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  • Writer's pictureSt. Stephen's Lutheran Church

First Things: Abundant and Precious

"First things” is a time-to-time look at the first reading for this coming Sunday. This Sunday’s reading is Isaiah 55:1-5, which you can find by clicking here.

This blog borrows a lot from a blog I wrote way back in the stone age for Modern Metanoia, a sermon prep blog that has now concluded its writing. You can read it here.

Our whole world economy works because of a terrible assumption: scarcity. It’s one of the five fundamental assumptions of Economics, long called the “dismal science.” While I think its reputation isn’t entirely justified, it was never one of my strong suits in college.

But scarcity is one of the major assumptions that drives it. Essentially, people want more of a good than there is available, so we assign a price to it. Scarcity is what drives the changes in a good’s price when supply increases or demand decreases. For example, if there were suddenly a glut of oil on the market, gas prices would go down. And if there were a shortage, gas prices would rise.

Some theologians, even good Lutherans like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, caution against “cheap grace,” which is to focus on grace so freely given that it becomes worthless. With this understanding of cheap grace, one might live a terrible life without responsibility and just cast everything on the grace of God. “I don’t need to care about my neighbor! God has grace for me!”

Bonhoeffer contrasts cheap grace with costly grace, the type that sees what Jesus did for us on the cross and takes our responsibility seriously. Now, of course dear Dietrich is correct that we should live lives that are pleasing to God, but I daresay he missed the mark thinking that Grace need be costly to be effective. For more reading from the source itself, see The Cost of Discipleship.

This week’s reading is all about the end of scarcity. Isaiah is writing to the Israelites in exile, who presumably had a hard time. After many chapters of omens and recriminations, Isaiah provides oracles of hope. He envisions the days of salvation when God reestablishes Israel and good times are here again.

"Ho, everyone who thirsts,

come to the waters;

and you that have no money,

come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without price” (Is. 55:1).

Bam! Scarcity is over! Come everyone, there is no price to anything! Isaiah predicts a future when the poor have dignity and everyone has what they need. What once was costly and difficult to furnish is now abundant, freely given. It’s an image of plenty, and it’s an image of grace.

Yet, this does not mean, in the economic sense, that things become worthless. Rather, if we were to take seriously the Kingdom of God, an upside-down realm where the poor have everything they need and the rich are sent away hungry, and the first are last etc., then we would see that this Kingdom also has its own economy. The Economy of God is different from our own. It doesn’t follow the same rules, the same assumptions.

Rather, something can be incredibly abundant, cheap, and freely-given, yet still remain precious and valuable. Even more than that, it’s luxurious.

"Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,

and your labour for that which does not satisfy?

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,

and delight yourselves in rich food” (Is. 55:2).

In a world where luxury is often defined by it unattainability, this is pleasure and delight for the masses. It is precious. It is beautiful. It is for everyone.

Isaiah of course roots this in the covenant, the laws of Moses and the promises to David, that Israel shall serve as an example to the nations. Its distinctive life of abundance and joy for all would be a calling card for God’s glory. This is a sign of God’s promise come true, but it’s also a sign of justice.

After all, the Kingdom of God has God’s economics of abundant preciousness. Likewise, it has God’s justice of grace and mercy. God gives the grace and mercy, and so justice becomes not a world of crime and punishment but of harmony and community. It is God’s work, but it is something that humanity participates in through God’s grace.

This is how we live this abundant life now — as if heaven is already on earth. We share what we have. We give away food to the poor, and we do so with cheer and dignity. We partner with others to advocate for justice and plenty. And there are lots of ways we do this together as church.

St. Stephen’s is a founding—and sustaining—member of Greater Woodbury Cooperative Ministries, which has blessed the community with food and goods for over 25 years. Our witness with other Christians further witnesses to the universal character of God’s kingdom. Through ELCA World Hunger, the New Jersey Synod, Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey, and Lutheran World Relief, our church finds its expression in partner organizations. All around the world, Lutherans are helping others out of a sense of abundance, not scarcity.

At St. Stephen’s we practice that abundant living every Sunday in our feast of abundance — Holy Communion. Here, a small amount of bread and wine becomes a taste of this free preciousness of God. Here, every single person is welcome to the table, and we take our welcome seriously. We hope to welcome you too as we come, buy and eat without money and without price. Here, we listen so that we may live.

Join us one Sunday (or every Sunday) at 9:30 AM, in person and on Facebook!

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