July 29, 2018

AN ABUNDANT HEART

BIBLE READINGS
John 6:1-21
2 Kings 4
Psalm 145 

REFLECTION

Money can’t buy happiness. I think we all agree on that. But what about science? Does science agree with that statement? What does science actually say about money and happiness?

Surprisingly, science does not give us a black or white answer. According to science, money ‘can’ indeed buy us happiness, but only to a certain degree.

A study found that people who earn a certain amount of money do report happier feeling than those who earn less. The study was conducted by the well-respected Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. It found that people who earn

$75.000 (USD – roughly around AU $100.000) a year tend to be happier than those who earn less. But, there is a catch. According to the study, earning more than $75.000 a year will not make people happier. This means that $75.000 is the benchmark of happiness according to the study. [1]

Now, most people on earth do not earn that much. So, does the study mean that only a small minority of people in the world are happy? I don’t think so. I think if there is one lesson that we can take from the study is that having more does not make us happier. Billionaires and millionaires are not happier than ordinary citizens of this country. What we need is to have enough; enough to meet our needs. Beyond that is just vanity.

Most of you would know the Hollywood actor, Johnny Depp. He went to the same high school as me. I wish.

It was reported that Johnny Depp was in deep financial trouble and was running out of money. This is quite shocking considering that he has made around $900 million from his career as an actor! Report has it that he was paid close to $30 million for his picture to be taken!

So, where did his money go? Many things. He owned 14 places of residence, including a château in France and four islands in the Bahamas. He had forty full-time employees that cost him $400.000 a month! On top of that, he paid $200.000 abmonth for round-the-clock security guards. He used $4000 a month for wine. And he spent close to $7 million for a memorial service for his late journalist friend. [2]

He wasn’t alone. Celebrities like the rapper, MC Hammer, and the boxing champion, Mike Tyson, were in similar situation. They lost almost all the fortune that they made. These people didn’t seem to have the word enough in their dictionary. Even though they were super wealthy, in their mind, they still lived in poverty.

Sadly, we live in a world where scarcity mentality reigns supreme. Human beings have never been richer than we are now. Yet, we still live in the same kind of mentality that our ancestors lived. We still live in the kind of mentality that makes us never stop wanting more. And this kind of mentality will only produce greed. No wonder Gandhi once warned that there was enough on earth for everybody’s needs, but not for everybody’s greed.

We see this kind of scarcity mentality amongst Jesus’ disciples. We are told by our reading today from John’s Gospel that a large crowd followed him and his disciples. The Passover festival was on and Jesus felt that it was appropriate that they gave the crowd something to eat.

But how do you cater for a large crowd up on the mountain? “Not even two hundred denarii will be enough to get small food for each of them,” Phillip said. At the time, a denarius was what a laborer got for his day work. So, two hundred denarii were the equivalent of two-hundred-day worth of work. Even that would barely scratch the surface of the problem according to Phillip.

The other solution didn’t give much hope either. Andrew told Jesus that a boy in the crowd had five loaves of bread and two fish. But how do you feed a large crowd with such small amount of food?

But, the disciples saw the problem through a scarcity lens. This kind of perspective begins and ends with inadequacy. People with this kind of mentality are defeated even before they begin.

We too can become like them. There may be times when we may feel inadequate. There may be times when we are reluctant because we think we lack what we need.

But, Jesus saw the problem through an abundant perspective. He began with what he had and it was enough for him to make changes.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we all approach things with a blind faith. Having an abundant mindset is no excuse for poor planning or preparation or laziness. An abundant mindset is about the way we approach life. The mindset helps us begin with abundance in our mind, not with scarcity or inadequacy.

Now, I cannot explain how Jesus actually fed the large crowd with only five loaves of bread and two fish. That falls into the realm of the unknown. What we know was that Philip and Andrew were wrong. At the end of the day, each person did not get a small amount of food that was barely enough to eat. No. At the end of the day, each person had plenty of food! There were even plenty of leftovers (which I hope was donated to local charities, if there were such thing then)!

The God, whom Jesus served and worshipped, is the God of abundance, not scarcity. Our God is not a stingy God, but a generous God who gives out of God’s richness.

We see a similar portrait of God in our reading from 2 Kings. Here, in our reading from Kings, we have two separate stories. The first story concerns a family who was in a financial problem. The children in the family were in danger of being sold as slaves by their creditor.

Elisha’s solution to the problem was by asking them to borrow empty jars of oil from their neighbors. He asked the family to get as many jars as they could, not a few. He knew that God was about to bless them and they should never expect less from God. They followed Elisha’s instruction and ended up with oil filling up all of the jars. The oil was enough not only to pay their debt, but also to support their living.

The same theme of abundance also appears in our next story in 2 Kings. There are many similarities between this story and the story in John’s Gospel. Elisha’s servant acted like Jesus’s disciples. He doubted, just like Philip and Andrew. But God gave food to the crowd so much so that there were leftovers.

Indeed, an abundant mentality is something that we should nurture from the earliest age. Experts tell us that when a baby smiles at us, we ought to smile back. This may seem natural. Who could resist a baby’s smile anyway?

But, smiling back at babies serve another purpose. When we smile back at babies, they will learn that the world is a kind place to live.

Now, it doesn’t mean that everyone in the world will always act kindly without failing. It doesn’t mean that there are no rude or aggressive or even evil people in the world. No. We live in an imperfect world. But babies can learn that, even when the world is full of unkind people, there is still an abundant of kindness. And they can be confident to find that kindness in everyone.

All of this discussion takes us to our final reading for today: Psalm 145. At the heart of the Psalm, almost right in the middle of it, we find this proclamation.

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
low to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.[3]

Yes, God is abounding in love, not anger. God freely gives love and mercy because God has plenty of love and mercy to give. God upholds, God gives, God fulfils, God satisfies. God does all these because God has more than enough to give.

Yes, our God never lacks in love and mercy. No situation is too dire; no sin is too bad; no failure is too deep for God’s grace to respond.

The world will never be lacking in love and kindness because the world is a reflection of God, its Creator. As such, greed should never have a place in the world, especially in the life of believers. Why? Because if God, who creates an abundant world, is a generous God, we know that we will have enough.

Let me close this reflection by sharing with you a story that I once heard about a Sunday school class. One Sunday, the class talked about Jesus’ parable of the lilies and the birds in the field. They learnt about God’s providence. The lilies and the birds, who did not work like humans, are more beautiful than kings. How much more God would look after us humans.

But, there was one child who was not satisfied with the lesson. So, he asked the difficult question, the question that every teacher dreads. He asked, “Then why do so many people starve to death?’ Suddenly, there was a silence in the room. Nobody, not even the teacher, seemed to know how to answer the question. But, there was one

child who had enough wisdom to answer. “It’s not that there is not enough food in the world,” he said, “It’s just some of us do not want to share.”[4]

At the heart of sharing, at the heart of any act of generosity, is an abundant mentality. We don’t have to be rich to have this kind of mentality. An abundant mentality is not about having material wealth. It’s about being rich in our mind. It’s about knowing, not in our head, but in our heart, that there is enough for all of us. Why? Because God has made it so.

Amen.
Toby Keva

1 Belinda Luscombe, Do We Need $75,000 A Year to Be Happy?, an article on www.content.time.come (Monday, September 6 2010)

2 Mark Seal, How Did Johnny Depp Find Himself in a Financial Crisis?, on www.vanityfair.com (July 5, 2017 5:00 AM)

3 Psalm 145:8-9 – English Standard Version

4 From a sermon for The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B 2018 by Jim Somerville on www.asermonforeverysunday.com (July 29, 2018)