In Texas, 4,277,540 people are struggling with hunger – and of them 1,676,740 are children. That means 1 out of every 7 people are food insecure and that ratio increases to 1 out of every 4 when applied to children.
While I was in seminary my institution received a Lilly Endowment Grant which was used to determine root causes of student indebtedness. They wanted to figure out why so many seminarians were graduating with such a high debt load. Many aspects of our educational structure were investigated, such as cost of attendance, cost for living expenses, and the inability students had to work while in school. (You may or may not know this, but traditional full-time seminary is structured so that it is impossible for students to get an outside job.)
As a part of that Lilly Grant study the 3 East Coast seminaries banded together and did a study on student hunger. They sent out surveys to all current students asking questions like: “do you where our next meal is coming from?”, “do you have resources to purchase food?”, and “have you ever skipped meals do to lack of access to food?”. The results came back that 1 in 4 seminarians was skipping meals regularly due to lack of funds to purchase food.
We had a food pantry on campus but at that time it was a dark dank little room in a basement that had chicken noodle soup, tomato soup, top ramen, some canned vegetables, and not much else. (Or as I liked to call it – sodium in can because none of those foods are good for you in any way, shape, or form.)
Many students did not even know the pantry existed because it wasn’t well promoted and those who know of it struggled with the balance we were told we needed to keep between being healthy human beings who took care of our bodies and the need to eat.
When the Lilly Grant results came out I remember being horrified and thinking – well I may not be able to combat world hunger on a macro level – but I can certainly do something on a micro level. I took over the role of the campus Food Pantry Coordinator and spent my second year of seminary growing and expanding that ministry. I won’t get into all of the details of what was accomplished, but I can say that it went from being a dark dank little hole of a room that no one knew about with sodium in a can being our only options, to being a heavily utilized ministry and expanded space with a lot of healthy options – both of dry goods and fresh foods.
At the time I began my tenure in this ministry, I was not food insecure, I was doing alright, but then, the bottom fell out from underneath me. My divorce hit, I had very little income, and I had no idea how I was going to feed my kids. Suddenly, my ministry to the campus community also became my primary source for sustenance. There were times when the shelves would get low and no donations were lined up to come in, that I worried about having enough food for my campus and for my family… yet something always seemed to happen. An unexpected donation would come in and we were right back in business.
During our Advent Food Giving Challenge I wrote a blog article speaking to this situation, in it I mentioned that it is humiliating and really hard to be in a position where you have to admit that you do not have enough. It’s very hard to trust and believe that everything will turn out okay in those moments of struggle.
Our gospel this morning is the story of the wedding at Cana. Jesus and the disciples are in attendance. Weddings at this point in time were celebrations that would last for days or even weeks, and wine and food was expected to be provided to all of the guests for the duration of the celebration.
In this time, a culture of honor and shame prevailed, and it would have been humiliatingly shameful for a wedding party to run out of wine. We are talking about gossip and shunning of this couple and their families for years. Yet running out of wine is exactly what happened. The families either miscalculated the amount that their guests would want, or they just didn’t have the resources to provide enough. Horror, embarrassment, shame! They ran out of wine.
We don’t know who this couple is, but the fact Mary felt it necessary to intervene might indicate that this was some relation to Jesus. Mary goes to him and tells him that the wine has run out. He responds – yeah… so? What’s it to me? My hour has not yet come. (Remember that in John this is the first miracle that Jesus performs.) There are varying schools of thought as to what Jesus means by this statement. Some think that he’s being somewhat rude and sassing off to his mama, however to me, it seems more like a young man who is just starting out who does not have full confidence in himself just yet.
Fortunately, and unsurprisingly, his mother does have confidence in him. Rather than respond in any sort of direct way, Mary pulls a quintessential Middle Eastern mama trick, and just acts like she can’t hear him. She tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to, and kind forces his hand. Jesus tells them to fill 6, 30-gallon stone jars with water. I’d imagine that process took some time to complete seeing how they were most likely pulling water out of a well located somewhere nearby.
Once it was finally finished Jesus told the servants to give a drink to the chief steward, who is immediately confused and asks the groom why he saved the best wine for the end of the celebration. Most parties serve the good stuff early on and then serve the progressively worse wine as the guests become too intoxicated to know the difference.
There wasn’t enough and then something unexpected happened, and there was. God’s abundance was manifest for all to see and experience.
We spend a tremendous amount of our lives worrying about what will happen if somehow there should not be enough. We save, and hoard, and stockpile resources. One source that I read this week stated that: “If there is a motto for the twenty-first century, ‘there’s not enough’ might be it. It doesn’t matter what resource we’re talking about – money, water, food – to name a few. It doesn’t matter what segment of society – family, church, community, nation, world. ‘There’s not enough’ is always our default response.”
I wonder why this is? What are we so afraid of? In that time of my life where I was getting most of my family’s food from a food pantry, I almost quit seminary because I feared there wasn’t enough. Why can’t we re-frame our thoughts to view our resources from a place of abundance rather than a place of scarcity? Rather than see what we do not have, we should rejoice in what we do. We should remember that God’s abundance is made manifest for all.
Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann wrote this: “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 abundances says that our lives will end in God, and this well-being cannot be taken from us. In the words of St. Paul, neither life nor death nor angels tor principalities nor things – nothing – can separate us from God.”
Amandus Derr states that: “When water is changed into wine at the wedding at Cana, Jesus proclaims the radical abundance of God. The results are copious. The quality is not just adequate but “the best.” With this sign, Jesus inaugurates the new creation. In that new creation, the abundant best is the least we can expect.”
God’s radical abundance is made manifest and is the least we can expect. From an economic standpoint we don’t have issues with supply… our world creates enough for all. There is enough food, there is enough water, there are enough resources, there is enough… what we have is a distribution issue. Largely because we look through the lens of scarcity rather than the rose-colored glasses of abundance.
What could our lives look like and how might we impact our world if we shifted our frame of mind from scarcity to abundance? What could Living Word accomplish if everyone here gave abundantly? If we celebrated our successes and our abundance, rather than fixated on our flaws and the perception of scarcity?
This Lent we will have the opportunity to find out as we have another Congregational Hunger Fighting Campaign. During Advent we had a Food Giving Challenge which brought in 3,879 pounds of food (not counting the hygiene items we also donated that are critical to human dignity). This equaled 3,233 meals which will be distributed by the Houston Area Food Bank to our communities. This Lent I challenge each and every one of you to do more. Over the course of the 40 days of Lent let’s double our efforts and give out of our abundance. 1 in 7 people suffering from hunger is way too many. 1 person suffering from hunger is way too many.
I would like to leave you with one more statement by Amandus Derr: “When we live our lives by the myth of scarcity, we are never satisfied but always wanting. When we live our lives by the myth of scarcity, we are always in competition with every other form of life on the planet. In the story of water turned wine, we are given a powerful new narrative by which we can live new lives. We can be generous. We can take risks. We can act like guests at a wedding feast, filled with thanksgiving and joy.”
It is time to stop fixating on our flaws and our perceptions of scarcity and focus instead on our successes and God’s radical abundance in our midst.