. We have all manners of goods. There’s basics like shelter and clothes and transportation. But increasingly, there’s all our toys, all the many things we use to entertain ourselves endlessly. We are consumers. And so Isaiah’s question is very poignant for us: Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Why, indeed? I’m going to suggest that it has to do with what we’ve been talking about with our kids [at Neighborhood Kid’s Camp] this week: Gifts! Gifts! Gifts! has been the theme. What we haven’t talked about as much — it’s harder for kids to understand — is how our sinfulness can block our experience of life as a gift.

[Re-tell the gospel story with Bailie’s interpretation in mind, stressing not that the usual, most literal way is wrong, but that this reveals a more important miracle, the miracle of changing the human heart. That’s what Jesus’ mission was, in the first place, to change our hearts.]

I’m going to tell you why we are so trapped in a mentality of scarcity, but first I want to show you how ingrained it is:

  • Economics textbook — read first definitions and assumptions: capitalism is a system for the fair distribution of scarce resources.
  • Story of seminar on capitalism — how I went to Lakeview College near Sheboygan for a seminar for pastors on capitalism. The first lecturer trotted out the above premise regarding scarce resources. I raised my hand and asked about the feeding of the five thousand and the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus talks about feeding the birds and clothing the flowers. He didn’t seem to assume scarcity, but abundance. The professor said that one can’t continue in laying out the capitalist system if scarcity of resources is not presumed.

O.K. Now, I’m going to show you why we operate according to a scarcity mentality. Mimetic desire:

  • Basic definition of catching our desires from one another.
  • Example of children in nursery fighting over the teddy bear. In a room full of teddy bears, that one they are fighting over will appear scarce to them!
  • Our sons are big Star Trek fans. (I wonder where they caught that desire from!?) When our oldest two, who are only twenty months apart, were younger, we bought them models of the starships like this one. In our great wisdom, we would sometimes buy both Joel and Matt the exact some one. But they would find some minuscule difference between the two and end up fighting over one of them.
  • Our consumerism of keeping up with the Joneses. Same thing, more sophisticated. The irony of capitalism is that, even as it has out-produced by far every system of economics before it, its climate of competition, of constantly trying to keep up with the Joneses, also produces this false sense of scarcity.

Is there a way out of the trap of thinking scarcity? The way of faith in Jesus Christ, with Eucharist at the heart of it! [As conclusion and lead in to the sacrament, share Gil Bailie’s reflections on the eucharistic action: Jesus takes the bread and says, “This is my life — now here’s what you do with it: you give thanks to God, because it isn’t yours, in the first place; you break it; and you give it away for others.” My addition to this, especially in the context of the miraculous feedings, is to highlight faith in a God of abundant life. We can let our lives be broken and given away because the Living God is not just an abundant source of life but an eternal source of life. We give our lives away and receive them back, just as our Lord received his life back on Easter. Just as there was enough bread there that day for everyone. “Eternal life” is not just something that happens to us after we die. It is something that immediately is made available to us as we begin to live as disciples of the one who lived for others. In discipleship, eternal life is the experience of giving your life away and continually receiving life back.]

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Our Savior’s Lutheran,
Racine, WI, July 31 & August 4, 2002

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