The question, “will there be enough,” has a plethora of imagined objects. Will I have enough time to finish this project? Will I have enough savings to retire when I want to? Will there be enough vaccines to go around such that I can be vaccinated against the coronavirus and Covid-19? Will our children and grandchildren have the same abundance of opportunities as we have enjoyed? Will there be enough offerings for Resurrection Church to meet its budget and to avoid future budget cuts?
Individuals ask the question. Whole nations do, too. Is our military strong enough to withstand attack from foreign adversaries? Do we have enough nuclear weapons to counter attack from other similarly armed countries?
The fear of scarcity, of not having enough, is pervasive. That fear is as common as the air we breathe. It’s the ocean we swim in, most often unaware of its ill effects on us. Indeed, the fear of scarcity drives all kinds of bad behavior among individuals and whole communities. I would submit to you that excessive greed, for example, has at its root a fear of not having enough.
I lived in one of the wealthiest zip codes in the United States when I lived on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Even there, the fear of not having enough drove the acquisition of ever more mountains of wealth. You could sense the urgency, the drive to accumulate wealth, an urgency driven unconsciously perhaps by the fear of there being too little to go around.
Wealth and income inequality are the bitter fruits of the fear of not having enough.
Where do we turn for an antidote, a word to calm our fears of scarcity?
The Prologue to John’s Gospel, which is our gospel reading for today, has an abundance of good words for us. In fact, any number of sermons could be born from good words there, such as: light, life, glory, grace, and truth.
But the words that ring out with a clarion call of the song of good news are these for us today, when the pandemic and its related ill effects heighten our sense of fear of there not being enough: “from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)
Whose fullness? The Word made flesh, Jesus the Christ.
The Greek word that is translated fullness doesn’t have to do with satiety, full stomachs, or lots of stuff. In the context of John’s Gospel specifically, and Christian theology more generally, the biblical word translated fullness has to with the totality, the completeness, or the fullness of the Godhead which dwells in Jesus Christ as the very word of God made flesh.
This fullness is that of the God, whom Jesus calls Abba, Father. It is the fullness of the Spirit which proceeds from Jesus’ lips near the conclusion of John in one of the resurrection appearances, the Spirit of God that was also present at creation along with the eternal word.
This fullness, this completeness was present on the cross when Jesus concluded, “It is finished.” All is complete. This fullness was likewise paradoxically present in the empty tomb, an empty tomb being full of resurrected life.
Moreover, this fullness in Christ as the face of the Trinitarian God bears the fruit of wonderful gifts for us and for the world, invoking words from John once again: life, light, glory, truth, and of course, grace upon grace.
To illustrate in an object lesson for children the fullness of Christ’s grace, and grace upon grace, I have always enjoyed filling an empty glass from a full pitcher of water, filling the glass until the water overflows, spilling out all over the floor. Children – and adults, too, perhaps – delight in seeing the pastor making a mess of the place by spilling water everywhere. But it illustrates beautifully the abundance of God’s grace in our lives – particularly in the water of life that makes us God’s children at baptism.
But the skeptic in me, in you, in all of us, may object, driven again by the fear of scarcity. In our skepticism we might conclude: what we celebrate at Christmas is just a baby. How can a baby make a dent in satisfying our hunger and thirst? Or with the beginning of John’s Gospel in mind, we might object that the Word made flesh is just that, a word, and talk is often cheap.
I counter my own objections and skepticism with this reassuring reality: When it comes to God’s grace, an apparent little bit of something can go a long way. Take, for example, the important image of light in the darkness in John’s Gospel. We hear in the Prologue, again from today’s passage: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
Think about it: a little bit of light goes a long way in a dark room. It doesn’t take much light to eradicate darkness. And more than that, the light always wins. Darkness cannot overcome light. The property of light is that it makes the deepest shadows of night disappear.
Or think of the stories of the feedings of the thousands in the Gospels. A few loaves, a few fish end up feeding everybody – and there are leftovers!
With such stories in mind, I cannot help but reflect on the Eucharist, again which we dearly miss, but we’ll get there again: a little piece of bread, a sip of wine, contain the fullness of Christ’s presence in the midst of the praying and praising community gathered.
Still other biblical examples abound, again drawing from the readings appointed for today. The people in exile addressed by the prophet Jeremiah knew scarcity. But then they hear the promises of God on the lips of the prophet’s proclamation of the divine word: “He who scattered Israel will gather him and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”… They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, and wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.” (Jeremiah 31: 10b, 11-12) These words of promise are words of gracious abundance.
Or listen again to the apostle Paul from today’s second reading, where to my mind he essentially elaborates on the statement in John about receiving from Christ’s fullness, grace upon grace. Paul writes: “5[God] destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:5-10)
Let this language of abundance sink in: “good pleasure of his will;” “freely bestowing;” “the riches of his grace;” “that he lavished on us;” “a plan for the fullness of time;” “to gather all things in him.” I could go on. But the point is, good people: in Christ, there is enough. There is plenty to go around, from Christ’s fullness, grace upon grace upon grace upon grace, even if the portions seem small from our anxious perspectives.
Having encountered the Word made flesh in sacred story, in our sacramental life together, we may relax a bit into both the promise and reality of “enoughness” in Christ. In that calmer state of mind and being, then we are free to attend to real problems of scarcity, and thus to share our abundance with our neighbors, that they might be fed, too, and satisfied.
Grace upon grace from Christ’s fullness, flowing into us and then from us to our neighbors, that they might be filled and likewise give to still others. Not unlike the living waters that overflow our containers, our fonts, spilling out to water God’s good creation. Not unlike the cup that runs over at the table that God in Christ sets for us. Not unlike the loaves that give plenty with more to spare.
When it comes to God’s grace, a seeming little bit goes a long way, for even modest portions contain the fullness of the Godhead in Christ in the power of the Spirit.
In these anxious times, O God, O Christ, O Spirit, help us to trust the sufficiency of your gracious fullness, that all may be fed, that hunger and thirst may be satisfied by your abundance amidst our fears of scarcity. Amen.
And now for your reflection and holy conversation at home:
- Recall occasions and circumstances in your own life when for whatever reasons, you have feared that you would not have enough of something or someone.
- Name occasions when you have experienced God’s fullness, grace upon grace.