Unraveled: Scarcity vs Abundance

Genesis 1:26-2:3 Unraveled: Scarcity vs Abundance 7/25/2021

Exodus 5 Rev. Mark Allio 9th Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 1:26-2:3

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

This is the word of the Lord!

Thanks be to God.

Our next passage this morning takes place after the burning bush and Moses’ return to Egypt. Moses and Aaron go to the enslaved Israelites and tell them that the God of their ancestors have heard their cry.

Exodus 5

5 Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.” 3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.” 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get to your labors!” 5 Pharaoh continued, “Now they are more numerous than the people of the land and yet you want them to stop working!” 6 That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labor at it and pay no attention to deceptive words.”

10 So the taskmasters and the supervisors of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go and get straw yourselves, wherever you can find it; but your work will not be lessened in the least.’” 12 So the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt, to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, the same daily assignment as when you were given straw.” 14 And the supervisors of the Israelites, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten, and were asked, “Why did you not finish the required quantity of bricks yesterday and today, as you did before?”

15 Then the Israelite supervisors came to Pharaoh and cried, “Why do you treat your servants like this? 16 No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ Look how your servants are beaten! You are unjust to your own people.” 17 He said, “You are lazy, lazy; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ 18 Go now, and work; for no straw shall be given you, but you shall still deliver the same number of bricks.” 19 The Israelite supervisors saw that they were in trouble when they were told, “You shall not lessen your daily number of bricks.” 20 As they left Pharaoh, they came upon Moses and Aaron who were waiting to meet them. 21 They said to them, “The Lord look upon you and judge! You have brought us into bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

22 Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.”

The word of the Lord!

Thanks be to God.

This passage is often overlooked and skipped both in the lectionary and our own readings as they mark the first encounter that Moses and Aaron have with Pharoah. And I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here when I say it didn’t go exactly as Moses, Aaron, and the rest of the Israeli slaves thought it would.

They go to Pharoah, not asking for release, not asking for freedom but instead they ask permission for the Israelites to take a few days off, head out to the wilderness and hold a worship service. Pharoah acts harshly and focuses most on the fact that the slaves would be missing work. So, he increases the workload all while maintaining production goals.

The Israelis can’t make the cut and they pay for it dearly. So, the Israeli foremen go to Pharoah to complain about the working conditions. Pharoah calls them “lazy” and puts the blame on Moses. They go to Moses telling him it is all his fault. Moses then goes to God telling God it is all their fault.

Way, way back, in the year of our Lord 1999, Professor Walter Brueggemann wrote an article that first appeared in the Christian Century, entitled The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity.[i] It is an amazing article and I highly recommend that everyone takes a minute or two to find it and read it.

He begins talking about the world that God created: a world of abundance. God gives all creation a command: be fruitful and multiply, including humanity. And God adds that the creation is ours to care for and enjoy with plenty of food for all. We continue to see this abundance take place in the wilderness with manna from heaven sprinkled on the ground for all to have enough. We see it with the widow and her son and how the olive oil kept flowing and the flour never ran out. We see it in the wedding of Cana, how the water turned to wine so the party could continue. We see it with Jesus in the feeding of the five thousand. And more than that we see the abundance of God in the miracles of healing. We see it time and time again that there is enough.

But there is a Myth of Scarcity, a fear that there isn’t enough. People begin to worry that they won’t get theirs, so they get more. Throughout the pandemic we saw this happening time and time again. The mask shortage, the toilet paper shortage, the bleach shortage, the hand sanitizer shortage, the trampoline shortage, the pool shortage, the pool cleaners shortage, the chicken wing shortage, the flour and yeast shortage, and the list goes on and on.

Walter Brueggemann writes:

The conflict between the narratives of abundance and of scarcity is the defining problem confronting us at the turn of the millennium. The gospel story of abundance asserts that we originated in the magnificent, inexplicable love of a God who loved the world into generous being. The baptismal service declares that each of us has been miraculously loved into existence by God. And the story of abundance says that our lives will end in God, and that this well-being cannot be taken from us. In the words of St. Paul, neither life nor death nor angels nor principalities nor things -- nothing can separate us from God.

What we know about our beginnings and our endings, then, creates a different kind of present tense for us. We can live according to an ethic whereby we are not driven, controlled, anxious, frantic or greedy, precisely because we are sufficiently at home and at peace to care about others as we have been cared for.

Throughout the Bible, we learn to trust in God. We learn to be content in all things. But the world has a different gospel. The world fills us with fear. And at times it can start when we are young. About 6 months ago, we were having an issue with Hank. At night he would complain about stomach aches and sometimes this would include throwing up. But he had no fever, no other symptoms and in the mornings he would seem fine. We realized that he was eating too much. He was trying to keep up and eat what and when and how much Asher and Gage was eating. He was worried that he wouldn’t get his fair share.

But this myth of scarcity goes beyond just food. It points to what we buy. It points to the amount of debt we rack up over and over again. It points to our fears for our jobs, working overtime, working when we’re off the clock. We are always trying to get ahead, but ahead never seems to come.

Even with our children, we are afraid for their future. We have to get them in the right preschool. We have to make sure they are taking music lessons and they have to be in every activity and sport possible so they can have the richest life and the best possible future.

We are living exhausting lives. But there is one thing that we can do to help us live into this liturgy of abundance: Sabbath.

In our first reading, after God had finished creating and commanding God rested. Now, I know that it can feel like we have the weight of the world on our shoulders, and it is impossible to stop, but God who literally created the world and all that is in it, stopped and yet we’re all still here.

There are Pharaohs all around us that continue to push us. That continue to put more and more on us, and we feel that if we stop, we will only get further behind. Sometimes those Pharaohs are the small voice inside our heads calling us lazy if we stop to take a break or that we aren’t good enough, so we need to prove that we are. Fear lies at the heart of it. The myth of scarcity is there.

But Sabbath is a gift. Sabbath is command from God for us to rest. Once a week we no longer need to do but simply be. Sabbath reminds us not only who we are but whose we are. It’s about recreation, re-creation. And Sabbath is the ultimate act of freedom.

Try to remember back when we were kids and how much we needed play. How much we needed to have fun with family and friends. Do you remember the freedom we felt? The truth is, we still need it. We need fun. We need to relax. We need to trust in the reality that God is in charge, and we are not.

I know it can be hard. I know it can be a struggle. But in it we will find an abundance that can never be taken away.

So, find a day this week where you put away the calendar, the checklist, the phone. The dishes and laundry can wait a day. The grass can be mowed later. Pick up that book you’ve been meaning to read. Get out the yarn or the art easel. Have dinner with friends. Have a game night with the family. Rest. Relax. Enjoy the gift of this life that God has given you while you still have it.

And as we begin to experience that gift, the grip of scarcity begins to loosen, and we are able to open our hands to the gift of God’s abundance.

As Jesus declares in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[i] Brueggemann, Walter. “The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity.” https://www.religion-online.org/article/the-liturgy-of-abundance-the-myth-of-scarcity/?fbclid=IwAR1fxG2e4kITWshJDp4EfW5jd0pTZ88Dw6bSAbTzDCwXp7df_v1sDSq7oRo#content

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