What do you think of when you hear the word “abundance?” To me, abundance means plenty to go around. In a theological sense, we can think of abundance in a way that demonstrates God will take care of us. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus teaches us about abundance.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than. food, or the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow no reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to the span of your life?” (Matt. 6:25-34)
But this isn’t the only example in scripture about abundance. In Exodus, the Israelites were given mana from heaven when they feared they would have no food. And when the disciples were worried about the hungry multitudes who had come to listen to Jesus speak, Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes to the point where thousands were fed and there were baskets of bread and fish leftover. A good way to define abundance is to think of it as the opposite of scarcity. And yet, humans can sometimes become fixated on scarcity.
All four of my grandparents were raised during the Great Depression. Because they grew up during a time of poverty, they learned how to make dollars stretch. They learned how to save food items and reuse them in different recipes. They learned to buy things on sale in bulk, and then to keep them in storage so that dietary staples wouldn’t run out. My paternal grandmother used to save her coffee grounds and then reuse them for at least one more day or two. While this made horrible tasting coffee on days two and three, she took pride in knowing she wouldn’t have to buy more coffee any time soon. She also saved the grease from bacon or other meats when she cooked them in her cast iron pan (a cast iron pan that I am happy to have inherited from her!). She would pour the leftover grease into a jar that she kept on her stovetop, and then reuse the grease as a cooking oil. I remember she once made French toast with the leftover grease she had saved. While it tasted quite good, the thought of using old bacon grease made my stomach turn.
My grandparents on my mother’s side had similar ways of saving money. In addition to having lived through a depression, their habits were also based heavily on Latter-day Saint theology. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to keep enough food on hand to last for at least three months. Once the three-month stockpile is established, many Latter-day Saints continue to grow their food supplies. Some families, including my grandparents, maintained food supplies that would potentially last for years! Visit a home in Utah and you’re sure to see a basement that includes a spacious room constructed with shelving and electricity intended to store this food supply. I remember my grandparents going downstairs to a room that to me was “off limits” so they could retrieve food items to prepare lunch. On occasion, I remember them returning with giant tin cans of elbow macaroni to make a pasta dish, or maybe some dehydrated potatoes. Although their food supply was available in their basement in abundance, it certainly seems like this storage is more in line with being a response to scarcity.
My parents’ upbringing in these kinds of conditions bled over into how my siblings and I were reared. Sadly, we interpreted it in unhealthy ways. When we ordered pizza for dinner, for instance, we would overindulge out of fear that someone else would get seconds before we did and then there wouldn’t be enough if we were still hungry. As a child, I overate and overconsumed. I didn’t want to throw anything away. I remember setting the VCR to record absolutely everything on television. I had so many tapes I didn’t know where to store them all! When I got my first car, I tried to find tips and tricks that would help to make my fuel tank last longer between fill-ups. While there certainly isn’t anything wrong with saving money and being frugal, sometimes a scarcity mindset can be quite unhelpful and even unhealthy.
Have you ever seen the television show called Hoarders? This television show chronicles the treatment of people who are seeking help because their homes have become overrun with food, clothing, and other items to the extent that they are not able to live normal lives. While hoarding is a psychological condition that requires medical attention, and it is an extreme example of scarcity mindset, it can be the result of panicking that there simply won’t be enough. There are certainly people in our world who do not have enough. People who live in the United States have far more access to food, clothing, clean water, and medical care than people who live in other parts of the world. And there are still plenty of Americans who are lacking in these areas. While these are indeed complex problems that don’t have simple answers, it is important that the Church continues to function as a place based around a theology of abundance.
So what does this look like? Have you ever noticed that there sometimes seems to be far too much consecrated communion bread or wine for the number of people present? And because of this, sometimes there is a lot of communion bread and wine leftover that must be consumed after the service? While some could argue that this is wasteful, I would respond that this is representative of a theology of abundance. No one is turned away from receiving holy communion because we’re worried there won’t be enough for everyone. And, as in the story of the feeding of the multitudes, there is plenty leftover!
A theology of abundance also makes an appearance when it comes to coffee hour after worship. There is always plenty of coffee, both before and after the service, for people to enjoy. Most of the time, there are plenty of treats, snacks, and other goodies as well. On a recent Sunday at St. John’s, we had four birthday cakes! That is a theology of abundance in action! In God’s world, there is plenty of love for everyone.
During last Wednesday’s healing Eucharist, I accidentally poured an unexpectedly large amount of healing oil on a parishioner’s forehead. The oil ran down her hair, down her nose, and eventually dripped onto the floor. While the middle of a healing prayer wasn’t exactly a great time to mention it, my immediate thought was that this was a wonderful example of a theology of abundance! There was plenty of oil! Not simply a small drop, but several ounces! It flowed, as we read in the scriptures, like milk and honey. And if oil is used for healing, then what demonstrates a deeper intention for healing than more oil? We also promote a theology of abundance when we have asperges, the sprinkling of holy water on the faithful, people have worn raincoats and even brought umbrellas in jest. Water is cleansing. Sprinkling is fun! This kind of joyful sprinkling is active participation in a theology of abundance.
Sometimes participating in a theology of abundance doesn’t appear neat and tidy. Sometimes it means things don’t go perfectly. Sometimes there might even be an added cost. For example, when the oil spilled on the floor, we had to make accommodations to clean it up so that no one would slip. And, according to the rubrics of the Episcopal Church, any remaining communion elements must be consumed after the service. Excess coffee must be poured out. And water can make us wet or get on our glasses and make it hard to see. And what about being distracted by the actions of worshippers who don’t do things the way we might prefer? Like people who raise their hands in prayer while we’d rather bow our heads. Or people who stand for communion when we’d rather kneel. Or people who shout “amen!” during the sermon. Or people who clap or dance during the singing of hymns. And what about kids who come to the front of the church for the Eucharistic prayer when it might be distracting? The theology of abundance reminds us that there is plenty to go around! Joy is contagious. Love is abundant. Grace is abundant. And when we subscribe to a theology of abundance, it’s worthwhile.
God is everywhere and present in everything. All we have is given to us freely by God, so all we give to him is simply returned. The cool thing is that he made each of us different. We each like different things and we all have different preferences. But if we allow ourselves permission, we can appreciate the joy, the grace, and the love that others are experiencing. And we can absorb some of it, even if we don’t share it. In November, the Arizona Diamondbacks lost game five of the World Series 5-0 to the Texas Rangers. The Rangers celebrated their very first World Series title on the Diamondbacks’ home field. While the Rangers jumped, celebrated, and popped bottles of champagne, some of the Diamondbacks sat back and watched. So did many of their fans in attendance, including myself. Although we were sad that the home team didn’t win baseball’s biggest prize, it was still nice to see the joy on the faces of the Rangers players and their family members. We could appreciate it, even though it wasn’t exactly what we wanted. The joy in the stadium was abundant. It was abundant enough that it bled over to the Diamondbacks fans, who were really just happy to be there at all. A theology of abundance means that there’s something for everyone.
As Jesus taught us, we don’t have to worry that there isn’t going to be enough, at least in the Church. The Church is a place of abundance, and it’s a place where we can contribute to that abundance. We come to the Church to be nurtured, and we return to the world to share that abundance after we’ve been appropriately fed. Sometimes it’s in the form of a blessing bag. Sometimes it’s in the form of inviting friends to join us for our annual picnic. Sometimes it’s reverently consuming the remaining communion bread after a service. Sometimes it’s getting splashed with holy water after renewing our baptismal covenant. Sometimes it’s in the smiling face of a young girl who is fascinated by the consecration of the bread and the wine. And when we are beneficiaries of abundance, we share that abundance with the other people in our lives. A theology of abundance is so much healthier and more enjoyable than a theology of scarcity. Embrace the theology of abundance!